Tag Archives: crime

Imagine, Selling Fear?

I used to work in broadcasting. Back in those days (I hate when I hear myself say that), to produce even a half hour of local news cost an astounding sum of money. I am going to share with you what I learned from years of working in TV; the programs exist to fill the spaces between commercials and the commercials (which exploit every conceivable weakness and fear in human-kind) bring in revenue which is mostly used to fund news departments. So when CNN launched 24hr News on June 1st, 1980 almost anyone who worked in the news industry thought it would be unsustainable and a whopping financial flop. That was over 35 years ago.

In spite of the unlimited video recording devices in our back pockets, TV news remains astronomically expensive to produce. Soon TV executives came to realize that it was too expensive to send reporters out to report on actual news and much LESS expensive to hire personalities to give their opinions on perceived news. Then those opinions can be played over and over until we accept opinion as fact. These are the people who are molding our history now. Heck, even Glenn Beck is writing and producing History House, preserving his version of history in stories for children who, he imagines, are just waiting for his opinions.

I recently met a group of friends discussing the violent crime rate and what we could do, as concerned citizens, to reduce it. If these fine people had read FBI reports instead of listening to 24hr News they would know that since the early 1990’s crime in America has dropped… sharply. We have reduced crime. We continue to reduce crime. Crime rates now are almost as low they were in 1960. That is fact (please google the FBI violent crime statistics if you doubt this), but how can you convince someone who watches the news… for the news cycle knows how remarkably effective fear is at keeping our eyes on the screen. They run and re-run opinions, between re-runs of shooting and gore… until we accept that NOW is… (Insert computer generated explosion) an unbelievably horrible time in which to live.

So I’m just going to come out and say this… TV is not real. TV news is an illusion. Magic pictures fly through the air. They invade our homes like body snatchers for profit, paid for by commercials selling products that promise to make us feel better. TV is turning us into a nation of frightened people and that’s a pretty sad commentary on the Home of the Brave.

All the while the world improves… silently.

Six months after the debut of CNN, singer/songwriter, John Lennon was shot down outside his home in New York City. It was run and re-run, between ads for deodorant and aspirin. You might have seen a picture of him on my FB page on the anniversary of his death. I reposted it from a woman named Chiron O’Keefe who keeps better accounts of such things. A day later I heard the lyrics of his song:

“A very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, let’s hope it’s a good one without any fear.”

And that is what I wish for too.

So, make it a good one. And if you want to watch your news, by all means, watch. Just remember that fear has been brought to you by someone who just wimagineants to sell you something.

Happy 5th,



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Clara’s Wish by S. M. Senden

Clara Lindgren stood at the edge of the desolate field as the chilly December wind whipped about her. The fields were barren now; winter had come to the land. The broken corn stalks, once so full of potential, lay scattered in the fields, the wind tossing them about as it played in the ruins of the harvest.
She felt that the land was a metaphor for her life, barren, and the springtime of her days were far behind her. She shivered against the cold that penetrated her thick, woolen sweater as she thought about her life.
She was twenty-three now and feared that she was doomed to spend her years as a spinster, to live as a maiden aunt and help raise one of her siblings’ children if one of them would be kind enough to take her in under their roof. Clara would cook, clean and do all the menial chores of a servant in exchange for her room and board.
It wasn’t how she had wanted her life to turn out. Clara still held onto the tattered hopes that someday she would meet that someone special. But that dream faded more and more with each passing season. Life was passing her by, and she didn’t know if there was anything she could do to change it.
She sighed, her frosty breath enveloping her for a moment before it faded.
A light snow began to fall. She loved the smell of snow, a cold dryness that tickled her nose. Usually the frigid fragrances of winter wafted on the wind long before the snow began to fall. Clara looked up as the flakes fell from a flat, leaden sky. She had heard someone call it Winter’s Communion if you put your tongue out to catch the flakes. She watched as they fell, growing thicker in abundance from above.
She could hear the chunky flakes as they plashed into the earth, landed on her shoulders and nestled into her hair.
Soon the bleak land would be covered in a beautiful mantle of white, transforming everything into a fairyland. If only her life could transform as easily. Clara knew she was shy, but she didn’t think she was ugly. She had soft brown hair that she wore in a stylish bob, dark green eyes, flawless, pale skin, an oval face and a kewpie bow mouth. These were the attributes that everyone seemed to want, so why hadn’t anyone wanted her? What was wrong with her that no man had chosen her?
Snow was beginning to accumulate in the rutted furrows, filling them up, transforming the land. Soon the fields would not look so desolate or abandoned with the remnants of that which had been once so full of life and plentiful harvest. The snow now covered the broken stalks, making them over into something wondrous, like something out of a fairy tale.
She realized that it was the first snowfall of the season. She could make a wish now. She had learned of an old French custom of making a wish the first time you did something, or, in this instance, the first of something in a year.
This was the first snowfall of winter, 1923.
She closed her eyes; she knew her wish by heart. She had wished it so often. She wondered if it would ever come true.
“I wish that this might be the last Christmas that I ever see on the farm. I wish to leave this place forever.” Her whispered words took shape in the cold air and hung before her for a moment and then were lost in the frosty wind that snapped them away.

