Saturday, December 29

Good Reads

This past year was the first in a long time that I got in some quality time for myself by reading some good books. Most of this "reading" happened listening to audiobooks from as I spent 2.5-3 hours commuting to Malibu from Redondo Beach everyday for work, and was my way of redeeming what otherwise might be considered lost time. I still do a lot of reading the old-fashioned way, of course, but even since September I find myself listening to audiobooks frequently while doing chores or taking walks with Liam around the neighborhood. So, what books made my 2012 reading list? Here they are, in no particular order:

11-22-63: A Novel (Stephen King)

I am no fan of Stephen King, but the time travel premise of this book combined with the historical angle of President Kennedy's assassination convinced me to give this book a try. I did not regret it.

A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast For Crows (George R. R. Martin)

In 2011 I started the Game of Thrones fantasy series, and this year I nearly made it through all of them--I have just one more left...

No Higher Honor (Condoleezza Rice)

This choice revealed the hardcore historian in me. Anyone who is not into history and politics would not enjoy this (very long) read, so if you're not a history lover and you don't want to sleep, I recommend leaving this one alone.

Drift (Rachel Maddow)

Again, more hardcore history and politics. Although Maddow is a far more engaging and entertaining writer than Rice, this is not a causal read for the uninitiated.

Big Leagues, Curveball (Jen Estes)

These two cozy mysteries about a young female sportswriter were on my list because the author is from my hometown. A little baseball mixed with malice domestic--fun, quick reads, even for a busy working mom.

Calculating God (Robert J. Sawyer)

Like 11-22-63 this book provided an intriguing combination of two subjects I am very interested in--space exploration and museums. The premise of the book is that an alien lands at the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada in order to consult with a paleontologist and learn about the history and development of life on earth. The twist? The alien civilization has studied the universe through science and has concluded that science points to a Creator--i.e. God. The story is told from the point of view of the ROM paleontologist who, as an earthly scientist, has studied science and reached the exact opposite conclusion. This book was one of the most enjoyable sci-fi reads I've had in a long time, and if you like sci-fi I highly recommend it.

The Bone Bed (Patricia Cornwell)

I've been reading Patricia Cornwell's books since I was a teenager, and as a long-time fan of the Kay Scarpetta series, I wouldn't miss out on a new release. The series is as strong as ever, and if you like forensic thrillers, you can't go wrong with Scarpetta.

Friday, December 28

Christmas 2012

Watching Christmas specials on Christmas Eve with Daddy.
All told Christmas 2012 was a fine holiday, and a fun and restful time was had by all. This was the first Christmas we truly played Santa Claus, waiting until Liam was dreaming of sugar plums before assembling his present in front of the tree. Santa brought him an awesome play kitchen this year, and let me tell you, his elves broke a sweat getting it together. The assembly required metal screws, but the plastic pieces of the kitchen had no holes drilled in them. Then there were all of the little sticker decals to stick in their proper places... Let's just say it was a relief when the kitchen was finally assembled just before midnight.

Santa brought Liam a play kitchen this year.
Liam is still a little young to really understand Christmas and all it encompasses, so he slept fitfully until 9 a.m. He never sleeps in, but of course he chose to do so on the one morning of the year mom and dad are looking forward to him waking up! When he did finally wake up and saw his new kitchen, it was love at first sight--he jumped in immediately and started "cooking." He also got a toy Dirt Devil vacuum because for a long time now one of his favorite pretend play activities has been to "ba-bong." That's Liam-speak for "vacuum." For months now, every toy he played with became a ba-bong, so we decided to get him an actual toy vacuum. He loved it, and once he fired it up, there was no stopping him all morning.

It was a fun day of presents, play, and eating, but we were all tired by evening and ready to call it a day. The only problem I'm left with is trying to figure out where to put the new play kitchen in our limited living space. I've already put old toys intended for younger ages in storage, but a little creativity will still be needed to organize those toys that remain in such a way not to clutter up the place and thus annoy me. With a November birthday followed by Christmas, Liam tends to get a huge influx of toys at the end of the year. Since we aren't done having kids, we aren't giving old toys away yet, so this annual toy juggling routine is here to stay for a few more years.
Liam "ba-bonged" for hours on Christmas Day.
Oh, and one last, encouraging note:  Christmas Eve brought an early Christmas present--Liam used his potty for the first time. Huzzah! He's since used it several times, but we still have a long journey ahead of us. For now he sees the potty as a kind of novelty thing he uses when he feels like it, not necessarily a way to leave diapers behind. So, he's not going to be wearing underoos any time soon, but we have taken a solid step in that direction. 

A bonus Christmas present for mommy--
Liam used his potty for the first time!

Monday, December 17

Illinois Photo Shoot

I was sadly disappointed in the portraits we had taken at the department store for Liam's two-year portraits this year, so when we visited Illinois in early December my sister and I held another impromptu photo shoot with Liam at my parents' house. As you can see from the results below, we got a handful of cute shots. Even though these photos were taken about a month after his birthday, these are the pictures I'll file as his two-year portraits. To see more snapshots from our session, click here.

Wednesday, November 14

November Moments

Election Day. Another 16 years and the franchise is all yours, kid!
The month of November is passing us by just as fast as Liam's second year. We kicked off the month with Liam's second birthday and his official two-year check-up with his doctor. Since May he has only gained a little over a pound, but he has grown two inches! For a kid who eats like he has two hallow legs, you would think he would have no trouble putting on weight, but he is almost never still during waking hours and is on the tall side, so I'm not worried. The day after his birthday was Election Day, of course. I took Liam to the polling place and gave him his first civics lesson. He even got an honorary "I Voted" sticker from the elderly lady handing them out at the polling place. Apparently retired ladies of a certain age are suckers for chatty two-year-old boys.

Thankfully this month has finally offered the break in the heat I've been waiting for so long. Our walks are much more pleasant and less sweaty now that the cool fall beach weather has returned. We have even had a few rainy days, which I always enjoy. I know it sounds unfair to complain about sunshine, but I miss weather and don't mind cold rainy days at all. I see them as a great excuse to stay in and get cozy at home.

