Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Danger is Not My Middle Name #20

All detective movies finish in a drawing room. This is where the detective has assembled all the suspects, witnesses and assorted sidekicks into one room. A hush falls over the crowd as he starts to speak and untangle the twisted web of the mystery.

The conclusion of this story takes place in a tiny car…one I suspect Europeans did not design with humans in mind. I was in the back seat with my knees braced to my chest, trying not to look like an accordion…or sound like one for that matter.

“You’re Greta?” I asked, a little wheezy from the lack of oxygen.

Jennifer nodded.

“I’m the voice you heard on the phone. Yes. I needed to bring you into the case,” she said.

I smiled my most world-weary smile. “Because I was the first detective you saw?”

She shook her head. “No. I just said that because I wanted you to stop calling me ‘Toots.’ You have a special quality to you. Something we needed.”


Pretty much every overweight Dungeons and Dragons player has a genetic predisposition to getting suspicious when a pretty girl tells them they’re ‘special.’ Comments like that are usually followed by ‘So do you want a date?’”

But she was nodding, looking me directly in the eyes. I noticed her eyes, one blue and the other green, were large and round and so very sincere. There was a little dimple that moved at the lower corner of her mouth when she spoke that made me very glad my knees were pressed against my chest.

“When I was looking for help, I simply passed my hand over the phone book and my finger came down on your name.”

I settled back. “I get it. Sure. Coincidence.”

She shook her head emphatically. “No. Guidance. Destiny. You were supposed to be here. Without you, we could never have recovered the coin.”

Gerald was nodding.

“He already had the coin,” I pointed out.

She was nodding too. “Yes. You were chosen to help. Without you, he would never have made it out alive….plus you found the secret door no one else could find. Something happened in there…in the chapel, right?”

I remembered the strange sense of following the music to the keystone. I nodded.

“How did Gerald get in?” I asked.

She laughed. So did Gerald – which was not a pleasant sound.

“He was captured at the end of our fight. We knew we were losing. He surrendered, hopefully to be taken into their lair and very hopefully get the coin. Which he did. But he had no way to get out. Until you came along to unlock the door.

“We agreed beforehand that if the battle should appear lost, for me to meet him here. And I have been here every day since. Waiting.”

She finished with a smile, a flash of white teeth and something that almost approached shyness.

“So you followed me, and pretended to be Greta, because you didn’t think I could get the job done,” I said.

She thought about it and then nodded. “Well…would you have trusted you?”

Finally I nodded back, smiling.

“Do you know what happened to me in the chapel?” I asked.

She shook her head. “No. But I know it was destined to happen.”

I told her about the vision (okay…I felt a little silly using the word ‘vision’ but there was no other way to describe it) of the man of fire.

She exchanged a sharp look with Gerald. Their eyes were talking to each other. In the end she shook her head.

“Strong suspicions. Nothing’s certain.” She stopped talking and looked me square in the eyes. “The driver, this McGee person, was sent by them. The Stokers must have intercepted our message to you.”

“He would have killed you and taken the coin,” said Gerald.

I gulped, which was difficult because my mouth was suddenly very dry. I turned and looked at Jennifer for a long moment and she looked back at me. We both knew something heavy was blowing in the breeze. Finally she spoke: “I hope you will stick around long enough so we can figure it out…together.”

I half laughed, half snorted. “You want me to?”

Her face was suddenly serious. She nodded. “Stay with us. Work with us. Become a Keeper.”

My jaw dropped and my heart was already setting up all the many reasons we should tell her to forget the whole thing.

“You want me to hunt vampires? With you?”

She nodded. “With us.”

I thought about it. My life flashed before my eyes. I thought about returning to an empty office, friendless and client challenged. I though about what an eternity of thinking about her and wondering how things WOULD have been with her. The decision was made.

“Jennifer,” I growled. “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

“We’ll always have Glasgow,” said Gerald, laughing and it didn’t so bad this time.

“Here’s looking at you, kid,” said Jennifer.

We all were laughing .I knew I was with my people. The fact that we hunt vampires for a living? That’s just a bonus.


So that’s it for Mr. Diamond for the moment. Thank you all for your kind attention, your comments and your patience with someone who insisted on writing a story on a photography blog.

Danger is Not My Middle Name #19

A pair of students were wolfing down a meal as we staggered out of the chapel into the fading sunlight. It looked strange to see something so normal only feet away from where we had just come from. Had it been only a few minutes ago we’d been fleeing some clawed creature in the dark?

“I have a ride,” I told Gerald. “Greta sent him.”

He stopped and looked at me, suspicion painted stark on his sharp features. “Greta did?”