To read more….Clara’s Wish is available on Amazon and Second Wind Publishers.

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Need An Adrenalin Rush? Read a Thriller by Christine Husom

Some years ago, I left my job as a corrections officer, working with inmates in a jail, to take care of my mother who was a victim of dementia. I knew the change would be challenging, but what I hadn’t considered was that I would miss the adrenalin rushes, common in my former position. Then I went to a thriller movie that was excitingly scary and kept my heart pounding to beat the band through much of the two hours. I left the theater happy, and a little surprised by that. I hadn’t thought of myself as an adrenalin junkie up to that time.

So if you find yourself craving a little excitement, sit down with a thriller. One that will keep you on the edge of your seat. In our everyday lives, very few of us are involved in thwarting assassination attempts or acts of terrorism. All the while, trying to stay one step ahead of the bad guys who would surely want to kill us. Thankfully. But a huge segment of the population likes to read about people who are.

What distinguishes a thriller from other mysteries? For the most part, they are fast-paced, action-packed stories where a smart, resourceful hero must stop an enemy and his or her evil plan without getting killed himself. They are often large scale crimes or plots such as mass murder, or over-throwing a government. But there are also thrillers where an innocent victim is dealing with a crazy person who is out to get them. The suspense drives the narrative, sometimes with ups and slight downs, sometimes with constant thrills. They maintain tension to the final climax when the protagonist defeats the antagonist.

According to Wikipedia, “Thrillers emphasize the puzzle aspect of the plot. There are clues and the reader/viewer should be able to determine the solution at about the same time as the main character. In thrillers the compelling questions isn’t necessarily who did it but whether the villian will be caught before committing another crime

“ . . . Usually, tough, resourceful, but essentially ordinary heroes are pitted against villains determined to destroy them, their country, or the stability of the free world. Often in a thriller the protagonist is faced with what seems to be insurmountable problems in his mission, carried out against a ticking clock, the stakes are high and although resourceful they face personal dilemas along the way forcing them to make sacrifice for others.”

There are any number of types of thrillers in the genre, including: psychological, spy, legal, crime, espionage, terrorism, military, mystery, medical, political, adventure, religious, historical, etc. They are set in small towns, large cities, on the seas, exotic islands, polar regions, desolate areas. Anywhere the author can spin a thrilling tale that keeps the reader engaged to the end.

Do you have any favorite thriller authors, or books you’ve enjoyed? Or, if you write thrillers, please tell us about them.

Christine Husom is the Second Wind author of the Winnebago Mystery Series. Her fourth book, The Noding Field Mystery will be released Fall, 2012.







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Pardon, But Your Book is Showing by JJ Dare

Previously, I’ve talked about how writers’ lives influence their books, but have you ever wondered how the books you read and write influence your life?

As a writer, bits and pieces of you are in the stories you tell. Words are the influences and emotions from your environment. Even if your story is set in 17th century as a pirate on the high seas, parts of your life are imprisoned in your tale.

It’s unavoidable. We write what we are, to a certain degree, before imagination and fantasy take over.

What if, after imagination and fantasy take the wheel, the influences reverse? Theoretically, do we become what we write?

Science fiction writers and readers, has a switch flipped inside you and have you started to explore the previously unimaginable? Romance writers, how about you? Do you become the hero or heroine and does your partner start to look like your hot suitor?

Crime writers, are you surrounded by clues in your everyday life? Has writing about detectives helped you find your lost keys faster? Mystery and thriller authors, do you see beneath the masks of those around you?

I had always been apathetically aware of the agendas of others, but that escalated when I started writing suspense. Now, I feel so keenly attuned to the hidden designs of people, I have a “motivation” trigger in my brain that won’t quit.

This comes as an advantage at times. When someone asks me or any of my loved ones a question, I instantly think, why do they need to know and what do they gain from the answer?

If anything, my sometimes off the wall questioning of a question forces others to think about agendas. Although I might come off as a conspiracy theorist, almost everyone has a reason, usually self-related, for the questions they ask.

A few years ago, I would have simply accepted the question and given a straightforward answer. Now, however, after being exposed to my own writing, I look beyond the question to the purpose of the question.

Do writers and readers become better people after creating or reading a book? I hesitated to use the word “better” because measuring one’s goodness (or badness) is unreliable. The meter on that varies too widely at any given second.

