Eat This Book!

12742381_10156530658650150_2448979545047805041_nGreetings Readers!

This week I’m introducing a new post,  Eat this Book, inspired by the adorable black kitten munching on a proffered tome.  Hey, no cat lady crap! I owned ONE bad-tempered black cat for 19+ years. The others were/are black and white…

In Eat This Book, I’ll explore the value of books as entities, starting with the mystery books crowding my own shelves.  I’ll look at market value:  what is that signed P. D. James original today? And/or historical value: author Liza Cody and her amazing Bucket Nut series. Look for my upcoming visits to fab bookstore owners Marian Misters of Sleuth of Baker Street and Peter Sellers of Sellers and Newell

Also I’ll highlight new books that no emerging or hard-working established writer can do without.  To start off, I’m going to tell you about a book by fellow thriller writer, Kristina Stanley to be released on May 28th. (Do check out our interview on Cyber Café!)  I’ve already pre-ordered my copy.

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The most pressing problem authors have is to find readers. How do you find an audience for your writing? Many writers, including myself, rely heavily on libraries and book stores, but what if you reach more people who would like your book? The answer is targeted marketing. 

Kristina and I both write outdoors thrillers. Some possible sales venues include sporting goods stores, ski resorts, boat shows, etc. Authors of culinary mysteries might choose a local kitchen store or cooking school.  The possibilities are only limited by your imagination. In her book, Kristina  also shares how to keep track of your books on consignment and how to manage your sales revenues and costs.

So don’t delay, fellow writers. EAT THIS BOOK!

 

 

 

 

 

Wanderings: Street Art and Alleys

My friend, TO Poet, loves Toronto’s hidden alleys: the laneways that run between the backyards of houses or the houses themselves. He collects images of strange tableaux he runs across on his wanderings: this week abandoned wall units.  View TO Poet’s photos on Tumblr where he posts Tuesdays and Sundays here and check out his website here.

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Biological beer can that bleeds?

The word “alley” – no doubt the corruption of the French word “allee” –  means roadway.  In the past, when land was cheap, in Domestic Land, alleys played the role of the servants’ back stairs,  giving access to garages, garbage cans and compost heaps.

Not so in the city core. There alleys become romantic, sinister, intriguing, seductive. In noir film and literature, urban alleys are the main stage for thefts, assaults, fights and, of course, death.

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Scary urban alley by daylight

Now on my training rides, I’m more and more tempted to steer my bike into these beckoning non-fairways. Taking a short cut, I discovered some fab street art! Feast your eyes, readers!

Strange dino-beasts
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Trash & Star Trek Pt 1
Trash & Star Trek Pt.2
Trash & Star Trek Pt.2

 

 

 

 

 

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Don’t believe all you read!
Even Enterprise crew washes their tights
Even Enterprise crew washes their tights

 

 

 

News: Blatant Self-Promotion – My Novella “Glow Grass” Arthur Ellis Finalist!

WOW! I attended the Arthur Ellis short list event at Indigo Manulife Centre last night on April 21st with fingers crossed for our anthology 13 O’clock. Competition this year was tough in the short story category with nearly 50 entries and many established authors.

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Finalist-400My suspense story, “Glow Grass”, was entered in the novella category.  And it is an Arthur Ellis finalist. I could not believe it!!

I’m honoured and delighted to be in the company of my friends and fellow authors, Barbara Fradkin and Alison Bruce.  Do check out their books.

And special thanks to Carrick Publishing who made both anthologies of the Mesdames of Mayhem possible.

Read an excerpt of “Glow Grass” on this website.

Our Mesdames of Mayhem anthology, 13 O’clock, has garnered two recent reviews, both great.  Don’t miss out on some great stories by leading Canadian women crime writers.

