Book Review: The Burglar Who Smelled Smoke

Smoke

Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr is one of my favorite fictional characters. This short story, co-written with Lynn Wood Block who as Mr. Block explains came up with the original idea and did the research. He later sat down and wrote the story.

Bernie Rhodenbarr, used bookstore owner and master thief, meets with Karl Bellermann, an eccentric book collector. Karl’s books are the most important things in his life. Bernie’s there to offer Karl a rare special edition to add to his collection in return for a nice price. Upon his arrival Karl shows Bernie his private library containing his massive collection and tells him of the great lengths he has gone to protect his books from any sort of thief or man-made or natural disaster.

Bernie and Karl have lunch together. Afterward, before any transaction can proceed, it’s time for the eccentric collector to lock himself in his library to read for four hours, something he does like clockwork every day from 2PM to 6PM.

During this four hour interlude, Bernie gets a bit “familiar” with Karl’s beautiful wife. The time passes quickly. When Karl’s wife realizes it’s almost 6PM and her husband will be exiting his book room right on time like he always does, it’s panic time! She jumps out of bed, gets dressed and runs downstairs. The panic increases when the always punctual Karl does not come out of the library at exactly 6PM as he always does. Something’s wrong. Something’s very wrong.

Lawrence Block has written a fascinating short story, a locked room mystery both absorbing and with an ending carefully explained. The one problem is there are only a few characters making the ‘who done it’ part rather evident but that does not negate from enjoying this tale.

A Merry Little Christmas Gift: A Short Story

The holidays can bring out the worst in everyone and does in this Christmas treat.

Christmas BAlls2 CW

The mall was jam-packed with holiday shoppers. Christmas music from the likes of Perry Como to Elvis to Brad Paisley and the latest rapper blared out in no particular order. With only three shopping days left before the big day, last-minute shoppers were scurrying all over from one shop to another. The line of young kids waiting to tell Santa the list of toys they wanted, no it was more like demanded, to see under the tree was staggering. It was the best time of the year.

 I was standing just inside the entranceway to Jordan’s Jewel Factory, one of those large chain stores that clog up space in most of America’s malls these days. In jewelry stores, it’s not unusual to see beautiful young women. If they are not rich and buying the diamonds, they are looking and wishing they could. Hoping to find some kind of satisfaction by just looking at the necklaces, rings, earrings, and other accessories. That in itself is a common occurrence. What was uncommon happened when my eyes caught the attention of this one young woman. Yes, she was beautiful. That was obvious even from the distance between us. However, I was more interested in how quickly she picked up a particular necklace, slipped it into her coat pocket and dashed out of the store disappearing into the crowded mall. She did it with such precision, grace and speed that the employees behind the counter didn’t realize the necklace was gone until it was too late.

She didn’t quite disappear. I moved quickly myself following her as soon as she left the store. I caught up with her as she was heading toward the mall exit. I gently placed a hand on her arm.

“Excuse me a minute, miss,” I said.

She froze but kept her back to me.

I walked around her so I could face her directly.

“We need to have a little talk. Could we just walk over to the side here so we are out of the way.” I said.

“I don’t talk to men I don’t know,” she said with a chill in her voice that would have given Frosty the Snowman a shiver down his spine.

“Well, I think this time you will.”

Her eyes were darting around until she found what she was looking for. “There’s a security guard right over there. I have no problem calling him over if you don’t leave me alone right now,” she said.

I followed her eyes and sure enough, there was a security guard standing by the crowded food court. He was looking right at us.

“Miss, we just need to have a little talk,” I said, “No need to…”

Before I could finish, she waved the security guard over. In a moment the six foot two or so guard was between us.

“Everything okay here?” he asked.

Before she could get another word out, I said, “It’s okay, Damon. This young lady and I are just having a little talk.”

She looked at me and then at Damon.

“Yes. I’m sorry… I just.”

“Thanks, Damon,” I interceded. “If we need you, I will give you a call.”