However, I do think you become “different” after exposure to a strong book (written or read), but the strength of the written word is subjective and relative to your emotions of the moment.

It’s an interesting concept to think about. I know my writing has changed me. Have books changed you?

J J Dare is the author of two published books, several short stories and about thirty works-in-progress.

Current enthusiasm is co-authoring at Rubicon Ranch


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Take a Bite Outta Crime – Part 30

Sandra took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. “Go ahead.”

Drea allowed her fangs to grow slowly. Her features changed slightly, becoming pale and hollow cheeked. Her eyes were no longer their normal blue, but an eerie red tinged brown.

Sandra’s eyes grew wide, her nostrils flared with fear. She backed away, her hand reaching for the door. Kirk gently touched her arm, but she flinched away. Drea changed back quickly. Dizzy, she staggered back a step. Kirk placed a capsule in her hand. Putting it under her tongue, she relaxed as the medication hit her system.

“You’re—vampires?” Sandra breathed huskily, quickly. “My God! It’s like a nightmare!”

“No,” Drea said. “Not us. Whoever is hunting us, they’re the true nightmare. Our people live on synthetic blood. We take medicine to control the blood lust and never turn anyone without their consent.”

“How do I know I can trust you?”

Drea smiled benevolently. “We’ve taken you into our confidence, Sandra. We haven’t attacked you, nor do we intend to. However, that man you’ve arrested has killed at least one person and is either responsible for, or has knowledge of, the kidnapping of at least a dozen more.”

“Do you think that the others are dead?”

“I fear so,” Kirk said. “What reason would they have to kidnap them otherwise? They haven’t asked for ransom.”

“I’m confused,” Sandra admitted quietly. “You have to admit, this is a lot to absorb like this.”

“We understand completely,” Kirk said. “Believe me, it wasn’t easy for me to accept when Drea first told me.”

“He threatened to tell,” Drea added. “It wasn’t easy to keep him quiet without hurting him. It took all my persuasive power to keep him from waking the entire household.”

“She put up a very convincing argument,” Kirk replied with a sly grin. “She took off all her clothes.”

Sandra laughed loudly, the fear gone from her. “That would about do it. Most men are pretty easy to convince when you’re naked.”

Drea giggled. “Not that he got to do more than look—I wasn’t modest, but I certainly wasn’t a slattern. I had to promise to come back for visits. We talked for hours at a time and eventually, we fell in love.” She brushed Kirk’s hair from his brow.

“It was at that point she offered to turn me. How could I refuse? How often is a man given the chance to be with his soul mate forever?”

Sandra couldn’t conceal a little sigh when he kissed her. “You make it sound so romantic. Don’t you ever…? I mean, aren’t you tempted…?”

“To drink human blood?” Drea asked. “Not often, unless we skip our medicine. Then, we’re no better than the animals who prey on humans. What sets our group apart is that we found ways to live in harmony with humans rather than use them.”

“I promise to look into this,” Sandra said. “I’ll help you find them.” She squinted at them a moment, thinking. “You know, I think I might be able to help you. We can set up a surveillance team to watch you while you work undercover.”


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Take a Bite Outta Crime – Part 28

Drea scanned the lineup carefully, looking for a familiar face. Although they all fit the basic description of the man in their shop, she didn’t think any of them were.

“Could I hear them speak?” She asked quietly.

“Certainly. What shall they say?”

“Blood pudding or Steak Tartar.”

Sandra raised an eyebrow, but leaned over the microphone. “Number One, step forward and say ‘steak tartar’.”

“Say what?” The man looked confused. He stepped forward. “Steak tartar,” he stumbled slightly over the pronunciation.

Drea shook her head. Each man stepped forward, saying the same words. Only one, Number Four, sounded close to right.

“Could Number Four say something else?” Drea said. “I’m simply not quite sure.”

“What would you like him to say?”

“I know your secret. You can no longer hide.”

Sandra gave the instructions. The man stepped forward again, saying the words rapidly.

“He has to say them like he means them,” Drea said.

“Repeat them, with feeling,” Sandra instructed.

Drea closed her eyes, listening. The man cleared his throat, then spoke in a menacing tone. Drea shook her head.

“It’s not him. It’s very close, but not him.”

“Thank you. This group can go out.” She turned to Drea. “I have another group. Would you like to see them?”

“Yes, please.”

The others filed in. Drea waited while they took their places, her eyes closed. One man tread on the heel of the fellow in front of him. The trodden upon man complained loudly, growling at the man behind him.

“Watch it, bub! Pay attention, huh?”

Drea stiffened, her eyes still closed. “Which one is that?”

“Number Six.”

“Have him say the phrase, please.” She kept her eyes closed.

Sandra gave the instructions.