Rainy day.
 Last week Eric gave a lecture for the American Research Center in Egypt at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana. They asked him to speak on King Tut and dogs as part of a series of lectures celebrating the 90th anniversary of the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb by Howard Carter. Liam is hardly one for lectures, so he and I wandered the museum while Eric gave his talk. Based on the reactions of people I spoke to at the reception afterward, they all enjoyed his lecture very much. Many ARCE members are retired folks, so Liam was also a hit with them. It was a long day, and Liam and I had to make an early exit when he started to lose steam.

In the car on the ride home after Daddy's lecture.
After Eric's lecture at the Bowers Museum.
Liam isn't much for family pictures these days, can you tell?
As you can see from the picture above, Liam has no patience for family pictures right now. The last family photo we had taken was when Liam was just one month old. (Eric isn't much for family pictures, either.) However, I managed to get both of them in the studio two weeks ago for a 2012 family portrait session. I considered that achievement alone a victory, and it turns out it was the only victory I was destined for that day. Kudos to Eric for his patience, but Liam was obstinate and wanted nothing to do with getting his picture taken with us or by himself. Our family/two-year portraits session turned into an hour and a half long chore. There were no snacks, gadgets, or toys that could persuade Liam to submit to pictures. We limped away from our portrait session with only one or two decent family shots and only one or two good shots of Liam. It was a valiant effort, but it just wasn't meant to be. ...Ah, well. We tried!

Monday, November 5

Two Years Old!

Two year ago today, life changed forever. Happy birthday, Liam!

Wednesday, October 31

October Adventures

At the pumpkin patch
As always, my goal is to write a post more than just once a month, and once again I failed. In my defense, we had a busy October, and my evening window to decompress has been entirely taken up with decompressing. There is no way to measure it, of course, but I would swear that I'm more tired at the end of the day now than I was after a full day at work and a 1.5 hour commute each way. So, this post is delayed, but I'm here now, and that is a victory in itself!
Mommy and Liam at Riley's farm.
 In early October we took a trip up to Riley's farm for apples, cider, pumpkins, and general enjoyment of a beautiful autumn day in the mountains. It was great to get out for a fun family outing and snap some cute seasonal pictures of Liam. He had lots of fun exploring a new place, and felt so at home that he just picked up an apple in the store and took a big bite out of it! Luckily we already had a few goodies to buy, so we just added Liam's apple to our order.

Liam loved the big rocking chair he found on the front porch.
 The other hallmark event of October was Halloween, of course. Liam dressed up as a little tiger, and was very excited that his costume had a tail. I wasn't sure what to expect from him when it came to trick-or-treating, but he did great and had a blast. We went with his cousin Abigail (almost 3), his aunt and uncle, and Abigail's sister baby Rorrie. With my help, Liam followed Abigail's lead in trick-or-treating, and soon was saying his own unbelievably cute version (it sounded like "chitch er cheet!") followed by, "dee!" which is his version of thank you. I was actually very pleased that he added the thank-you on his own--apparently some of what Mama says sinks in every now and then!

Little tiger.
 All in all, it was a fun month, and I'm hoping now that Halloween is past we will get some cooler temperatures around here. Most of October was pretty hot, so maybe November will bring back those breezy cool beach days that are perfect for walks around the neighborhood. As always, with each day that passes Liam grows and changes, and this month I've come to see just how much language he's picking up every day. He is now a great mimic, and it's fun to hear him pick up on words and phrases. He doesn't miss much! And--while I may be biased--it really seems to me that he's turning into a very sweet little boy. He has his toddler moments, but generally speaking he does what he is asked, and uses "please" and "thank you" when he should. He loves to help me clean, and will happily wipe the tables with a dust cloth or hand me things to put back on the shelf after it's been dusted. I suppose it is possible that this sweet and helpful nature will fade as he gets older and develops more of his own agenda for his activities, but I strongly suspect it is a true part of his developing personality. Either way, I am glad I'm able to see him all day and get to know better the toddler that is growing into a little boy so quickly.

Ready for trick-or-treating!

Wednesday, October 3

One Month In

It is one month into my new occupation as a full-time mom, and I have to say I think things are going rather well. Sure, the days can be exhausting and intense, but that is to be expected. Daily irritations and frustrations aside, so far this arrangement seems to be working for us. I miss certain aspects of working, naturally, but I've not had one moment where I thought, "Man, I wish I was at work!" When I'm with my son, I know I'm just where I need to be right now, and I've found that thought overrides any professional pangs.

Liam at UCLA. His shirt says "Future UCLA Grad."
In fact, if it's possible I think spending more time with my kid has made me even crazier about him. (Note: It's the "about him" in that last sentence that makes it an expression of love and not a simple factual statement... Just keepin' it real.) While close proximity and a constant marathon pace should be a formula for thin nerves and a short fuse, so far I've found it mostly reinforces the positives. Not that both Liam and I don't have our moments, of course--it's just that the positives ultimately seem to win out in the daily battles. That lesson has been a lovely, pleasant surprise.

Liam's first trip to the library.
Thus far my daily goals have proved to be a useful guide for our daily activities, as I hoped they would be. Liam is up with the sun (if not before), and while I caffeinate and peruse the morning news online, he gets his daily allotment of "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" (a.k.a. "Mi Mow How"). After breakfast--Liam usually eats his and mine--we get dressed and head to the park around 9 o'clock. Nine has proved to be the golden hour for us at the park. Most days we have the place completely to ourselves, as most people don't start to show up until 10 a.m. or so. By that time, Liam is comfortably ensconced in his stroller with his sippy cup and morning snack while I push him up and down the sidewalks of our neighborhood hills and get in some decent physical exercise. I know this time isn't wasted because the hills are getting easier for me each week, but I won't be sorry when the temperatures around here finally cool off for good around Halloween.

Liam loves to chill with the iPad.
After our morning time at the park and a walk around the neighborhood, it's usually time for lunch, followed by naptime an hour or so later, around noon. God willing, Liam naps from 12-2 p.m., and I have a chance to do chores, each lunch, and/or collapse as I see fit. In the afternoon we do some reading or coloring, and have lots of playtime. If Liam is antsy and if it's not too hot out, we sometimes go for another walk before suppertime ushers in the evening routine and daddy's return.

