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Daily Prompt: Ghost

via Daily Prompt: Ghost

THE WHITE SPIRIT

Thanks to this prompt, I’m reposting another early Dubious Magic story, set during the early events of Book 1: The Wizard of Waramanga – in which Wilko gets a little foretaste of the weirdness he’ll come to know around John B. Stewart.

It had been an unexpectedly successful weekend for both of them, right up until very recently.

John B. Stewart and Robert ‘Wilko’ Wilkes were a pair of fairly ordinary Canberra public servants. Except for John B. having magical powers ever since he’d hit his head on a poker machine.

The Tasmanian Wilko didn’t believe a word of that story, no matter how earnestly John B. tried to convince him that his wishes now came true. Not always predictably, he would admit, but results happened.

What they did agree on was a fondness for a game of golf. When the chance arose to play in a social tournament in a little country club a few hours drive west of Canberra, they’d agreed it seemed a good way to spend a couple of days.

“It’s your turn to have a few drinks, mate,” John B. had said. “We’ll take Kraven and I’ll drive us home.”

Kraven was Stewart’s battered but well-loved old Hillman Hunter. Wilko had been slightly concerned – the old car had been the recipient of some of his friend’s rather dodgy ‘running repairs’, but the offer was generous and the Hunter did seem to be reliable at the moment.

The golf had gone remarkably well. John B. had won a ‘nearest to the pin’ prize on Saturday, and Wilko had gone from a decent Saturday to a terrific Sunday, becoming the upset winner of the overall competition.

It wasn’t a great financial windfall, but it was a nice trophy and a few extra dollars to put over the clubhouse bar. So it was rather later than they’d originally intended when they finally waved their farewells and headed east.

John B. had been as good as his word and had very little to drink. A couple of good single malts spread over the hours, interspersed with plenty of soda water. He was tired, though. Sharing a hotel room with Wilko was challenging. The Tasmanian was a heavy sleeper, and completely oblivious to his own snoring. John B. wasn’t so lucky.

The sun was well down as the Hillman trundled along the road. It wasn’t a well-finished surface, and the ride was a bumpy one.

It was one particularly bad pothole that had been the cause of the sudden change in their fortunes. Kraven’s front left wheel had hit hard, the car had bounced and landed heavily. When it did, all the lights went out.

Continue reading Daily Prompt: Ghost

ROCK Part 2

This is longer than my usual ‘short’ story.  If you haven’t read the earlier part, I really suggest you go to ROCK Part 1.  Otherwise, this one may be a little harder to follow than you’d like!

The scene is the Gibraltar fortress in WW2.  The two Abwehr saboteurs – Ulises Lope Guiomar and Gonzalo Olegario, having killed a US soldier, have just avoided being discovered by the Black Watch corporal ‘Braw Wullie’ McEwen and his simian companion ‘Hairy Wullie’ – a most unusual Barbary macaque.

Renoir and Hairy Wullie
Renoir (left) and a Barbary macaque

Ulises jumped down from the back of the truck. “Thanks, buddy,” he said, already taking on the accent he’d learned in southern California.

With the brisk step he’d adopted, he stepped smartly across the parade ground, carefully not following the Scottish corporal and the monkey. He was startled when a sergeant major from one of the engineering companies shouted at him.

“You there! Soldier! Get your hair cut!” the pompous RSM ordered.

Guiomar stopped in his tracks and saluted perfectly. “Yes sir! Right you are, sir! As soon as I get off duty, sir!”

“See that you do!” The officer gave a curt nod and continued on his way.

Gonzalo Olegario realised he’d been holding his breath as he watched the little exchange. The soldier who’d just come over to buy some oranges looked at him in concern. “Are you okay, mate?” he asked in a voice that might have just left the East End of London.

“Eh? Oh, si. Sorry, senor. I was distracted by one of the apes – no, monkeys they are, si?”Hairy Wullie close

The Londoner laughed. “You’ve been talking to that mad coot McEwen, haven’t you? Don’t worry about the monkeys mate – you get used to ‘em around here. They’re harmless, if you keep an eye on ‘em.”

Ulises had been much less concerned than Gonzalo. He moved and worked with absolute confidence, an air that gave nobody any cause to doubt that he was the GI he presented himself to be.