He stepped forward, speaking loudly. “I know your secret. You can no longer hide.”

“That’s him. I’m sure of it.” She opened her eyes.

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Take a Bite Outta Crime – Part 26

“No. You stay out here.”

“But I don’t really know anyone else!” She looked terrified. “They frighten me!”

“Do you think they’re going to bite you?” Margo was incredulous. “Silly child. What do you think Andres means to do? When you marry, he’ll turn you. Or he may turn you first.” She shrugged. “One way or the other, you will become one of us.”

Carley stared after them, trembling uncontrollably. The others stared at her for awhile, but soon lost interest. They were more concerned with what Kirk had said than anything a 23 year old girl would do. The youngest among them was well over 50 human years. They cared very little about a mere child.

The meeting of the security team went for hours. They made plans, discussed strategy and tactics until sunrise. Many of the vampires were day sleepers, but Kirk had made it clear that this habit made them vulnerable. He insisted that they all begin taking the medication that he, Drea and Margo used. It was an unpopular decision, but a necessary one.

When they left the library, they found Carley asleep with her head on the buffet table. Someone had tossed a blanket over her shoulders. Drea suspected it was Silas. He had a very tender spot for young women.

Margo, Drea and Kirk headed home grateful to have that night behind them. They had no pressing engagements, so decided to stay closed for the day. Margo went to her apartment while Kirk and Drea went to the cold sterility of their hotel.

Tommy was awake and frantic when Margo got in. “Where have you been? I called a dozen times at least!”

“I should have told you that my phone won’t work on the compound. They have a dampening net set up to cut down on unwanted attention.”

“I’ve been worried sick!” He held her close, kissing her.

“I’m sorry I frightened you. Come, reassure me for awhile, then I must sleep.”

Tommy chuckled. “Reassurance, is it? Allow me to reassure you how much I love you, how desirable you are, how beautiful. Shall I reassure you more than once, my sweet?”

“Once for now, my darling boy. Then more when I wake.”

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Take a Bite Outta Crime – part 1

My sister gave me this idea when I saw her over the summer.  We were talking about the books we’d been reading.  She said she was tired of vampires in everything – understandable.  She had also read a mystery story where the investigators were caterers.  She thought it was such a dumb premise, she quit reading it.  Then she gave me an idea that I simply had to run with.  This is the story that conversation sparked.

Drea Barr and her husband Kirk Nunne were the most exclusive caterers in the city. They had spent the last seven years building their business working hard to gain a stellar reputation. Now, they were ready to launch an expansion that would take their reputation to new heights.

Drea opened the shop with a smile, turning on the open sign. Flinching as the sun glinted off the cars parked outside, she angled the blinds. The glare was cut to a manageable level. Turning back to the shop with a proud grin, she admired the interior. She had worked hard to create an old world charm.

The floor was cobblestone. The walls were stucco with brick lined arches and alcoves. Bottles of wine and preserved vegetables in a variety of bright hues caught the eye, moving it happily around the interior. The focal point was the French colonial kitchen where Kirk demonstrated his skill, presenting the food samples with a flare few could match.

Drea’s decorative abilities and business savvy had brought them the recognition that Kirk’s cooking deserved. He was unmatched by any other chef in the state, maybe even the country, possibly the world. He had studied long and hard to master every type of cuisine possible. He and Drea offered the widest variety of dishes. Want appetizers from France, entrees from Spain and desserts from Luxemburg, Japan & Belgium? Barr Nunne Catering was the place to go.

Kirk came in, taking her in his arms, nuzzling her neck seductively. They kissed a moment, waiting for the inevitable call for help from the kitchen. For a group of highly trained professionals, they certainly fell apart if Kirk so much as left the room.

“Chef!” It was Margo, the sous-chef.

“Coming!” Kirk bellowed. “Not yet,” he whispered. “Why did we choose a business requiring such early rising? I’m a night person.”

“Aren’t we both?” She giggled, holding his arms around her. “Just think, our dream is coming true.”

“My only dream is spending forever with you.”

They kissed again, longer this time. The call came again.

“Chef!” Margo sounded even more upset.

Kirk pulled himself away reluctantly. “Hold that thought, my love. I’ll be back.”

In the kitchen, all was chaos. Margo was in a dither, furious over something as yet unrevealed. Cursing loudly in French, she paced restlessly.

“What’s wrong, Margo? You don’t usually start to bellow this early in the day.”

“The fish truck is very late. We are to make bouillabaisse for 300. How am I to do so without fish, eh?”

“Jay is never late. Did you call him?”

“Of course! Voice mail!” She made a disgusted noise, throwing up her hands.

Kirk called the fish market himself, also getting voice mail.

“Strange,” he commented. “It’s not like Jay to be this late without calling. And he always answers his phone. Maybe his truck broke down. I’ll go over and get the fish.”