Painting in the Children's Gallery at LACMA.
All of these activities vary from day to day, depending on what errands or chores need to be accomplished, but as you can see we fell into a new rhythm fairly quickly. We even threw in some fun outings last month--we went to UCLA and had lunch with Eric, visited the zoo and LACMA, and made Liam's first visit to the library. There are still some kinks I want to work out, like finding some social activities for us, and learning how to make the best use of my (very limited) time without Liam. 

In other words, the Great Balancing Act continues, job or no job.

Liam loved running through all of the lampposts of "Urban Light" at LACMA.

Saturday, September 8

A New Chapter

September 5th marked the end of the one chapter in my life and the beginning of another. Even though the course of this new season is as yet completely uncharted, I'm happy about the prospect of a fresh start and a chance for renewal and reinvestment in areas of my life that suffered inevitable neglect due to the realities of being a full-time working mother. For me, the past two years cast in sharp relief the challenges and frustrations a working mother and wife faces--many of which I didn't fully understand or appreciate until I found myself confronting them on a daily basis. I now have an unexpected opportunity to clear out the cobwebs of neglect in those challenge areas. This sense of purpose led me to outline a few of the broad goals I have for my time as a full-time mom (however long that proves to be). I say "broad goals" intentionally. After all, I want to be realistic--life happens. Not every one of these goals will be reached every day, but they will provide a good framework to go on.

1. A new routine. While sometimes one can become a slave to routine, I've definitely seen the benefits of having a family routine, and I don't want to lose too much structure now that my life is no longer ruled by a time clock. Everyone likes the comfort and feeling of productivity a routine provides, and I've found it a great survival tool as a parent. Also, a little structure to the day will go a long way in helping me meet the goals I have in mind. Generally speaking, I'd like our new average daily routine to include:
     a) Some time outdoors and physical activity--preferably before naptime... (see also: goal #2)
     b) Preschool educational activities for Liam:  reading, art making, music, etc.
     c) Daily family time--with two working parents whose commute home is over an hour, this one has always been our ideal, but hard to pull off in the past because Liam often falls asleep before Eric gets home.
     d) A little time at the beginning and/or end of the day for mommy-decompression

2. Get physical. The remaining three items on this list are mostly about me. As parents (especially mothers) I think the first thing we cut out of our lives when a baby enters the picture is everything we used to do for "me"--all of our energy goes into everything but taking care of ourselves. I have certainly been guilty of that, and I want to use this as an opportunity to work on striking a better balance. So, shooting for some physical activity each day is not just about giving Liam time to play outside or at the park, it's also about keeping me active, healthy, and feeling good as well.

3. Mental & intellectual health. Again, this one is about keeping me happy, healthy, and sane. I want to take time each day--even if it's just a few minutes--for stress-relief and decompression, and ideally some intellectual engagement (reading, writing, etc.). This new existence is a real change for me, not just in terms of  what I do every day but also in how I see myself and where I am in my life. I fully realize that keeping up my mental game is going to be key, and although it will be tough on some days to carve out time, I plan to take this goal very seriously.

4. Refocus and reinvest. There is no question that in the past the never-ending spin of the hamster wheel that is working motherhood got the better of me more than I would like. One of my hopes for this time is that mommy and daddy can find more time to be husband and wife now and then. "Date nights" certainly don't happen as often as they should. I'd also like to invest a little in some odds-and-ends improvements around the place to make it even homier and some organizational features that I haven't had the time to get to since we moved in last October. I'm not going to go "This Old House" on the place or anything, but I think a few small, inexpensive changes will go a long way.

I don't feel I'm over-reaching with any of these goals, but check-in with me a year from now and we'll see what I have to say about it! My first week of the post-Villa era was busy and activity-filled, thanks to a visit from my mom. Liam was more than happy to enjoy being spoiled by Grandma for a week, and I was thankful for a chance to do some of those odds-and-ends tasks I mentioned above and get organized. It was  nice to have some company and keep so busy this first week after being laid-off--it made for an easier transition and kept me from dwelling on the anxiety and sadness. It will take some time for those emotions to fade, I know, but this first week was a good start.

All right then--here we go!

Tuesday, September 4


On this day, my last at the Villa, I'd like to share with you a farewell poem written by a former colleague of mine who left the Villa back in 2009. I liked it then, and I like it even more now that I have to say my own goodbye.

In their mournful wake
Bid me their farewell
As I sail eastward
Into the dark and nebulous passage
Charted by no map in the world
But the one carved into my heart.

I still remember
A lonesome villa by the sea
That seems quite so long ago...
For even memories can get old
But the heart withers not
Neither is it afraid of age’s blows
Nor fades away in the hours’ passing storms.

Smiles and whispers,
Tears and laughter,
Some as fleeting as a lovely sunset
Some lasting like the sights
Of those beautiful gallery teachers
Let me be drunk in those reveries
Beneath the Dionysos’ sky.

Regards and thank you all
For the memories
Bright and rare,
For the stories
You’ve chosen to share,
For the white and travertine,
And, why not, for the coffee and lemon tea.

To the marble halls,
To the winter’s early night falls,
To the spring’s rousing signs,
To the garden full of thyme,
To the summer’s brightest rays
To the autumn’s lovely gray.

To the sirens’ melodies fine,
To the clouds in the bluest sky,
To the yellow marble steps,
To the gallery teachers gorgeous,
To the rows of sycamores,
To the strands of soft willows
Bless me now, Hermes, I shall go.

--Myat Noe (2009)

Saturday, August 25

At the Natural History Museum

Eric's birthday was this past Wednesday, and this weekend he wanted to celebrate by taking Liam to the Natural History Museum. He has lots of fond memories of visiting the museum from his childhood, and now he wants to share it with Liam. Of course, I love museums too, so this was a treat for the whole family. Until today, the only museum Liam had visited was the Villa, making this trip his first to the Natural History Museum. We arrived at the museum early, thinking to get in a good visit and still fit naptime in for Liam around midday. It turned out to be a good strategy all around, because as early-birds we had many galleries to ourselves when we first arrived. 

Although Liam was at times more preoccupied with attempts to extricate his favorite "ca-cas" (translation: goldfish crackers) from the diaper bag, as you can see from the pictures he did break free from the bondage of his stroller and engage with some of the exhibits. His favorite galleries were the dioramas and dinosaur halls, but the touchables gallery, where he could touch all of the exhibits, was the biggest hit. At his age touching is so important to learning and connecting, so that space was by far the one in which he was the most engaged.

