Saturday, July 26, 2008

Kyle and TJ @ Hotwire

Last night, Mackenzie and I headed over to the Hotwire Cafe to catch Kyle Stevens and his equally-talented buddy TJ Sherrill play a rare acoustic set. As always, they both rocked and brought in a lot of new people for this little (but very cool) cafe. TJ played a couple of my favorite songs from his latest album (buy it now!) and Kyle rocked it with his Geek out by playing a couple of his pop-culture songs, The Mario Cart Song and Tony Stark. He also pulled out his cover of Billie Jean, which I think he does better than the original artist.

Kyle and TJ finished off the night with a duet of a new song they both wrote last year called Mexican Jail. This song rocked all sorts of socks off. I must have a copy of that in the iPod. (That's a subtle hint, right there, Kyle... get to it.)

A pleasant surprise, my buddy Todd Downing (writer, director, musician) made the trek from West Seattle to catch Kyle play, as well. Kyle and Todd are in talks about the use of Kyle's music in an upcoming movie called Duo, in which one of the characters is based off of me. I didn't talk to him a whole lot. I was a bit tired and just needed to chill, but he was also with his new girl and daughter, so I didn't want to intrude on the family time.

Also at the show was Mike Miller, representing for the Comic Stop by sporting one of our brand new store t-shirts (INSERT SHAMELESS PLUG -- They are available at all of our locations! Boys and Girls versions for only $15 each! -- END SHAMELESS PLUG). Kudos to you, Mike, and shame on everyone else from the Comic Stop Social Club for not appearing. You will be punished.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Black Leather Rose

Several years ago, I was bushwhacked by other writers (those far craftier than myself when it comes to hunting down other writers) and participated in a Round Robin writing exercise.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a Round Robin is when one writer writes one chapter of a book, then another writer writes the next chapter, and so on. The only real rule of such an exercise is that you must follow up on what the previous writer(s) did, otherwise, anything goes.

Well, this particular book was called The Black Leather Rose and was a pulp-ish sort of spy adventure. We only got 5 chapters into this book before we all were called away on other business.

I was always a bit sad that we never finished it, as I really enjoyed writing my chapter and thought it was pretty decent. So, with that in mind, I've decided to post my chapter, just to get it out there for others to read. Obviously, it may be a bit hard to follow, as it's not the beginning of the story and may lack the context one usually needs to jump in. Hopefully, though, you'll all enjoy.


Chapter Three: Will the real Black Leather Rose please stand up?


Brandon Stokes was in the middle of his female soccer team dream (one of his favorite recurring dreams; number six on his Top Ten List) when the banging on the front door of his duplex apartment slammed him awake. He sat up with a jolt, his heart pumping a mile a minute, as the memories of the 6’3” blonde goalie wearing nothing but a red sports bra and black leather cleats faded back into the mists of his subconscious mind.

“Toke! Open the damn door!”

The adrenaline pumping through his body shocked his senses awake, awake as the rest of him was now. Although he only just heard the voice at the door, it seemed real familiar, cutting through the remains of the fog in his brain.

“Damn it, Toke, open up! It’s an emergency! Get your skinny ass up out of bed!”

Yep. The voice was indeed familiar, and the use of the nickname given to him by his pal Cromwell Rollins pretty much cinched who owned it. The voice belonged to a petite and gorgeous Asian female named Kim Lee Soong, Cromwell’s latest girl-toy. The lucky bastard. Brandon couldn’t even remember the last time he had a date, let alone a girlfriend.

For a moment, Brandon contemplated staying in bed and going back to sleep. After all, it wasn’t even one in the afternoon yet, way too early to be up and about. But, knowing Kim as well as he did (even though he had only known her for a short time, she made an impression on him), not answering the door would certainly result in it being kicked down or a window being smashed in (again). With those kinds of choices, Brandon chose to err on the side that would cause him the least amount of damage, physical and financial.

