Saturday, December 24, 2011
Thursday, December 22, 2011
It was Wednesday. My eye’s basketball game encounter with an elbow has been getting some laughs at the shop, because I can play it out pretty well. It’s not the first one or double one I’ve had to show off for the customers with. For those who don’t know, elbows in the nose give you double black eyes along with a nice speed bump on your beak. Anyway, my motion detector heralds the arrival of someone new. I glanced out from under the 1992 Chevy truck I’m working on and see a Texas license plate. I leapt off the creeper (yeah, right) and went to meet my out of state stop in. She has exited the driver’s side of her 2006 Nissan Sentra, and is standing with her arms folded over her chest while leaning on her car. She’s beautiful – probably early thirties, a few inches shorter than me in her heels, auburn hair, great figure, wearing some kind of dark tan sweater dress, with a leather coat for the chill. She has a smirk on her face as if she knows something no one else does… and it works for her. The smirk disappears when she sees my shiner, which has turned even more colorful since I posted the picture on Monday. She straightens away from her Sentra, and seems to be contemplating getting back in. My new Texas visitor will be known as Grace Grande for my post.
“Hi, can I help you?”
“What happened to your face?”
“I blocked an elbow with my eye playing basketball on Sunday. It looks worse than it actually is,” I replied.
“Good, because it looks horrible. You look a little old for playing basketball.”
I laugh. Good one, Grace. “I see you’re from Texas. How can I help you?”
“I’m staying in Piedmont with family. A neighbor of theirs recommended you. My check engine light came on while I was coming up the coast. It runs fine but I thought I’d better get it checked out.” Grace tells me the name of her family’s friend that recommended me. Good customer.
“Let me do a quick scan and see what’s causing the light. Have you had any work done lately?”
Grace goes around to the passenger side, and gets a folder out which contains a full dossier on her maintenance. I quickly riff through it and see the only out of the ordinary thing she’s had done is the Nissan dealer had replaced the front air/fuel ratio sensor. I hand back her folder and go get my portable scanner. She hovers right over me as I’m hunched down plugging in my scanner to her OBDII universal connector (On Board Diagnostics II). I don’t mind. I get a P2A00 code, which I’ve only encountered once before. I thought it was some kind of oxygen sensor code (or air/fuel ratio sensor). That encounter had been on a late model Nissan truck. Sure enough, my scanner explains it’s for a slow Bank 1, Sensor 1, which I already know her dealer replaced. The scanner data shows the sensor varying normally. I’m thinking it’s time for a more in depth look at the Sentra with my notebook computer scanner software. I slowly unhook and straighten, giving Ms. Grande enough time to avoid contact.
“You have a P2A00 front air/fuel ratio sensor code, but it’s reading correctly and you’ve already had it replaced six months ago. I can do a more in depth computer check or I can erase it and you can probably go back home when you’re ready without doing anything until you get to your dealer even if it comes back on.”
Grace steps towards me and puts a hand on my arm. “I’d rather you check it out.”
Well okay. They seem to like the personal touch down in Texas. “I’ll get an estimate ready. Excuse me for just a minute. Can I take one of your invoices? I’ll copy your address info from it.”
Ms. Grande releases my arm and sifts through her folder to hand me an invoice. I return from the office moments later with a fully filled out invoice. I add the mileage and license plate number along with her cell-phone number. She signs the estimate with barely a glance at the money figure. I tear out her copy which she accepts.
“My ride’s outside. Call me on my cell when you know what’s wrong.”
“I’ll have something for you in the next hour.”
She starts out my shop door and turns toward me once more. “Did you make up the basketball story?”
I laugh again, thinking maybe I should use my friend Charles Gramlich’s suggestion about coming up with a story as colorful as my eye. “No, but I can come up with a more exciting one if you like.”
She smiles and waves on her way out. On to work. I finish up the 92 Chevy truck and then hook up the Sentra. My notebook computer software comes up with some fail data in the ‘Mode 6’ category which I won’t bore anyone with. I decide it’s the rear oxygen sensor screwing up and causing a front sensor code, because it does its computations based on data from the rear sensor in a roundabout way. I then erase the code and take the Sentra for a test drive to see if the code comes back on. Just as I’m getting off the freeway exit to head back, the check engine light blinks back on. After confirming the same P2A00 code I call Ms. Grande to give her an estimate for my educated guess.
