Inspiration comes from many directions–the daily news is a constant source–which frequently spawns ideas for a poem or an essay, or an idea that will work in one of my short stories or novels. Despite the occasional detour, I’m currently focusing on three projects:
1) A collection of poems and essays titled, COYOTE MOON Horsin’ Around in the Poetry Corral. As the title implies, many of the poems reflect a Western/Cowboy tone, while others draw their inspiration from current events, or something I hear, say, or observe that indicates, “There’s a poem in there.” Regardless of the theme, all the poems rhyme and relate a story.
Here’s a sample…one of my favorites.
LONG LOST BILL
It’s said that the man was a drifter, and that he’s a-driftin’ still
That trail-worn, lanky cowboy, who was known as Long Lost Bill
My grandpa told me ‘bout the man, said he worked with Bill for awhile
Said “That cowpoke was polite as he could be, though he seldom cracked a smile
“Ol’ Bill rode ‘round on a flea-bitten mare. Yep, Lucy was the critter’s name
A homely ol’ nag that plodded along, with a droopy red tail and long mane
“But get her ‘round cattle that horse sprung to life, the pair worked best all alone
I never saw a man any finer with a rope, astraddle that rust-colored roan
“Ol’ Bill was renowned for his cattle call. His yodel harnessed many an ear
A calmin’ sound on dark stormy nights that sang ‘cross the prairie so clear
“Yep, he and Lucy would ride ‘round the herd, his voice driftin’ on the stiff breeze
Them bawlin’ cows would settle right in, save for one calf’s snot-nosed sneeze
“’Cept durin’ chores Bill shuffled about, his boots just a-draggin’ the dirt
A floppy ol’ Stetson crowned his head, ‘bove a sweat-stained red woolen shirt
“Bill’s chaps and hands bore many a scar from cattle drives over the years
Trophies he’d earned from a back-bustin’ job he accepted with nary a fear
“He’d perform any task he was asked to do. Hell, he didn’t even mind ridin’ fence
Out on the range, not a soul for miles. To his pards Long Lost Bill made no sense
“Bill never stayed long in any one place, but he worked most the spreads in these parts
Some folks suspected he was dodgin’ the law, or escapin’ a pure broken heart
“Or maybe it was both, no one knew for sure ‘cause Bill kept mostly to himself
Never seemed to care ‘bout anything much ‘cept a picture, ‘bove his bunk on a shelf
“A sweet blond gal grinned from the wooden frame, her eyes just a-sparklin’ bright
An’ before turnin’-in Bill would whisper soft words, then kiss that sweet lady each night
“Then one mornin’ Bill’s bunk stood bare, he an’ Lucy had just disappeared
The only reminder they’d been there at all was the photo that Bill so revered
“When Long Lost Bill died, as the story goes, he was prayin’ on bended knee
But ‘cause of bad deeds he’d done in the past, St. Peter ignored his last plea
“Legend has it Lucy passed that same day, to the end a loyal old steed
Some say she croaked out of love for Ol’ Bill, others claim ‘Nope, rotten feed!’
“It’s said Bill and Lucy still roam the vast plains, their spirits like a wavering mist
Dust devils puff as Lucy’s hooves drag the ground. Crisp air gives Ol’ Bill one more kiss”
Now I know a good story is a yarn told well, and this one I hold as first rate
Though I’ll admit I’ve often pondered about Bill and Lucy and their penitent fate
And I think of Grandpa, who’s now gone as well, and this tale that I always deemed tall
‘Til a wind whips up ‘cross the wide open range and beckons Ol’ Bill’s Long Lost call
*This poem was inspired by the Tex Owens song “Cattle Call” and was selected as the Cowboys and Indians Magazine online Poem of the Week for September 15, 2010. – GRM
2) The first Homicide Detective Ike Barney novel titled, IF DADDY ONLY KNEW. This and future Ike Barney stories are based on characters developed within my seven-part short story series. In IF DADDY ONLY KNEW, although Homicide is never fun, Ike’s life seems to be settling down, until he learns that the serial killer who murdered his wife seven years ago is back in town. As Ike investigates the Lucifer Killer’s current victims, it becomes clear that LK is out for vengeance. But why? His personal challenge to Ike represents a game of winner takes all, with Ike’s new love, Arielle, as the ultimate prize.
Here’s a taste of of what Ike is up to.
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Ike Barney stood beside the headstone that bore his deceased wife’s name. He’d come there again to talk to a soul that could no longer respond. Or could she? Ike was no longer sure. Unsure about a lot of things since Arielle Matson had entered his life. Entered hell, she dominated it. And that’s what Ike had to explain. What he had to justify to Helen.