He wearily got out of bed and slipped his feet into a pair of blue slippers with the fuzz worn off as he yelled out to her. “Just chill, Kim. I’m coming!”

“Hurry up!”

Throwing on a threadbare plaid robe over his trademark black t-shirt (Hanes Classic 100% cotton; only $6.49 for a two-pack) and boxer shorts with pictures of various beers, Brandon shuffled down the hallway, stopping momentarily to look at his reflection in a mirror hanging at a slight angle. His shoulder length brown hair was a little tousled but not out of control, unlike his goatee, which was in dire need of a serious trim. Also, the dark circles that were permanently parked underneath his eyes had receded to a light purple-gray; this was about as presentable as Brandon got these days.

Feeling he was more than decent enough to show in his unexpected guest, Brandon unlocked his deadbolt and grabbed the handle, but never got the chance to actually turn the knob. As soon as she heard the door being unlocked, Kim slammed the door wide open; knocking Brandon down into one of the many random pile of empty beer cans that cover the floor.

Carrying the bulk of his weight (she’s a lot stronger than she appeared to be), Kim led a semi-unconscious Cromwell through the door and into the back area of the living room designated the dining room, denoted as such by the presence of the large dining room table. “Toke, get up and help me. Crommy’s hurt!”

Brandon brushed a few beer cans off of him and went over to the table. “So, what’s the problem, Kim? Hey, Cromwell, what’s going—holy fucking shit!!”

Brandon was shocked by what he saw; his friend, cover in blood, clutching the towel-covered stump where his right hand used to be. With a single sweep of his hand (with his right, by a sort of eerie coincidence), Brandon wiped his beaten table clear of empty beer cans and bottles, pizza boxes, and other pieces of trash.

“Let’s get him up on the table, Kim.”


Grabbing Cromwell by his right side, Brandon and Kim lifted him onto the table and laid him down. Glancing about, Brandon saw a muddy brown pillow on his futon couch. Snagging it, He gently put it under Cromwell’s head.

“Hey,” moaned Cromwell, making noise for the first time since arriving at Brandon’s place. He sounded better than he looked, but only just by a little. “How’s it going, Toke…?”

Brandon was delicately peeling away the blood-soaked towel to see the extent of the damage. “Cromwell, what the hell happened, man? Where’s your fucking hand?!”

“I had no- I had to fuckin’ cut it off,” whispered Cromwell, “It got infected with the mold. I don’t know how.”

“Mold? What mold?”

Absently caressing Cromwell’s hair, Kim piped up, her voice starting to shake as her own adrenaline rush wore off. “The Black Leather Rose, Toke. That’s what Cromwell told me. He said we had to chop his hand off before it spread any further.”

“What?! You cut off your own hand to stop a mold from growing on it?” Brandon shook his head in disbelief as he continued to look over Cromwell’s wound. “I just don’t get it, man. Why?”

Cromwell coughed, clearing a bit of phlegm out of his throat. “Check my back pocket, Toke. You’ll find a file on it.”

Brandon reached underneath Cromwell, finding a thick set of folded papers shoved into one of the pockets of his jeans. Brandon unfolded the papers and quickly flipped through them, taking no more than fifteen or twenty seconds before putting them down.

“Did you get this from your work, Cromwell?”

“Yeah…” Cromwell was silent for moment, but it was clear to Brandon that Cromwell had more to say, and he didn’t have to wait too long to hear it. “Something happened at work, something really bad. I needed to know what happened, to cover my ass, so I snagged these papers from Dr. Fang’s office.”

“Listen, dude, I’m going to go get my bag, okay? We’ll get this fixed up and then you can tell me all about it. Cool, brother?”


As Brandon left the room (and out of earshot), Kim sat down on one of the dining room table’s chairs. She leaned in close to Cromwell’s ear, still caressing his hair.

“Cromwell, what are we doing here? I know you and Toke are good buds, but you really need to go to a hospital.” Kim placed a quick peck on his cheek. “Will you please let me take you, baby?”