There were a number of entrances to the tunnel complex in the section of the Rock that he was approaching. He selected one that had a numeral 5 on a small sign mounted on the rock face. A British soldier was guarding the tunnel entrance – a man that Guiomar was confident had not been among his customers and thus would have no chance of recognizing him.

He saluted the guard and said, “Been ordered to HQ”.

The rifleman gave him a wry smile and replied, “You’ve picked the long way, matey. You oughta use Tunnel Number 7. More direct. Take you a good three quarters of a mile or more, this one.”

Guiomar squared his shoulders and offered a practiced smile. “Reckon I need the exercise,” he said.

“Suit yourself, matey,” said the guard and waved him on his way.

As soon as he was well inside past the guard the Spaniard broke into a run. He was remarkably quiet for a man in heavy boots inside a tunnel. He’d spent a lot of time practicing a running style that saw him seemingly glide, rather than slamming his feet to the ground.

Once clear of the daylight streaming in at the entrances, Gibraltar’s tunnel system was a gloomy place. Long stretches of tunnel were only sparsely lit by small bulbs, feebly penetrating the darkness. The holes punched in the limestone had not created high ceilings or wide corridors. In some places groundwater seeped through the stone above and dripped slowly onto the floor.

Guiomar stopped outside a closed door, poorly illuminated by a flickering light. Evidently the wiring to this socket was faulty and the charge wasn’t getting through properly. The Brandenburg smiled, rather like a shark. This was clearly a storeroom of some sort. With luck it would contain something volatile behind the locked door. He reached into his blouse and extracted one of the packages from the special vest. He squeezed and felt a small piece of copper buckle under the pressure of his thumb. He felt more than heard thin glass crack.

It had begun. He had about two hours to finish the job and get well clear. He wedged the first package into a cleft in the rock wall near the door, and then took off along the corridor at a steady pace.

Continue reading ROCK Part 2

ROCK Part 1

A longer-than-usual “short” story, so I’ve broken it into two parts.  

The great course of history can turn upon small and unexpected things, never more so than in wartime. Significant events can happen, or not happen, pivoting on mere moments in time. Luck? Chance? Coincidence? Dubious magic?

The Brandenburg Regiment of the Abwehr Second Division was not the most popular element within the German army.

The SS and the Abwehr maintained a deep-seated and bitter rivalry. Military intelligence was the Abwehr’s provenance, and there were many in the SS who resented their lack of ready access to secrets they felt entitled to.

Some of the die-hard traditionalist old soldiers in the High Command still felt that the Abwehr’s techniques of subterfuge and espionage weren’t a “proper” way to conduct a war, and regarded the whole organization as intrinsically dishonourable.

And there were some, even within the Abwehr itself, who felt that the whole idea of the Brandenburgs was an affront to their treasured ideal of Aryan supremacy.

The men of the Brandenburg Regiment were the equivalent of the British Commandos. Highly trained both physically and mentally, in disciplines from swimming and hand-to-hand combat to map reading, secret messaging, forgery, demolition and camouflage, they were an elite group designed to operate behind enemy lines. By the time of their dissolution in the autumn of 1944 they’d earned more decorations and commendations than any comparably sized unit in the German army.

The problem for the Aryan supremacists was that, in order to function effectively in foreign countries, it was necessary for the Regiment to be largely composed of foreigners. This was a further affront to the SS, who sought out recruits with exemplary Nordic features. The Brandenburgs, in contrast, specifically wanted men who looked like they belonged in their chosen fields of operation.

To join the Regiment it was essential to speak at least one language other than German, preferably more. They recruited expatriate Germans from across Europe and Africa, but also the likes of Slavs, Poles, Ukrainians – even Spaniards.

Spain was a vexation to Hitler. The leader, General Franco, stubbornly refused to enter the war on the side of the Axis, although he was just as intransigent about joining the Allies. It seemed to the Fuhrer that the man would not commit to anyone until the war was over and a clear winner could be identified.

One tiny corner of southwestern Spain was of particular concern. Out on the edge of Andalucía, Gibraltar had been held by Britain since the Treaty of Utrecht in1713.

The British fortress on the Rock of Gibraltar was a key strategic position, giving the Allied navies a significant tactical advantage. It also provided a well-sited airstrip for combat operations. If it could be taken, or at least incapacitated, it would be a powerful blow. The difficulty was that it was a very, very tough nut to crack.

