I think, however, I've finally nailed it.
I am, by the way, 55,000 words into the book. The end is in sight. I'm thinking another 5,000 to 10,000 words and the 1st draft will be completed.
HE WOKE AND was almost driven back to unconsciousness from the sudden assault to his senses. He felt an intense heat that was almost unbearable, smoke filled his nostrils, and he nearly choked on ash. The sounds of inhuman screaming beat at his ears and he didn’t want to open his eyes for fear of what he might see. But he could not just lay there in darkness. Keeping his eyes shut tight would not save him from whatever surrounded him. He’d need to join the world eventually.
But he wasn’t ready. Not quite yet. So he let himself slip back into the dark void.
He floated weightless and tried to collect his thoughts.
He couldn’t remember what brought him to this place, wherever this place was. He tried to stretch back along his memory and found nothing. Just the black. Only the void. He swam through the black, searching, needing something, some memory to grab hold of. He only found emptiness.
Then everything changed. All was still void, but the darkness, the black, had fled. He was among a white mist that swirled and danced all around him. He floated. Then, rising out of the mist was a mirror that encompassed everything he could see. He approached and gazed into its reflective surface and found nothing. He should be able to see himself, but there was nothing there. Just more mist.
The sudden realization that he had no memories brought the real world flooding back in a cacophony of sounds a chaos.
He opened his eyes. He was lying on his back among dirt and hay. All around him was fire and the screams of dying horses. He was on his feet in an instant, but no mater where he turned, he was only greeted by the roaring flames.
He was in some sort of horse barn, though beyond that, he was uncertain. The horses in the stalls bucked and screamed, kicking at the stall doors as the flames engulfed the structure around them.
He spun in a circle, looking for a way out, a break in the wall of fire, but he found nothing. He was trapped.
The smoke surrounded him and made it hard to see. He doubled over, coughing, and would have passed out if the front half of the barn hadn’t chosen that time to collapse, leaving a smoldering mound of wood and a bright hole beyond. A hole that led out.
He ran to each stall, opening the doors and letting the horses out. They ran to the new opening, sensing the clear air that lay on the other side. He followed.
He emerged into sunlight and chaos. Most of the buildings around him were burning. Screams and gunshots filled the air. The street teamed with men on horseback, men in gray uniforms. Among the men were their victims. Women, children, the elderly … the men on horseback seemed not to care. The men shot indiscriminately and the people fell all around.
He looked to the dead lying in the dirt street and felt an anger rise up in him. He went for his guns, finding them gone.
Guns? It was an instinct, going for guns that should have been hanging off of each hip. But the guns weren’t there. But more than that, the act brought him a sudden realization. He couldn’t remember his name.
He didn’t have much time to think about it as two of the armed men broke off from the main unit and rode to him. They wore the uniforms of confederate soldiers. How could he know that, but he couldn’t remember his name?
“Look at what we have here, Bill,” one of them said. He was fat, too fat to be on horseback, and his head and face was nothing but hair. “A Yankee boy.”
Yankee? He looked down at himself for the first time and saw that he was wearing the blue of the Union Army. A memory rolled over him and he almost fell.
War? The war between the states. He was a soldier for the North. Why could he remember that but nothing specific about himself?
“Shoot him, Dan,” the other said. This one was tall and lanky with a meticulously trimmed beard and mustache. “Shoot him, or I will.”
“What’s your name, boy?” the fat one said.
He didn’t answer. He couldn’t if he wanted to.
“Look at his arm, Bill,” the fat one said.
He couldn’t help but follow their eyes to his right bicep. Tied to it was a broad strip of dark green fabric.
“The Captain’s gonna want to see this one,” the other said.
The fat one pointed his rifle at him and he felt a sudden rage sweep over him.
“Let’s go, Mister,” the fat one said.
“Where?” he said, speaking for the first time. His own voice even sounded unfamiliar to him.
“The Captain is gonna want to ask you a few questions,” the fat one said.
“Captain?” he asked.
“Quantrill,” the fat one said, jerking his rifle quickly to the right, motioning for him to move.
Quantrill. That was a name that he knew. He looked once more at the green arm band, running his left hand over it for a moment. The band meant … something. He could feel that. It was important, but trying to get hold of the memory was like trying to catch smoke with a fisherman’s net.
“We ain’t asking you twice, Yankee,” the tall one said, leaning out over his horse and spitting.
Just then a woman came screaming toward them. Her dress was in tatters and her skin was covered in ash and burns. The tall soldier pulled a pistol and shot her down. The soldier smiled.
“These Jayhawkers die quick, wouldn’t you say, Dan?”
The two soldiers laughed.
And like that, he was on them.