Museum person that I am, I have to say that one of the things I enjoyed most about our visit was the novelty of just being a visitor. It was also great to have a family outing and spend some time together after so many weeks of Eric working weekends. Given the success of our first visit, I have no doubt we will be making another trip to the NHM again soon!

Daddy and Liam check out the African elephants.
Touching animal skins with Mommy in the touchables gallery.
Big dinosaur, little visitor.
My, what big teeth you have!
Really, Mom? Another picture?
A future paleontologist? A forensic anthropologist, perhaps?

Tuesday, August 7

Within These Halls

Ancient survivors are gathered protectively within these historic halls.
Made elite by the accident of their preservation, here representatives of earthly alien
   civilizations stand sentry;
Objects peculiar and enigmatic to the crowds of gazers who float directionless and dazed
   through the cool airy corridors and vaulting galleries.
In this exceptional place aloof remnants of remote pasts, though silent, actively seek
   to live again in mortal imaginations.
Most passing minds remain dark; the murmuring gazers are nearly all cursory
   in their explorations.
Pallid, rigored bodies of cold marble, bronze festering with inexorable green decay, and
   jagged shards—the orphaned red and black wreckage of once-elegant flowing clay lines—
Remain insensible and meaningless under fleeting, incurious glances.
And yet the survivors are not frustrated in their pursuit.
A skilled and studied few walk among the gazers, speaking history, sparking understanding
   and recognition and igniting new, living meanings in the minds of those who draw near.
The very breath of their words resuscitates these ruined remnants of past centuries, and the
   survivors breathe once more.
If only for a moment, the passions, beauties, terrors, and toils of a distant and dead antique
   live again.

August 2012

Thursday, July 5

The Tail's End

Liam had almost no hair when he was born--except that tail!
My sister came out to California for a visit at the very end of June. Sure, she wanted to spend some time with Liam, Eric, and I, but she also had a mission--to eliminate Liam's mullet. The tale of my son's tail is one well-known to our close friends and family. When Liam was born, he had little to no hair, except for a tiny little tail of hair at the base of his head. As he grew, the hair on the rest of his head just couldn't keep up with the thriving natural mullet in the back. Although he's almost two years old, I resisted cutting it for a long time. After all, it was practically the only hair he had on his head and was a reminder to me that, as much as he's changed over the past twenty months, this bounding little toddler and the tiny newborn that came out of me were one and the same. Also, I admit to having hopes--faint as they may have been--that at some point his little tail would begin to grow into cute curls. Alas, it was not meant to be, and recently even my loving mother's eyes had to admit that it was time to reduce the party in the back to an acceptable level.

Before his first haircut, Liam's mullet
reached his shoulders.
So before she hopped a plane for California, I told Erin--a long-time proponent of ending the tail--to pack her clippers. Considering Liam is hardly of an age to sit still and have his hair cut, she did quite a good job giving her nephew his first haircut. We put him in his highchair and distracted him with some yummy chicken taco chili, which served to keep Liam occupied enough to almost ignore Aunt Erin, who cut his hair while he ate. As you can see, by the time he was done with his supper his tail was at an end and he had his first cute little boy haircut.

Ta-da--no more tail!
And what do a mommy and auntie with access to a fancy digital SLR camera do with a cute little boy who just got a snazzy new haircut? Why, dress him in an adorable little outfit and take him out to for a photo shoot, that's what! Check out my next post to see some of the hard won results of our efforts.

Thursday, June 21

A June Visit

Liam and Grandma on a walk by the Redondo Beach Pier.
Mid-June brought another visit from Grandma Myers, who was delighted as ever to spend some quality time with Liam. It was good to see Mom and even better to have a few days of free, live-in, more-than-happy-to-do-it child care. I got to slip out to see a movie one afternoon, and Liam got a whole suitcase full of goodies from Grandma--including some workbooks, flash cards, and other preschool resources I can use with Liam when I stop working in September. We had a good visit, but it was somewhat marred by the nasty combination of a head cold (for Liam and I) and teething pain (just Liam), which made most nights less than restful. Nonetheless, a good time was had by all!

His hat says, "Get me on the first flight to Grandma's!"

Wednesday, June 20

A Detective Story

Over the past five years a lot of stuff has piled up in my office file cabinets. Given the size of the task of packing everything up, I recently started combing through files in order to determine what to keep, what to digitize, and what to toss unceremoniously into the recycling bin. Since moving to L.A. I've never had a lot of storage space at home, so my work filing cabinets are stuffed with the usual office detritus as well as papers I've had on file since I was an undergrad. Last week I discovered a gem I hadn't seen in over ten years--a short story I wrote back in college for a Detective Fiction class I took my senior year. I loved that class. I loved it not only because I'm a forever fan of detective fiction as a genre and I could get actual, real, legit college course credit for "studying" it, but because it was taught by the incomparable, delightfully sarcastic Betty Richardson. In my days at SIUE she was nearing her retirement, and had lost all patience for pretense with students. All of my interactions with her as a student were like taking a double-shot of scotch. She served her advice and feedback straight-up neat with no bull pucky, and it often left the one on the receiving end with a slight burning sensation. If you sucked, she told you so. That being the case, I count it as one of my greatest college achievements that she selected the genre piece I wrote for her class as one of the two stories submitted for the assignment worthy of sharing with the class. Sadly, I don't have the original with her comments, but they were something along the lines of, "Not bad. Someday, sometime, if you have nothing better to do, you could write." So here's to good professors, good times past, and to not being too proud to laugh at yourself.