“Thank you!” Margo air kissed both his cheeks.

“I’ll be back soon,” he told Drea. “Hold the fort.”

“Don’t I always?”

Kirk drove to the fish market only a few blocks away. Jay’s truck sat by the loading dock, the rear doors flung wide. The door to the store was also open. Kirk parked his truck and got out. The first thing that struck him was how quiet it was. There should have been a lot of activity.

“I wonder if it’s a holiday or something? No. If it is, why would it all be open?”

Approaching cautiously, he entered the shop. The back room was a disaster. Crates were broken open, fish and ice scattered over the floor.

“Jay?” Fingers of doubt crept up his spine. The scrape of metal behind him made him stop. Only one thing made that noise. Someone had drawn a knife. Kirk raised his hands slowly, ready for attack, but none came. Instead, a low moan reached his ears. Risking a glance over his shoulder, he saw no one behind him.

Lowering his hands, he followed the sound to the cooler. Jay lay on the floor in a pool of blood. Recoiling from the odor of fish and human blood, Kirk forced himself to advance. Whipping out his cellphone, he dialed the police.


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“Buried in Wolf Lake” First Chapter Excerpt

 Note: Sergeant Corrine “Corky” Aleckson, Detective Smoke Dawes and Sheriff Dennis Twardy are in a heated meeting in the sheriff’s office when the phone rings.