“Sorry, Kimmy, but a hospital is the last place we want to be. They’d call the cops and the cops would be asking us questions, questions we don’t want to answer.” Cromwell stopped for a second to catch his breath. “We can’t explain why I made you cut off my hand, not without screwing ourselves.”

“But, Crommy, why come here? Brandon’s a nice guy and all, but he’s a drunk. We need to get you some real help.”

“I prefer the term burnout, thanks.”

Startled by the sudden appearance of Brandon in the room, Kim shot up straight in her seat. “Oh! Toke, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it. It’s just, well, Cromwell insisted we come to you for help and I just don’t see how you can…”

“It’s okay. I am a drunk, among other things, but I do have a few good qualities.” Brandon placed a black leather satchel on the table, right next to Cromwell. He started pulling out several pieces of medical equipment. “One of those being I’m pretty handy with sutures.”

Cromwell managed a grin. “Toke used to be a doctor, but then he made some hotshot doctor look bad and got his ass booted.”

“I was in my first year of residency, “Brandon said as he finished laying out his equipment, “when I chose to ignore the orders of the attending physician. I saved a kid from dying by his negligence, but he was a popular doctor and someone had to take the blame for putting him in danger in the first place.”

“I didn’t know,” said Kim, quietly. “So, you can help Cromwell?”

“Oh yeah, no worries. The cut was clean. You missed the bones in the wrists, so I should be able to sew this up with no problem.”

Cromwell asked, “Can we get this over with then?”

“Sure, man.”

Brandon moved the makeshift bandages off the wound, dropping them on the floor into an open pizza box (which once housed a large pepperoni and sausage pizza, according to the various leftover tidbits). He then grabbed a small syringe and a glass vial.

“This here’s a local anesthetic, dude. This is to help you with the pain.”

Cromwell spat out a small chuckle while raising his bloodied stump into view. “Ha ha… I think you’re a little late for that, Toke. The pain’s already died down to a dull throb.”

Brandon filled the needle with the contents of the vial, and then he stuck the needle just above the open wound, numbing the area around the injury.

“That’s not exactly the pain I was thinking about, dude. I gotta disinfect the wound.”

“Oh. Oh, crap…”


Grabbing a bottle of alcohol (one of the few in his house not meant for drinking), Brandon unscrewed the lid and dumped the contents on the open wound.

Cromwell screamed, loudly, and then passed out.

As Kim watched in a mixture of horror and curiosity (the same way people do when there’s a horrific accident on the freeway; they can’t help but look at what happened, regardless of how disgusting it is), Brandon finished cleaning the wound and sewed it closed. Satisfied with the work, Brandon bandaged the stump with clean gauze.

“There, that should do the trick. We’ll need to keep checking it, make sure it doesn’t get infected, but he should be fine,” said Brandon, as he started putting his medical equipment back into his bag while Cromwell moaned slightly, starting to wake up.

“Thanks, Toke. Sorry I doubted you.”

“Don’t be. I doubt myself all the time.” Brandon snapped his bag shut. “But I’ll tell you what, I could sure use a drink after all that. You?”

“Hell yeah.”

Cromwell opened his eyes, the color returning to face. “Make one for me, too… vodka. It’s number one on my list right now…”

“Sure thing, dude.”

Brandon turned to leave, but Cromwell grabbed him with his one good hand. “Wait a sec… we need to talk about the Black Leather Rose, Toke. If it got out…”

“Dude, just relax. We will, I promise. Let me just get our drinks, and then we’ll plan our next move.”

“Okay, sure.”

While Cromwell rested, Brandon led Kim into the kitchen. As dirty as the living room (and the rest of the apartment, for that matter) was, the kitchen was surprisingly clean. Sure, there were empty bottles of whiskey, beer, vodka, and more on the various countertops, but the sink was unexpectedly empty of dishes and the counters had no appliances whatsoever. Of course, it’s not all that surprising once you realize that Brandon was not exactly the kind of man that cooks.