“You mean you’re guessing for that amount of money?” Grace sounds confused. I don’t blame her.
“Sometimes it comes down to that. I know now the light will return, and I also know you won’t have any trouble getting back to Texas because the rear sensor will only affect the gas mileage imperceptibly.”
“Maybe I should get a second opinion.”
“I’ll tell you what. If you want a second opinion I’ll let you take the Sentra and I won’t charge you for the check. I know how this must seem to you.”
She mulls that over and promises to call me back which she does ten minutes later to confirm the repair. It takes a while to get an OEM sensor from Nissan, but I have it in and test driven before the end of the day. No light return, and I drove it twice as far. The ‘Mode 6’ data after the drive is all green pass so I’m sure the rear oxygen sensor caused the problem. That’s something worth filing away and noting here in the blogosphere. Grace arrives before closing to pick up the Sentra. She checks out my family photo wall while I run her credit card. She seems amused while signing the credit slip.
I hand her the keys. We exchange thank yous and Merry Christmas’s.
She pauses at the office door. “I saw your English Degree on the wall. How has that helped you fix cars?”
“It doesn’t but I write up a hell of an invoice.”
Grace laughs and nods on her way out which sounds like little silver chimes. :)
That’s all for this update from Nilson Brothers Garage, but if you’re appreciative of the information, here is a link to my new novel COLD BLOODED for Nook and Kindle. If you’re kind enough to read it and like it, please review it on the site you purchase it from. Thank You! Every little bit helps my writing gig. :)
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Monday, December 19, 2011
Since getting my weight back down to 160 last year, I’ve been pursuing all my old hobbies like scuba diving, backpacking, and basketball. Most of the guys I play basketball with range from their late teens to early thirties. I still get up and down the outside court, play defense, and shoot pretty well. They call me OG, which stands of course for old guy or old geezer. This Sunday I went up for a rebound while one of my younger compatriots flew in from the side and clocked me with an elbow. I saw stars so I knew it was a bad one. I signaled for a sub while my young friend followed me around, ‘OG… OG… are you okay? I’m sorry, man’. I absolved him of all blame immediately. If you play ball and you don’t jump higher than a few inches, you will eventually meet with someone’s elbow, because they get up there. Now for the funny part. I went home to ice it up immediately, because I knew the kid hit me square on the brow and from experience it was probably a hairline fracture. To keep it from closing up, all you can do is ice it. It won’t keep the color away but at least I’d be able to see out of it.
I bring Saint Joyce her tea as the Dark Lord this morning at 5:30 as usual, complete with – “dum dum dum dum dum daaahhhh… It’s the Dark Lord… get up you little slacker!”
Saint Joyce blinks up at me blearily and then shoots up into a sitting position. “Oh my God!”
I start laughing because although I hadn’t looked yet because I was busy feeding the stray cats and making her tea, I knew my elbowed eye socket was probably looking real pretty. See, it hadn’t colored up last night. That doesn’t usually happen right away, so this is Saint Joyce’s first look.
“Well, there goes the holiday photos,” she remarks, making a face.
“Nope. We’ll make some memorable ones. Like all my other horrendous looking cuts, slices, swelled up hands and busted knuckles, Colin will be following me around with the usual ‘did you cry, Pa… did you cry?’”
Saint Joyce laughs, having seen my Grandson Colin’s reaction to all my viewable injuries. "I guess you're right, Dark Lord."
I thought I’d go for a few chuckles with this morning’s picture. Good thing I had already done my author photo. :)
Friday, December 16, 2011
I finished my book trailer for COLD BLOODED. I think it's straight and to the point, hitting some highlights I've featured here. Any comments are welcome. Boy, this marketing is getting complicated. Imagine - authors at one time just wrote books. Those days are over. :)
Thursday, December 15, 2011
The banner for Book Trailer Showcase on the right is not a paid advertisement. Today is their grand opening with free giveaways and free advertisements for authors to try them out. I decided to give them a try with membership and ad package, but they have a free tryout for authors’ submissions during their startup. I figured my writing friends might want to take a look. I’m going to be working on making a book trailer for COLD BLOODED, and I already have it up in their mystery/thriller book page. Raine… I know you have a great trailer for ‘HOTTER THAN HELL’. :) If any of you feel like taking a look at the new ad site just click on the banner.