The Exclusive

     The bar was just outside of town, tucked away off a two-lane highway in a grove of trees.  The neon signs in the bar’s windows were barely visible through the trees, and most travelers were never aware that they had passed up their last opportunity for a cold drink and a hot bite to eat for forty-six miles.  Loyal patrons of the establishment didn’t mind this.  After all, it was hard to speak candidly when there were strangers present, and talk was of the utmost importance over a good drink.
     Mayson Clarke found her way to that bar one night through sheer intuition.  She was sure Quinn would show up there sooner or later, because his uncle ran this bar and very few of his acquaintances knew of it, making it a safe and cozy hideaway for times when he didn’t want to be found.
     Her entrance caused something of a stir, not because she was a stranger, but because everyone knew she was Jack’s nephew’s fiancée.  She eased onto a bar stool amidst a chorus of greetings and rude speculations as to the reasons for her visit.  Mayson couldn’t help but crack a smile at one suggestion in particular—she was certain Quinn would find the charge of being henpecked objectionable.
     Jack had, of course, noticed Mayson’s entrance—he could hardly have missed it for it took several minutes for the ruckus to die down.  He tossed his dingy, once white hand towel over his shoulder and joined Mayson at the other end of the bar.  “Why is it I get the feeling you’re not here for a good drink and some casual conversation, Mays?”
     “Jumping to conclusions again, Jack?  If Quinn’s here you know exactly why I’m here, but there’s no way I’m seeing him without at least one shot of whiskey.”
     Jack grinned and had Mayson’s drink before her in record time.  “You know, for a girl who came from a family of wine-tasters, you sure do drink whiskey a lot.”
     “Actually, I only drink it when I visit you and I never tasted liquor until I met Quinn and discovered a need to dull pain and stiffen my nerve,” she replied wryly.  Mayson enjoyed bantering with Jack—usually about her affluent background—but the reason for her visit overshadowed the conversation.
     Jack chuckled.  “Just be glad you found him after he mellowed.”  Then Jack’s smile faded and his lined face grew both puzzled and serious.  “When he got here, he was beyond pissed—he broke eight of my pool sticks and threw an eight-ball through the back wall of my office.”
     Mayson winced.  “That bad, huh?”
     Nodding, Jack continued, “That was yesterday evening.  Since this afternoon he’s gone from being red-hot mad to acting like a whipped pup—all the fight’s gone out of him and he won’t tell me what the hell happened.”  The muscles at the corners of Jack’s jaw bunched, betraying his hurt and concern for his nephew.
     In one gulp Mayson finished off her whiskey and made a face.  She hated both the taste and fiery feeling of it sliding down her throat, but something about the action of throwing back a shot helped set her will and calm her nerves.  In a somewhat hoarse voice, Mayson said, “You know the arrangement, Jack.  He can’t talk, and neither can I or I lose my exclusive.  All I can tell you is that it’s the worst he’s ever dealt with before and they’ve put him in charge of the entire investigation.  None of the other detectives wanted to take the heat from the media when the leads ran out while more people died.”
     “How many more victims have there been since he took it on?”
     “Four.”  Mayson stood up.
     Jack’s eyes fell.  “He’s in the back room.”

     Jack’s back room was more of a cozy den, with its soft couch and recliner in front of a thirty-six inch television, surrounded by handmade coffee tables and dusty Indian rugs.  Some people might have found the mounted deer heads (one for each wall) a little disturbing, with their lifelike glass eyes, but Mayson found them quaint.  Especially since Jack used one of the buck’s antlers as a hat rack.
     Mayson stood in the doorway wondering if Quinn had given Jack the slip until she saw a pair of large shoes hanging over one edge of the couch.  When she came around the side of the couch she found Quinn asleep, his head awkwardly propped against a very small throw pillow.  The low coffee table in front of the couch was covered with documents, photographs, and notes on the murder case Quinn was currently working on.  On the floor next to the table was Quinn’s standard issue side arm, tucked tightly in a shoulder holster.  A familiar uneasiness stirred in Mayson’s mind when she saw it.
     She had only been eight years old when one of her playmates had gathered a few fellow classmates together in a far corner of the schoolyard to show off something he had discovered in his father’s underwear drawer.  Like the other students, Mayson was anxious to get a look at this forbidden fruit that adults guarded so closely.  It happened so quickly, the repeat so forceful and loud, Mayson’s heart stopped.
     Her playmate had been showing off his aim when he really fell into his role and pulled the trigger.  The bullet passed between two of the spectator’s heads and struck a boy in the lower back who was playing nearby.  Mayson had watched with horrified eyes as the boy arched back and fell to the ground with an anguished cry.  Though the gun was only a .22 that had been purchased for the purpose of target practice, the bullet damaged the spinal cord.  Mayson’s classmate would never walk again.
     “Do you often stand around staring into space?”  Quinn was awake.
     Forcing the memories out of her thoughts, Mayson replied, “You certainly weren’t offering up any good conversation.”  Quinn’s eyes narrowed a bit, seeing something in Mayson’s countenance that puzzled him.  Then he noticed his gun, on the floor near Mayson, and was puzzled no more.  He was well aware of Mayson’s aversion to firearms.  Nightmares brought those little things into the open with a very naked honesty.
     Quinn sat up and wearily rubbed his eyes.  “It’s a good thing you came in and woke me up.  I’m so tired I might not have come to until morning.”  He began rifling through the mess on the table, looking for his notepad.  “I don’t know whether I should be cheered or terrified that you figured out where I went.”
     “I wouldn’t worry about being terrified so long as when you slip town you’re always sleeping alone on your uncle’s ratty couch.”
     Quinn laughed for the first time in three days, a realization that disturbed him a little but did not surprise him.
     “So what the hell happened that you took off without even telling me and made you mad enough to redesign Jack’s back wall with an eight-ball?”  She sat down next to him and leaned forward, ready to listen and be supportive.
     Quinn resisted the urge to grind his teeth.  “Hanks is taking me off of the case as of nine o’clock tomorrow morning, at which time I’m to hand over everything to Detective Uphoff.”
     This announcement was too much for flesh and blood to endure.  Mayson sprung from her place on the couch, propelled by extreme ire and agitation.  “Uphoff!  Uphoff!  That’s it then—there goes my exclusive.  That woman has never liked me personally and you know how she loathes reporters and the media in general.  This will put me in the chief’s dog house for the rest of my life!”
     The source of Mayson’s anger and frustration came from the fact that she and Quinn had a professional arrangement as well as a personal one.  The deal was that Quinn would not talk to any other reporter about the case in exchange for information gathered by Mayson from some of her most useful sources in the criminal underground.  Mayson had no shortage of friends in low places.  She had gained a reputation among such persons as being straightforward and fair, but most importantly they knew that she had never, never revealed a source.  Naturally, candor is not a prominent characteristic among criminals, so they still spoke in vague, half-truths most of the time, but Mayson could glean more information from them than others.
     Though Mayson was impulsive and dramatic in her outbursts, they never lasted long and as soon as they faded she could again see all sides of an issue.  She fell down on the couch next to Quinn, slouching in as much despair as she ever did in her high school algebra class.  “All right.  I know I’m not the most impartial person on the issue, but I know you’re pretty damn good at your job.  So why is that jackass taking you off the case?”
     “He’s taking me off the case because I haven’t found the killer.”
     “Since when do investigations have to fit into a set time span?  I always thought they continued until they were solved.”
     “You know how it works.  Hanks is getting a lot of pressure to get this thing solved from city officials who are in turn being pressured by the families of the victims.”
     Now that she had all of this new information, Mayson again looked at the table and the mess of papers and photos on it.  “You’re going to try and solve the case before tomorrow morning, aren’t you?”
     “Naturally.  Care to help me out?  Two brains are always better than one.”

