A big city private eye is visiting home in the hopes of getting a few days away from crime. But crime can be found anywhere, even the college football field in a small town. Unfortunately.
Today’s story is sponsored by Martin Roy Hill, author of the military mystery thriller The Killing Depths, and Duty: Suspense and Mystery Stories from the Cold War and Beyond, both available in print and Kindle from Amazon.com, and the forthcoming murder mystery, Empty Places. Find out more about Martin and his books on his Amazon author page.
The stadium rocked with the frenetic cheers of the home crowd. I had been told that the locals took their football seriously, but this was seriously loco. The band pounded out an all-too-familiar tattoo just as the noise level in the stadium threatened to dip below the ear-splitting threshold. The band was making sure that the surrounding ten miles of countryside knew it was football day at the old college campus, and why weren’t you there?
Cheerleaders, toilet paper, and confetti whizzed through the air like friendly shrapnel as the Solano Community College Bruins scored yet another touchdown. SCCB 52, College of the Redwoods Corsairs 10. It almost made me wistful for the parity that permeated the pro game. A quartet of bare-chested, brown and yellow-slathered college boys jostled me as they head-slapped each other in pigskin ecstasy. The watered-down coke in my paper-thin ‘souvenir’ cup made like Angel Falls over top of the head of the College president two rows down.
“That’s the signal to go!” I screamed at my sister.
“I’m not hungry!” she bellowed back.
The Solano Community College’s educational leader toweled his pink-skinned head off with some tissues his wife handed him. His myopic eyes tracked my way, so I stared down at the gridiron and took a sip from my empty cup. A cannon faintly exploded in one of the checkered end zones and the crowd went ballistic. End of the third quarter.
Jenny grabbed my arm. “Look!” she screamed, and pointed.
I looked. The Bruins mascot, Bruno the Bruin, an actual, live flea-covered black bear, specially bred to manufacture hoopla on a football sideline, was ever-so-gently mauling the College of the Redwoods Corsairs’ mascot – Pete the pirate. The poor bugger in the black tights and plumed hat was getting a heavy dose of bear breath, and he didn’t look any too keen about it. The crowd, however, lapped it up like a sundae in a miniature football helmet. Twenty thousand weekend warriors erupted in one gigantic belly laugh as Bruno ripped the pirate’s puffy shirt to pieces, sending the half-naked buccaneer rocketing across the field like a towel swabby at the fishermen’s Y who’s just discovered that he’s cleaning out Davy Jones’ locker. Pete hit the player’s tunnel doing thirty, with Bruno and his handler in hot pursuit. I implored my sister to do the same, but sensitive persuasion was as lost in the deafening cacophony as a pacifist at an NRA convention.
“Good God, Charles, did you see this?”
I swirled some orange juice around in my mouth, trying to rinse out the whiskey smell. Some pulp caught in the drainpipe of my mouth and I gagged. I spat the juice back into the glass; if I’d wanted an orange, I would have eaten one.
“Did you hear me?” Jenny tried again. She was asking a lot of questions for a Sunday morning. “Take a look at this.”
I slowly shuffled out of the kitchen, into the living room, and flopped down on the futon. I stared at the TV from between my knees. I was wearing pajama bottoms and a growth of beard. “What?”
Jenny pointed at the TV screen and pushed up the volume. The cadaver-faced news anchor with the head of starched hair said: “Again, to repeat our top story: Solano Community College’s beloved mascot, Bruno, has been put down. He had mauled, and fatally injured, football cheerleader Marcie Piper during the fourth quarter of yesterday’s football game, a sixty-nine to fourteen victory for the home team over the Yuba College 49’ers. Ms. Piper died of her injuries at the Health Sciences Centre early last night. The four year old bear was given a lethal injection at one o’clock this morning. He had been made an honorary faculty member only six weeks ago. Piper’s funeral service will be held at two p.m., Monday afternoon. A memorial service for Bruno, who ends his tenure with an eighteen and four record, will be held at Student Hall later this week.”
Jenny clicked off the TV and swiveled around on the legless couch to stare at me. Water bubbled at the bottom of her baby-blues. “That poor bear,” she said.
I picked at the orange peel wriggling around between my lowers. “Bear? What about the cheerleader? She must’ve been groped like a supermodel riding a rush-hour subway.”
