Saturday, November 16, 2013

Now Available: TRAILS OF THE WILD: Seven Tales of the Old West

Just released from David Cranmer's Beat To A Pulp Press, here is a fine and diverse collection of stories set in the Old West. There is humor, danger, drama, romance, and plenty of action.

The writers are seasoned veterans all. They include: James Reasoner, Patti Abbott, Evan Lewis, Kieran Shay, Matthew Pizzolato, Chuck Tyrell, and some guy named Dundee. It's a terrific lineup and I'm proud to be part of it.

My story is actually novella-length and is the third I've done featuring the popular Cash Laramie character as originally created by David Cranmer writing under his pseudonym Edward A. Grainger. It's called "The Empty Badge" and once again I put ol' Cash through some mighty tough paces. Following is a sample that I hope will whet your appetite and make you want to read more:

Edward A. Grainger's
Adventures of Cash Laramie & Gideon Miles

The Empty Badge

as written by Wayne D. Dundee


The rain and darkness made it difficult for Cash to spot the sentry. In fact, he was almost on the verge of concluding that, because of the storm, the gang had perhaps decided not to bother posting a lookout in the belief that no one was likely to be closing in on them under these conditions.
If they figured that, then they weren't reckoning on the tenacity of U.S. Deputy Marshal Cash Laramie.
At that moment, a rolling flicker of lightning coming quick on the heels of a low growl of thunder, reflected for the briefest second off the shift of a rifle barrel in some underbrush only a dozen or so yards ahead of where Cash knelt. 
Cash backhanded rainwater away from his face and smiled grimly. With the lookout's position fixed firmly in his bearings now, he began to edge forward and slightly to the right. He moved in a low crouch, the barrel of his own Winchester Yellowboy pressed tight to his body, under the fall of his dull charcoal-colored slicker, so no sudden lightning pop could reflect off it and betray him in the same manner as the sentry had allowed. 
The sound of his movement was effectively muffled by the steady hiss of the falling rain and the low moan of the wind, not to mention the intermittent thunder. Even without these aids, however, Cash was highly skilled—thanks to the training he had gotten during his formative years being raised by a band of Arapaho—in the art of silently stalking prey.
As even the most fleeting memory of those years often did, tonight it caused Cash to reach involuntarily with his free hand and gently touch the arrowhead that hung around his neck on a leather thong. The arrowhead had been a gift from his dying Arapaho mother and he was never without it. Touching the simple talisman, no matter if done without conscious thought or awareness, somehow soothed and seemed to provide a measure of reassurance in the face of any situation.
Cash cautiously circled around to the rear of the lookout's position and then moved up behind him. Since making the costly mistake that gave away his position, the man had remained very still. But it was too late.
Gripping his Winchester in both hands—one near the end of the barrel, the other just behind the cocking lever—Cash leaned in close enough to smell the unwashed sourness of the man, even through the dousing rain. Bracing himself, he raised the Winchester up above the man's head and then lunged suddenly forward, sweeping the rifle down over the sentry's face and jerking back hard against his throat. Cash felt the windpipe collapse, heard the crunch of the larynx. The victim struggled briefly, one foot kicking in and out, hands clawing at the rifle, trying to pry it away. But it was all in vain. Soon his body sagged limp and still. Dead.
Cash let the body slip to the ground and dropped into a motionless crouch, listening intently, eyes slitted against the brilliance of the lighting pops while scanning to make out as much as he could in those brief moments of illumination.
Satisfied the brief struggle had not been heard and was not generating any response, Cash rose up and stepped forward over the fallen body. He didn't know which member of the Driscoll gang he had just killed, but it really didn't matter. Unless, of course, it was Everett Driscoll himself. The elimination of their leader would have devastated the other gang members and made the rest of Cash's job a lot easier … but that was too much to hope for. No way Everett was even-handed enough to assign himself sentry duty, especially not on a night like this.
Cash stepped out of the underbrush, out into the open and the rain again, and began making his way upslope toward the mouth of the shallow cave where the remaining four members of the gang were holed up for the night. He allowed himself neither remorse nor regret over the one he'd killed. Leaving the man alive—even unconscious and restrained, if he'd taken the time—was too much of a risk to have that close behind him while he went to deal with the others. Furthermore, there wasn't a member of the gang who hadn't proven many times over to be evil and bloodthirsty enough to deserve killing.
At the top of the slope, Cash paused to one side of the cave's narrow opening. Off to his left, where he had determined some time earlier the horses were staked, he heard one of the animals chuff. From inside the cave came so much ragged snoring it was a marvel any of those present could sleep a wink. And overhead, thunder growled regularly.
Cash smiled his grim smile again. Christ, with so much other noise drowning out his approach, it almost seemed like he could have thrown caution to the wind and marched in tooting a bugle and beating a drum … But approaching a potentially dangerous situation with caution was too ingrained in Cash, too much a part of him, to ever change. It was what had kept him alive this long in a profession where anything less could be permanently career and life ending. 
Timing it not to be backlit by a burst of lightning while he was framed in the opening, Cash glided ghostlike into the cave and immediately flattened himself against the rocky wall amidst a pool of dense shadows. The interior was predominantly dark and shadow-filled, but the softly glowing coals of a nearly dead fire gave off a faint reddish light.
As Cash's eyes adjusted, he could gradually make out the four shapes of as many sleeping men. In the confined space, their snores were even louder. But outside the storm was rapidly intensifying, the accelerated claps of thunder and increasing howl of the wind doing their share to maintain command over the sounds of the night. Cash knew the gang members were weary, having ridden long and hard to try and stay ahead of him. So he expected their slumber to remain deep. But at the same time he wanted to make sure he took advantage while that was still the case.
Again moving ghostlike, Cash advanced on the glowing coals and picked up a pair of medium-sized branches from the nearby pile of firewood. He laid these carefully across the coals and then stepped back, pausing to make certain his movement hadn't disturbed anyone. When he was confident it hadn't, he moved again, this time to seize up three rifles and one discarded gun belt he spotted lying outside the bedrolls of the sleeping gang members. He knew there was bound to be more weapons inside the bedrolls, but getting rid of these would be a start. He carried the confiscated guns over to the cave opening and flung them out into the stormy night.
Then he stayed there, standing just within the cave's entrance, giving him the widest vantage point over both the interior and the sleeping men. When the time was right, he wanted everything and everybody well lighted and well within his range of vision. Quietly, he pulled four sets of handcuffs from a slicker pocket and let them dangle from his free hand, making sure the chains were not tangled.
The freshly-applied branches started to hiss and then crackle and then the first tiny flames started to lick up out of the coals. Cash waited with the patience of an Arapaho hunter.
Behind him, outside, the storm continued to grow stronger. Pitchforks of lightning stabbed the boiling sky, thunder crashed almost constantly, and the rain came down harder, blowing against his back and skimming across the hinges of his jaw. Rivulets of rainwater were now gushing down from the rim of the high, rocky cliff into whose face the cave opening was notched.
Cash flipped up the slicker's collar and continued to wait. The branches were starting to burn stronger and the interior of the cave was growing brighter. Another minute or two and the time would be right to roust this pack of rattlers, shoot any of them who weren't smart enough to see he had control over the situation, and then—
Without warning, a fat section of rock and mud and gravel tore away with a great growling, sucking sound from the cliff face directly above the cave opening where Cash stood. It tumbled down and partially into the notch right on top of him. Cash had no chance to react. He heard the strange noise and felt the crushing weight all in the same instant. The top of his head exploded with pain as a heavy rock within the falling mass slammed against his skull and when he opened his mouth to cry out it immediately filled with mud and gravel. Then his ears filled, too, and the only sound he could hear after that was the scream coming from inside him …