By the middle of 1942 the Rock was actually rather less solid than it appeared. Five companies of British engineers and two companies of their Canadian allies, equipped with diamond tipped drills, had riddled the Gibraltar limestone with an impressive subterranean network.

Gibraltar cavesThe size of a small town, it had more than thirty miles of tunnels and chambers – more tunnels than there were roads on Gibraltar. The tunnels linked up storage rooms, office space, signaling stations, even a power station, water supply and a well-equipped hospital. At the very heart of it all was the recently established Headquarters of Operation Torch – coordinating the Allies’ planned invasion of French North Africa. General Eisenhower had only just arrived to take command of the Operation.

The General didn’t especially like his new environment. He found it damp and dank, but he readily acknowledged how secure and safe it was as a base. It certainly seemed as near as possible to impenetrable.

In large part that was due to the construction of his HQ, but he was also pleased to acknowledge the caliber of the British troops who formed the majority of Gibraltar’s defence force.

Among those troops were members of the 4th Battalion of the Royal Highland Regiment, better known as the Black Watch. Among them was a soldier named William John McEwen.

Corporal McEwen had been an orphan, shipped to the Hebrides island of Islay in his youth and raised in the little village of Sron Dubh. His hair, which he could never make tidy enough for the satisfaction of some officers, lacked the fiery redness so often associated with Scots. He was middling tall, with broad shoulders. He’d competed with some success in the hammer throw event at Highland games, routinely launching the 22 pound metal ball and its four foot wooden shaft over a hundred and fifty feet.

The 4th Battalion had been among the last troops to be evacuated from Dunkirk. McEwen had earned his promotion during those desperate days in France, together with a reputation for having a cool head in a crisis. It was also noticed by alert eyes that he had a knack for being in the right place at the right time – where and when he was needed.

Not an ambitious man, Braw Wullie as he’d been known in Sron Dubh (many of the village men were named William, and each of the ‘Wullies’ had his own nickname to distinguish him) tried to keep a low profile on the Rock. There was only one wee little problem with that.

That wee little problem was a Barbary ape. One of the many macaques that inhabited Gibraltar had attached himself to the Corporal. It was peculiar behaviour. The beasts were normally scavengers, not people-shy but not at all tame, either. This one on the other hand had wandered up to the Scot when he’d first arrived at the fortress, tilted his small furry head to one side as if studying the man, then proceeded to accompany him all around the place.

McEwen had done nothing at first to encourage the attentions, but eventually would talk to the monkey as an intelligent companion.

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“He’s smarter than some o’ you bampots,” he’d said with a smile when a few of his comrades made disparaging remarks. He even gave the creature a name, hearkening back to the habits of his old village. ‘Hairy Wullie’ – who immediately learned to respond to the moniker (although mostly only when called by McEwen).

Continue reading ROCK Part 1

BEWARE OF THE CAT

Here’s a story from John B. Stewart’s early days as a wielder of Dubious Magic.  He still has to learn to think before he speaks.

It was a crisp clear Sunday morning in the Canberra suburb of Waramanga. Minor public servant and unacknowledged wizard John B. Stewart strolled out into the back yard of his cottage. Holding a cup of coffee, he was simply basking in the sunlight.

He knew his recently-arrived housemate Darren had gone out into the yard a few minutes earlier, but was surprised to see the young man sitting on an upturned bin, busily trying to hose something odious from the sole of his gym boot.

After they’d exchanged genial “Good morning” greetings John B. gestured towards his friend’s foot.

“That doesn’t look like something Kat’s responsible for,” he observed.

Kat was a large white Persian – the other member of the little household.

Darren grinned ruefully. “You’d worry if it was. No, this was left by some big dog.”

Stewart wrinkled a lip in annoyance and said, “It’ll be that damned Alsation from two doors up. It wanders up and down the street looking for any yard it can use for a toilet except its own.”

“Well trained, then,” said Darren, rubbing his sole on the grass.

“I wish the bloody dog would learn to stay out of our place,” was John B.’s irritated response.

Darren looked at him quizzically for a moment. Before he could construct the cautious question he had in mind, the final member of the household sauntered out of the open back door.

Kat walked past both men, giving a little mmreh of apparent greeting as he went by. The Persian went off along the path at the side of the house in the general direction of the driveway where Stewart parked his battered old Hillman.