Jenny sniffled and nodded her head. She’s a good kid, but her undying love for the furrier of God’s creatures sometimes blinds her to the needs of the upright, two-legged population. “Weren’t you friends with Piper’s brother?” I asked.
She blew her nose. “Yes, we went out briefly. I should give him a phone call, you’re right.” She reached for the cordless phone sitting on the coffee table.
“Give him my condolences.” I fought my way off the futon.
“Where are you going?”
“You don’t have any extra-pulp beer do you?”
Jenny frowned. “No, just regular beer.”
“That’s where I’m going.”
“Dang it, Mr. Sydney, I’m tellin’ ya, there’s somethin’ fishy about the whole thing!”
“Easy, big boy.”
Joshua Piper stopped pacing the room and the pictures stopped rattling on the walls. He sank back down into a chair. Parts of him spilled over the sides. He was built like a M1-A1 Abrams battle tank, but without the subtlety. He stood six foot six and weighed three hundred and forty pounds. He had a sun-blasted face and a yellow crew-cut you could clean your golf cleats on. His right eye was slightly bigger than his left, and his eyebrows were the color of wheat chaff. He was from some state in the northern part of the country where they grow sugar beets, mosquitoes, and O-linemen. He was the starting center for the Bruins football team. He was the late Marcie Piper’s brother.
“It just don’t seem right, is all. Dang it!” He pounded a meaty fist into a meaty hand and the foundation of the house sagged. “You know, I heard some rumors ‘bout Marcie and that Klassenmeyer dude!” He looked at me with his clear, blue eyes and I knew that if I looked back long enough I would see the prairie sky.
I didn’t. “Coroner said accident, police said accident, Harold Klassenmeyer, Bruno’s handler, said accident, half a football stadium of drunken witnesses said accident. I think your sister’s death was an accident, Joshua. Bruno went wild and attacked your sister. Maybe he didn’t mean to kill her, but she died.” I smiled sympathetically. It took a lot of energy. “The sooner you accept it, the better. You have any other brothers or sisters?”
“Sure, I got three brothers and five other sisters.”
“There you go.”
Jenny poked me in the ribs with a pointy elbow. “But surely you can at least look into it a bit, Charles,” she suggested. “You are a private investigator, after all. Don’t you have some responsibility in a situation like this?” She smiled nervously at Joshua and his face lit up like Paul Bunyan’s jack-o-lantern.
I swiveled my head around and gave Jenny an icy stare. “Yes, I am a private investigator. A private investigator that is leaving for Los Angeles in four hours. My holiday in beautiful but troubled Suisun City is over, and I have cases waiting for me back at the office.” I said it slow enough so that everyone could understand the logic. “And I have zero responsibility to anyone unless I’m getting paid, so-”
“I’ll pay ya!” Joshua blurted.
“Where’d you get the money?” Jenny interrupted. “When we were dating, when you were taking me to all the best buffets in town, I always had to pick up the cheque.”
Joshua blushed. His big, red ears stuck out like handles. “I know, I know,” he conceded. “But I got an alumni sponsor now.” He shrugged off the chair and stood up. “We’ll pay your goin’ rate, Mr. Charles.”
“Then it’s a deal,” he said, and pumped my arm like the handle of a deep-water well.
I borrowed Jenny’s Sunbird and drove out to the Klassenmeyer animal sanctuary and petting zoo. It was little more than a hobby farm with kennels, but the kids seemed to get a kick out of it. There were a couple of busloads of them on a field trip from some local school, and they were doing their level-best to put the fear of humans into a flock of Canada geese. A woman I took to be Mrs. Klassenmeyer was giving her gums a work-out, lecturing our nation’s future on the finer points of migratory waterfowl, so I cornered an idle farmhand named Vance Jeeter. He was slopping around in the pig enclosure. He was a tall, thin drink of dirty water, with a haircut from the Jack Dempsey era. He was wearing overalls and a sleeveless undershirt. He gave me a sour look before pointing me in the direction of the male of the Klassenmeyer species. I found him in the tool shed.
“Quite the set-up you’ve got here, Mr. Klassenmeyer,” I said by way of salutation.
He threw a sewer snake down onto a chewed-up wooden counter and looked at me.
“I’ll know where to come if the weatherman forecasts forty days and forty nights of rain,” I joked.
“That one never gets stale,” he responded. He had a slight German accent. He spat on the dirt floor of the shed and I could see that he was going with smokeless tobacco these days. Couldn’t tell the brand though.