One moment he was looking at the body of the woman, the next he casually stepped up to the fat man’s horse where a Navy Colt sat in a saddle holster.
“What do you—” the fat one began to say.
He pulled the pistol from the fat man’s saddle and in one smooth motion, thumbed back the hammer and fired.
The fat man fell from him horse, dead.
“Dan!” the tall one said, taking aim.
But he too fell.
A bugle sounded from behind and he spun. Another soldier sat ahorse and blew a few quick notes on a dented bugle.
“A Yankee!” the bugler shouted. “A Green Arm!”
He’d almost forgotten that he wasn’t alone with the two soldiers he’d just killed. Around him, the other soldiers turned to see what it was the bugler was shouting about. But before any of them could so much as raise a gun, he ran.
He felt no guilt or shame for running. He could feel from somewhere deep within that he was no coward, he just knew when to fight and when to flee. Running seemed to the best option at this point, what with the hundred or so guns that was out there on the street.
He ducked into a building with a sign hailing it as the Eldridge. There were more soldiers inside. The were all seated around a table and eating while a group of people cowered in a corner.
One of the soldiers looked up as he entered as the rest continued indulging themselves. The one soldier rose, going for a rifle that rested against the table.
“Green Arm!” the soldier yelled.
He turned to run, but was met in the doorway by even more soldiers. He was trapped.
“Search him,” a man said, stepping into the room from behind the soldiers at the door. It was Captain Quantrill himself. “And find Mueller.”
Two soldiers held on to him as a third searched through his pockets.
“What’s your name, Green Arm?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
Quantrill just smiled.
The soldier searching him pulled a piece of paper from his breast pocket and handed it to Quantrill. The Captain unfolded the paper and read what it said and smiled again.
“Mueller will be quiet happy to see you,” Quantrill said.
“Why?” he asked. “Who’s Mueller? What’s the paper say?”
He didn’t have to wait long for either answer as a man entered the room. He was not wearing a uniform, but he carried with him the weight of rank. Every soldier in the room snapped to attention, even Quantrill.
“What do we have here, Captain?” Mueller said. His voice had a slight German accent.
“A Green Arm, sir. He shot two of the men,” Quantrill said.
“Then kill him, Captain,” Mueller said in a dismissive, matter of fact tone. “Why bother me with such trivialities.”
“He had this on him,” Quantrill said, handing over the piece of paper.
He watched as Mueller read what was on the paper, and like Quantrill before him, Mueller smiled. The only difference was that when Mueller smiled, he could see that the man’s upper incisors ended at sharp, needle-like points. This stirred something within him and he had to fight back the urge to leap upon the man and throttle him.
“Very good,” Mueller said, clutching at the paper. “Yes, Captain. You did the right thing by alerting me at once.”
“He claims to not know his name,” Quantrill said.
“Does he?” Mueller smiled.
Mueller turned from Quantrill and stepped up to the man with no name.
“We’ve been looking for you for quite some, you know,” Mueller said.
“Why?” he said. “Who am I?”
“You do not know?” Mueller said.
“No,” he said.
“I have to say I find this most displeasing,” Mueller said. “But I have to admit that this act you’re doing, it makes me skeptical.”
“Act?” he said. “What act? Do I know you?” He began to struggle against the two soldiers who held him.
“You say you do not know who you are?” Mueller said.
“Yes,” he said.
“Do you know where you are or how you got here?”
“I don’t know what has happened to you, my old friend, but I believe you,” Mueller said, then nodded to the soldiers. “Let him go.”
The two soldiers let go of his arms and Mueller held out the paper to him.
“Perhaps this will help you to remember,” Mueller said.
He took the paper and read the words that had been written there with a steady hand.
Your name is Norman Oklahoma, the paper said.
“Well?” Mueller said. “What is your name?”
“My name,” he said, and then swallowed. “My name is Norman Oklahoma.”
“Good,” Mueller smiled again. “Now that we have that out of the way,” he turned to Quantrill. “Kill him.”
EUDORA ISN’T A big town.
I ain’t small neither.
I like to think of it as the little town that could.
Located between Kansas City and Lawrence on Highway 10, Eudora has always had the potential to be more than it was, and slowly but surely, the town has struggled to crawl its way out of the small town moniker. Even after the bypass was put in back in the early 80’s, Eudora has managed to grow.
It ain’t nowhere near where I’m sure the city leaders want it to be, but its doing just fine in the grand scheme of things.
Eudora, for all intents and purposes, is made up of three main thoroughfares. Main and Church — which run North and South — and 10th, which runs East and West. Everything else is mostly residential … beyond a few exceptions.
Main Street, between 10th and 7th, is Eudora’s down town business district. Which, to be honest, ain’t much.