     My words were interrupted by the sheriff’s phone.
     “Sheriff Twardy . . . What!. . . Tell me again . . . What’s the location? . . .Okay.” I watched the sheriff’s face grow red, the visible sign his blood pressure was climbing. “Okay. Call the mobile crime lab. Whose working major crimes this week, again?. . . Okay, good. I got Dawes and Aleckson with me. They’ll meet the crime lab team out there. Send the call information to the squad computers, but don’t put this out on the radio. Flag it as confidential. We’ll find out what we got, first.” The sheriff hung up and shook his head back and forth a few times.
     I sensed Smoke’s body tense during the sheriff’s conversation and my own muscles tightened in turn.
     “That was communications. This is a new one. A dog just came home with a human leg bone, appears to be from a female.”
     “Where?” Smoke asked.
     “Eeew.” I felt my face scrunch up in reaction.
     “Dayton Township, Wolf Lake. You two get a move on. I’ll see you there.” The sheriff led the way out of his office and stopped by his secretary’s desk to fill her in.
     “I gotta grab my reports from the squad room. Beat you there,” I challenged Smoke.
     “Yeah, right.”
     Smoke was, hands down, the most skilled driver in the department. He could drive on curvy roads pushing 100 miles an hour. All the deputies were good, but no one was that good.
     The squad room was empty so I was able to grab my things without conversation. I hustled to my squad car. “608, Winnebago County.”
     “Go ahead, 608,” communications officer Robin answered.
     “I’m clear 10-19.”
     “10-4, at 1530.”
     Winnebago County had recently equipped the squad cars with portable computers linked to the county communications department, sheriff’s report and arrest records, as well as Minnesota state driver and vehicle registration records. I read the call for service on my computer.
     The reporting person was a Tara Engen: not a name I recognized. There were a number of people who liked to call in to report various extraordinary, sometimes downright unbelievable things on a regular basis–seldom valid complaints. Of those reporters, some had mental health issues and others were bored, hyper-vigilant or just plain too nosy for their own good. But, like the little boy who cried wolf, even our frequent theatrical reporters had a legitimate call from time to time.
     A suspicious circumstances call. Tara Engen of 8539 Abbott Avenue Northwest, Dayton Township, reported her dog found a woman’s leg in Wolf Lake. My mind scanned through reports of missing people in the county. We had our fair share. Most were teenagers who left without telling their parents where they were going and turned up a day or two later. There was the occasional dementia patient who wandered off on foot or in the family car. The majority of them were found fairly quickly. Once in a while, a non-custodial parent would run off with his or her child. But a missing woman? I could not recall one in the recent past.
     How long had the leg been in the water? Days, months, years?
     Suspicious circumstances, alright.
     A message appeared on my screen from Smoke. “20?” He wondered where I was.
     “CR 10, crossing 50th.” I typed back with my right hand, keeping the squad car under control with my left.
     “4, I’m at 70th.”
     Smoke was two miles ahead of me. I pushed down my accelerator, knowing I wouldn’t catch up with him. Wolf Lake was about twelve miles from the station. Officially, It wasn’t a red lights and siren call, but to the person keeping watch over a woman’s leg, it would be. The faster we got there, the better.
     “710, Winnebago County.“ It was Deputy Todd Mason.
     “Go ahead, 710,” Robin answered for communications.
     “Show 710 and 723 10-8 with Unit 3.” Mason and Carlson were rolling with the mobile crime lab.
     “10-4 at 1539.”
     Dayton Township was sparsely populated. Lake Pearl State Park occupied about half of the square miles. Lowlands, not suitable for building or farming took up another quarter. The remaining ground was rolling hills of trees, pastures and farm fields. The south and west sides of Wolf Lake butted up to the state park.
     County Road 10 crossed County Road 27 on the southern border of the Minnesota state park. I slowed down as I approached County Road 27 and turned left. The first cross road was Abbott Avenue and I pulled my steering wheel right. Abbott was a gravel road and dust hung in the air from a vehicle ahead of me. My squad car stirred up more; I saw nothing but a cloud behind me when I glanced in the rearview mirror. I crossed 85th Street Northwest, the road that led into the park.
     Abbott ran close to the west bank of Wolf and I scanned the water as I drove by, half expecting a hand to pop up like it had in the old movie, Deliverance. A woman’s leg, detached from her body. What had happened to the rest of her? What could have gotten her–a pack of coyotes? The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources did report occasional cougar sightings. Either was possible, but would an animal leave a leg in the lake? Not likely.
     I continued to the north side of the lake and pulled into the Engen’s driveway. An older yellow farmhouse sat on a small rise with a barn and several outbuildings as its backdrop. It was the only dwelling on the lake and had stood many years before the state purchased the nearby land for the park in the 1960’s.
     I phoned communications to tell them I had arrived and hopped out of my car. A dog was barking in the distance, perhaps from the barn or a kennel behind the house. He sounded big enough to carry a woman’s leg bone in his mouth.
     Smoke and a woman around forty years old were standing together near some patio furniture on the east side of the house. Actually, Smoke was standing and the woman was moving from feet flat on the ground to up on tippy toes in a continued rocking motion. Her arms crossed her body in a self-hug and she was staring at the ground.
     Smoke looked at me as I approached, creased his eyebrows together then blinked at a spot a few feet away. I fixed my eyes on the gruesome sight of a woman’s right leg–from the tips of her scarlet-red-polished-toenails to the top of the thigh. The cut which severed the leg from the rest of the body was clean, not jagged or ragged or torn. Not the work of an animal: a non-human animal, at least.
     “Mrs. Engen–Tara–why don’t you have a seat on the chair, there.” Smoke directed in a calming tone. He put a hand on Engen’s shoulder to guide her.
Engen let go of a loud breath. She stopped rocking, but shook her hands at her sides for some seconds. “Umm . . . I’m gonna be sick.”
     She ran a short distance and retched a few times before vomiting. I swallowed and slowly sucked in air through my nose to calm my own churning stomach. Smoke’s eyes traveled from Engen to the ground and back to her for the duration of her sick spell.
Engen’s peaked face was splotched with red circles by the time she finished. “Okay if I go get cleaned up?”
     “Of course,” Smoke told her.
     Smoke and I moved closer to the leg. “Hopefully, she’ll be feeling a little better now,” Smoke said.
     “Don’t count on it, not for a long, long time,” I countered looking down at the severed limb.
     The grass on the lawn had been recently cut, a neatly trimmed combination of grass, clover and plantain. The pale white leg with its red toenails, resting on a bed of green grass struck a frightful contrast. The colors of Christmas on a warm August day.
     “Okay, this is the creepiest thing I have ever seen.”
     “I got a lot more years in than you so I’d have to think about that. Yeah, I’d say this would be on my top ten list.” Smoke squatted to get a closer look and moved the readers from his breast pocket to his face. Let’s see what we got here.”
     I could observe perfectly fine from where I was standing.
     “Pretty clean cut. Power saw? Miter saw, fine blade? A butcher’s saw?” he guessed. “Appears to be from a fairly young Caucasian woman–I don’t know, twenties, thirties. Takes care of herself: pedicure, shaved, maybe waxed legs, or leg–to be precise.”
     Smoke squinted against the sun to find my face. “Which brings up the obvious question. Where the hell is the rest of her?”