     From the beginning everyone connected to the case knew that these murders were the result of some sort of ritual.  The five victims were all female, none younger than twenty-two and none older than twenty-eight.  All the victims were bound by their hands and feet; rope marks were especially bad on their wrists, cutting deep into the skin depending on how hard each victim had struggled.  Once they were bound, they were bludgeoned, then garroted, and finally their throats were slit.  The bodies were found unclothed.  Quinn was convinced this was for the purpose of removing a means of identifying the bodies rather than indicating sexual assault, and his conclusion was reinforced by the forensic reports.
     When it came to the disposal of the bodies, each case was different.  The first two victims were thrown into a nearby river in approximately the same area and both bodies caught in the same rough patch of rocks further down river.  The last three victims were dropped into the river from three different, widely separated locations.  The killer was trying to confuse the probable search area in which investigators might look for him—or her.  This detail annoyed Quinn considerably.  He was trained to search out patterns and trends first and the harder those were to find, the harder his job was.  Quinn remained annoyed until he pulled Jack’s calendar off the wall in order to map out the dates the forensic reports indicated the victims had died.
     Jack was an avid fisherman; he made sure every calendar he bought indicated the phases of the moon because fishing was better in certain phases than in others.  After Quinn transcribed all the dates onto the calendar, he finally noticed a pattern.  Every day a victim died was also a new stage in the moon’s cycle.  Victims died on the first day of the new moon, the first quarter, and the full moon.  It also didn’t escape Quinn’s attention that tonight was the first night of the next new moon.
     When Quinn shared his new discovery with Mayson, who had been going over the victims’ backgrounds for the hundredth time hoping to find a common link that had previously been overlooked, she pounced on it at once.  “There’s our in!  If your pattern holds, another ritual will happen tonight and another victim will be needed.  All we need to do is--”
     “Hold on a minute, Mayson!  We don’t even know where to find the damn killer!  We don’t know where he kills his victims—we only know that he dumps the bodies in the river afterwards and the points at which he does that are random.  Look, Mays, I’m sorry—I never really expected to solve the case tonight.  I’m sorry you’re going to loose your exclusive, but--”
     Mayson put her hand over Quinn’s lips.  “Quinn.  Stop apologizing and acting like it’s all over.  You’ve forgotten that I’ve been doing my own investigating.  Forget about my exclusive.  That doesn’t exist yet and when it does, I want a happy ending to it.  So first thing’s first—let’s nail the killer.”
     Quinn peeled Mayson’s hand from his mouth and held it.  In alarmed, accusatory tones he asked, “What have you done?”
     Mayson gave her fiancée a challenging look.  “I’ve found a man who looks to be a probable suspect for these murders.”  Quinn gave her a skeptical look.  “Just listen to me before you decide whether you believe me or not.  From the beginning we’ve known these are ritualized killings.  Your first thought was that some satanic cult or one satanic individual was responsible.  I disagreed—those type of people rarely commit crimes and tidy up after themselves.  So what if these killings were the result of a pagan ritual, committed by an entire cult or maybe even just one individual?”
     “I do know that those kind of people are around, usually hiding in the woodwork, but why did the killings just start?”
     “I’m not finished and if you don’t stop interrupting me I’ll take this information to Uphoff and damn the exclusive.”  Quinn’s mouth was open as if he was about to speak, but when he caught Mayson’s eye he closed it.  “Do you remember my friend Star?”
     “That flaky psychic woman who runs that New Age store?”  The question shot out of his mouth before he could stop himself.
     Mayson laughed.  “Yes, she is pretty flaky, but she also knows her pagan religions.   I described the method of the killings to her, and she said it definitely sounded like a pagan ritual, but what kind was beyond her without more details.  Like you I wanted to know why these killings began just now, so I asked her if she had gained any new customers lately.  She assured me she didn’t, but after I questioned her some more, she mentioned that a little over a month ago she started receiving phone requests for large numbers of ‘ceremonial’ candles.  She never saw the customer—he called in his orders (she told me the voice was a male’s) and paid for her to mail them to his address.  I have the address, and I happen to know that that area is miles out of the city and only fifteen or twenty miles from the river.”
     Quinn bowed his head and rubbed his temples.  He knew exactly what Mayson was thinking.  She wanted to pose as the victim so that the killer could be apprehended that night.  This was the best lead he had come across yet, and if he and Mayson chose to pass it up, someone else would die.  They could just watch the house all night, but he had no idea whether or not the murders were committed in the house or elsewhere.
     He looked up and met Mayson’s steady green gaze.  “I’m calling James and Rob.  They’re the only ones I can trust not to turn me down or go running to Uphoff and throw me to the wolves.  If Hanks knew I was going to do this he would have to stop me, but if I pull it off, he won’t say anything—he’ll be too glad to have this case closed.”  He paused.  “When you write your story—if this works out—your audience will get the edited version.”
     “Well I have very little choice, do I?  Call James and Rob; we’re wasting time.”
     Quinn stood up and walked over to Jack’s rotary phone which was hanging on the opposite wall.  He picked up the receiver and held it for a moment, then he slammed it back down in its cradle and walked over to Mayson and pulled her to her feet.  He wrapped his arms around her and held her so tight her ribs creaked.  At Mayson’s urgent demand for air he relaxed his hold.
     “Why don’t I just pass all this on to Uphoff.  She can try and get a search warrant--”
     “And someone else dies.  This might not amount to anything, but it might end up saving some young woman’s life.  Also, if you haven’t noticed, it’s too late to organize anything official.”
     Quinn looked at his watch and growled, “Shit!”