I nodded. “She sent him to pick me up at the ship.”

“How do you know?”

“When I got off the ship, he was there with my name on a placard.”


I was offended. I was sore and my ankle was bleeding profusely from where the minion had clawed at it.

“And what?” I demanded, dismayed to hear the slight whine in my voice.

“Greta didn’t send him,” Gerald said.

“Yes she did,” I insisted. But the look in his eyes and the sense of my heart were sinking the declaration.

We’d been walking. More precisely, Gerald had been walking and I had been limping. We rounded the corner and before us was one of those tiny cars the Europeans favor. Leaning against it was Jennifer.

She watched us approach with interest. As she recognized me, her eyes widened and she rushed forward, nearly knocking me down as she threw her arms around me.

“Sam!” she said. I don’t think my name has ever sounded better.

“Jennifer,” I responded, since that seemed the appropriate thing to say.

Gerald was standing, arms folded, a crooked smile on his lips. He gestured toward Jennifer.

“Mr. Diamond, allow me to present….Greta.”

Danger is Not My Middle Name #18

We flew up the stairs, Gerald and I. Sometimes we fell and sometimes we collided. But somehow we neared the doorway.

I could hear the beast breathing now. We had rushed. But it had moved with furious feral speed, as though it could taste our blood already. The doorway was three feet away and I allowed myself to hope.

My mind left me at that second, the same way it had when the music guided me to this place. I saw something…the flash of something happening…somewhere. A man of fire becoming something else…and so very calm about it all. There was lighting…and a planet…and…

The vision slipped away into a fog of pain as something closed on my ankle. I felt the pressure on bone and the pinpoints of claws digging deep into my skin.

My moan and the beast’s howl of triumph came at the same time. Gerald paused, framed in the light of the doorway. I and the creature of the shadows were far behind him. He was frozen.

The creature tugged at me and my fingernails scrabbled frantically for a hold on smooth stone. Gerald looked at me a moment longer, then produced a blade of glistening steel. With one smooth motion, he leapt down and drove the blade forward in a smooth glittering arc.

If you’ve ever cut into a watermelon with a cleaver, you would recognize the sound. It was a meaty thunk, followed immediately by a cry of rage blended with the sharp surprise of pain. Abruptly the pressure on my leg stopped and I kicked hard, eager to be rid of the thing.

I staggered to my feet and Gerald threw one arm around my shoulder and manhandled me through the doorway. He let me go as we moved into the determined peace of the chapel. I fell hard to the ground. He spun and drove the point of his blade hard against a stone and the doorway closed.

Perhaps a second later there came the sound of something powerful slamming into the rock. I listened carefully, thinking that I could hear the howls of blood rage from the other side…but maybe not.

“What was that thing?” I asked.

“Minion,” Gerald said, luxuriating for a moment, leaning against the stone doorway.

“A what?” I asked.

“Minion. One of the Stoker’s guardians.”

“Holy crap,” I said. I inwardly noted I had been saying “holy crap” a lot lately and resolved to say something else in the future like ‘Holy Smokes’ or ‘holy….well…something else.’

The assault on the stone door was getting louder as though the thing expected it could claw through stone to get to us.

“It will stop in a minute,” Gerald said. “It’s job is to guard…and ensure we don’t come back.”

It stopped.

Gerald closed his eyes. He was the picture of an exhausted man. I noticed bags heavy under his eyes and for a moment his entire body seemed to sag.

“We need to go see Jennifer,” he said finally. “We have a lot to tell you.”

Danger is Not My Middle Name #17

Hands pulling at me.

Painful corners digging into my bones. Slow progress and the steady sound of “Thump Thump” that oddly enough was tied to the equally regular motion my head made as it jounced up and down. And then the dawning realization that it WAS my head, thumping over stairs.

Next came the sound of labored breathing.

I opened my eyes and saw a man’s face. Oddly familiar. I had seen it somewhere before. A racing magazine? Nah.

“You’re awake,” he whispered.

“Unnnghhh,” I responded.

“You fainted,” he said softly.

A surf of indignant sensation washed away the cobwebs.

“I did not,” I insisted.

A rough hand pressed to my mouth and suddenly his face was close to mine. Too close.

“Shhhhh,” he hissed. “You want to get both of us killed?”

Since it sounded like a rhetorical question I didn’t respond.

I looked closely into his face. Both heart and male orbs went into immediate panic mode as realization dawned. I was looking into the face of Gerald – Fitzroy! He was the man I had initially been hired to follow. He’d last been seen about to do mortal battle with the undead Stokers underneath the Unfinished Church in Bermuda. My partner, Jennifer had gone down to help him while I fled…oops…while I made a strategic retreat. Neither of them had been seen again.