“Yes sir.”

With that, Damon moved on walking slowly away from us and back toward the crowded food court.

“You’re a cop?”

“Retired cop. Now I’m head of security here at the mall,” I said.

“What do you want?” she said.

“I was in the jewelry store at the same time as you.”

“So,” she said, keeping her cool.

 “I saw what you did.”

“I didn’t do anything!” she said defiantly.

I managed to steer her away to one of the few spots in the mall where there wasn’t a crowd of Christmas shoppers. I stared at her for a moment. She was only about twenty-three or so, very attractive with shoulder-length brown hair and green eyes.

“You don’t look like the typical jewel thief,” I said.

Her face remained frozen. She was still trying to tough it out.

“What are you accusing me of?”

“Why don’t we just drop the pretense? I was there. I saw everything. Just empty your coat pocket, the right one specifically.”

She was trapped and she finally gave in to the inevitable. She pulled the necklace out of her pocket. I took it from her.

“Nice. Must be worth a couple of hundred bucks,” I said.

“Seven hundred,” She said.

I smiled. “I see you do your homework.”

“Let’s see some I.D.,” I said.

She pulled out her wallet from her handbag and handed me her driver’s license. I put the necklace in my pocket for safekeeping and examined her license.

“Julia Ross?” I asked. I pulled out my cellphone and snapped a photo of the license. I then handed it back to her.

“Look, I’m sorry, really sorry. Isn’t there some way we can make this go away?” she said. “We could go somewhere quiet, somewhere private, my car and…”

“Miss Ross, or is it Ms. Ross. I am a married man with two beautiful kids. In thirty-five years of marriage, I never, not once, cheated on my wife.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say anything to upset you.”

“Do you have a record?” I asked. “Don’t lie because I can easily check it out and I will. Remember I have a photo of your license.”

“No, no, I don’t. I have never been in any kind of trouble.”

I smiled. “You know, I’m not surprised. I was watching you for a while in the store and you’re pretty smooth. You must have gotten away with plenty of good stuff in the past. You just knew when to make the snatch and split without anyone noticing. That is, except for me, of course. I am pretty good myself at my job.

“I know…couldn’t we just let this go? Just this one time,” She asked.

“You’re young and you have got your entire life ahead of you,” I said.  “A criminal record could really screw your life up.”

“I’m really, really sorry,” she said.

“I don’t like people stealing stuff on my watch. It pisses me off. Especially at this time of the year. Families are out there shopping. Looking for the right gift. Working their way through the crowds. That’s why I’m out here. As head of security, I’m usually not out here pounding the beat so to speak. But the holidays bring out more lowlife’s and crooks than usual so I put myself out here too. Another pair of eyes for the holidays.”

She was shaking a bit now and on the verge of tears. “I’m so sorry, please…”

“Well,” I sighed, “as it stands now, no real harm has been done. I got the jewelry back, so therefore you didn’t steal anything which means I have no reason to arrest you.”

She looked up at me in shock. “Really? Oh, God, thank you so much.”

“I guess I am getting soft. Maybe it’s my old age. Maybe it’s the holiday season, I don’t know. I just don’t want to see a pretty young thing like you get in so much trouble that would ruin your life.”

“Oh, thank you so, so much!”

“You’ve got to promise me something though,” I said.

“Anything, anything. What is it?” She said.

“You’re not going to do this anymore,” I said.

“Yes, yes, I promise. Never again,” She said.

I knew that was a lie. Once a thief, always a thief.

“And if you do it again… do it somewhere else other than my fuckin’ mall!”

She looked at me. A bit in shock. Not sure how to respond.

“Merry Christmas,” I smiled.

“Merry Christmas,” she smiled back and took off through the exit door and out into the snow.

I felt good. I gave the kid a break. Why not, it’s the holidays. Hopefully, she takes my advice and stops her little crime spree or at least stays away from my mall. I looked around at the crowds. Yep, it was only three days before Christmas and the place was packed. Frank Sinatra was now on the sound system singing, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. I put my hands in my pockets. That’s when I remembered I still had the necklace. I smiled and thought, yes it will be a merry little Christmas. The wife is gonna love this!