     My subconscious response was to glance around, taking in the surroundings. The yard was mowed to a few feet from the water. Swamp grasses filled the space between the lawn and the lake. Poplars grew close to the water on the east bank and the pines and hardwoods, maple, oak and basswood of the state park filled in behind them.
     Where was the rest of the young victim’s body and how did her leg wind up in a small, rural Winnebago County lake?
     “Wha’d Engen say?“ I asked.
     “Not much. I got here only a minute before you. Said her Golden went for a swim and came back with the leg.”
     Smoke studied the leg for a few seconds. “Doesn’t look like it’s been in the water long. I’d say we got ourselves a crime scene,” he added, stating the obvious.
     “You can see the dog’s teeth marks, but look . . .” I had grown more accustomed to the sight and squatted, facing Smoke on the other side of the leg “. . . it looks like a human bite mark here.” I pointed to the spot near the top of the thigh.
     Smoke moved for a better look. “Yeah, well somebody likes to play way, way too rough–bites and cuts.”
     I heard a familiar vehicle on the gravel.
     “Crime lab is here.”
     The dog, which I realized had quit barking some minutes before, started up again. We stood and Smoke waved the deputies over. “Grab the tape and some stakes,” he called to either Mason or Carlson.
     Brian Carlson opened the side door of the mobile unit, stepped in and out a second later with a roll of bright yellow crime scene tape and some stakes. Mason walked up to the dismembered leg and shook his head back and forth. “This is the stuff nightmares are made of.”
     Smoke nodded. “No doubt.”
     “Mine are bad enough already,” I said.
     Smoke opened his mouth in question as Sheriff Twardy’s unmarked white Crown Victoria pulled in and parked next to my squad car in the driveway.
     “Had to get gas,” he said in case anyone wondered what had taken him longer than anyone else to get there. “Oh, for godsakes–it is a leg.”
     No one responded.
     “Sheriff, we call the coroner in for this?” Smoke asked.
      Twardy frowned. “Good question, Detective. This is a first–as long as I’ve been with the department–all thirty-one years.” He wiped the back of his hand across his brow.
     “Sergeant, phone Melberg and let him make the call. Tell him we’ll start searching for the rest of her.” Dr. Melberg was the county coroner.
     “Right.” I stepped away from the others. Dr. Gordon Melberg answered on the third ring. “Hi, it’s Corky Aleckson. The sheriff asked me to call to let you know what we got going here.” He was observing an autopsy of a person who had allegedly stabbed himself, according to a witness. I gave him a summary of the dog’s discovery.
     Melberg clucked his tongue. “The M.E. is about finished here so I’ll head up there shortly. Give me about an hour. Is the leg lying in the sun?”
     “Yes, it is.”
     “Okay, well, of course, don’t cover it, but why don’t you figure out a way to get some shade over it, protect it from the sun.”
     “Will do. Thanks, doc.”
     I relayed Melberg’s request to the others.
     “Let’s grab four of those stakes to build a little tent,” Smoke directed.
Smoke, Mason, Carlson and I each forced a stake into the ground a few feet from the leg to form four corners.
Smoke brushed his hands together. “Mason, got a tarp or blanket in the mobile unit?”
     “Sure, I’ll grab it.”
     We pulled the tarp over the stakes. Smoke looked up at the sky, then down at the leg. “Pull it a little more to the west to block out the sun.” The four of us worked to make the adjustment. “We’ll keep an eye on her, make sure we keep the sun off ‘til Doc gets here.”
     We all understood Smoke meant each one of us was responsible for that task.
     Smoke jotted something on his memo pad. “We’re going to need reinforcements to help with the search, keep the scene secure, interview neighbors.”
     The sheriff pulled out his phone. “I’ll call the chief deputy to pull as many as he can. What’d think? Six more be enough?” he asked Smoke.
Smoke ran a hand across his chin. “Should be to get started. I’m thinkin’ we’ll need divers, too, but I want to take a quick look-see around before we get ’em here.”
     The sheriff nodded and made his call.
     “Okay, troops, let’s get this roped off before anyone else shows up,” Smoke advised.
     “How much are you thinking, Detective?” Carlson asked.
     “From here to the road, down the road the length of the lake.” Smoke pointed out the areas in question. “If we spot tracks of a vehicle pulling off the road, go around ‘em.”
     He paused a minute, scanning the lake and the land around it. We all followed suit. From our north side vantage point, I observed the east side was wooded and the south side had a gentle hill rising perhaps five or six feet, then dropped into a swampy area. On the west, there was a fenced-in pasture on the other side of the road.
     Smoke addressed Todd Mason who was holding the thirty-five millimeter camera. “Start with the leg, then move down to the lake. When the homeowner comes back out–she went in to splash some water on her face–we’ll see where the dog found the leg. Hard to see from here, but it looks like there are a fair number of tracks by the water.” He squinted and pointed to an area on the west bank.
     “Aleckson and Carlson, you mark off the perimeter to the west there, then we’ll do a closer look-see,” Smoke instructed.
     The house screen door closed and we turned to see Tara Engen coming toward us. Her drawn face had a little color restored in it and her shoulder-length brown hair was wet and straight. Apparently she had done a quick shampoo and towel dry.
     “Ms. Engen, you see where the dog found the leg?” Smoke asked.
Engen shook her head. “No. Zeke likes to go for a swim. He usually goes in over there.” She waved her pointer finger in the direction where Smoke had noticed the tracks.
     “It’s easier to get in the lake; not so many weeds, like here.” She indicated where her yard became swamp reeds and grasses by the lake.
     “Anyway, I was putzing around the yard, not paying much attention to him. On my way to the garden I heard Zeke barking, very incessantly. You know like he was telling me something?” She searched Smoke’s face and he nodded that he understood.
     Engen exhaled sharply. “So I went back and saw Zeke had something laying on the ground. At first I thought it was a log, but it looked so weird. I couldn’t figure out what it was for what seemed like a whole minute or so. And Zeke just kept barking the whole time.” Engen frowned and crossed her arms, resting them on her waist.
     We were as still as four sculptures in Engen’s garden, listening to her account, gleaning for answers.
     “Then what happened?” Smoke urged.
Engen closed her eyes and hugged herself tighter. “I think I screamed . . .” She paused, then nodded. “Yeah, I screamed. And that pretty much scared Zeke. He looked at me like he knew something awful had happened. I couldn’t think of what to do for the longest time. Finally, I put Zeke in his kennel and called 911. Then I called my husband at work and told him to come home right away.”
     “You did exactly the right thing,” the sheriff assured her.
Engen frowned. “Who would put a leg in our lake?”
     The burning question.
     “That’s what we intend to find out,” Smoke affirmed.
Sheriff Twardy took a step toward Engen and eased a reassuring hand on the back of her shoulder. “Let’s go sit on your patio and let the deputies do to their jobs.”
     Engen nodded and the sheriff ushered her away.
     “We’re going to need a bunch of stakes. Think we got enough?” I asked Brian Carlson.
     “Should have.” He was holding four or five. “We’ll start marking and I’ll grab more when we run out.”
     Carlson handed me the roll of crime scene tape then stuck the first thin metal stake in the ground about eight feet north of where the leg lay. I attached the tape and began unrolling as we walked toward the road, following the length of the Engen driveway. Carlson and I kept our heads down, our eyes scanning every inch as we moved slowly along. Abbott Avenue ran anywhere between four and eight feet from Wolf Lake on the west side, following the shoreline fairly closely. Carlson stuck a stake in the ground every eight feet, or so and I followed behind, attaching the tape.