Friday, December 9, 2011
Remember, marketing never stops. Get COLD BLOODED on Kindle or COLD BLOODED on Nook. :)
Another rare Nilson Brothers Garage irate customer interaction day came early in the Christmas season. Two weeks ago a gentleman I’ll refer to as Trucker Ford stopped in with a rough idling 2005 F150 with 5.4L engine. These have individual ‘coil on plug’ assemblies which take the place of ignition wires and single coils like the old days. Care has to be taken with this vehicle because most customers drive them until they miss or the scheduled light duty recommended 100,000 mile spark plug change, whichever comes first. As I’ve covered in older posts COP's, Plugs, this is a very tricky ordeal because the plugs break and strip out the threads in the head. The initial interaction with Trucker went like this.
“My truck just started missing and the check engine light’s on.”
“How many miles are on it?” I asked.
“Ah… about 95,000.”
I’m hoping he’s had the severe duty recommendation for his truck with a 60,000 mile spark plug service done. “Have you ever had a tune up done on the vehicle?”
“No,” Trucker’s eyeballing me with suspicion. “The book says 100,000 miles for spark plugs. Anyway, how much to check it out?”
I quote him my diagnostic fee, which includes testing and my advanced software scanner on my notebook computer which can read the more intricate ‘Mode 6’ data. I explain that to him. Trucker ain’t havin’ any.
“I can get an AutoZone code read for nothing.”
“Yeah, you can,” I agree.
“What if I go get the codes read and come back with the parts they say will fix it?”
“I don’t work like that. AutoZone is a great ‘Do It Yourself’ place for people repairing their own vehicles. I don’t put on their parts or follow their repair recommendations.”
“Okay, fine!” Trucker blurts out with a helpless arm wave. “If I do need a tune-up, how much to do it?”
I’m thinking, hell’s bells… I mean silver bells, it’s Christmas. I explain how I take the vehicle in and after a complete computer diagnostic I wait for the vehicle to cool, take off the coil on plug assemblies, crack the plug loose a quarter turn, and leave penetrating oil in the spark plug wells overnight to prevent breakage which can happen anyway. I quote him the ballpark price for all ‘COP’s’ and spark plugs, along with the various filters. I also tell him I’ll include the diagnostic in the price if it turns out to be tune-up related. I change all the ‘Coil on Plug’ assemblies when I tune these because the surest way to have an angry customer comeback is to not change them. I include them as a package deal at a little over cost, way lower than list. Trucker gets apoplectic. I listen to his tirade for a moment before holding up a hand and interrupting because he’s rapidly nearing the magic words that end in physical expulsion from Nilson Brothers Garage.
“Hold it! You’re under no obligation to do anything here. Please go have your vehicle looked at anywhere you wish. I don’t compete with AutoZone or Tune-up Masters or any other shop. Calm down and I’ll get you a copy of the estimate to take with you.”
Trucker’s still grumbling but waits until I run him off an estimate copy to take.
“Fat chance I’d ever come in here again.” Trucker takes his final parting shot before slamming the driver’s side door and shooting out of the shop.
Trucker Ford came back with his vehicle running even rougher and a receipt that looked like one you get from ‘Back Yard Bob’ – tiny universal booklet type, no business name, no state license, no EPA number, no individual parts list, and one word scrawled next to a hand written labor title: Tune-up. He hands me the receipt, red faced, and steaming.
“I got the damn tune-up done like you said and it runs worse than it did before!”
Okay, now I’ve been around the block a few times. I’m relatively competent in customer relations, even with difficult ones. First step is not to go on defense when I have not yet even laid a hand on the vehicle in question. Since there’s really nothing but a piece of paper with a few hundred dollars gone with the wind noted on it I hand it back to him.
“Mr. Ford, I’ll have to return you to our dimension for this conversation to continue. If you insist on speaking from an alternate reality, this discussion is over. What’ll it be?”
Trucker’s hands tighten into fists, the one holding his sacred receipt turns it into a wrinkled ball. He gradually gets a grip before opening his mouth to recite the magic words of expulsion. “Well… what can you do?”
“A complete diagnostic, only it won’t be included in the work cost.”