A Merry Little Christmas Gift is included in my short stories collection, DEVIOUS TALES, available as an ebook and paperback at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Book Review: Rides A Stranger

Rides

Don Kurtwood, a university professor, and his father were never close. The only thing they had in common was a love of books, though their tastes were far apart. Don favored the classics while his father was strictly a reader of pulp fiction: mysteries, thrillers and especially westerns and the works of Max Brand and Louis L’ Amour. He read them over and over/

Notified of his father’s death, Don returns home to attend the funeral, help his Mom grieve, and clean up the hundreds and hundreds of paperbacks collected over the years (Mom already disposed of many boxes filled with books, but there are more). During the Viewing, surrounded by family and friends, a stranger approaches Don. He wants Don to come to his bookstore later that evening, claiming to have important information about Don’s father. Don felt the man was a greedy collector interested in buying his father’s collection of pulp fiction and had nerve showing up before his Dad was even in the ground.

Late that evening, Don goes to the man’s used bookstore, only to find the owner dead. During the police investigation into the store owner’s death, Don discovers the owner was not interested in purchasing his father’s book collection, his interest was in only one particular book. A western novel (Rides A Stranger) written by his father.  This comes as a shock! His father never wrote a book and never spoke about writing a book. Don’s mother claims he did nothing but reading and watch TV during all their years of marriage. Did Dad have another life in the past that he never revealed?

Written by David Bell, Rides A Stranger, a short story, is not only a good mystery but an insightful look into asking how well do we know people, even our closest family members.

Book Review: The Sublime Life

Sublime  In Jenna Moquin’s short story, The Sublime Life, we meet Deke Mueller. Deke is an aspiring writer, but he fears success. He learned early on bad things can happen. You see, Deke’s mother was an author too and right after she became a success she died of pancreatic cancer. Deke fears life will repeat itself and his life will also be cut short if he is successful. He rather be a living failure than a dead success. Jenna Moquin has created a cautionary tale focusing on the fear of success. You want it but at what cost. Many creative artists fear both failure and success and will easily relate.

Make it Write – New Short Story

Twenty Four Frames

If you are a fan of The Twilight Zone you may want to check out my new short story, MAKE IT WRITE.  It’s a slight departure from my usual tales tossing in a bit of Rod Serling fantasy along with the usual darker deadly deeds.  I hope you’ll like it.

“Another great story by John Greco. This one reads like a Twilight Zone episode. Every author can relate to this creepy story. And what a twisty ending.” Joseph Souza – Author of Pray for the Girl and The Neighbor.

MAKE IT WRITE is available as an ebook on Amazon for only .99 cents.

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Make it Write Now Available on Amazon

My latest short story Make it Write has been published and is now available on Amazon for only .99 cents. It’s a slight departure from my usual tales tossing in a bit of fantasy along with the usual darker deadly deeds.  I hope you’ll like it.

Make it Write Book Cover Final2r-003

Extra, Extra! If you haven’t read my short story, The Bombay Hook Incident in A Million and One magazine just click on the link here.  Enjoy!

 

 

New Short Story – The Bombay Hook Incident Published by A Million and One Magazine

 

Sunrise Bombay Hook NWR Delaware CW-1572.jpgPhotograph from the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge

 

I am happy to announce the on-line arts magazine, A Million and One Magazine has recently published my new short story, The Bombay Hook Incident.

The idea for the story came to me during a week long photographic trip to the Delmarva Peninsula. One of three wildlife refuges we visited was The Bombay Hook Wildlife Refuge in Delaware. One morning while driving through the refuge we came across some sand dunes and nearby someone had pitched a small tent. I began to wonder who would set up a tent on a wildlife refuge and what were they doing there? You can find out by reading the complete story. Just click on A Million and One Magazine.