He was a big, rough-hewn guy, with features not unlike a grizzly bear. He had a thick, brown beard, long, brown hair, small eyes, a long nose, and big, hairy, red hands with plenty of grease and sod under the uncut nails. He could have used the giant mitts to catch salmon from the stream that flowed across the open field out back.
I grinned. “Yeah, you sure have a lot of animals,” I pressed on. “Minus one bear, of course.”
He stiffened. “You heard about that, huh?”
“That’s what I’m here to talk to you about, Harold. I-”
“I told the cops everything.” His teeth flashed white and sharp-looking. “I don’t know you from nothing.” He turned away, started re-arranging his tool collection.
A duck waddled by in front of me, then a rabbit hopped through on the right-of-way. I realized that if I stood there much longer, Bambi, Thumper, and the rest of the forest animals would come marching along to the tune of Seventy-Six Trombones. I was tempted to jam my way into the tool shed to force some hospitality, but it was dark in there, and there were a lot of sharp objects lying about. “Joshua Piper hired me to look into the death of his sister. I’m a private investigator from Los Angeles. Joshua’s not so sure the mauling was an accident.”
Klassenmeyer dropped a chisel and didn’t bother picking it up. When he glanced at me, there was fear in his beady eyes. He was obviously a guy who only talked gruff.
I poured it on. “He’s a big boy, Harold. None too bright and plenty mad. He’s got it in his jarhead that maybe you and Marcie were a little more than just Bruin boosters.”
No response. He fiddled with his beard.
“He thinks that maybe you took advantage of his innocent, high-plains sister and then tried to cover things up before the Missus dropped the hammer.” I was grasping for straws, but sometimes a straw can give you just enough air to go on breathing when you’re in over your head. “I’ve tried to calm him down, but-”
“Get out,” Klassenmeyer rasped.
“I can talk to your wife.”
A disgusted look creased his prematurely weathered face. “You do that. She won’t tell you nothing.”
And that told me something. It told me that Mrs. Klassenmeyer knew about the rumors, and so Harold really didn’t have anything to hide from her.
Mrs. Klassenmeyer was standing on the porch of the big, white farmhouse as I trudged down the dirt drive to Jenny’s car. She was a tall, gaunt woman with a face as sharp and frigid as the brow of an iceberg. She didn’t bother wearing any make-up. She yelled something I didn’t hear clearly and a massive sow detached itself from where it had been jawing with Vance Jeeter and charged me. I barely out-legged the enraged ham on the hoof to the car without losing a calf muscle. Mrs. Klassenmeyer and the pig regarded me coolly as I waved and drove away. Vance Jeeter was doubled over with laughter, desperately trying to hold his guts in.
Jenny answered the doorbell when it rang. Then she yelled: “Charles!”
I put down the paper, not very upset at the idea of shelving the story I had been reading about Mrs. Olsen’s coffee shop expansion – from three tables to four. It was the hardest news item in the local rag. I went to the back door. Two policemen were standing there. “Hi,” I said.
“Charles Sidney?” the short one asked. He sported a pushed-in nose that he hadn’t cultivated from gardening. His partner was a tall, soft, goofy-looking character who had his eyes glued to Jenny’s chest.
“I’m Officer Gordy, and this is Officer Siemens.” He gestured at his partner. Siemens wagged his head, but not his eyes. “We want to ask you some questions.”
“Harold Klassenmeyer killed himself last night. You were out to see him yesterday afternoon.”
I swallowed hard and nodded. “Come in,” I said. “But maybe your buddy can park his eyeballs on the back porch. I don’t think he’s going to find any clues in my sister’s t-shirt.”
Gordy grinned and glanced back at Siemens. Siemens looked at me and smiled.
We adjourned to the living room. Siemens sat down and stared at Jenny’s legs. They were packaged for display in a pair of white short-shorts. Gordy provided the details as his partner stocked up on eye candy: Klassenmeyer had hung himself in the barn around eleven the previous night; he had left a confessional letter stating that he had been sleeping with Marcie Piper, had impregnated her, had panicked, and had used Bruno as a sharp-toothed weapon when Marcie had insisted that he divorce his wife and marry her. The letter said that Bruno was only supposed to scare her off, not kill her off.