“Sorry, Babe, it just happened. Something clicked. Next thing you know––poof––we’re sleepin’ together, then movin’ in together. Something I never thought would happen again. But you gotta understand, Helen, it’s more than just shackin’ up and goin’ halvsies with the utilities. We care about one another and share our lives. That’s why––”
From his jacket pocket Detective Barney’s cell phone chimed the opening riffs to Sweet Home Alabama. He’d advised co-workers at the district office not to bother him for an hour. Senior homicide detective or not, Ike needed time alone to set things straight with Helen. To sense she approved, so he could move on with his life.
Ike grunted. “Can’t get a minute’s peace, even when you beg. Then again, it might be Arielle.”
The air felt thick as a sauna, minus the steam. Clouds laden with moisture hung dark and low in the sky. Ike pulled the iPhone from his jacket pocket and eyeballed the screen. It wasn’t Arielle. “Dammit. What could be so friggin’ important they can’t manage without me? What’ll they do when I retire?”
The last question surprised him. Even after twenty-eight years with the St. Louis Police Department, most of them in Homicide, he wondered if he’d ever retire. Ike glanced at the sky and then gazed at the headstone. “See what you missed out on?”
The polished granite slab remained solid and cold. Today would have been their twenty-third anniversary. Ike stared at the dates etched into the stone as his phone boogied toward voice mail. Nearly five years had passed since Helen Elaine Barney had been taken from him. Ike recalled the incident too well. December 2010, the year he learned to hate Christmas all over again. Then Arielle came along and set him straight.
Her swastika-like tattoo and pinkie ring had initially turned him off, yet there was something about her ginger-headed attitude that drew him in. A witness at first, her status changed to suspect, then to best friend, roommate and lover. Ike inhaled deeply. He held the air for a moment and then released it in a cheek-bulging huff. “I’m sorry, Helen.” He turned and shuffled through the late morning dew toward his unmarked sedan.
Ike slid onto the Dodge Charger’s bucket seat and stared at the spent Grande-sized Starbucks cups and unlucky lottery tickets that littered the passenger side floorboard. The courtship was over. The car was definitely his. At least he’d cut back from Vente to Grande coffees; Powerball tickets once a week instead of twice. The heap to his right, however, verified that Ike’s resolution to moderate was a recent decision.
Ike reached for the ignition but remembered the unanswered phone call that interrupted his graveside confession. He checked the recent-calls list and noted the culprit. The voice mail message was brief. “Ike, it’s Rudy. Call me ASAP.”
Ike poked the call-back and speaker icons, and waited for a response.
“Medical Examiner, Baker speaking.”
“Thought I told you guys I needed time alone this morning,” Ike said.
“I recall your request, but thought you should know about our latest guest in the morgue.”
“Who brought in the victim?”
“Ryan and Physter.”
“Why aren’t you talking to them?”
“Captain Paulie said you needed to––”
“What’s so special it couldn’t wait another half hour?”
“Not sure how to tell you, Ike.”
“Then why did you call?”
“Look, I know it’s not Arielle. She texted me forty-five minutes ago.”
“You’re right, Ike. It’s not Arielle.”
“Now that we agree on something, how ‘bout you break it to me like usual?”
Baker sighed and then launched into a unique variation of a well-patterned monologue. “The victim is a white female. Brown hair, brown eyes. Twenty-nine years of age. Five-foot six-inches tall and one-hundred twenty-three pounds. Initial ID indicates the victim’s name is Roberta Larson. Distinct ligature marks around the neck indicate strangulation leading to asphyxia as probable cause of death. Further, contusions about the head and torso indicate she was beaten prior to her death––most likely with a blunt object other than a fist. Additional ligature marks and abrasions at the wrists and ankles indicate she was bound while being tortured. A pelvic examination indicates rape––possibly pre and post mortem––but there’s no trace of semen. The killer either wore protection, or used an object other than his anatomy.”
“Sounds like we’ve got us a real sicko.”
“That’s not all,” Baker said. “Roberta Larson was a cop.”
“Miss Larson’s uniform name tag was placed in her mouth. Distinct marks on her neck indicate she was likely Tasered, possibly with her own weapon. She also matches the description for a BOLO issued two days ago through the County Police. Her partner’s been dispatched to identify the body before we contact next of kin. Fingerprints and dental records––DNA if she’s on file––will further confirm her identity.”
“Let me know the outcome.”