Yeah, I know. You have hundreds of dollars gone and no one to blame but the guy in the mirror. “Have you tried going back to the place that did the tune-up?”
Trucker gets suddenly reluctant to speak. He dances around from one foot to another for a moment while looking around the shop. “It was a friend of a friend. He’s gone back to LA. Can I leave the truck with you now?”
I hesitated because I’m in my seventh decade so problem jobs that an unknown number of hands have already screwed around with don’t excite me like they once did. Trucker’s return from alternate reality has softened me up a little so I write a real estimate and have him sign it. A few good things surface during the physical check, and my in depth computer scan. It appears the misfires have not yet killed the very expensive catalytic converters and the only code is a random misfire code. The fuel pressure and fuel injector readings look good and the physical check reveals LA Bob did not break any plugs although they turn out to be not the updated plug Ford has a Tech Bulletin out on. I call up Trucker and give him the news. He reacts a little off key which I expected.
“You mean to tell me I still need a tune-up and it’s going to cost me three times what I’ve already blown on one!?”
Concise and accurate. “Yes, that is correct.” No use getting wordy here.
“What about the money I already dumped in it?”
“That’s between you and your friend of a friend. I’ll save all the parts for you, but it looks like all he changed were the plugs. You’re lucky they’re only the wrong ones and he didn’t break the old ones or strip the threads taking them out. That’s a blessing. One broken plug repair or stripped thread amounts to more than you paid him.”
I wait without comment because anything else I say won’t make him any happier.
“Go ahead and do it.”
Since it’s Christmas I kicked in the diagnostic fee; but as I suspected, neither the truck running great nor the reduced bill pleased Trucker. He paid the bill without comment, took the keys, and away he did fly like the down of a thistle. Like I’ve always said, if you want a pat on the back in this business, best to take a couple Advil and do it yourself. :)
Friday, December 2, 2011
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Released on Kindle edition with preview here: COLD BLOODED
When I finished my first novel back in 1977, I figured an author writes a book, publishers scramble to contract it, and nothing is left to do but attend book signings and rake in the money... yeah right. :) Deep down, I suspected it wasn't really that easy because I scraped together a real career to pay real life bills while pursuing another passion of mine - fixing cars and trucks. Writing acts as an ephemeral outlet for the characters and stories flitting constantly through my head. When Double Dragon Publishing's Carnal Desires Line contracted my novel LANCELOT and then Wild Child Publishing contracted COLD BLOODED the heady but small dream of using these initial credits to get an agent seemed within my grasp... yeah right. As my writing friends know, we authors now own the promotion side of publishing. When a publishing house is nice enough to give an author a break, we'd love to reciprocate by making their decision a profitable one. COLD BLOODED combines many aspects I love reading and love writing: characters that haunt me with dialogue years after I've given them voice, humor, violence, and gray areas of right and wrong where good doesn't necessarily triumph without a little help from the dark side. :)
Saturday, November 12, 2011
It appears since Wild Child Publishing has put up a pre-order page for COLD BLOODED, they may not postpone the release date any longer. My writer friends know this means it is my responsibility to promote what I have spent three years trying to get published. :) Many of my automotive readers have e-mailed me their thanks for answering questions and have recommended putting up a donation gizmo so I could get recompense for my efforts. I hate the word donation so for those of you, and I get thousands of hits on my automotive pages, thank you all for the suggestion but if you want to contribute, and action/adventure fiction appeals to you, take a walk on the wild side of COLD BLOODED. :)
Nick, my writer/assassin character, decides after ten years of black ops assassinations it's time for a change. Against the wishes of his shadow government bosses he has inexplicably managed to become a bestselling author with a string of novels about an assassin named Diego. The novels have made him world famous and provided a cover for his overseas sanctions. He bought a beautiful place in Pacific Grove, California near the ocean where he treks down to his favorite spot at Otter's Point every morning he's not away on assignment. But Nick feels something's missing.
A sometime employer Nick takes on sanctions from when they coincide with the wishes of his government sponsors, orders the death of a woman in the witness protection program. Nick sees something in the woman's picture reminding him of someone he knew long ago. After a brief journey up to the restaurant in Northern California where his potential target, Rachel Hunter, works as a waitress, Nick makes a decision to alter his lifestyle. Hayden Tanus, the CEO of Tanus Import/Export looks out the window of his plush office on the Upper East Side of Manhattan wondering briefly if Rachel Hunter was finally dead. The fifty caliber bullet made a small hole in his window and a large one as it exited his head.