I shook my head in honest wonderment. “How’d he get Bruno to attack the girl?” Even as I asked it, the vision of a panicked pirate floated up behind my eyes.
Gordy wiped his nose with the back of his freckled hand. “Code word. The Klassenmeyers train dogs for the police department, and guard dogs for a couple of security companies. I guess other animals can be taught to attack on cue.”
An angry sow stared back at me from the pooled reflections of my mind. “Amazing,” I said. “There ought to be a law.”
“There is,” Gordy replied. He spoke in the dreary, dry monotone of a public policy professor. “What did you go to see Klassenmeyer about?”
Siemens looked up. “Yeah, what’d you want with him?”
He said it a little too belligerently for my liking, so I got up on my hind paws and growled. “I had a date with one of his mallards.”
Siemens smirked. “Yeah? Which one?”
“The one that dumped you.”
Gordy smiled. “Easy, Sydney, we aren’t accusing you of anything. Just doing our job.”
“Okay,” I said, and told him my story.
Siemens told me that the Piper death was a closed case and that maybe I should shove for smogtown. I told him to put his eyeballs back where they belonged – in his navel.
Joshua and his alumni boosters were paying me until the end of the week, so until the end of the week I would work. I had little to go on other than the brief impression I had of Harold Klassenmeyer. He hadn’t looked or acted like someone who would use a bear to attack a defenseless girl. In fact, he hadn’t looked like he had the ruthlessness to castrate a goldfish.
I drove over to the campus residences on College Drive and looked for some witnesses to the Piper pawing – cheerleaders. A girl named Kindra Cummings provided some useful information. Her roommate directed me to the football stadium, where I found Kindra keeping track of player movements; mainly in the back field.
“You’ve got really deep eyes, Charles. Like, you know, there’s a whole bunch more layers to you, but you only show the world the top layer.”
“That’s the way I got it figured too, Kindra. I’m like an onion – you go too deep and I’m only going to leave you crying.”
“You’re a cosmetology major, right?”
“Hey, how’d you know? You’re like a real Shylock Holmes aren’t you?”
“I’m brain-heavy, all right,” I responded. “Actually, your roommate told me.”
Kindra giggled. She was the kind of class spirit any jock could score a touchdown with. There just wouldn’t be any point-after, that’s all. She had a pleasant, vacuous face, long, blonde hair, and a toned, athletic body. You could have parked a football between her breasts.
“Was Mr. Klassenmeyer really struggling to hold Bruno back before he broke free and attacked Marcie?” I asked. I had to ask it a second time, because the first time she was waving to one of the tight ends on the practice field. I gently steered her out of the sun and into one of the tunnels.
“Yeah, like he was really holding on. A death grip, you know. But, you know, the leash just snapped.”
“Does Mrs. Klassenmeyer attend home games?”
“Huh? Hey, there’s Bobby-Joe Bola! Hi, Bobby-Joe!” She waved. Bobby-Joe made a ‘call me’ sign with his hand.
I waved my hand in front of Kindra’s face.
“Huh? Oh yeah, she was in the first row, right behind the home players’ bench. Like she always is, you know.”
Kindra’s face screwed up with concentration. It wasn’t a good look for her. “Yeah, I think so. You can see how close the stands are to the benches. And we were, like, right behind the Bruins’ bench at the time. Mrs. Klassenmeyer could sure use some make-up, you know. She should, like, let me take a crack at her face.”
“I bet your hands could work miracles.”
Kindra smiled. She looked at me meaningfully, and then made the none-too-subtle gesture of smoothing down her t-shirt and caressing her mammoth bumpers at the same time. “You maybe wanta get something to eat? Or, like, go back to my room to, you know, finish up your questions? I think you could learn a lot more from me, Charles.”
I smiled back at her. “I bet I could,” I replied, “but I don’t think your roommate wants to be disturbed. She was studying.”
“Cindi? She’ll help you out too, if you want. We both will. You know?”
I shook my head. “No, I don’t. I never went to college.”
I walked over to the campus library and did a little research – on hardcopy and on the internet. I read all about animal training; training animals to obey and to attack, and the different levels of attack. The library technician-in-training probably thought I was setting up a militia compound somewhere in the California backwoods or, worse yet, a religious retreat. I told her that I was doing an article for Dog Fancy magazine: dog meets man, man trains dog to hate, dog attacks girl, dog and man are put to sleep. Her hand floated over the panic alarm as I spoke.