“One more thing troubles me, Ike––been troubling me for over four years. Officer Larson’s naked body was found in a roadside ditch on Hollowell Road, covered with a satin shroud and an inverted pentagram drawn on her abdomen.”
Although Rudy Baker assumed the significance of his last remark wasn’t fully transparent, it was, and it hit Ike hard.
Baker continued. “It’s the same guy that killed Helen, Ike. The Lucifer Killer is back.”
3) The 1950s Randal Murphy P.I. series. In the first novel, DEAD LEGENDS On the Heels of the Earl, Murphy is hired to track down an old heartthrob’s missing husband. Clues lead Murphy down a path that involves the mafia, dirty cops, flying lead, and several dead bodies. It also includes unexpected benefits. But when the man Murphy is supposed to find is declared a corpse, it’s case closed–until the deceased husband calls Murphy, insisting he’s alive, that his girlfriend has been murdered, and that, without Murphy’s help, he’s next. The twisted climax opens the door to the sequel, titled:
TARGET FOR TWO. A bullet interrupts Randal Murphy’s wedding. The undiscovered killer from his last case or somebody new? Murphy’s first lead introduces him to a “retired” Mafia assassin. After a second sniper attempt, two more odd fellows enter the picture, each bent on knowing Murphy’s whereabouts. The ex-Mafia man knows them both and offers to assist. But why?
Here’s two steps back to the 1950s with Murphy, P.I.
— From DEAD LEGENDS: On the Heels of the Earl.
– 1 –
Friday, the end to a bastard of a week––like all my weeks lately. On top of that, it was the thirteenth. Things couldn’t get much worse. Then she walked in.
A soft rap on the door preceded the tall brunette, who swayed into my office. A black, broad-brimmed hat sat cocked atop her head, securing a gauzy fishnet veil. The combo shadowed dark glasses and hints of an Esteé Lauder complexion. A rosy fragrance wafted in behind her, a pleasant addition to the hot, humid air that shared my office. The leggy dame paused and stared as I eyeballed her contours.
I’d been working on my needlepoint, a gimmick to busy my hands while I focused on a case…if I had one. But the cross and headstone image from my last job only bolstered my crappy mood. When I rose from my chair, the needle jabbed under my thumbnail. I cursed and ditched the canvas under my desk.
She broke the awkward silence. “Was that needlepoint you were working on?”
I stopped sucking my thumb. “Just something from my last case. So how––”
“Are you Randal Murphy the private investigator?”
“Right on both counts.”
“May I sit down?”
“By all means. Have to pardon the mess, I’m between apartments.”
Her nose twitched as she observed my steamy quarters and approached the client’s perch opposite my desk. Her silky, white top matched a skirt that hovered at her knees. An enticing slit emphasized one side. Her entire outfit conformed to her body like the skin on a hotdog—currently my favorite entrée.
She placed her clutch bag on my desk, traced both hands around her fine bottom to smooth her skirt, and gracefully adorned the chair. As she crossed her legs, the snug-fitting garment rode up her thigh, exposing supple skin. Her features teased assorted memories.
The woman’s perfume continued to battle the odiferous blend of East Side stockyards, Peabody Coal, and downtown St. Louis traffic that crept past my window overlooking Olive Street. The oscillating fan atop my file cabinet did its best to lend a hand and keep the muggy stench at bay.
I tucked in my shirt, sat on my squeaky swiveler, and realized—except for the occasional burlesque at the Grand—the woman’s presence was the greatest pleasure I’d had in…well, entirely too long. But the contrast between her spotless appearance and my office’s crusty chaos slapped my wandering mind. I hoped the cushion she blessed with her derriere wouldn’t stain her attire.
“So, what can I do for you, Miss…?”
“Mrs. My husband is the reason I’m here. He’s missing.”
I hesitated. Something about the dame seemed familiar, but nothing clicked. Wonder if she bought in to my story about the stitchery?
“Hmm? Oh…sorry. So, how long’s your hubby been gone?”
“He left nearly six weeks ago.”
“Six weeks! Why didn’t you contact me sooner?”
“Allow me to explain. After we married, four years ago…”
I scanned the woman like a surveyor and feigned interest in her husband’s biography.
I caught up when she leaned forward. “…a lawyer, who worked as a legal consultant on both sides of the Mississippi.”
“Please, let me finish. Initially our marriage seemed ideal, until my husband began spending more time out of town on business.”
“What kinda business?”
“I’m not certain, but he frequently traveled with one particular client.”
“Any idea where?”
“The East Coast and the Colorado Rockies.”
“None that I’m aware. Twice I accompanied him and his client to Colorado—to the Aspen Mountain Lodge, for skiing.”
