M2D4 Toe Tag: Widow’s Run by TG Wolff

Widow’s Run is a Mystery. Diamond. One name for a woman with one purpose in life. It should have been ordinary, her husband attending a scientific conference, except he didn’t come home. A random accident. Or was it? A video surfaces calling facts into question, but the police only have words of sympathy for the new widow. Resurrecting her CIA cover, Diamond goes where the police won’t. From Washington DC to Rome, Italy, to Tulsa, Oklahoma, her widow’s run follows the stink greed leaves in its wake. Murder is filthy business. Good thing Diamond likes playing dirty.

Bottom line: Widow’s Run is for you if you like fast-paced mysteries, dynamic characters, and story meant to be read just for the fun of it.

Listen to the first chapter here or wherever you get Mysteries to Die For podcast.

Strengths of the story. To give you an unbiased review, I’m using posted reviews. Here’s two from Amazon: “Widow’s Run is a suspenseful thriller with well-crafted characters and a plot that leaves you guessing until the very end.”

“Widow’s Run is a nonstop roller coaster ride of chaos and suspense with a lead character who’s not afraid to speak her mind…and has the resources to back her words up. Determined to find the true reason behind her husband’s death, Diamond will stop at nothing to get the answers…including faking her own death and then showing up in disguise at the funeral. Both her tongue and mind are sharp as a whip, making this a super fun read.” 

This story is about pacing and characters. It’s a solid mystery, but simple, it had to be because everything around it was so complex. I was inspired by Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series – each chapter is it’s own story and also moves the overall story along. It made it a blast to write and it what give the pacing it’s feel.

Where the story fell short of ideal: Miriam on GoodReads gave me a 3.5 for zest and enthusiasm- thanks for the bump, Miriam. She felt it was “a convoluted spy / mystery / thriller that begins in a slapstick humor manner and, while calming down some, is still frenetic as Diamond travels to Rome and back to the states. She’s got a lot of help, some more useful than others.

“There are a few grammatical errors, and a doozy of a continuity issue at the very end as the dead people are incorrectly identified.

“If you do pick up this slim mystery, don’t put it down or you’ll lose track of all the disparate threads.”

I give Miriam credit for giving a thoughtful, critical review. No book will please every reader. Mine wasn’t for her but she rated me fairly, and I appreciate her. Were there grammatical errors? I don’t doubt her. They drive me crazy. No less than 4 professionals reviewed this book…and still they sneak through. Just enjoy them, that’s what I do when I find one – it’s like finding a four leaf clover. Maybe when AI takes over, we’ll have perfect books to read. Until then, let a typo be reassurance that flesh-and-blood humans did write and edit the work in your hands.

As to the continuity issue, well I had to look into that one because continuity is one of my big thing’s and…nope…all the names were correct. Now, as Miriam implied, there were a bunch of characters, and not all of them died. I suspect she read something in a way I didn’t intend. Reading it as I did intend, no issue.  If any of you think you find it, email me. I’m curious what you see.

So take six hours out of your reality to read Widow’s Run, the first Diamond Adventure. Review it, help me get up to like 20 reviews. It would mean a lot. Then you’ll be ready to pick up with Suicide Squeeze, the first chapter is our next toe tag

M2D4 Toe Tag: Dream Stalker by Nancy Stalker

Dream Stalker lists as a paranormal cozy mystery. It’s October in Salem, Massachusetts and Mrs. Lily Scott, wiccan, herbalist, and dream walker, is up to her neck in trouble. It started with a childhood friend, she suicided in front Lily. That was followed with two murders, arson, another suicide, and an accident that threatens the life of the best woman Lily knows, her sister Ann. Lily follows a trail of clues to protect the women she cares for, including the one she loves most, her own daughter.

Bottom line: Dream Stalker is for you if you like your mysteries clean, your witches wiccan, and your fiction feminine.