Vanessa Westermann writes in Vanessa’s Picks in the April issue of the Sleuth of Baker Street newsletter:

M.H. Callway very kindly sent me a copy of 13 O’Clock ($15.99), the second crime anthology by the MESDAMES OF MAYHEM. I normally prefer to pick up a novel, rather than a short story collection, when looking for reading material. However, having just worked with a group of budding young authors in a creative writing club and given advice on crafting short fiction, it was a pleasure to read an anthology by lauded female Canadian crime writers and class it as ‘research’. These twisted tales offer entertainment to suit your every whim or perhaps, more appropriately, to suit the time of day. Over crumpets at breakfast, perhaps you’ll find yourself reading “Pulling a Rabbit”, about a woman whose adventurous spirit leads her from theft to abduction. Over a pre-dinner glass of merlot, you may choose to read “Glow Grass”, about dark deeds and blood-shed at a decayed family cottage. Whichever story you choose to read, at whatever time, you’re sure to find a tale of crime that will appeal to you, from the supernatural to comedy capers.

And Don Graves writes in Canadian Mystery Reviews. Don has given us permission to reproduce his review here. It will be up in a forthcoming issue.

A book of short stories is like a box of chocolates. There are those decadent dark chocolate truffles, those syrupy little beehives with a cheery inside and then…you get the picture.

Short story writing is a style where the author gets about a minute to ‘reel ‘em in and land ‘em’. No time to waste words. The author gets one shot to score. Short story writing can be the Waterloo that some authors fear. Enough.

13 O’Clock is a box full of delights. No assembly line writing here. It is short story writing that delivers. Did I like each story equally? No, but all of them got me in that critical first minute. In a long list of fine, hand-made “chocolates” includes “Perfect Timing” and “The Test of Time” by Melodie Campbell, “Thrice the Brinded Cat” by Joan O’Callaghan, “The Bench Rests” by Rosemary Aubert; this story took me back to those poignant legal series featuring Ellis Portal. Stories by Donna Carrick, Catherine Astolfo and M.H. Callway hit the spot. And I must mention one other. I’m sure you’ve heard the oldie about those can’t do…teach. Well, some say, those who can’t write…edit. But “Mirror, Mirror” by Cheryl Freedman blows that saying out of the water. Here’s one of Canada’s finest editors who can write!

 

 

The Surreal Trapdoor: Abandoned Beauty

Real or CGI – who cares?
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Adieu Disney

Abandon writer’s block, all ye who enter here!

I recently joined Pinterest and picked my Fav Five categories.

How could I resist Abandoned Mansions? I love old things. The intrigue of deserted places overwhelms me. What happens to a human structure left to the elements? Who lived here once? What are the stories of the inhabitants, their history? And most of all, why were these places abandoned in the first place?

Here are some of my favs. I wandered through the maze of images for hours: a  Chinese box of websites within websites of lost stories.

 

There are boards devoted to abandoned amusement parks. Even forsaken Disney parks!

Nara-Dreamland Japan
Nara-Dreamland Japan
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Lost library

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ghostly libraries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Where books started – full cycle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ghostly piano

 

Derelict church Detroit
Derelict church in Detroit

Pianos only spirits enjoy today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And of course the ruin-in-progress, the de-urbanizing legend that is Detroit. In the theme of Wasn’t the Future Wonderful, do check out the extraordinary documentary, Detropia.

More soon! 

 

The Surreal Trapdoor: Snakes Alive!

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Ice breaking Canada Geese

Spring is sprung in a cold Canadian way. Canada geese tread water and shards of ice at our cottage. Getting ready to breed.

And they aren’t alone…

On my friend, Gail Hamilton’s farm, on a warm sunny day, you will encounter THIS!

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Garter Snake Orgy. Photo by Gail Hamilton.

Buried under the heap of writhing reptiles are some very bothered female garter snakes. ARGH!!

Important to remember though that garter snakes are not venomous and perform a valuable ecological service in keeping down the insect and rodent populations. More of them is a good thing.

Our daughter had a pet garter snake named Slither. Caring for Slither introduced me to Toronto’s strange sub-culture of reptile fanciers. Did you know that they hold fashion shows for iguanas? And that iguanas make intelligent pets? This knowledge inspired me to write my award-winning story, The Lizard, which appeared in Crimespree Magazine, Issue 52 and was reprinted in Kings River Life Magazine, August 2014.