“This client have a name?”
“My husband called him Mr. B.”
“Know anything else about him?”
“Although courteous and generous, the man acted suspiciously. As if there was little anyone was entitled to know about him.”
“Know his business location?”
“Across the river. I haven’t a clue what it is, but it must be very lucrative.”
“After our last ski outing, my husband dismissed his remaining client and––”
“Only two clients?”
“Uh-huh. Go on.”
“He phoned from the East Coast shortly after arriving.”
“Where on the East Coast?”
“New Jersey, I believe. Said he’d be a week or so to tie up loose ends, and that I needn’t worry.”
“Know about those loose ends, or who he met?”
“I only know that Mr. B prompted the visit.”
“Your husband phone again?”
“The first was lip service, reminding me not to worry. He phoned the following week from Colorado. Supposedly Mr. B had discussed opening a ski resort. My husband was to investigate options and planned to stay a few days to enjoy the last good snow. I took him at his word, but—”
“Haven’t heard from him since?”
“No. By the middle of June, ski season should be over. I’m afraid something awful—”
“Contact Mr. B, or the resort?”
“I…found the numbers in my husband’s desk at home. I called both twice, but neither his client, nor anyone at the resort claims to have seen or talked to him in weeks. I don’t know whether he’s been injured, kidnapped, killed, or just shacking up with some bimbo. Regardless, I have to find out, so I can get on with my life.”
The woman’s face tilted toward the linoleum and implied genuine distress. Anger or tears, I couldn’t tell. Either way, I needed more info. Then the phone rang. “Pardon me. Hello?” My landlord.
“Just be a minute.” I swiveled toward the window, and the dirty dishwater skies that loomed over the city. “Yes, Mr. Beilman… I know, but Lady Luck’s not been kind lately. Had to ditch my apartment… Couple weeks ago. Then the DeSoto broke down and left me afoot… Yep, I’ll bet you do.”
A kind-hearted old Jew, Julius Beilman helped set up my business, sent clients my way, and carried me when things got slow. Unfortunately, his good nature had worn thin. Something about overdue rent again.
“Look, I’ll be over later and… But I’m with a client… No, I’m not joking… Okay, okay. Promise. No later than seven… Right. Gotta go. Bye.”
I spun around. “Sorry ’bout the interruption.”
“Sorta. What about the local police? Talk to them about your husband?”
“Yes. But when I stated my situation, they became condescending. Told me not to worry, my husband would turn up. When I persisted, the detective took my information and assured me a report would be filed.”
“How long ago was that?”
“They file a missing-persons case?”
“A detective phones regularly to keep me from calling him. Each time it’s the same story. ‘Nothing new to report. Don’t worry, ma’am, he’ll turn up.’ A private investigator seemed the better option. Someone who’d work exclusively for me.”
“Uh-huh. Remember the detective’s name?”
“I’ve talked with two. The first one filed the report. Since then, another detective calls with updates.”
“Remember their names? I’ll need to chat.”
“I have that information at home.”
I leaned back. “So why’d you pull my name outa the hat?”
“To be honest…I was desperate.”
“Desperate for a PI, or to find your husband?”
“To find my husband, of course. I didn’t know anyone in your line, or had any recommendations.”
“Your phone listing brought back memories of someone I once knew. Thought I’d feel more comfortable.”
The dame’s reasoning was lame as a two-legged mule. The account of her husband’s disappearance wasn’t much better. If she called Mr. B, why didn’t she know his real name, or about his business? And if her bankroll matched her appearance, she could afford any PI in town. Why me? Though both were reasonable questions, promise of a paycheck aroused my curiosity. Her ample curves aroused more. “You call the Colorado cops?”
“I considered it, but the detective here said he’d call. I trusted him to do so.”
“Any reason to suspect foul play, or adultery?”
“I’m not sure.”
“’Bout which one?”
“Both. I’ve heard gossip from society tattle-tales who believe Mr. B carries an unsavory reputation. Those rumors, however, were never substantiated.”
“Old hens do like to cluck, don’t they?”
“Quite. To avoid further criticisms, I confronted my husband and begged he consider a different client.”
“He insisted I never interfere with his business activities.”
“Not until now. His abruptness frightened me.”
“And the other issue?”
“If you mean his infidelity, the topic deserves suspicion.”
I glanced at my watch. If I didn’t skedaddle, I’d be hard-pressed to make Beilman’s on time. Disappointing the old gent again wasn’t an option. “Look, your case interests me, but can we finish this conversation later? As you probably overheard, I’ve gotta make an appointment and presently find myself afoot.”