“I keep all the good stuff in here,” said Brandon, as he opened a pair of cabinet doors. Inside, there were two shelves full of various hard liquors, ranging from whiskey to rum to vodka to gin to tequila. He had enough alcohol to open his own bar.

Pulling down a bottle of Grey Goose vodka, Brandon pointed to another cabinet. “Glasses are in there, Kim.”

Kim reached into the other cabinet and snagged three of the half dozen or so glasses. Unlike the other cabinet, this one was mostly empty and did not have any shelves. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a small toggle switch, semi-hidden in the front upper corner of the cabinet. “Hey, what’s that for?”

For the first time this morning, Brandon grinned. “Ah, that. Well, remember when I said I had a few good qualities? That’s one of them.”

Kim shook her head slightly, not understanding. “I don’t get it.”

“Here. Let me show you.”

Brandon flipped the switch and a secret panel at the back of the cabinet opened up, revealing a small cache of weapons. There were a few throwing knives and a dozen pistols of various types posted on the wall, as well as several boxes of shells. Most prominent was a pair of chrome-plated Smith & Wesson (Model #5906) 9mm semi-automatic pistols which hung dead center of the cache.

Kim was stunned for a second. “Holy shit… do I even want to know why you have those?”

“Probably not, but I have a feeling that we’re going to need them.”

“I hope not,” said Cromwell, as he appeared in the doorway to the kitchen. He had a clammy look about him, with a few beads of sweat trickling down his forehead, but he was looking pretty good for a guy who just had his hand cut off. “I’m going to have a hard enough time explaining this missing hand to everyone, especially at work, without having to explain us running around with guns.”

All of a sudden, as if a light had been turned on, a puzzled look appeared across Brandon’s face. “Say… where is your hand, Cromwell?”

DEA Agent Joe Sanford and his erstwhile partner, Patricia ‘Pepper’ Hurley, stood on the front porch of Cromwell’s dingy apartment building. Although the remains of the concrete goose named Bruce (may he rest in peace, or is that pieces?) were certainly cause for curiosity, the fact that Cromwell’s door was slightly ajar with a suspicious red-colored smudge above the handle was positively more fascinating.

“Well, I’d say this looks… interesting, to say the least. What about you, Pepper?”

Inspecting the pile of crushed concrete covered unceremoniously with a yellow jumpsuit, Pepper looked up at Sanford with a quizzical, yet playful, look set upon her face. “I’ll say. Isn’t this the suit that Uma Thurman wore in the Kill Bill movie? It looks like it’s made for a duck or something.”

“I’m not as concerned about that as I am with the open door and that smudge. I’d bet a hundred bucks that red smear is blood.

“Oh, and Bruce Lee wore it first.”

Pepper smiled. “You’re such an old man, Joe. Get with the times. Uma’s in, Bruce is out.”

Sanford returned the smile. “Shall we get back to work?”

“Okay, fine. Let’s get the formalities over with so we can go in.” One hand on her holstered Colt Defender (model O7000D) .45 ACP automatic, Pepper moved to the open door and gently knocked on it, taking care not to cause it to swing back inside. “Mr. Rollins, Agents Hurley and Sanford here. We’re with the DEA. Can we come in?”

Seconds passed and they received no answer.

“Well, that’s enough time for me, Joe. Let’s go in.”

Grinning like a smitten schoolboy, Sanford motions for Pepper to take the lead. “Lead the way.”

Pushing the door open with her foot, Pepper removed her gun from its holster and entered the apartment, weaving through the clutter and mess perfected by years of bachelorhood. Sanford followed right behind her, moving a bit more casual than Pepper, and certainly not as technical.

Although a by-the-book agent, he was never one for adhering to exact procedures, such as how to enter someone’s residence. Besides, Sanford found it hard to concentrate on those procedures while watching Pepper go through her usual tough-as-nails swagger. It was a thing of beauty.