     “Do not take anything to eat or drink from this guy.  We don’t know how he chooses his victims.  If we throw a wrench in his usual routine he may try to drug you.  James and Rob are going to be watching the back of the house from that side road down there past the house.  I’ll be watching the front.  You have thirty minutes before I bust in through the front door and James comes in through the back.”
     They were sitting in Quinn’s car about a mile from the house.  As Mayson looked out across the countryside, she saw nothing but farm fields and an occasional cluster of trees.  There were no other cars to be seen.  Mayson’s palms were cold and damp.  She hoped that this was the killer’s house and that they weren’t too late.  “Is your cell phone on?”
     “Yes.”  Quinn looked at her with intense blue eyes.  “If you still want to do this, you can start walking to the house.  James and Rob can see you, but I’ll radio them anyway.”
     “See you in thirty minutes, darling.”  Mayson smiled brightly and gave Quinn an enthusiastic parting kiss.  She was careful not to touch him with her clammy hands.

     The plan was for Mayson to ring the doorbell and, if she found anyone home, to explain that her car had broken down some distance down the road and ask to use the bathroom and the phone.  She was to use her trip to the bathroom to get a look at the house and see if she noted anything out of interest.  If she did, when she made the phone call to Quinn’s cell phone she would answer his questions with affirmatives or negatives.  If the answers were affirmative, what happened next would be up to Quinn and his backup duo.
     The house was two stories, white, and box-like.  It reminded Mayson of the houses she used to draw in kindergarten, before she figured out how to use curved lines as well as straight ones.  Mayson was still walking up the driveway, heartily thankful for the bright outside security light, when a dark-haired man came around the back of the house, his car keys rattling in one hand, a stuffed duffel bag in the other.  He seemed not to notice her.
     “Excuse me, sir!”
     The man looked up sharply, his eyes narrowed in suspicion.  “Who goes there?  What are you doing here?”
     Still walking toward him, Mayson said, “I’m sorry to bother you sir, but my car died on me some distance back down the road and I was wondering if I could use your phone to call someone to pick me up.”  She came within five feet of him and stopped, trying not to think disturbing thoughts.
     Now that she was closer to him, she was able to see that he was of medium height and solidly built.  Very solidly built, she thought in dismay.  She also noticed that as soon as she had come within his line of clear vision his expression lightened considerably.  In fact, Mayson would have said his eyes lit up suddenly, like gas and fire when they collide.
     “Of course you may use my phone, ma’am.  It would be too cruel to refuse your request and leave you to walk up and down the road in the dark.”  He smiled.  When he spoke, it was with a charming, good-natured Irish brogue.  Charming and good-natured it was, but it sent chills down Mayson’s spine.  It was the Bible that said evil will come disguised as an angel of light, she thought. . .That is what makes it so deadly.
     In no time Mayson found herself in Declean’s (so he introduced himself) kitchen, holding a glass of cold tea that she had no intention of drinking although she could have used it.  Her mouth felt like the Sahara.  She put her glass down on the table and asked in her sweetest voice, “Do you think I might use your bathroom before I make my phone call, Declean?  I had no idea how long my drive was really going to be, and then with this new problem it might be quite a while before I have another opportunity.”
     “Oh certainly!”  Declean jumped up and gestured for her to follow.  Mayson was starting to get nervous when he stopped at the foot of the stairs and turned to face her.  “You’ll have to use the upstairs bathroom, I’m afraid.  The one downstairs is torn apart right now.  In fact, it’s always torn apart.  I’m in the middle of remodeling it.  Just go up the stairs here and turn left.  I’ll just wait for you in the kitchen.”  He smiled.
     Mayson smiled.  What the hell was she doing here?  This was not just nuts, it was pure, undiluted insanity.  Damn Quinn!  He should have talked her out of this!
     As she had hoped, the bedroom was located just down from the bathroom.  Stepping as lightly and as quickly as possible, she peeked in the door then stepped inside.  On first glance it was just an ordinary man’s bedroom, being decorated sparsely and in dark colors.  Then something caught her eye in the back corner of the room.  The light of the outdoor security light spilled in the bedroom window and fell on what Mayson believed was a large German sharank, or cabinet.  She drew closer to it and put her hand out and touched the surface of the doors.  The light was weak but with the help of her hand she found that the doors were carved with odd, weaving circular patterns.  As she ran her hand along the door, Mayson sensed that something evil was behind those doors.  She had felt that vague sense of uneasiness before.  Still, her curiosity was yet stronger than her fear.  She opened the doors.
     In the beginning she could see nothing, but she pulled out a small yet powerful flashlight and twisted it on.  When she could see inside, the breath caught in her lungs.  One shelf was lined with large, gleaming ceremonial knives; the glint of light off the blades declared how dangerously sharp the edges were.  They could probably cut leather like it was paper, she thought.  Next to the blades lay a thick purple robe made of what appeared to be velvet.  The next shelf was much worse.  There were several skulls on the next shelf, some of which looked to be very old.  As Mayson looked at the skulls, something stirred in the depths of her mind, like bubbles rising to the surface of swamp muck.
        Being a compulsive reader, Mayson had gotten her hands on an extremely wide variety of books through the years.  Some of her less well-read acquaintances were fond of joking that Mayson had turned herself in to a veritable mine of useless information.  Those acquaintances failed to recognize that it is impossible to predict when seemingly useless information will become useful, as in this instance.
     Since she was already thinking along the lines of pagan religion, the skulls on the shelf before her recalled what little she knew of druidism.  Ancient druids had served as priests and intellectuals in Celtic culture.  These ancient priests worshiped nature and believed that the head harbored the soul; skulls were placed in sanctuaries to ward off evil.  The skulls by themselves would not necessarily confirm that Declean practiced his own, modern version of druidism.  However, the large bloodstained bowl tucked away in the bottom of the cabinet certainly pushed the evidence further in that direction because Mayson also knew that druidism involved studying the death throes of human sacrifices and collecting their blood, both for the purpose of divination.
     Mayson was just beginning to feel dizzy from nausea and revulsion when a heavy hand fell on her shoulder and her heart leapt into her throat.