My office is there, of course. Plus we got a bank, a comic book store, the Pub, a coffee shop, hardware store, two eateries — Mexican and Chinese — but that’s about it.
10th to 9th is a park on the west side and the police station on the east.
We got two gas stations. There’s the General Store on 10th and Church, then further down we got the Quick Mart at 15th and Church.
I had an hour or two to kill while Jacqueline “Jack” Murphy fixed my window and I figured with what Eudora had to offer, I could get that done without having to leave town.
I went first to the library. I’d reserved a couple of books last week and I wanted to check if they were in.
I’d barely made it up to the information counter to speak with the librarian when suddenly there was a gun in my face.
“Hands where I can see them,” she said.
She was dressed in the uniform of a Eudora Police Officer, but I couldn’t place her face. She stood in the perfect shooter’s stance. Knees slightly bent, both hands on her pistol.
“Has my library card expired, officer?” I said, holding my hands in the air and smiling.
She had hair as black as the night sky that was tied loosely atop her head. Bits of it were spilling out here and there, but she kept it out of her eyes, which was the point.
I couldn’t see her eyes, they were hidden behind a pair of mirrored sunglasses. Heck, most of her face was hidden behind those sunglasses. On some I might find that cute, a tiny face behind big sunglasses, but on her? On her the over sized sunglasses did not diminish the hardness I could see in her. She’d shoot me down if I gave her the excuse. She’d shoot me down and then go have a few laughs with friends over a cup of coffee.
She was small, but not petite. I couldn’t see much of her under the uniform, but the way she stood she was like a spring under tension. Something told me if I tried something that spring would uncoil like a dern snake and I’d get bit.
“That’s a lot of hardware you’re carrying,” she said. “You got permits to carry those?”
I typically wear them under my arms in shoulder holsters. Most folks around here know me. They know I’m a private investigator. They know I go about armed most of the time. But when I’m wearing the coat and I have the Peacemakers under my arms, they tend to go unnoticed. And while most folks around here know and trust me, seeing the guns can make them a bit uncomfortable.
This morning I’d worn them around my waist. It’s an old habit and sometimes I don’t even know I’m doing it.
“Yes ma’am,” I said. “Got the permits in my wallet.”
“Okay,” she said, all business. “With your right hand, I want you to take out your wallet.”
I did it slow and handed it over.
“You’re new,” I said. “When did you start?”
She ignored me as she looked over my information.
“Norman Oklahoma?” she said. “That’s your name?”
“How’d you get saddled with a name like that?” she said.
I could see her relax, not much, just a bit.
“I wish I knew,” I said.
“You don’t know how you got your own name?”
I just shrugged my shoulders.
She holstered her pistol, snapping the flap over the top of it and handed my wallet back to me.
“You’re a private eye,” It wasn’t a question.
“You might want to think about wearing those things in shoulder holsters,” she said, pointing to the Peacemakers. “With the big coat they are a bit less obvious.”
“I’ll take that under consideration,” I said, giving her one of my special smiles.
There was something about this girl, like I’ve just been waiting for her … I couldn’t quite explain it.
She looked at the smile I directed at her and rolled her eyes. She was still wearing the sunglasses, so the eye roll wasn’t easy to see, but she did it.
“You didn’t answer my question,” I said.
“I’m the Police,” she said. “We don’t answer questions.”
Then she turned and left.
I don’t know how long I stood there watching the door she’d exited, but soon the sound of a throat clearing brought me back.
“You’re books are not in yet, Mr. Oklahoma,” the librarian said.
“What?” I said, turning to him.
Bob Todd had been Eudora’s librarian for the past twenty-five years. He was a long man. Long in body and in face. He’d always made me think of Ichabod Crane from that Headless Horseman story, at least what I thought Ichabod Crane would look like. Long, wispy, and gray.
But there was something about Bob that I’ve never quite been able to put my finger on. Something … predatory. Not malicious, I’ve never picked that up off the man, but Bob was someone you just shouldn’t mess with. I had the feeling that the first person who did might not care too much for the outcome.
“The books you reserved,” Bob said, giving me an annoyed look. “They are still out.”
“Ah, okay,” I said, turning back once again to look at the door the officer had used. “Who was that?”
“Officer King?” Bob said. “New on the force. Pat hired her last week out of Baltimore. She started today.”
Bob knew just about everything about everyone in town. I was never sure how he did it, he just did. I’m sure he knew what I really did, the kind of cases I took, but he never brought it up.
“King,” I said, testing the name out.
“Gertrude King,” Bob said.
“Gertrude?” I laughed. “And she had problems with my name?”