In the following days, playing the role of famous author doing research for his new novel, Nick enters Rachel's life. He inadvertently triggers an unforeseen chain of events launching him in a cross country flight with Rachel, her daughter Jean, and Deke the dog. Rachel has secrets. The people still wanting her dead are about to find out a cold blooded killer now stands in their way and body counts mean absolutely nothing to him.
That's my man, Nick, and here is the scene and short story to give potential readers a little preview: Cold Blooded Scene
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
I knew once all the brick and mortar book stores were on the downswing, that the great pricing on Kindle, Nook, etc. would begin their rise. As I’ve checked pricing for e-books, Kindle editions, and Nook offerings on many of the bestselling authors, I noticed the prices of novels you could have purchased as a softbound book or ‘hardcover on sale’ in the past would be less than the no-book (e-book format) price now. One of Larry McMurtry’s novels had a Kindle price tag of $16.99 and another was listed for $11.99. Granted, there are many bargains out there, but my fears about climbing no-book prices are becoming ever more noticeable.
There are a number of ups and downs I see to this trend. One downtrend will be POD offerings. An on-line publisher offering e-book format novels for what used to be new paperback pricing will naturally have to raise the price on POD paperback and hardbound copies. Soon, this will translate to what happened long ago in video rentals when Blockbuster wiped out the small video outlets. When they were the only game in town the pricing escalated until they killed the goose that laid the golden egg and were wiped out themselves. I realize this new and exciting instant gratification era of e-books is here to stay with all the iPad and other phone tablet gizmos incorporating e-book availability along with first run movies. I wonder if small book stores may eventually make a comeback though, offering an up to date selection of comic books and graphic novels which are tough to enjoy on a Kindle, along with new and used books, including POD’s and audio books of some selections.
Some price escalation I’m sure has to do with the bestselling authors seizing an opportunity to make more than was ever possible on even a large print run hardbound offering. Until market resistance slows sales I don’t see the escalating e-book pricing coming down any time in the near future. One exception to this is the ‘novel series’. I’ve noticed some popular series authors offering their first in series books for next to nothing, thereby gaining sales from new readers jumping on board – and of course full price for the rest of their series run from the readers deciding to purchase later editions. Another exception as always are the unknown new authors and their offerings, many of which can be purchased at very reasonable prices.
It’s an exciting and scary time in the publishing industry and it’s going to stay that way for quite a while. :)
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Wild Child Publishing bumped COLD BLOODED to a November 22ond release date. Actually, I'm not disappointed because if this novel would have been released on time as promised, it would mean the cosmic balance had been disrupted. I'm glad I didn't pump up the release date all over the place. I'm safe here. Only a few friends and some folks I have locked in my closet visit the blog. I guess I better start writing up some entertaining posts until the 22ond. I nearly went full psycho watching Herman Cain's high tech lynching. It must be a real thrill to reach out for your fifteen minutes of fame after a couple decades by making up unsubstantiated libel to destroy a man's reputation simply because he doesn't believe in the same things you do. Anyway, I will announce any other boulders in the path of COLD BLOODED's release as they happen. :)
Monday, October 31, 2011
Well, some good news on the writing front. COLD BLOODED finally has a publishing date for November 22ond and a cover art sample. I'm also posting a scene from the book that is a microcosm of the novel, and a Halloween short story starring my characters.
Scene From COLD BLOODED
“Damn it, Nick! Who the hell are you?” Rachel demanded again in frustration.
“I’m a cold-blooded psychopath with just a tiny thread of humanity left,” Nick answered, patting her hand.
“Oh, c’mon, Nick, I’ve seen you with Jean and Deke.”
“I killed a woman once while I petted her dog. I blew Tanus’s head off with a fifty caliber sniper rifle and had brunch in Pennsylvania later in the day. Tanus hired me to kill you.”
“Oh my God!” Rachel pulled her hand away. She stared into Nick’s unblinking eyes and knew the truth. “You’re Diego?”
“Diego’s a campfire girl compared to what I am,” Nick replied bluntly. “Now that we know a little about each other, what say we work out a way to keep you and Jean in one piece?”