There’s a darker side to reptile fancy, too, starting with “pinky”, the most delectable food that no snake can resist. And what exactly is pinky? A euphemism for fresh frozen baby mice. (Ee-yuck!) Snake hoarding figures in a story I’m drafting now, working title Snake Oil. Stay tuned!

WANDERINGS: Bikes and Banksy

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Outside training for The Ride begins in mid-March. And yes, those bits of yellow and purple poking through the dead leaves are crocuses! And that’s my shadow snapping the pic.

I can’t lie, dear Readers, riding a bike in Toronto in mid-March is COLD. You start to pray for heavy duty hills to get the blood flowing, because unlike running, you never warm up on a bike. You slowly get chillier and chillier until your hands and feet refuse to move. If the wind is really bad, you seize up too much to climb off your trusty wheels to stagger into the warmth of that beckoning doughnut store.

But, hey, that’s part of training! On the upside, when biking, you FEEL the world, discover unseen treasures…surreal trapdoors…

 This Sunday, layered in dorky bike gear, I headed out along the Beltline Trail. This defunct 19th century railway is now an 8 km trail used by runners, cyclists and dog walkers.   Most people use the 5 km section of hard-packed dirt; only locals know about the 3 km paved section on the west side of the Allen Expressway. And that’s the pouffy part with historical plaques and stuff.

20160320_135141No signs, no nothing at the east end. To access it, you have to sneak past a body shop and down a narrow sidewalk bordering a townhouse.  I stumbled upon the far west end by accident on an 80 km ride back from the Humber. 

Winter has been hard on the trail. Gates are flaking rusty metal, the plastic covering on the map / plaques has splintered into thousands of cracks. Vandals have scrawled insults sorely lacking in wit or originality.

Then suddenly TREASURE! I adore Banksy and Shepherd Fairey. And here was my reward for braving the cold: a Toronto WOW. Amazing use of building fixtures – and abandoned scary trucks. Enjoy!

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Green tiger burning bright

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Building fan fits in
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Fab croc and entrail design

 

Cool fish
Cool fish
More conventional
More conventional
Scary truck
Scary truck
Scary Easter Bunny
Scary Easter Bunny

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Excerpt: “Glow Grass”

cover4The smash success of Thirteen, the Mesdames of Mayhem’s first anthology led to our second collection of twisted tales of time and crime, 13 O’clock.  It contains stories by 14 of Canada’s leading crime writers and just received a warm review by Canadian Mystery Reviews critic, Don Graves.

Don singled out my noir suspense story, “Glow Grass”, for special mention! In this excerpt, Paula discovers an unofficial grave site in the woods of her derelict family cottage.  

 

Sark will realize I’m here alone…

            She ran down the eastern side of the cottage away from the drive, her mind working. I’ll head up to the beaver pond while it’s still light, she thought. Wait him out.

            The trail to the beaver pond started behind Dad’s shed. She had no choice now, she had to cross over the horrible spot. A shimmering tongue of glow grass leaked out into the trail as though pointing the way to the pond.

            Fire shovel in hand, she dashed over the sinister spot and plunged down the narrow track into the safety of the trees. The path snaked deeper into the forest, the glow grass dwindling out behind her.

            The beaver pond lay buried in the woods half a kilometer north of the cottage. At one time, homesteaders owned a farm there with an apple orchard – or so Sark had told Dad. But the settlers had departed long ago and over time their log house had crumbled into the forest soil. The orchard had grown wild until beavers dammed the creek that cut through the forest, drowning the apple trees, turning their dead trunks silver.  

           The lost farm made Dad melancholy. It reminded him of time’s passing, he said. But in the beaver pond all she saw was life: frogs, dragon flies, turtles, snails and minnows. Once a pair of Canada geese nested there. Another time she even caught a perch, which Dad cooked for dinner. She’d always meant to find out who owned the land around the beaver pond. All Dad could tell her was that it lay well beyond their property line.

            The trail suddenly veered right not left. She stopped, bewildered, faced with a tangle of brambles and reeds

            The path turns left here, she thought. Dad cut the trail along the left side of the pond so we could walk along its edge to the far end. Too many cedar trees on the right side: Dad never owned the heavy tools he needed to cut through them. I’ve used this trail since I was a kid. It turns left here, not right

            She clutched the fire shovel as though she could beat her memory into submission.