He did, however, unclasp the leather guard strap on his own holster, which housed his Smith & Wesson (Model #673) .38 snub-nosed revolver, ready to pull it out at a moment’s notice.

Pepper called out to no one in general and one person in particular, hoping to get some sort of response; perhaps even something to shoot. “Mr. Rollins? Are you home? The door was open.”

Pepper moved down the hallway towards the two bedrooms, with Sanford in tow. She entered the first bedroom (Cromwell’s spare room, where he kept his old comic collection, among other things) on the left. Sanford took one last look at Pepper, and then continued on to the main bedroom straight ahead.

Once inside, Sanford took one look at the state of the bed and knew Mr. Rollins had recently gotten laid. “Good for you,” Sanford whispered.

“What was that, Joe?” Pepper said from the other room.

Still looking about the room, Sanford noticed a single drawer open in Cromwell’s dresser. Knowing that a person usually has all of the drawers closed or all of them in disarray (depending on their personality types), Sanford opened the drawer as he replied to Pepper. “I said it looks like Mr. Rollins had a real good time last night. What do you have?”

“Nothing. Just a guest room that’s being used as storage. This guy’s a bit of a pack rat.”

The drawer was a typical sock drawer; it had socks in it. But, there was one single sock with an unusual bulge that stood out. Sanford grabbed the sock and opened it, revealing a large amount of cash bundled inside. Raising a single eyebrow (one of his favorite things to do), Sanford pulled out the wad of cash and started counting.

Pepper stood in the doorway, holstering her gun. “Hey, did you find something?”

“Here, look at what I found in his sock drawer.” Sanford tossed the bundle of money to Pepper, who flipped through it.

“Nice. What’s this…? Four, five grand? That’s a lot of scratch for a janitor to be sitting on.”

“Yes, it is.”

“You thinking it’s a payoff for stealing that missing vial?”

“Could be, but if it is, it’s not enough. That mold is worth millions. Even a janitor should know that. Maybe it’s an advance, or he’s hiding the rest elsewhere. I don’t know.”

“Well, he’s not here, that we do know. Shall we go and check out the next name on our list?”

“Sure. Who’s next on the list, Karamazov or Lipworth?”

Pepper flipped open her notebook to check her notes. “Lipworth. He’s closer.”

“Then let’s go.”

Once again, Pepper was in front, leading the way. As she passed the kitchen/dining area, Pepper saw a somewhat grisly sight and cursed herself for not noticing it when they came in. Stopping suddenly (and almost causing Sanford to run into her; not that he would mind), she pointed to the kitchen table. “Joe. Take a look…”

Sanford followed Pepper’s very lovely trigger finger, which led him to the cheap square table in the middle of the room. On it was an old wooden chopping block with a blood-covered cleaver.

“This assignment just keeps getting better…” muttered Sanford. He stepped closer to the table, and saw that the top of the chopping block was stained dark with blood.

“There’s more, Joe.”

Sanford turned and looked at Pepper, who was inspecting the fridge. On the door and handle of the freezer part of the refrigerator were several smears of blood, similar to the one on the front door.

Sanford walked over the fridge. He looked closely at the smudges, and then turned to Pepper. “I’m thinking I should open the freezer.”

“I’m thinking you’re right.”

Grabbing the handle, making sure he didn’t touch any of the blood stains, Sanford opened the freezer. Inside, sitting on top of an empty box of Hot Pockets (Ham and Cheese) and an ice tray with only three ice cubes, was the severed hand of Cromwell Rollins inside of a Zip-Lock freezer bag.

Pepper and Sanford stared at the hand for a moment, speechless.

Pepper was the first to break the silence. “That’s a hand. That’s a fucking hand, Joe.”

Sanford closed the freezer. He stepped back, took another look at the chopping block and bloodstained cleaver, and raised his eyebrow.

“That’s Rollins’ hand, Pepper. He was infected, and he cut off his hand to save his own life.”