     So this was it—she had always wondered, morbidly, how she was going to die.  Mayson supposed it was a natural human impulse, but there was no way by any scope of the imagination that she could have come up with this scenario.  Really, what were the chances that she would end up in the basement-lair of a man who practiced druidism, prostrate on some sort of altar, her hands and feet tied and fastened with rope to either end of the altar while rescue waited nearby for the countdown to end?  Impossible to predict--unless of course she walked knowingly into such a situation.
     As Mayson fought with her bonds she believed that, at long last, she had finally reached the very pinnacle of idiocy.  Declean was in the next room, alternately staring into space in some sort of trance and crooning over a bowl of blood.  Apparently he saved the stuff.  Mayson could only see his back; her eyes remained fixed on him as she struggled but he made no move to come in and stop her.
     With a growl of frustration Mayson ceased her struggles.  Her hands were tied together above her head, so for obvious reasons she could not see her watch, but she estimated there was at least ten minutes before rescue would swing into motion.  By that time she would surely be filleted.  Declean began to croon again and Mayson tried to turn her head so that she could see the ropes that tied her hands.  Her hands were being scorched.  Declean had lighted numerous candles (likely the ones he had ordered from Star) and set them everywhere around the room—including around Mayson’s head and feet.  She had been about to pull her hands as far away as she could from the candles to keep them from being burned.  Instead, she now pushed her hands toward the candle, angling her hands so that the majority of the flame was concentrated on the ropes.
     Unfortunately, though the candle’s flame was burning though the ropes, it was also burning her hands badly.  The pain was intense, but Mayson put tension on the ropes by pulling her hands in opposite directions so that the moment the ropes were sufficiently burned through they would snap apart.  A few seconds more and they did snap apart, and Mayson carefully sat up and grabbed a candle to start burning through the ropes that bound her feet—burning was faster than trying to untie Declean’s thick, complicated knots.
     Mayson kept shooting apprehensive glances back at Declean.  Before the flame had quite completed its work, Mayson glanced over and saw that Declean was rising.  She put her candle down and grabbed the ropes with her burnt hands to pull them apart.  The pain from her hands made tears run freely from her eyes but the ropes came apart.  The moment her feet were free Mayson was up and running.  She did not look back to see if her would-be killer was following her.
     In his arrogance Declean had failed to lock the door at the top of the basement stairs so Mayson ran into no problems there.  She tore through the first floor directly toward the front door.  Hoping Declean might think she had gone for the back door, Mayson used all her self-control to make herself open the front door slowly and step quietly outside and down the porch steps.  Just as she reached the last step someone rose from the shadows and grabbed her from behind.
     Without even thinking Mayson elbowed her opponent in the ribs, then spun around and backhanded him with her fist, which was powered by a frenzied, adrenaline-packed force.  He groaned and fell back on his backside with a solid thump.  Mayson thought there was something familiar about that groan, so she grabbed him by his collar and dragged him out of the shadows.  Sure enough, it was Quinn; the upper portion of the right side of his face was already swelling.
     “Oh my God!”  Mayson dropped to her knees and whispered vehemently, “Where’s your gun?”
     “I dropped it when you hit me,” Quinn replied somewhat indistinctly.
     Mayson’s hand touched the cold metal and she rose to her feet.  Declean, in his long robe of purple velvet, was standing less than five feet away, holding a very large, nasty-looking knife, his shoulders shaking in silent laughter.  Quinn saw him just as Mayson did, and tensed.
     Mayson leveled the gun at Declean, who was still laughing.  “Very good.  I’ve never offered up anyone with such ingenuity, Mayson Clarke.  I don’t know who this man is, but he’ll serve as an offering as well.  Tentates is always ready for human blood—it’s the only way to appease him, you know.”
     By this time Quinn had had enough.  “What the hell are you waiting for, Mayson?  There’s a bullet in the chamber.  Shoot him!"
     Mayson had never held a gun until this moment.  She could still see the boy falling to the ground as the bullet pierced his back.  All phobias gained in childhood are intense and extremely difficult to face and overcome.  Mayson had never tried to do either, and now she was in a cold sweat and shaking terribly.  Declean took the blade of the knife between his fingers and prepared to throw the knife.  His eyes were focused on Mayson’s chest.
     “Shoot him!”
     Quinn knew he could wait no longer, he shot to his feet and threw himself at Declean just as Mayson’s damp finger began to squeeze the trigger.  The bullet contacted just before Quinn landed on Declean.  Without waiting for the numbness to fade and the pain to set in, Quinn began to throttle the man under him.
     After a few moments Quinn suddenly realized that his opponent was not fighting back, and that his right fist was slick with blood.  Mayson had shot Declean in the shoulder, and Quinn had inadvertently pounded the bullet wound with his fist.  Declean had fainted from the pain.
     Still sitting astride the fallen druid, Quinn looked up to see James and Rob running toward him, their guns out and their faces pale.  Together they managed to get Quinn off of Declean and between the two of them they carried the wounded man off to their car.  Quinn went to Mayson, who was still standing but still shaking badly.
     He took his gun from her hand and put it in his shoulder holster, and saw Mayson’s badly burnt hands.  He pulled a large handkerchief from his back pocket, then ripped it into two pieces and began to wrap Mayson’s hands.  A few minutes later they were sitting together on the steps, considerably calmer.
     Quinn put his arms around Mayson.  “Just so you know, darling, I’m never taking professional advice from you again.”
     Mayson did not turn to look at him, but she leaned back.  “I think I’ve just been cured of giving it out, so don’t worry.”  After a moment she went on, “I didn’t hurt you very much, did I?”
     “Actually, it hurts like hell.  I think I’m going to have a damn shiner.”
     “Like hell you are.  You’re delighted to find that you can hit that hard, and I know it.” 
     Mayson grinned.
     After a few minutes, Quinn sighed.  “Well, Mayson, you’ve got your exclusive.”