            Oh, God, this divorce is driving me crazy.

            Crazier, wouldn’t you say?

            Go away, Brian.

            She took the path to the right.

            It led into the shadows of the now-towering cedar trees. A short distance along, she spotted a soft green light: glow grass growing into the trail.

            It spilled out from a tiny track that branched away through a clump of alders. Dodging the leafless bushes, she followed it into a small clearing.

            There a stone garden bench rested in a soft carpet of glow grass. Several small stones bordered its circular edge. On closer inspection, the stones proved to be store-bought garden ornaments, inscribed with a single word like “Forever” or “Remember”. Between the stones stood small plaster statues of angels holding soiled plastic flowers or soggy, bedraggled ribbons. One angel held a glass engraving of the poem, Desiderata, the relic cracked and damaged by the weather. Votive candles in red glass holders lay scattered among the stones, most burned down to the end.

          This was a memorial garden. But for whom?

            She sank down on the bench. The tiny monuments were cheap: she’d seen them for sale in dollar stores. None bore a date or name. Perhaps the strange garden was an amateurish, heartfelt tribute to a family pet.

            But what if it wasn’t?

            She shivered. Who built the garden? Why hide it in the woods away from prying eyes? Was it the unknown owner of the beaver pond?

          Over the years, she and Dad had found evidence of strangers round the pond: cigarette butts, fish line and hooks, empty beer cans… Anyone could pass through their cottage property when she and Dad weren’t there.

            The mysterious gardener had taken glow grass from the cottage and replanted it here. That felt like a warning, a challenge even. As if the unknown gardener was telling her: You abandoned the cottage. Now it’s mine to do with as I like.

           The woods were deathly silent. Yet she had an uneasy sense that someone lurked in the shadows. Watching, waiting, matching her breath for breath. She felt in her jacket for her phone and remembered she’d left it in the car.

            She stood up slowly, wielding the puny fire shovel. Saw nothing but lifeless bushes and dark cedar trees.

            Heart pounding, she stumbled back to the main trail. She walked briskly, faster and faster through the waning light until she was running flat out. She didn’t stop until she burst clear of the trees.

            The porch light was on. Under its harsh light, the glow grass had turned a chalky, sepulchral white.

            Sark stood on the front porch, his bulky form blending into the dusk.

To read “Glow Grass” and the other 14 fine stories in this collection, download 13 O’clock from Amazon here.

 

NEWS: Great Review of 13 O’clock and “Glow Grass”

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Many reviewers avoid anthologies. That’s why the Mesdames of Mayhem were blessed indeed when noted Canadian crime fiction reviewer, Don Graves, agreed to take a look at their second anthology, 13 O’clock for Canadian Mystery Reviews.

According to Mr. Graves,  we hit it out of the park!! And I’m especially delighted that my story, “Glow Grass”, was singled out for special mention!

Here’s the full text of the review:

A book of short stories is like a box of chocolates. There are those decadent dark chocolate truffles, those syrupy little beehives with a cheery inside and then…you get the picture.

Short story writing is a style where the author gets about a minute to ‘reel ‘em in and land ‘em’. No time to waste words. The author gets one shot to score. Short story writing can be the Waterloo that some authors fear. Enough.

13 O’Clock is a box full of delights. No assembly line writing here. It is short story writing that delivers. Did I like each story equally? No, but all of them got me in that critical first minute. In a long list of fine, hand-made “chocolates” includes “Perfect Timing” and “The Test of Time” by Melodie Campbell, “Thrice the Brinded Cat” by Joan O’Callaghan, “The Bench Rests” by Rosemary Aubert; this story took me back to those poignant legal series featuring Ellis Portal. Stories by Donna Carrick, Catherine Astolfo and M.H. Callway hit the spot. And I must mention one other. I’m sure you’ve heard the oldie about those can’t do…teach. Well, some say, those who can’t write…edit. But “Mirror, Mirror” by Cheryl Freedman blows that saying out of the water. Here’s one of Canada’s finest editors who can write!