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Michael Avallone's LUST IS NO LADY (Review & Commentary)

Ever have something, or maybe just a fragment of something, get caught inside your head where it sort of rattles around for years, maybe decades? It never really comes to the fore as something important enough so that you have to deal with it, but neither does it completely go away.
For a writer, like me, these loose bits of memory or observation or whatever they are, often turn up in a story as a character trait or maybe even a full-blown character, perhaps a descriptive passage, and once in a while even the basis for a plot or at least a title.
Sometimes these vague things never really amount to anything … just faint bits of something from the past that float to your awareness every now and then, and then float away again.

For a long time, the opening passages of LUST IS NO LADY fell somewhere in one of those categories for me. I remembered reading about a detective getting caught out in some remote place where a small, low-flying airplane dropped a load of bricks as it swooped overhead, smashing the hell out of his car and nearly killing him. This would have been back in the middle '60s and the story was the featured fiction piece in one of the many men's magazines available back then. I don't mean a skin rag, I mean the kind of men's magazine that had adult jokes and cartoons and plenty of cheesecake, to be sure, but also articles and tough-guy fiction geared toward men and male interests. I wasn't exactly yet a man at that point, but I nevertheless had some shared interests.
I don't remember the name of the magazine and for the longest time I couldn't remember the title of the story, its byline, or the name of the detective in it.
Many years later, while reading the descriptive blurbs for a list of hardboiled paperbacks, I came across mention of the plane-dropping-bricks scene and found out it was from LUST IS NO LADY, one of Mike Avallone's Ed Noon books. By that point I had become very familiar with the Avallone byline. Not through just his Ed Noon books and stories, but also through his various TV and movie tie-ins and a few of his "adult" novels. In fact --- and somewhat surprisingly, considering my fondness for and focus on all things PI or private eye-like --- it wasn't until THE FEBRUARY DOLL MURDERS that Noon earned a spot on my radar. Prior to that, what already had the Avallone byline on my radar were works like STATION SIX-SAHARA, THE DOCTOR'S WIFE, and the MAN (and GIRL) FROM U.N.C.L.E. tie-ins. After that, it was my happy task to search for the prior thirteen Noon books I'd missed and keep an eye out for the new ones yet to come … along with the rest of Avo's output. Still, it took me until only recently to track down LUST --- currently having been re-issued as an eBook.