Listen here or wherever you get Mysteries to Die For Podcast

Strengths of the story. Gardner’s female characters are the gems of this story. All major characters and most minor are female, with a large part of the story arc dedicated to Lily recovering the relationship with her sister and her daughter. That puts this mystery solidly in the category of Women’s fiction. Each character is truly unique and stays true to themselves throughout the telling – for better or for worse. Salem, MA in October gives a colorful backdrop for a story of quiet deceit and subtle treachery. It certainly made me curious about the town, which is exactly what a good author does. The story lives up to the Cozy name with clean language and roots in the heritage and traditions of Wiccan. A sophisticated hand compares and contrasts Wiccan to Catholicism, showing that when you look for differences, that is what you see. But when you look for goodness, beauty is abound.

Where the story fell short of ideal. The story is listed as a paranormal. Readers who prefer moderation in paranormal will appreciate Gardner’s sparing hand with Lily’s dream walking. As a reader who loves the power and imagination of a world beyond our own and prefers it in a story the same way I want chocolate syrup on my ice cream, I was left wanting more. In my opinion, framing this story as a women’s fiction cozy mystery better casts the light of the story. Lily has a lot of work to do if she is going to solve the mystery, save the shelter her sister runs, and repair the relationships most vital to her.

M2D4 S5E10: A Shuttle to Trouble by Karina Bartow

A new short in Karina Bartow’s Unde(a)feated Detective Series, which follows deaf detective, Minka Avery. Minka and her extended family are traveling home from a vacation in Jamaica when the loud, annoying man on the plane turns into the corpse on the shuttle that just shut down the entire airport. Minka’s hunting for a killer hiding in plain sight and she’s got to do it fast, before the Orlando PD, the FAA, and a few thousand captive travelers call time is up.

Listen here or wherever you get Mysteries to Die For podcast

M2D4 Toe Tag: The Bone Records by Rich Zahradnik

The Bone Records is a thriller. Grigg Orlov, the son of a Russian father and Jamaican mother (deceased), was an outsider in his own neighborhood. His father disappeared six months ago and the NYPD wasn’t interested in looking for him. Grigg alone has been searching while juggling two jobs. Just as suddenly, his father returns, with a gunman hot on his heels. His father’s last stand launches Grigg on mission for the truth. One with twisted truths and secrets buried so deep, dying is the only way out. 

Bottom line: The Bone Records is for you if you like lightning-fast pacing, engaging underdogs, and a setting in one of America’s hidden cultures.

Listen to the first chapter here or wherever you get Mysteries to Die For podcast

Strengths of the story. Rooted in New York City’s Russian community, the story is a creative weave of fiction and facts in the foreground of the 2016 presidential election. That being said, this is not a political thriller. At its essence, The Bone Records is a thriller about a son searching for the truth about his father’s murder. The plotting is strong with Grigg taking actions that interfere with the antagonists’ goals and forcing them to react to him, propelling the story forward. There is ample lying, backstabbing, and spying to keep the reader guessing right along with Grigg about who can be trusted.     

Where the story fell short of ideal. This is a very strong thriller. Of course, there are always little things I can pick at, but nothing worth mentioning. When I got to the end of The Bone Records, I sat for several moments and unpicked the weave of the storylines. They all held up. The actions of the characters stayed consistent with the motivations of the decision makers from start to finish. It would have been interesting if Grigg had had more time with his father. What would he have learned and how would it have changed Grigg’s actions. For that matter, after six months, why did his father come back at all? 

Learn more about Rich Zahradnik at his website: https://www.richzahradnik.com/

Buy The Bone Records from Amazon and other retailers, read it, review it.

M2D4 S5E9: The Maven Murder by Paul A. Barra

The murder of a young barmaid has gone unsolved. Cynthia Deal takes matters into her own hands, bringing together three couples, six people with motive. She had three hours and twelve minutes left in her life when she took hold of the forward line to pull it aboard the LCU Maven, laughing at the weight of the thick, water-soaked rope as it slithered then slumped with a splash into North Isle Harbor. Now there isn’t one murder to be solved, there’s two, and it’s all up to you.

Listen here or wherever you get Mysteries to Die For Podcast

M2D4 Toe Tag: What Meets the Eye by Alex Kenna

What Meets the Eye is a Private Investigator mystery. PI Kate Myles takes a job everyone else has turned down, the investigation of an avant-garde artist’s death. LAPD, Kate’s former employer, determined it was a suicide. But, of course, her father doesn’t buy it for no fact-based reason. Kate’s taken this job before and three out of three times, the cops were right. But this time? This time just may be different.  