I did my best to form a fist and drive it into his jaw. My body wasn’t quite ready to take orders yet, so instead of smacking him, my pinky finger embedded itself in his right nostril.

He looked understandably confused for a moment and then swatted my hand away.

“You’re an idiot,” he said.

“And you’re dead,” I responded.

“No I’m not,” he hissed, shaking me by the lapels for emphasis.

“You went to fight an army of the undead in Bermuda,” I said. “You’re toast. History.”

He shook me again. I was getting a little tired of this.

“We escaped,” he said.


My heart skipped a beat. Could Jennifer be alive?

He nodded curtly. “Jennifer is in the car. Waiting for this.”

He produced a small coin from his pocket. It was covered in ornate carvings. One side was gold and the other silver. I could feel power radiating from it.

My jaw dropped.

“And I have been waiting for you. You took long enough, by the way. We need to get out of here,” Fitzroy/Gerald/Whatever his name really was hissed. “Before they realize it’s gone.”

As if on cue there came a high keening wail from somewhere below us. It was inhuman and as it pitched up and down the scale, the emotion it carried moved from grief to fury.

Gerald looked at me, eyes wide with what could only be described as terror and scrambled up the stairs.

Heart pounding, I followed.

Then I heard the sound of claws scratching on stone. The keening wail had become a growl of animal fury. It, whatever it was, was coming up the stairs directly for us, coming fast, panting with the naked desire to rip…to rend…to tear. The doorway loomed in the distance…impossibly small and simply too far away.

Danger is Not My Middle Name #16

We may be taking a little break in the story over the next few days to bring you up to date on some VCD (Very Cool Developments).

As you may or may not know, Auto FX has just released the latest update to Mystical Lighting. It's available now at www.autofx.com. On the face of it,it appears to be a radical departure from the classic Mystical Lighting 1.0. I'll be taking a hard look at the demo over the weekend.

Good or bad remains to be seen. I use Mystical Lighting 1.0 frequently -- so do a lot of you. It'll be interesting to see if 2.0 is as vast an improvement on 1.0 as Mystical Tint Tone and Color 2.0 was on the "mostly useless" MTTC 1.0. MTTC 2.0 blew us away. Hopefully Mystical Lighting 2.0 will have the same effect. Time will tell.

I'm trying to line up an interview with Cliff Weems, from Auto FX about his latest creation and posting the interview here.

2010 promises a bumper crop of Photoshop releases. We're all looking forward to seeing what Adobe's going to do with the new CS5. Alien Skin is working on a new Bokeh update, which yours truly will be helping them with. We'll keep you posted.

Look for that interview...and a the last three episodes of STOKERS later in the week.

Now: Back to Mr. Diamond:


The darkness closed around me like an accountant’s fist and even when the door should have been just a few feet away from me – it loomed what appeared to be miles above.

Pungent scent filled my nostrils and made my eyes water. This didn’t matter a whole lot, I decided, because I could barely see anyway. Bogie would have had a flashlight or simply happened across a richly guttering torch. But this wasn’t a movie and there was nothing. As I moved forward I knew that a single misstep would send me tumbling down these stairs and who knew how far I would fall? Maybe forever. Maybe longer.

“Are you out of your freaking mind?” my heart snapped. “Do you realize what you are doing here? What you are risking here? You are like, going to get us killed, you freaking dumbass moron.”

“What else were we supposed to do?” my brain asked my heart coldly. “We have to know what’s down here.”

“We do?” asked my heart, dripping sarcasm. “Why is THAT?”

“Because we have to know,” explained my brain patiently. “We must experience...”

“Dork,” my heart hissed.

“Chicken,” my brain hissed back.

“Moron,” the heart cried – a little louder this time. “We’re in a black pit working our way deeper into darkness, blockhead.”

“You want us to stay where it’s safe and NEVER know what’s down here?” my brain responded, and then began casting about for an appropriate invective. “Mr. Poopypants.”

“That’s the best you can do?” began my heart.

“We think we should do whatever is safest,” chimed in my male orbs softly, speaking in unison.

It went on like that for a long time. My body parts have a long history of arguing with each other.

I continued down into the darkness, my hand carefully tracing a path along the wall. The light was closer now. I could see it moving on the wall with the oddly flickering dance that a fire throws.

It was then that I heard the first sound. It was a leathery step. Think of the sound two pieces of paper make when you rub them together.

“That’s it. We are like TOTALLY screwed,” my heart moaned.