LUST IS NO LADY (aka THE BRUTAL KOOK), is one of the stronger entries in the Noon series. Just incidentally, it marks the end of what might be called Noon's "more traditional detective mystery" period. After that, starting with the aforementioned FEBRUARY DOLL MURDERS, Noon became more of a globe-trotting quasi-superspy (reporting directly to the President of the United States for certain cases), clearly influenced by the James Bond/spy craze that was casting a shadow over everything in those days. The plots and characters got progressively wilder --- not necessarily less entertaining, mind you, but nevertheless a departure from the direction of the series as it started a decade-plus earlier.
Not that LUST (nor most of the Noon books, for that matter) is lacking in wild plot twists or distinctive characters either. Start with being air-bombed by bricks out in the wilds of remote Wyoming; mix in a nude deaf mute Indian maiden found staked out in the desert and left for vulture bait; add in a blind old Indian man (the maid's father) tortured to death and his corpse found hanging by the neck; season with a hidden stash of gold, a cast of men and women (all quite lovely, just incidentally) living secretly in a ghost town-like camp, and top off the whole works with a psychotic dwarf. Propel it all along in Avallone's energetic, somewhat quirky --- yet always compelling, in the sense of making you want to keep turning the pages --- writing style, and you have a corker of a tale. The mystery of the lost gold is solved in a basic, but still rather clever manner, and the final denouement where the psycho dwarf "gets his" is quite satisfactory. A bit of a change of pace for Noon, as far as setting, though still satisfying as a tried-and-true PI yarn.

Added Personal Note:  Starting in the late 1980s, and on until his death in 1999 --- via numerous letters and phone calls, and during one memorable 3-day stretch at a Bouchercon (Philly, I think it was) --- I got to know Mike Avallone fairly well. I'll always cherish the friendship.
Most of this was at a time after he had quit selling very well and was on the outs with a lot of people. This stemmed, he steadfastly maintained, from his being black-listed due to having had the audacity to loudly and publicly question royalty statements from one of the more powerful publishing houses. I'm in no position to comment first-hand on the matter, since it all took place before my arrival on the scene, but I've come to believe that Mike's claims were legitimate. "But nobody would stand up with me," he often said. "Not only that, none of 'em would even hold my coat while I fought the fight."
Which, of course, did nothing to stop Mike from continuing the fight and airing his grievances to anybody who'd listen --- friend and foe alike. Much of this he did via the U.S. mail, firing off scores of letters to anybody and everybody. (All of this was long before e-mail or Twitter, of course --- and, lord, wouldn't he have been a holy terror if he'd had those at his disposal in his lifetime?).
I got a ton of Avo-grams. After our meeting at the Bouchercon he always called me "Big Bear", never anything else. While the letters I got were always friendly (except for the times he would chew me out for not writing back often enough), they still often contained a rant or two about somebody or something that had him currently pissed off.
He'd also phone me once in a while, referring to this in follow-up letters as "ameche time" or "when we last talked on the ameche" … i.e. in reference to Don Ameche who starred in a movie about the life of Alexander Graham Bell.
Avo was an original. "The Fastest Typewriter in the East" he called himself, and lived up to it. This, along with his unique slant on looking at things (like "ameche time") and using that same kind of quirky perspective and trivia references in his writing, made for some passages that came out as, shall we say, less than literary gems. Yet at all times he was damned readable and, like I said before, always kept the story moving and kept you wanting to turn to the next page.
No matter what else, I have little doubt that writing peers in my age bracket read plenty of Avallone and I suspect we all learned a trick or two from him. It saddens and angers me now that there are some who only see fit to acknowledge his name by digging up "Avallone-isms" and poking fun at them.
He sure as hell deserves more respect than that.

The fastest typewriter in the east doesn't clatter any more. The silence leaves us all less entertained.
I miss Avo.
Damn it, I wish I would have written back and called back more often when I had the chance.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Now Available: MANHUNTER'S MOUNTAIN (print version)

MANHUNTER'S MOUNTAIN was the first novella-length work to feature David Cranmer's popular Cash Laramie character, which he wrote as Edward A. Grainger in a series of short stories featured in David's own Beat To A Pulp and in other eMagazines. It was my honor to be asked by David to be the author of this venture. As a result, MM turned out to be one of the most popular titles to appear with my byline attached and, on a personal note, one of my proudest efforts.

All of which adds to my pleasure at seeing it now available in print format.

For those who prefer reading print/paper over electronic media and may not have given MANHUNTER'S MOUNTAIN a try previously, I hope you do so now. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

I am told by David that he is planning more print follow-ups soon, which I hope will also include my second Cash novella, THE GUNS OF VEDAUWOO.

The third, by the way—entitled THE EMPTY BADGE—will be featured in a print collection called TRAILS OF THE WILD just now becoming available.
More on that soon.