The next day, Sunday, I drove outside city limits to the Jeeter residence. It was a short drive. Jeeter didn’t have an address, as such, but Jenny knew where he lived and had given me instructions. He lived three miles down a dry, dusty road that had more potholes in it than teahead commune on the moon. Jenny’s car rattled and shimmied all the way, but the robot-craftsmanship held together. I finally came to a clearing in a clump of pine trees. I shuddered to a stop twenty yards in front of Jeeter’s plywood playground. Tree stumps, rusted car shells, and other assorted garbage littered the yard. Jeeter’s tiny shanty was that color of faded grey barns get right before they fall down.
I banged on the screen door, and a minute later he appeared. He was holding a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. He was swaddled in a pair of dirty, blue sweatpants, and a stained, San Francisco 49’ers sweatshirt. He was any ordinary guy enjoying his Sunday morning before the NFL kicked off.
“Hi ya, Vance, mind if I-”
“Get lost, rent-a-cop!”
I tore the screen door open and dragged Jeeter out into the light of day. There was no point in beating about the bush with this guy – the mind games of the cold-call interrogation would be lost on a man of Jeeter’s obvious rustic simplicity. He was one of God’s children, and I got Old Testament on him. I slugged him in the gut with a short, sharp uppercut. He keeled over and started spewing a Budweiser product all over his geraniums.
He looked up at me with road-kill eyes. “What’d you hit me for?”
“I needed some exercise. Still do.”
“Yeah, so what’d you want?”
He crawled over to a tree stump and sat down. He squinted into the sun. “ ‘Bout the Klassenmeyers?”
“ ‘Bout the Klassenmeyers.”
He picked his beer can up off the ground and downed what was left. “What’s it worth to you?” He grinned.
I could have bitch-slapped his ears off for the information, but I’m a capitalist at heart. I handed him five twenties. When he counted it twice and started drooling, I knew I had given him about three twenties too much. But he told me almost everything I needed to know. It must get lonely when your only neighbors are chop-shops and grow operations, because he chatted up a veritable storm. As his diatribe wound down, I was providing fewer and fewer questions and he was providing more and more answers. I began to get worried that he was going to get sunburned sitting out in that hot sun for so long, so I had him wrap it up. I put my finger down and he tied the knot. He wanted to give me a tour of his pond out back, where he grew frogs for research labs and educational institutions, but I said no thanks. We shook hands and I pointed the car’s nose in the general direction of the Klassenmeyer farm.
It was a beautiful day – sunny, warm, breathless; the kind of day where the last thing you want to do is confront a couple of angry farm animals. I powered down the windows as I drove along the dirt road to the Klassenmeyers. I parked the car, exchanged steely glances with a couple of pigs and headed for the tool shed to pick up a leash I had noticed hanging on the wall when I had been there last time. I broke the lock with my bolt cutters and found the leash. I walked over to the pig pen, spoke the few words that Vance Jeeter had taught me, and looped the leash over the bristly neck of the sow that had given me the bum’s rush a couple of days previous. Greta was her name. I picked the lock on the front door of the house and Greta and I strolled in. The horses in the corral let loose with some angry whinnying when the pig and I busted through the front door. I think the rough translation was: ‘No animal must ever live in a house…’.
The time was 11:20 a.m., and, thanks to Jeeter, I knew that the abruptly-widowed Mrs. Klassenmeyer would be home from church at exactly 11:45 a.m. Even though her husband hadn’t been planted and sodded over yet, she wasn’t going to miss out on her usual Sunday service. She was a creature of habit, like a bear or a pig. Greta and I helped ourselves to some cherry pie that was sitting idle in the cafeteria-sized refrigerator in the kitchen. Greta’s lips were soon as red as an Amish kid with a Sears bra sale flyer.
At precisely 11:45 we heard a car pull up alongside the house. Someone slammed a car door, walked briskly across the front porch, and then stopped dead at the open front door. She didn’t balk for long, however. Mrs. Klassenmeyer pulled open the screen door and yelled: “Who’s there!?”
I let the echo go to sleep before I replied. “Just me and my friend,” I said.
She gave a clipped-off scream, then stumbled through the door. Her face turned whiter than the chalky cliffs of Dover when she gandered Greta and me lounging about on her plastic-wrapped couch. Greta grunted a greeting.