She cocked her head. “If you promise to accept my case, I’ll drive you. I’ve a car waiting downstairs. We can talk in back.”
The woman’s words floated from her mouth like an angel’s whisper. As if she was seducing me. But that was crazy—more like wishful thinking. At any rate, tight on time, and damned sure I didn’t want to lose the first client in months, I accepted her offer and motioned toward the door. “Sorry. It’s after six. We’ll have to take the stairs.”
“Fifteen floors? The elevator operator told me he’d be available until seven.”
“Really? Let’s give it a shot then. By the way, if I’m to locate your husband, I’ll need a name.”
My request dangled like a cobweb, from a ceiling I couldn’t reach.
— And from the sequel, TARGET FOR TWO
– 1 –
Saturday, June 13, 1953
Following briefly exchanged greetings—and snide remarks like “miracles never cease”—guests meandered toward rows of metal chairs that fanned out across the flagstone patio at Thunder Basin Lodge. A single aisle divided the seating arrangement–– one side for friends of the bride, the other for pals of the groom––me, Randal Murphy, PI.
Colorado sunshine winked through the pine and Aspen trees as processional music plinked from an upright piano. No pipe organ, but we weren’t surrounded by the St. Louis Cathedral either. Pre-ceremony chatter hushed to whispers as the maid of honor step-pause, step-paused to her position at the arched, twig and timber altar. The minister filled in the gap between us, and my best man, St. Louis Police Detective George Baker.’Twas a shame me lifelong pal, Father Michael Patrick O’Shaunessey, couldn’t make the affair––something about an audience with the Pope taking precedence. Then again, didn’t me posing at the altar border on divine-providence? At least Father Mike would have arrived with a flask of Jameson to douse the butterflies in my gut.
The background music stopped and switched to a more specific tune. Melody Becker, an angelic vision in white, emerged from the lodge’s rear entrance and floated down the aisle. Her wolf-dog, Thunder, heeled tightly at her side. Due to the loss of Mel’s parents years before, the canine served as father of the bride. His white collar and bow tie seemed a tad out of place, but Thunder didn’t seem to mind.
My eyes surveyed Mel from her billowing gown to the gauzy veil draped from atop her golden hair. It was the first time I’d seen her in a dress—with make-up—and probably the last. Her image captivated me.
Reverend Wilson parted his Bible to commence the dearly beloveds. I winked a well-here-we-go grin toward my mother and sister seated up front, then leaned back to gaze at my bride-to-be.
A shot cracked from the northwest. The bullet grazed the bridge of my nose and nailed the preacher square in the forehead. Crimson splotched Mel’s bug-eyed face and her pristine gown. Reverend Wilson crumpled onto the handmade altar and smashed it beneath him.
Polite whispers turned to shrieks. I dove toward Mel to shield her. Thunder bolted toward a rock outcropping as we hit the deck. Folding chairs clanked as guests scattered and ducked. Although off-duty, my best man whipped out his snub-nosed service revolver, then hovered over his wife, and my mother and sister. Man-mountain Sheriff Buck Turner did likewise with his spouse. Prepared to return fire, both men ordered everyone to “Stay down!” and then scanned the area. My pal Sam huddled over his family, his dark-chocolate skin nearly white as Mel’s dress. Army buddy, Lester Smithfield, corralled his herd and glared at the horizon. Although Smitty and I had endured combat in Europe together, with his wife and daughters now at risk, he seemed pissed to be under fire again.
A second shot exploded amidst the granite, followed by hollers and yelps, both human and canine. Women and children screamed. Chairs clattered once more. Baker and Turner stared to the west and repeated their directives. “Stay down!”
The crowd quieted, then completely hushed as Thunder staggered toward the lodge. His collar and bow tie were askew, his fur matted with blood.
Bridal gown be damned, Mel tossed me aside like a bad penny, then scrambled to her beloved pet’s aid. So much for wedding vows and a honeymoon. My good intentions toward marital bliss had prompted a funeral––maybe two.
Back on my feet, I tried to make sense of the disaster. Betting the preacher was innocent, the target had to be me. The question was, why? Had the unknown shooter from my last case returned to fulfill a contract? Would Mel ever forgive me?
My mother’s and sister’s bug-eyed stares grabbed my attention.
Welcome to my world, Mom and Sis––what’s left of it.
I searched the area for Mel but came up empty. Then her pickup roared down the gravel road fronting the lodge. With her cook’s son behind the wheel, Mel huddled with Thunder in the truck bed.
“God da–– Sorry, Mom, I gotta go.”