My mind came to complete attention and began studying the darkness in front of me.

The sound came again. Closer. Coming our way. Definitely.

Very quietly, my male orbs went back into hiding while my heart gibbered incoherently and the figure on the stairs grew closer.

My heart pounded in my ears….and for a second I thought I was going to faint. For a second I stood peering into the face of the Abyss…alive with color and stars and things that moved with impossible speed.

Then the darkness took me and I knew nothing at all.

Danger is Not My Middle Name #15

I admit it. The red hand scared the snot out of me. I had visions that there was a demon from the seventh level of hell reaching out to drag me into the flames. Okay…so my imagination got away from me…again.

But something happened at that precise moment. First, the hand vanished in a puff of blackened smoke. But it had been pointing at something. I turned to look and immediately I was swept into a river of uncanny perception. I was taken by the sensation of drifting above myself and in that moment I was completely aware of everything. I knew there was an insect scuttling along the floor, I knew the young man in the corner of the chapel who was playing those fabulous praise choruses was chiding himself for not peeing before his shift started. And I knew that there was a secret passageway somewhere in front of me.

Don’t ask me how I knew. I just did.

It looked to me as though the piano music were something I could see moving in an oddly colored line through the air before me and my eyes (even though they weren’t my eyes…exactly) followed it to a nondescript stone directly below a statue of a worshipping angel. The line forming in the air seemed to make the objects along its trajectory shift like looking down a black highway on a sweltering summer day,

The stone at the end of this etherial line glowed with a sickly yellow light.

I walked across the mostly deserted chapel and pressed my hand to the stone.


I moved it gently from the right to the left.


I rapped against it sharply with my fingers.


Finally I raised both hands (and no, I could never tell you why I chose to do this, I just did) and pressed each index finger into an opposite corner of the stone.

There was a growling, grating sound and a three foot section of wall slid open.

I stood there, examining the tips of my fingers for a moment. Then I peered into the small opening at a circular staircase, moving downward into the darkness. No. Not darkness. Somewhere ahead was a flickering light…like a torch.

Whenever I watch horror movies, I am continually amazed by dumbass people who go down into dark places where there are more than likely slavering monsters waiting for them. How dumb can you be? I’d wonder aloud.

My heart was pounding. I could feel it pulse in my ear like a high pressure water hose on a firetruck. I’d already made my decision.

Placing my hand against the wall, I ducked into the opening and made my way into the darkness.

Danger is Not My Middle Name #14

If you are one of the three or four people following my Photostream, you know about this story.

My initial idea was to do a detective serial, where the detecive would be in the same trip Sheree and I just got back from. The concept was that I would write the story day by day. As we went to a port or spent the day on the ship, so would he.

We got too busy and I ran out of steam. (You can go ALL the way back to #1 here if you want to start from the beginning.) But Mr. Diamond has been bugging me, reminding me I stranded him in Scotland.

This Red Hand isn't in Trinity Chapel. It's actually part of a statue in a fountain out front of the spa on the Grand Princess cruiseliner.

So I'm going to work on the story a little more. Here's number 14:

“So have you been a dick long?” asked McGee.

I didn’t like the way he said “dick.” I’d taken to this guy like a mongoose takes to a snake. Something about him was like biting on tin foil.

“Long enough,” I growled, thinking of Bogart in To Have and to Have Not.

“My orders are to take you to Glasgow University Chapel. I am to wait for you for a full two hours and then return you to your ship…and to take a package, which you will give me, to the courier.”

I nodded as though I had some idea what he was talking about.

“You have no idea what I am talking about, do you?” he said, working snide into the comment like Julia Child works warble into her voice.

“Of course I do,” I said.

“You know what package my…employer…expects?”

“Uh huh,” I said, pretending to be fascinated with something going on outside.

“I don’t believe you, Mr. Diamond,” he said finally. “I have no idea why she chose you.”

He made the word “you” sound like the word you’d use for something stuck to the bottom of your shoe after you’ve been tap dancing in a cow pasture.

I shrugged with carefully cultivated indifference.

The rest of the ride was silent and I watched the old streets of Glasgow slide by. Strange city, I thought. So much old and so much new, existing right alongside each other as through they belonged there.

Gradually “old” seemed to be replacing new. Business people rushing purposefully down the street gave way to young people toting books and book bags and, using my keen sense of detection, I realized we were nearing the University…and the chapel.

McGee pulled over and kept his eyes fixed ahead, like looking at me might just make him sick.

“Are we there?” I asked.

“You’re the detective,” he said dryly.