“Where’s he off to, I wonder?” mused the youth.

“Routine inspection of his domain?” suggested the man who’d been best friends with the cat for years.

Both men grinned.

Suddenly there was a loud, violent outburst of caterwauling and deep-throated barking and growling from the front of the cottage. Kat came bolting down the path at high speed. (That in itself was a shock – the big feline was rarely observed to move at anything above an amble.) Shortly behind lumbered a large German Shepherd, literally snapping at the cat’s tail.

Kat looked almost to run vertically up the trunk of a pine tree in the back corner of the yard and disappear into the thick foliage several feet up. The dog stood on its hind legs, front paws up scrabbling on the bark of the tree, barking loudly.

John B. was just about to run down toward the tree with a view to getting the dog away, possibly through the agency of a swift kick to its rear. He’d risk being bitten to save Kat.

But Kat didn’t need saving. The big cat suddenly plummeted from a substantial height, claws extended, dropping full weight onto the dog’s muzzle. Two razor sharp claws carved deep slices in the soft black nose

The sound the Alsation made was more like a scream than a yelp. It turned and ran full pelt back up the driveway, never to venture into this yard again!

Immediately after impact Kat had jumped from the dog’s face and now ambled back up the yard as his usual sedate pace, the only sign of emotion being his tail whipping from side to side a few times.

Both men stood looking more or less thunderstruck. Darren looked especially awed. John B. had told him about his ‘wishes-come-true’ magic, but this was the first time he’d seen it in unpredictable action. He was impressed – by both of his new housemates.

John B., for his part, knelt to pat the broad white head of the Persian who sat beside him, meticulously cleaning his claws.

“I’m very glad you’re on my side, old friend,” he said, and meant it.

The Weird Warrior

As a young man, White Bear fought with the Dakota Sioux at Pryor Creek.
As a young man, White Bear fought with the Dakota Sioux at Pryor Creek.

This story is based on true events, recounted in Joseph Medicine Crow’s book “From The Heart Of The Crow Country”. Both Crow and Sioux survivors of the 1861 Battle of Pryor Creek agreed on many of the details, including those of the more mysterious incidents. Some could be regarded as significant coincidences, while others defy even that explanation. I’ve embroidered the history with some of my own ideas around ‘magic’.

The Sioux tribes of what would one day be called Dakota had gathered. The wagons and guns of the white men were pressing them westward.

Men seeking gold and a “new life” had poured towards the Rocky Mountains, wiping out the buffalo herds and desecrating the sacred Black Hills in their search for the yellow metal. The tribes had fought but the numbers were overwhelming.

This new vast land they had reached was still rich with game, and still free from the encroaching whites.

It was the country of the Scared Raven people – the Absarokee. You might call them the Crows, and the land Montana. The Absarokee were known to be strong, but also known to be few in number.

A Dakota chief addressed the assembled council of war chiefs and warriors.

“Let us take one whole year to make plans against the Raven People. They are not many, but they are shrewd and tricky in battle. The time has come that we must destroy them, but first we must make time to make our plans.”

Continue reading The Weird Warrior

WHITE SPIRIT

Another early Dubious Magic story, set during the early events of Book 1: The Wizard of Waramanga – in which Wilko gets a little foretaste of the weirdness he’ll come to know around John B. Stewart.  With thanks to Dana and Julie for giving me some time to work on it, and to Meredith for giving me reasons.

It had been an unexpectedly successful weekend for both of them, right up until very recently.

John B. Stewart and Robert ‘Wilko’ Wilkes were a pair of fairly ordinary Canberra public servants.  Except for John B. having magical powers ever since he’d hit his head on a poker machine.

The Tasmanian Wilko didn’t believe a word of that story, no matter how earnestly John B. tried to convince him that his wishes now came true.  Not always predictably, he would admit, but results happened.

What they did agree on was a fondness for a game of golf.  When the chance arose to play in a social tournament in a little country club a few hours drive west of Canberra, they’d agreed it seemed a good way to spend a couple of days.

“It’s your turn to have a few drinks, mate,” John B. had said.  “We’ll take Kraven and I’ll drive us home.”