“Yes, well,” was Bob’s only reply. “I can give you a call when your books come in.”
“Thanks, Bob. I appreciate it.”
I left the library in somewhat of a daze.
Had I been paying more attention I would have noticed the limousine pulling in at the curb. Furthermore, I would have seen the gorilla that crawled out of the back seat.
“Mr. Lemonzeo would like a word,” the gorilla said.
I came out of my daze. The gorilla was a man in a suit. A man built like a brick wall. He wore a dark suit and sunglasses.
“I’m sorry?” I said, looking up at him.
“Mr. Lemonzeo would like to speak with you,” he said, motioning to the limousine and the open door.
“And I want a puppy,” I said. “We don’t always get what we want.”
Abner ‘Bud’ Lemonzeo was a local thug who had slowly established a massive criminal empire that stretched from St. Louis to Chicago to Denver. He wasn’t a big fan of mine, and I wanted to punch him in the face.
The man just smiled and took a step closer. “You’re going to get in this car.”
“You will or you’ll spend the rest of your life being fed from a tube. And even then, you’re still getting in the car.”
“Don’t threaten me, son. I don’t take to it well.”
He moved to take me by the arm. I stepped to the side and rammed my elbow into the man’s nose. He threw his head back and covered his face in his hands, blood flowing freely from between his fingers.
I wasn’t done. I don’t let just anyone try and grab me. Folks gotta know that you do something like that, you’re gonna bleed.
I slammed the flat of my right foot into the side of the fella’s knee. He screamed and went down, landing face first into the concrete. I snatched up his hand, and placing a foot on his shoulder blades, pulled his arm back a bit further than it was supposed to go. It didn’t break, but based on his screams, it hurt.
“Where’s my puppy?” I said, pulling his arm back a bit further.
His cries of pain rose.
“I want my puppy!” I yelled.
“Norman!” a voice said from behind.
I turned and found Abner Lemonzeo standing just outside the limousine.
“Hey there, Abner,” I said. “How’s business?” The man beneath me continued to scream.
“Let him go, Norman,” Lemonzeo said.
“He owes me a puppy.”
“Let him go. Please.”
I dropped the man’s arm and took my foot off his back. It was surprise more than compassion that made me do it. I don’t think I’d ever heard Abner Lemonzeo say ‘please.’
Two more brick walls pulled themselves out of the limo and looked at Abner expectantly.
“Get him in the car,” Lemonzeo said.
The two men grabbed up their fallen colleague and eased him into the back of the limo, the man cried throughout the entire process.
“I really must apologize for that,” Lemonzeo said. “My brother’s kid.” He shrugged his shoulders. “He was just trying to impress his Uncle Abner.”
“That’s why they make laws against nepotism,” I said. “What do you want?”
“Why don’t we walk down to the Pub. Let me buy you drink?”
“I don’t drink.”
“Fair enough,” Lemonzeo said. “I just wanted to apologize for the incident with the Walrus. It was not my intention for the whole situation to escalate the way it did.”
Yesterday Lemonzeo had sent a hit man over to my house. The hit man, known as the Walrus, was the equivalent of a genetic Lego set that took bricks from the Human Being box and bricks from the Walrus box and put them together to create a psychotic mutant walrus man who’d tried to shuffle me off this mortal coil.
“Come on, Bud,” I said. “You know I don’t hold grudges. I’ve got plenty of other reasons to take you down. Trying to kill me is just going to make that moment all the more satisfying.”
“Look, I’m going to make this quick.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way, Bud.”
“Something killed one of my men last night.”
“Something, or someone?”
“He was torn to pieces.”
“Why are you telling me?” I said.
“I know you aren’t too fond of me, Norman,” Lemonzeo said.
“Fond? I detest you, Abner. You live off of the misery of others. You make money from pain. No, I ain’t too fond of you.”
“Regardless, some … creature took apart one of my men. We found what was left of him this morning. I figured this was what you do.”
“It is, Abner,” I said. “It is what I do. I just don’t do it for you.”
“No, you look, Abner,” I interrupted him. “If whatever killed your man sets its sights on us regular folk, I’ll do something about it. But as long as it focuses its attention on you and your own, well … sounds like whatever or whoever it is deserves a medal. Maybe even one of them ticker tape parades right down Main Street here.”
“Please, Norman. I can pay you.”
“Abner, I ain’t interested. I got other things on my plate. Besides, even if I had all the time in the world, there ain’t enough money around that would make me want to work for you. Now hit the bricks, having someone like you loitering out in front of the library ain’t good for business. Besides, people may get the wrong idea and think you’ve learned to read.”
With that I got on my Harley, kicked it into life, and roared away, leaving Abner Lemonzeo behind.