Canadian Mystery Reviews. Don Graves

NEWS: Left Coast Crime 2016, Phoenix AZ, Feb 25-28th

Phoenix, Arizona:  Southwest architecture, fiery Texmex cuisine, safe, clean and a balmy 75 degrees – what’s not to like! Frozen Canadians need no excuse to head south in February and Left Coast Crime offers a great way to connect with fellow crime writers, fans and readers.

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I kicked off LCC in the hotel bar at a party for members of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, generously hosted by noir writer, Craig Faustus Buck.  The stars aligned: I met the authors on my Thursday panel: secret Canadian and fab moderator, Sarah Chen; magician and short story author / innovator, Stephen Buehler;  awesome screen writer, Mysti Berry; and her husband, talented graphic novelist, Dale Berry.

Sarah, Stephen and I walked over to Carly’s Bistro to attend Phoenix’s first Noir at the Bar. Delighted to share that Noir is thriving in the US southwest as well as in Portland and Seattle. Check out the terrific writers listed on the poster!

614+SEAY1fL__SX373_BO1,204,203,200_LCC piloted a new way to get authors and readers together:  Author Speed-dating launched on Thursday morning. Pairs of crime writers rotated through 18 tables of readers and we pitched our books at each table for 2 minutes.

I had a terrific partner in L. C. Hayden,  a critically acclaimed author who is published in a variety of genres. L.C. lives in El Paso, Texas. (Yes, the Texas city right across the border from Mexican murder capital, Juarez!)  The infamous tunnels the drug cartels use are historical, built for smuggling during the 19th century. They are a key element in L.C.’s latest thriller, Secrets of the Tunnels, which I can’t wait to read.

Thursday afternoon marked my debut as an author on an LCC panel.  A Short Dance with Death turned out to be one of the most enjoyable panels I’ve ever been on. Beautifully moderated by Sarah, we drew laughs from the audience that filled the space – former Mayor Rob Ford was an easy target – then our discussion segued into the art of modern short story writing. Stories via Twitter: try writing a short story in 146 characters! Or 6 words. Even Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine is getting with the times: it recently published Dale’s illustrated crime story – an historical first. Judging by the audience reaction, Dale’s story may be the first of a series. 

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A Short Dance with Death L to R: Dale Berry, me, Sarah Chen, Stephen Buehler, Misti Berry

 

 

 

 

 

Several of my Canadian author friends attended LCC this year.  On Friday, we had lunch with Guest of Honour, Ann Cleeves.  Ann is a delightful person who happens to be one of the world’s leading crime writers. She is the author of the  popular Vera Stanhope series, though her Shetland / Inspector Jimmy Perez novels have my heart. Both have been adapted for television.  

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L to R: Brenda Chapman, Ann Cleeves, M. J. Maffini, me, Alex Brett, Barbara Fradkin, Linda Wiken

 

 

 

 

 

12764403_10156536406585150_6429811086920378692_oLCC also features Author-Reader connections where authors host short private events for fans. This way I met Tim Hallinan, author of the Simeon Grist and Junior Bender novels. Tim treated us to coffee, cookies and an hour to talk with him about writing: he has just written a book on how to finish a novel. It’s available in May and I am buying a copy!

I also had lunch with 3 amazing women authors: Ellen Byron, who writes the Cajun Country series; Chris Goff , author of dark thrillers and bird watching mysteries; and Leslie Karst,  who pens culinary cozies. We bonded over the challenges faced by women crime writers, especially women thriller writers and we look forward to reconnecting at Bouchercon in New Orleans this fall.

We Canadians also had our day. On Friday evening, the Crime Writers of Canada hosted “Meet the Canucks” to raise the profile of Canadian authors with our American friends.  Authors were stationed at tables and fans circulated to get the answers to the quiz. A great way to chat with each writer. Prizes, of course, were Canadian books and maple syrup. The hotel chef even made poutine! By all accounts, a smash hit with everyone.

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Meet the Canucks!