“Isn’t she a ham?” I said, patting Greta’s flank. I pointed to the open door. “Bacon enter, I’m afraid.”
I pointed at the frozen Klassenmeyer and tapped Greta on the hindquarters. “Argot!” I yelled.
The pig bounded off the couch, flew around the coffee table, and lunged at Klassenmeyer’s legs. Her mouth snapped air as I held tight with the leash. It wasn’t easy. The leash sang with tension like the guy wires on the Edmund Fitzgerald. Mrs. Klassenmeyer slammed backwards against the wall, then slumped down into a fetal ball on the floor. She had found that it was a hell of a lot tougher being on the other end of the leash.
“Okay, okay, you know! Please don’t let her hurt me!”
I didn’t know a whole lot, but I had my suspicions. As Greta angrily snapped at her Sunday shoes, Helga Klassenmeyer spilled what was left of her guts. She told me about training Bruno, Greta, and other animals, to obey commands via code words; about her finding out about her husband’s pompom poking and Marcie’s unplanned pregnancy; about her righteous, matrimonial rage; about her putting too thin a leash on a three hundred pound bear; about her screaming out an attack code word during the football game; about her pounding relentlessly on her grieving husband after Marcie’s death, until he was swept under by a roiling sea of guilt, leaving a half-bogus, half-truthful suicide note behind as a legacy to his poor decision-making.
The pig and I listened impatiently. She was hungry and I was angry. I pulled her tail and gave her the stand down code word: ‘sarno’. She promptly ceased her menacing masticating and I rewarded her with another piece of pie. I telephoned Officer Gordy at the police station. He wasn’t in, he was working a Bruins charity car wash, but eventually two men in a patrol car arrived and carted Mrs. Klassenmeyer off. She was desperately trying to regain her dignity, but the odds weren’t good.
“Is that any way to greet a potential wealthy client?”
“You’re not a potential client and you’re not wealthy – you’re my sister. What’s up?” I asked. I was in a hurry. I was double-parked in a tinted-window, rented van across the street from the Sheridan Motel, a love shack on Hollywood Boulevard, and my jealous client’s husband was about to enter Room 202. I had it on good authority that something warm and soft was waiting for him inside the cheesy cracker box, and that something wasn’t the Pillsbury doughboy. I shifted the cell to my other ear. “Well?”
“Oh, I just wanted to let you know that your friend Helga Klassenmeyer is dead.”
“Wow! They’ve finally streamlined the death sentence appeal process. All those letters to my state legislator paid off.”
The door to Room 202 suddenly opened and something naked latched on to my man like a carp on a crayfish. He glanced around in embarrassment, pushed the bottle-blonde with the pillow chest inside, and slammed the door shut.
“How and when did she die?”
“She killed herself a day after they let her out on bail.”
I slipped an infra-red digital camera into my jacket pocket and eased out of the van. “She felt a little guilty, I guess.” I jogged across the busy street, padded up some concrete stairs, and set up shop under the window of the conjugal cubicle. The night manager, fifty bucks, and a couple of metal clasps on the curtain rod made sure that the drapes didn’t quite close all the way. Leaning against the grungy, paper-thin, stucco wall, I could hear bedsprings squealing out a throaty number. I peeked in the dirty window and eyeballed the oldest tango performed on a cotton dance floor known to man and woman. “How’d she do it?” I whispered into the phone.
“The police found her in the reptile house,” Jenny replied. “At the Klassenmeyer animal sanctuary, you know.” She paused dramatically.
The man in the skin-tight suit let out a roar that would have shaken the monkeys out of a monkey-puzzle tree.
“She had a python wrapped around her neck.”
My man gave a porcine grunt and collapsed onto his cushiony playmate. I wobbled my head in amazement. “‘The coward sneaks to death, the brave live on’,” I quoted, then pocketed the cell phone and started snapping pictures.
Long pounds out fiction in all genres. Big guy, sense of humor. Writing credits include: Blue Murder Magazine, Hardboiled, Thriller UK, Damnation Books, Bullet, Robot, Eternal Night, Another Realm, Ennea (9), The Dark Krypt, Albedo One, Baen’s Universe, The Forensic Examiner, and stories in the anthologies The Mammoth Book of New Comic Fantasy, The Mammoth Book of Jacobean Whodunits, and The Mammoth Book of Perfect Crimes and Impossible Mysteries.