Filed under books, fiction, writing

Writing is a Many-Splendored Thing

I have been taking a break from writing for the past few weeks, mainly because of the holidays and the sad lack of time. Even though I am not writing at the moment, a few things that happened over the weekend made the fact sink in that I really am a writer.


The first epiphany happened when I was talking to a former coworker in the middle of the grocery store. After exchanging pleasantries and gossiping about our former boss, she asked how the writing was coming along. I noticed a few people around us perk their ears up (you can always tell when someone is trying to listen without appearing to listen) and I told her about the book signing I would be a part of in February.


Before I could finish talking about the Winston-Salem event, she launched into the different types of books she thought I should write. One was a nonfiction expose on the defunct company we had previously worked for, another was a fictional account of how she met her husband, and still another was a biography of her favorite actor. I politely thanked her and left the option to write these books very open.


It hit me after we parted ways that she thinks of me as a bona-fide writer, and, as such, I am capable of writing anything. While her choice of subjects for me to pen bordered on the ridiculous, just the fact that she believed I could whip out anything and everything made me feel good.


The second happened when I finally made good on last year’s resolution (yep, 2008 ) and started walking for exercise. As a dear friend and I strolled around a walking park, on our second mile around, we stopped to talk to a man looking into the woods while holding a GPS.


It turned out this gentleman was on a treasure hunt. An online site, geared toward those who have a GPS, encourages users to set up little caches of prizes all over the place. This man was searching for a “cache” in our walking park.


As we were watching him look for the lost treasure, my friend noticed the slack expression on my face and said, “You’re thinking about a plot, aren’t you?”


Wiping the drool from my chin, I nodded a yes. “A treasure hunt, but what if you find something you’re not supposed to find and what if that starts a chain of events that you can’t stop, and what if . . .”


I had about two minutes of what-ifs. My friend was used to it, since he is my writing sounding board.


“Do you want to murder him?” he asked after one particular what-if. Just as he said this, the treasure-hunting gentleman walked back up to us.


The expression on the man’s face was priceless.


I was devilishly tempted not to explain. However, I wanted to find out more about this fun type of treasure hunt, so I told him I was a writer and we were thinking of plots for a book.


Suddenly, standing in the middle of the woods looking for a silly box, I realized that, although I may think I have stopped writing temporarily, the writing in my mind never stops. Here a plot, there a plot, everywhere a plot, plot. I am a writer, whether I am writing or not, and it is really a fun place to be 8)


J J Dare is the author of “False Positive” and “False World,”

the first two novels in the Joe Daniels’ trilogy




Filed under books, fiction, life, writing