We Canucks certainly know how to party both with each other and with American friends. Hugs and kisses to Jane Burfield and Miranda for being  terrific breakfast companions and kudos to emerging writer, Laurie Sheehan, who has the best way of making new friends. Order a bottle of champers from the bar and walk around with two empty glasses – then fill one and give it to a new friend who need a lift!

 

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Jane being a good sport at the LCC reception. We did get her out for dinner later!
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Partying with Bill Syken and Ellen Kirschman

 

 

 

 

Also had great fun partying with Ellen Kirschman, police psychologist turned crime writer and Bill Syken, newly published sports mystery author.

 

Banquets can be a little long on occasion, but LCC’s grand event was hosted by the wonderful Catriona McPherson  who moved things along with deft humour while raising $10,000 to benefit a children’s literacy charity. Great fun thanks to table companions Bill Syken and Gay Coburn, whose working dog, Koa, stole the evening. 

But true to form, a Surreal Trapdoor opened up. At LCC, banquet tables are hosted by authors who often present guests with small gifts. Our host, a rather serious lady, gave us a small handbook she’d written about Japanese toilets while touring the temples there. OK…Hope the book didn’t reflect what she secretly thought about her dinner companions!  And hope she wasn’t offended that I left the book in my hotel room as a “Jokes for the John” for the next guest.

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Working dog Koa

Because I was booked on the red-eye back to Toronto, I had time for a tour of Arizona’s old west.  More surreal trapdoors next week!

The Surreal Trapdoor: The Beer-swilling Pomeranian (WLT – Part 2)

Opening of the World’s Largest Surreal Trapdoor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Part 1, we narrowly avoided a debate about the best bullets for dispatching a neighbour’s pesky cats. Nine mm vs 22’s, you pick. We escaped into the truck bling on display at the World’s Largest Truckstop, but then this  strange encounter actually happened.

A large, 60-ish lady  materialized beside the rack of sheepskin covers for truck seats. She bore a scary resemblance to Large Marge of Pee Wee Herman fame.

“You like them sheepskins?” she asked me.

“Um, sure,” I replied.

“My little doggie had one of her own. Just threw ‘er in the washing machine and she come out real nice.”

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Sheepskin seat covers

Dog or sheepskin?

“And you know what?” The lady stroked the sheepskin fondly. “The day she died, her sheepskin fell apart. Put it in the washing machine and it turned into this big lump of fuzz.”

“Interesting,” I said, edging away.

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Pomeranian dog

“She was a good dog. A Pomeranian. A real good dog. Cute, too. Except when she didn’t get her beer. When I come home off the road after driving my rig, she’d be right there waiting for me.  And if I didn’t give her that pint of beer right away, she’d be on my leg, growling, biting till she got it. Man, she loved her beer.”

“That’s nice,” I said, edging away further, but the lady stuck with us.

“She was a good dog. Why when she died, I just laid her out in the back of my truck. Hadda leave her there for three days but she never smelled. Not one bit. She was a good dog.”

“Probably pickled,” Ed whispered. By now we’d worked our way past the chrome exhaust pipes.

“That’s, um, sad you lost your dog,” I said. “But we’ve really got to get back on the road. We’re doing another two hundred miles today” 

“Hadda funeral for her,” the trucker continued, undeterred. “Buried her in the back yard. My son helped and you know, while he was digging her grave, all the cats and dogs round our place turned up. Stood there watching, paying their respects.”

Paying respects
Paying respects?

“Imagine.” We’d reached the shelves full of Doulton figurines.

“I couldn’t just leave her. Had to do right by my little doggie. So I buried a 6-pack of beer with her. My son was real mad, thought it was a waste a’ beer, but she was a good dog.  Least I could do for her.”

“Of course, best thing.” We neared the ceramic eagles and John Wayne memorabilia.

“Got me a new dog now. Another Pom. Keeps my husbint in line.”

“That’s nice. We really have to go. We’re Canadian. Bye.” We fled into the parking lot. 

“Well, that was weird,” Ed said, starting the Miata. “Care to bet how long that 6-pack of beer stayed buried.”

No I wouldn’t.

To quote Max Bialystock in The Producers: They all come here. How do they find me?