I got out of the car and from somewhere off to my left I heard the sound of classical piano music playing something that sounded old and vaguely hymn-like.

I decided to follow the sound. As I closed the door, McGee put his hand resolutely out to prevent me.

“That package, Mr. Diamond. You will not forget the package.” He paused and looked at me evenly. His eyes glittered. I’m not making that up. His eyes positively glittered. “It would be very, very bad if I see you again and you don’t have a package for me.”

Then he smiled with his lips, but his eyes made me think of a shark or a vulture. They didn’t smile.

I gave him my best “I’m a detective and you’re not” two fingered salute and walked away. I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing, what I was supposed to get…or how exactly I was going to get it.

The Glasgow University Chapel loomed ahead.

I walked in – and that’s when I saw the creepy red hand reaching for me out of the wall.

Danger is Not My Middle Name #13

The six days at sea between Bermuda and Glasgow passed uneventfully. I learned three things. First: never EVER adjust the water temperature while you are still in the shower. Second: when on a cruise eat ONLY cooked or frozen foods. (These treatments kill all the calories.) Third: we are not alone. There have been three murders as we cross the Atlantic.

In all three cases, the corpses weren’t discovered for at least two days, since most old people look corpse-like when they are sleeping and there are a LOT of old people on this ship.

The medical officer, a man with suspiciously large ears, believes they all died of natural causes. I was half-hoping for a burial at sea in shark infested waters – but apparently they send the bodies home.

I drifted by the medical office on the fourth floor and casually brought up the topic of the deaths.

“Why do you want to know?” he asked coldly.

I laughed in my most disarming manner. “Curious. Call it curious.”

“None of your business,” he said finally.

“Okay,” I said. I was thinking with lightning speed now. “I am a travel writer. Yeah. That’s it. I’m a travel writer. I am working on a series about why people should avoid cruising because contagious diseases can spread like wildfire, killing all the old people first. I’m calling the series ‘Death Ships of the Princess Fleet.’”

Have you ever seen ALL the color fade from someone’s face? It goes from a healthy pink to a pasty looking white. So when I say that the ‘doctor visibly blanched’ you know what I mean.

He looked at me for a moment and I tried to keep my eyes off those enormous ears. Since he is probably sensitive about it, I avoided all discussions having to do with Dumbo or Prince Charles. That’s why I’m a pro.

Finally he shrugged. “Well, I suppose there’s no reason for you not to know. Their hearts all stopped. But they were old and that is to be expected. Why aren’t you writing this down?”

I tapped at my temple. “I memorize everything as soon as I hear it. It’s a gift. Were there any marks on the bodies?”

“They were old. There were lots of marks.”

“Any…ummm…marks like the ones on that guy who died in the deck chair a while ago?”

The doctor looked away and got intensely interested in a file on his desk.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about Mr….?”

“Smith,” I said. “I am John Smith. Travel writer.”

“Your cruise card says you are “Sam D. Diamond.”

“Pen name,” I responded with a sly wink.

He paused a moment longer, as though deciding whether or not to make a big deal out of this. In the end he just shrugged again.

“If there’s nothing else, Mr. Diamond, I have a lot of paperwork to do.”

“It’s Smith.”

“Of course it is.”

“So no marks?” I said. I was a terrier. A BULL terrier, never letting go.

“Nope. No marks.”

I tipped the brim of an imaginary hat to him. The door slammed almost instantly behind me.

We arrived in Scotland on a foggy morning. I’d taken an internet plan out that had cost me HUGE dollars…sixty cents a MINUTE! Who in their right mind would blow that kind of cash on the Internet? You’d have to be cracked or loaded to spend that kind of dough.

But I used my time at thirty seconds per session, to research the location of the chapel at Glasgow University. I had a vague idea of where I was going.

I was among the first to get off the ship, having used my elbows on several old people in walkers.

I stepped off the ship and saw a terrier thin man in a badly wrinkled suit standing before a tiny car with the words McGee Realty stenciled on the window. He held a clipboard with the name “DIAMOND” scrawled on it. He was looking hopefully at each person with a slight head bob and waggling eyebrows as he asked his silent question.

“I’m Diamond,” I said.

He looked me up and down, moustache twitching like a whiskered rodent.


I held up my cruise card, which he scrutinized.

“We’ve been expecting you, Mr. Diamond. I understand you need to see some angels?”

“Who are ‘we?’”

He smiled, showing really bad teeth. “All in good time, Sir. Step into the car, if you please.”

I needed to fold myself into it, since it looked like one of those cars at the circus that six hundred clowns get out of. But in a few minutes we were off to Glasgow University to meet an angel.