“So, it looks like our theory about Mr. Rollins’ involvement is looking a little more solid.”

“It looks that way.”

“Doctor, what on earth is up with your fridge? This is just disgusting.”

Lipworth was headfirst in a large stainless steel Kenmore refrigerator, trying to find something worth eating. On one side of the fridge, there was nothing but health food, such as tofu, wheat germ, organic vegetables and other inedible stuff. The other side of the fridge was filled with nothing but expired leftovers and condiments. If he didn’t know any better, Lipworth would have guessed a guy lived there, or stayed over enough to mark his territory, so to speak. Dogs piss to leave their mark; guys leave leftover takeout.

“There’s nothing good here at- wait a second, I see something…”

Lipworth hit the jackpot. Hidden behind a week old box of chicken curry was a small bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken (Original Recipe & Spicy). Popping off the lid, Lipworth gave the chicken the official sniff test; nothing vile smelling there at all. He smacked his thin lips and pulled the bucket out of the fridge.

Closing the fridge door with his ass, Lipworth dropped the bucket on the counter and gleefully started rifling through it, looking for a leg or a breast. Finding a real quality leg, Lipworth bit into it with zeal; one would think the man hadn’t eaten in days. Several bites later, Lipworth stopped suddenly, as if he just remembered that he wasn’t alone. He turned his attention back to Dr. Beatrice Karamazov.

“Don’t worry, Doctor, I haven’t forgotten about you. As soon as I get done with my little snack, we’ll get started with your beating.”

Beatrice was sitting in the middle of room, tied to one of her very expensive oak chairs that accompanied her very expensive oak dining room table. In fact, the whole house was expensive, a final gift from her mother (to both of the Karamazov sisters), who passed away a few years ago.

The ropes were tight, cutting into her wrists and rubbing them raw with every move she made. She was still gagged (a rag duct-taped to her mouth), which was just as well, as she really didn’t know what to say. The dried tears on her cheek pretty much said it all.

Lipworth picked the bone clean of meat and tossed it in the trash bin near the back door. No need to be dirty; he was a guest in her house, after all. “That was delicious. There’s nothing better than cold KFC. Well, except cold pizza.”

He moved back over to the counter, near his bucket of fried chicken, and picked up the tire-iron he brought in from his car. Lipworth felt the weight of it in his hands, and it felt good. He was actually getting excited about what he had to do next.

He let loose that nasty little grin of his, the one that made him look like an emaciated jackal. “I’ll be starting on your legs, Doctor, and then I’ll work my way up your torso, ending with your arms. This should only take twenty minutes or so, and then we can get on with the questions.”

Lipworth raised the tire-iron. He closed his eyes, enjoying the moment, and brought it down.


Stopping in mid-stroke, Lipworth scowled and placed the tire-iron back on the counter. He reached into his coat and pulled out his cell phone.

“This had better be good…” muttered Lipworth as he answered the call. “They went where? Who’s Stokes? Ah, some drunken friend… no, just stay there. Let me know when they leave.”

Out of nowhere came a voice. “Hang up the phone, Lipworth.”

“I’m going to have to get back to you.” Lipworth said as he shut off his cell phone and turned to the source of the mysterious voice.

Lipworth saw a woman standing in the large entryway which led to the recessed entertainment room off to the side. She was dressed in a tight leather one-piece outfit with a silver zipper that ran the gamut from neck to crotch, unzipped to right below the navel. Needless to say, this showed off her ample bosom, in all the right ways. Right above her left breast was an embossment or embroidery of a black rose; it was hard to tell which one it was. She was also wearing a pair of silver earrings shaped like the rose on her outfit. Her strawberry blonde hair flowed across her shoulders and back, accentuating her pale skin.

In her right hand was a Glock 36 .45 automatic pistol, trained on Lipworth.

Lipworth grinned.

“Ms. Rosamund Karamazov. So nice of you to join us. Please, feel free to call me… Dick.”