Kraven was Stewart’s battered but well-loved old Hillman Hunter.  Wilko had been slightly concerned – the old car had been the recipient of some of his friend’s rather dodgy ‘running repairs’, but the offer was generous and the Hunter did seem to be reliable at the moment.

The golf had gone remarkably well.  John B. had won a ‘nearest to the pin’ prize on Saturday, and Wilko had gone from a decent Saturday to a terrific Sunday, becoming the upset winner of the overall competition.

It wasn’t a great financial windfall, but it was a nice trophy and a few extra dollars to put over the clubhouse bar.  So it was rather later than they’d originally intended when they finally waved their farewells and headed east.

John B. had been as good as his word and had very little to drink.  A couple of good single malts spread over the hours, interspersed with plenty of soda water.  He was tired, though.  Sharing a hotel room with Wilko was challenging.  The Tasmanian was a heavy sleeper, and completely oblivious to his own snoring.  John B. wasn’t so lucky.

The sun was well down as the Hillman trundled along the road.  It wasn’t a well-finished surface, and the ride was a bumpy one.

It was one particularly bad pothole that had been the cause of the sudden change in their fortunes.  Kraven’s front left wheel had hit hard, the car had bounced and landed heavily.  When it did, all the lights went out.

John B. rummaged under the bonnet by torchlight to no avail.  There was a small place a little way ahead.  Less than a town, it was barely a village, but it was a destination that could be reached by driving carefully with Wilko holding the torch out the window.

That plan worked well until it started to rain.  Torchlight through the wet front windscreen proved woefully inadequate to drive by.

They limped the car slowly into Bullangar and found the only hotel in the place.

“Sorry mate – we’ve only got two rooms and they’re both full tonight,” said the manager apologetically.  “I’m really sorry, I wish I could help.”

“Yeah, I wish you could too,” said John B. with a sigh.

He and Wilko turned to go back out into the rain.

“Looks like we’ll have to sleep in the car,” said Stewart.

“Bit cramped, but I guess you’re right,” agreed Wilko.

‘Noisy, too,’ was John B.’s unspoken thought.

The manager looked after them, genuinely concerned, then called out, “Wait – you reckon you can make it down the road a little further?”

“Not keen, but what have you got in mind?” asked the driver.

“There’s a farmhouse about five minutes away, on the left.  Belonged to my missus’ family.  Auntie Grace passed away a few months back.  Family’s still fightin’ about what to do with the property, and whatever money they can get for it.”

“You know what they say, where there’s a will there’s a relative,” John B. answered with a smile.

“Bloody right,” agreed the manager.  “Can’t say that in front of the missus, but.  Old Bert was a funny cove but Grace was a nice old stick.  I can let you have that for the night.  No lights or power, but a roof over your head and you can stretch out while you sleep.”

The two golfers looked at each other and shrugged.

“What’ll it cost?” asked Wilko.

The manager looked out into the rainy night and replied, “Nah, no charge – just don’t nick anything, eh? There’s a few things the family locusts haven’t cleaned out themselves yet.  Here’s the key.  Just leave it in the mailbox in the morning and I’ll pick it up later.”

“Mate, you’re a champion! Thanks!” said John B. warmly.

Continue reading WHITE SPIRIT

A TRAP FOR THE UNWARY

Another Dubious Magic story – one which takes place quite early during the events of Book 1: The Wizard of Waramanga.  John B. learns more about being careful what you wish for.

 

It was the definitive lazy afternoon in Waramanga. The leafy Canberra suburb was warm, but not unpleasantly so if you stayed out of the direct sun.

That was precisely what John B. Stewart had chosen to do. He was in the back yard of his cottage, reclining on a deckchair in the shade of a large tree. His housemate Darren was at work. There was no sport of interest on the radio, so he relaxed in comfortable quiet, enjoying the light breeze and the sounds of the garden.

John B. had recently accidentally discovered that he was a wizard. Ever since hitting his head on a poker machine he’d found his wishes coming true. Not always predictably, though, so he was learning to be cautious.

He might, for instance, as he rested there wish for something to eat.

‘Ah, no,’ he thought to himself. ‘At best, Darren might come home early from work bearing leftover pizza. Or at worst a plane flying overhead might explode and leave me showered with in-flight snacks – and other debris.’

Sometimes having a vivid imagination could be disconcerting, although it did, he reasoned, serve as a kind of warning device.