“How…I mean…I don’t know any more than I already told you.”
“I figure it this way, if the leak is plugged, my boss will get the hell off my back. It will make him more amenable to my taking on a team. We’re going to visit your safety deposit box and I’ll get a name or possibly a couple names. I’m going to trade the flash drives to my boss for an okay to sanction the top of the Tanus ladder.”
“What do you mean take on a team?” Rachel whispered, with sudden dawning realization of what team Nick meant.
“As you said, I have a nice place here. After ten years in this business, I’m getting a bit frayed around the edges and in a position to pick and choose what I want to do. Business takes me all over the world and –”
“…and you need a cover,” Rachel continued for him with growing horror. “You think your novelist persona is wearing thin. With a family, no one would suspect what you are.”
“I knew you were smart.” Nick smiled. “The only way this works is if I make it safe for you and Jean to get famous and photographed. Being a best-selling novelist’s wife will mean a lot of exposure, so naturally, all the people who want you dead are going to have to die first.”
“And if I refuse?”
“I return you to Grace and Tim. You and Jean hit the outlaw trail again with Deke. Maybe everything will be okay once the leak in the program is patched.”
“What if I go with Grace and Tim and trade your ass for something nice?” Rachel continued to stare directly into Nick’s eyes.
Rachel shivered slightly as a cold smile wavered and spread outwards on Nick’s mouth. The smile did not stretch to his eyes.
“Why don’t you sleep on it, and let me know what you decide when we walk to the beach tomorrow morning?”
“Does this proposition involve partnering up with you in the biblical sense?”
“You can sleep on that too.”
“When I saw you the first time at the restaurant, were you staking me out?”
“No, I was deciding whether to take Tanus out or not. The picture I had of you reminded me of someone from long ago. You still reminded me of her when I saw you in person.”
“And if I hadn’t?”
“Then I wouldn’t have been there to pull you out of the way last night.”
“Is this what they mean by being caught between a rock and a hard place?” Rachel nodded with a smile at Nick’s admission.
“No, this is between a rock and a cold, hard place,” Nick replied, smiling back.
“Nick.” Rachel looked up as Nick stood and gathered the glasses and wine bottle. “The woman you killed, she was bad…right?”
“She was to someone.”
Nick Halloween Story
A man about the size of a professional football linebacker with sandy hair approached Nick as he greeted Jean. He pointed at Jean. “Is this your little girl, pal?”
Deke the dog had been busily nipping at Jean’s shoes joyously. He turned with a low hum of a growl. Nick had walked down to Jean’s school with Deke as was their custom when picking her up in the afternoon. Nick wrote novels for a living, but he had an alter ego up until a few months before – he killed people, people sanctioned by a shadow government group now in turmoil. Nick glanced at Jean, the little eight year old spitting image of her Mom, Rachel. After a coast to coast adventure of murder and mayhem, Nick had garnered the adopted family he had sought to cover for his assassin line of work, but not without cost. His shadow government employer was now in a state of disarray, having tried to sanction Nick unsuccessfully. Nick exchanged grins with Jean, who knew all about him and what he was capable of.
“She is definitely my little girl.” Nick stuck out his hand. “Hi, I’m Nick McCarty.”
The man ignored the gesture, a leering frown spreading as he looked at Nick’s hand with contempt. “I know you. Big time novelist. Listen up, big time. I want her to stay away from my daughter. She’s a bad influence.”
Nick dropped the hand gesture, looking around at the crowd of parents meeting, greeting, and walking off with their children. Although not drawing a lot of attention, the man’s voice and size drew a few curious looks.
“Am not!” Jean countered before Nick could speak. “Lisa’s my friend. I know what you and her Mom are doing is bad.”
As the man stepped toward Jean, Deke scrambled to put his sixty pound snarling bulk in front of her.
“Best not to make any rude movements,” Nick advised. “Deke doesn’t like people handling Jean. I’m sure we can work this out like adults.”
“Don’t give me any of that writer mumbo jumbo! Just make sure she stays away from Lisa.” The man walked away with only one final glaring look back.
Nick shook his head with a sigh. “Danger, you do know we are in a slightly precarious time with the US Marshall’s service knowing my business and everything, right?”
Jean, aka Danger, glanced around at the milling crowd of adults. At eight years old, with a cross country jaunt recently behind her involving witnessing death and torture, she understood survival very well. “I’ll tell you about it on the way home.”
She took Deke’s leash from Nick after shrugging into her school pack. Deke heeled immediately at her side. Nick followed her lead, grinning in admiration. He didn’t know what this drama was all about but he trusted Jean to be on the right side of it. When they were a block away from the school, Jean smiled up at Nick.
“Did you duct tape Mom into bed again this morning? I heard her scream at you while I was waiting on the sidewalk.”
“Don’t turn this on me, little missy – no I didn’t. I’ve put my childish pranks behind me. I put Jello in her slippers.”
Jean’s giggle turned into full blown laughter. “You… you should have stuck with the duct tape. Is Mom at work?”
“Yeah, she’s working the noon to eight shift at the café. Now, what have you done to garner an enemy like that gorilla I just met.”
“Lisa’s folks are dealing drugs. When I stayed overnight with her on Saturday a bunch of bad dudes showed up while we were watching a movie and banged on the door. Lisa’s folks jumped up in a rush from the couch. The Dad answered the door while Lisa’s Mom streaked into their kitchen. She brought out a bag and gave it to these gang-bangers Lisa’s Dad let in. It was drugs because one of the guys warned her Dad it better be good stuff and gave him a bag I figured had money in it.”
Jean made placating hand motions when she saw Nick’s Terminator visage spread over his countenance. “We weren’t in any danger, Nick… honest. I told Lisa later on she should hide when those guys come over, because the gang-bangers could get mad and kill everyone. I guess she must have told her parents. I knew I wouldn’t be able to go back over to her house after that.”
Nick put a hand on Jean’s shoulder. “You did right, Danger. Lisa should take your advice if her parents are dealin’. You’re a natural at imagining all the bad things that can happen.”
“Can’t you do something about it, Nick?”
Nick chuckled. “I can’t think of anything that wouldn’t endanger you and your Mom or get me sent to prison. Halloween’s coming. I was looking forward to taking you trick or treating with Deke. So is Nate. He told me he’s never taken anyone trick or treating.”
“I know, but Lisa is my best friend.”
“Think it through, Danger. I can’t waste your best friend’s parents, and I can’t wipe out everyone that would buy drugs from them. Add to that Lisa’s parents will not be easy to turn from the dark side. They’ve had a taste of easy money. If the fact they’re selling out of their home with their own daughter present to dangerous people doesn’t register with them, what the heck can I do to dissuade them?”
“You’ll think of something, Nick. Nate says you’re bored.”
“Nate needs to mind his own business. I’ll think about it but I’m not promising anything. Did you decide on being a witch or that goblin thingy?”
“I’m going with the witch, a pretty witch. Thanks Nick for helping Lisa.”
Nick grabbed Jean’s ponytail, giving it a shake. “Don’t thank me. I probably won’t be able to do anything.”
* * *
Three days later Nick engaged his partner Nate concerning Lisa’s parents.
“Let me get this straight. You’re taking a contract from an eight year old girl?”
Nick glared at Nate who was posturing with his ebony arms folded over his chest, a huge grin of disbelief highlighting his features. “You’re the one that told her I was bored. What do you think of my plan?”
“I think it’s nuts. We’ve sailed the high seas with you murdering, looting, and pillaging. You’ve gallivanted across country killing and torturing, all so you can have a little family of your own. Now, you’re trying to adjust two drug dealers’ attitudes to do right and put their criminal past behind them. How do you think I feel about your plan?”
“Well sure, it all sounds goofy when you blurt it out like that.”
Nate laughed. “Okay, what the hell, I’m in. You do realize we have enough money to hire it done.”
“What fun would that be? It’s a challenge. C’mon, I’ll share my little getaway with you I rigged up for something special. This’ll be the perfect test for it.”
Nate clapped a hand on Nick’s shoulder. “Only in Nick land is this a perfect test. Let’s go. I’m wagering Rachel doesn’t know a damn thing about this, does she?”
“Little doubt about that, my friend. Danger is the tightest lipped little girl in existence so unless you’re planning on spilling the beans, we’re safe from my lovely wife.”
“Yeah right,” Nate replied with a head shake, “I’ll look forward to seeing how that statement works out for you
* * *
“Oh my God… this is just… disturbing.” Nate walked around the all white room awestruck.