John B. opened one eye and smiled at the sight of his other housemate. Kat was a generously proportioned white Persian cat who was currently lying under a favourite shrub quite nearby. He too was enjoying the shade.

The cat’s posture reminded John B. of the Sphinx, but with the chin resting comfortably on the forelegs.

Kat and John B. were both comfortably relaxed. Neither had moved appreciably for well over an hour. If they weren’t both sound asleep the difference wouldn’t have been obvious to any casual observer.

The lilting chorus of birdsong that John B. had been enjoying took on a new strident note. A noisy mynah had flown into the garden, and as was the way of its type, was aggressively trying to hector other birds away from the territory it wanted to occupy.

“I wish you’d be bloody quiet,” the wizard muttered in mild irritation.

He watched the newcomer for a few moments. It seemed utterly oblivious to him, and unconcerned at his annoyance. John B. sighed and closed his eyes.

After a while the mynah’s voice grew louder as it came closer to the deckchair. John B. opened his eyes again without otherwise moving.

The bird had evidently taken note of the lassitude of the yard’s two occupants. It was hopping about on the ground quite close to them both, foraging for whatever it is that noisy mynahs forage for. Once, twice it hopped right by Kat. The big Persian didn’t so much as twitch his nose or open an eye.

But on the bird’s third pass the left paw shot out and back almost too quickly to be seen, and there was an audible crunch.

John B.’s eyes widened. Most of Kat hadn’t seemed to move at all, but under the left paw was the mynah’s body. Its head was missing.. Eyes still closed, the Persian was contentedly chewing his afternoon snack.

A small drop of blood on the white fur of his chin was the only clue of his culpability. Well, other than the headless corpse still idly held.

The wizard made a silent apology to the mynah’s ghost, shook his head and said to Kat, “I’m glad you’re on my side, mate.”

Kat swallowed, and purred.

My purpose

I would like to share this with you all…

MY PURPOSE AS A WRITER IS TO GIVE EXPRESSION TO ALL OF THE STORIES IN MY HEAD. AS I WRITE THEM, MORE APPEAR.

I WILL ENTERTAIN READERS AND MAKE THEM THINK ABOUT THEIR POTENTIAL, THEIR RELATIONSHIPS AND ATTITUDES.

I WILL RESEARCH BY TRAVELLING, READING AND LISTENING.

I WILL INSPIRE OTHERS TO EMBRACE, EXPLORE AND EXPRESS THEIR OWN IMAGINATIONS.

If you’re a regular follower, I trust this gives you some insight into me.  If you’re new here, please look around, read what appeals to you.  I’d value your feedback – it helps me know how on track I am.  Thanks – Renoir

Breaking Bone

A Dubious Magic story.  This takes place immediately after the events of The Wizard of Waramanga… Check out the Marketplace page to order the book!

They’d made it into Barandilla not long after sunset.

You couldn’t call Barandilla a town.  It didn’t even appear on a lot of maps.  On a lonely stretch of the highway running through the Central Australian desert, it had a pub, two petrol pumps – one of which had an ‘Out Of Order’ sign that had hung on it so long it had almost faded to illegibility – and a stray dog.

‘Bob’s Hotel’ served as a rest stop for passing trucks and the occasional drover, and a social hub for folks from the surrounding cattle stations.

It had been a long day.  Well, that was probably an understatement.  The four of them had been shot at and almost consumed by a gigantic demon from some dark Other Dimension before narrowly escaping the cataclysmic cave-in of an underground military complex.  No wonder Wilko, Darren and Scarlet had just wanted to have a quick meal then go crash in their respective rooms.

John B. Stewart was still too wound up to sleep, though.  Since hitting his head on a Canberra poker machine he’d found he had a strange wizardly power.  His wishes came true, although not necessarily in ways he anticipated.  It had been his unpredictable magic that had gotten them into danger, and admittedly out of it.  Bidding his friends goodnight he went to get as good a Scotch as he could find.

As well as the dining room, there were two bars in Bob’s Hotel.  John B. very deliberately chose to walk into the less well-lit option.

There was only one other customer.  Sitting near the end of the bar was a dusty Aboriginal wearing the checked shirt and jeans that were almost the local uniform.  He looked up at John B. then quickly looked back down at his beer, considerable surprise on his face.

Continue reading Breaking Bone