They were in the out of the way house on an acre of land Nick owned in the Carmel Valley. The subbasement Nick had paid a small fortune to build could only be accessed from an entrance in a stand of trees well away from the house. Gurneys evenly spaced in four sections of the room each had its own movable carrier of surgical implements. Everything in the room had been shielded in removable plastic. Nick turned off the white banks of lights which triggered black light banks next to them. Nate gasped. The entire inside walling and ceiling showed horrific images of mutilation and death only visible in black light. Soft music reminiscent of ‘The Exorcist’ began playing.
“I take it all back, partner. It’s not disturbing. It’s you. What do you do, come here to meditate?”
Nick chuckled. “I fixed it up over the last couple years after seeing the ‘Dexter’ series on TV. Rachel and Danger have been to the house, but you’re the first person I’ve brought down here.”
“Gee, thanks. I see what you mean about a test now. If you bring those two down here and they don’t see the light, they’re space aliens. On the other hand, what will you do if they don’t see the light?”
“Turn them into the cops.”
“That’s what you should do now,” Nate replied. “Did you have someone in mind when you created your house of horror?”
“Nope, just hedging my bets if I needed something out of someone I wanted to keep alive. I’ll give this a shot. We go tonight.”
“I’ll go scrounge up a van.”
* * *
Nick positioned Nate behind him and to his right before injecting Lisa’s parents with a boost to wake them up. They were naked and strapped to gurneys side by side. Their captors wore death masks, black gloves, and black hooded robes. The strapped in couple began to stir, and then groan, and then scream.
“Shut up!” Nick ordered, using his mask’s built in voice altering equipment. The couple shut up immediately with only muted sobs sounding from Lisa’s Mom. “Ray and Denise Santiago. I will be your host tonight. Answer only when asked something and hold nothing back. Get unhelpful and my associate and I will begin cutting things off. Are we clear?”
“Yes… yes, anything,” Ray answered.
“We’re recording, so list all your drug suppliers and network members you pass the drugs on to. Don’t forget to tell us meeting places, drops, and phone numbers. We don’t like small timers in our business.”
“You’ll kill us anyway! Please… we’ll tell you everything. Just let us go.”
Nick picked up a scalpel and sliced a shallow cut down Ray’s body from his neck to his groin. Screams filled the room. Denise begged her husband to tell. Ray listed all their contacts in a shaky, terror filled voice along with all requested information.
“Very nice,” Nick said. He turned to Nate. “Shall we let them go?”
Nate laughed. It was a blood curdling sound with his voice altered. “They will be in our business no matter what they say. Cut them up.”
The screams began again with renewed vigor until Nick ordered silence. “I will put you two under again. If you wake up in your house it would be extremely inadvisable to ever touch another drug.”
Nick gave them each another injection. When they passed out, Nick and Nate removed their masks.
“That was fun,” Nick said.
“That was horrifying, you… oh never mind. I’ll give you this much. If you were in charge of the DEA there would be no drug cartels. What next?”
“I sneak Mom and Pop back into their bed, and make a drop to a guy I know in the real DEA. We’ll keep an eye out for residual fallout in the form of gang-bangers angry with not getting their product. I may have to bring a few of them here for some follow-up questions. Main thing though is to see how reformed the Santiagos are.”
Nate glanced down at the unconscious Santiagos for a moment. “Nick, I doubt their reformation is in question. Their sanity is another thing. You are a very bad man, my friend.”
Nick sighed as he unstrapped the Santiagos. “I get an impossible mission and handle it with my usual expertise. What more can I do to satisfy your sensibilities, Nate?”
“Well, at least these two are still alive.”
“See? Who said I can’t show restraint, right?”
“Yeah, Nick, you’re a real peach.”
* * *
“All ready to go, Sabrina?” Nick asked.
“I’m Elvira, Mistress of the Dark,” Jean corrected him. “Where the heck do you get Sabrina out of this outfit?”
Jean was dressed all in black, including fingernails, eye shadow, and her Mom’s black wig. “C’mon, we have to pick up Lisa.”
“That was nice of her parents to let Lisa go trick or treating with us.”
“I don’t know how you did it, Nick, but her parents are so different, all in a couple days.”
“Maybe they saw the light.”
Jean giggled. “Not on their own they didn’t.”