Bottom line: What Meets the Eye is for you if you like your art edgy, your stakes high, and your dirty deeds done anything but cheap.

Listen to the prologue and first chapter here or wherever you get Mysteries to Die For podcast

Strengths of the story. The setting is one of the stars of this story. This mystery is embedded in the LA art scene and told in a way that could only be done by someone with Kenna’s unique background. This goes beyond the death of a star artist and makes this one of the most mysteries I’m read in a long time.

The plot is equally interesting, likely because it is interwoven with the art scene itself. This isn’t a mystery that is merely dropped into an interesting setting. This story only exists because of where it is in the art scene.

Where the story fell short of ideal. The story telling style is 80% from Kate Myles POV in modern time with the remainder from other characters and/or in past times. On the “pro” side, the style gives the reader “just in time” cues to motivation and back story for the mystery or Kate herself. On the “con” side, it can pull the reader out of the story and introduce some time or speaker confusion. This will be something that some readers won’t notice at all and will bother others. For my own experience, I “hear” the story as I read, so tended to hear Kate regardless of who the narrator was supposed to be. Hence, it caused me some confusion but was able to work through it quickly.

Hippy Saves the World Episode 6: F*ck

The sun shone down as I sat astride my 2016 Ultra Classic Limited Low. I had decisions ahead of me. Big ones, like what I was going to do about killing Dexter Green, and little ones, like if I was turning left or right out of Ron’s driveway.

When it came to Dexter, I was getting to the point of having more questions than answers. It’s been over a week now. Never having killed a man before, I expected to have my face plastered on whatever passed for post office wanted signs these days. If it was, I hadn’t seen it.

I started the engine, letting her think about what she wanted to do, and the two of us headed out to the right. We tracked up and to the right, connecting the dots through Maryville, Greeneville, and Johnson City, Tennessee. We crossed into Virginia, keeping to the routes that kept us in the national forests and away from people as much as we could. It was a stop in Bristol where I set my destination for the day. Roanoke, Virginia and the man who four out of five Americans knew as Greaser.

Greaser was a gear head, one of the best mechanics I had ever met. If he had a spirit animal, it was the 5.2 litre Voodoo V-8. His mother named him Earnest Cunningham, but back in the day, he wore his dark hair combed back in one of those big ol’ pompadours, the way the greasers did in the 1950s. The name stuck so well that when the preacher asked his bride if she promised to love, honor, and everything else Earnest she said she most certainly did not. She was marrying Greaser and this Earnest fellow could go to hell.

It all got straightened out and Greaser and Bethany have been married long enough to have three kids and six grandkids.

The GPS led me to a pretty little two-story house tucked back into some woods. The sun was setting as I followed the driveway around to the right of the house, to a detached garage with four bays and two more under construction. Two of the garage doors were up, the lights were on, and old Greaser was coming out from under the hood of a car.

“I cleared a space out for you,” he said, pointing to the end bay.

I hadn’t seen the man in three years, if I did my math right. His silver hair was still in the pompadour that was his signature. He’s put on some weight and there were lines to his face but who was I to judge. Bet he wasn’t waiting for whirly lights to pull him over because he’d used a Ford 150 as a blunt force weapon.

“Hippy, man, how is it you never change?” he asked, moving a pink, plastic motorcycle out of his path. “Come on, tell an old friend your secret? Good, clean living?”

I had just planted my boots upon his concrete when I stopped. “Greaser, if you’re gonna insult me like that, I’m gonna climb back on my bike and keep on riding.”

He threw his head back and laughed. “God, it is good to see you. Come on in. Hope you’re hungry. Bethany saved enough food to feed a baseball team instead of the two of us. I hope you don’t mind, she and the girls ate already. Audrey, she’s my youngest, she and our granddaughters moved in about a year ago.”

“That explains the pink,” I said, thumbing toward the plastic bike. “I knew your tastes were out there but, well, I was worried about you for a minute.”

“I’m enough of a man to wear pink,” Greaser said, his chest puffing out. “But that piece of machinery belongs to Caitlin. She just turned five.” He chuckled and leaned in. “She asked me if I could tune it up for her. ‘Parently, it doesn’t go fast enough. She said it’s lackin’ on turns, too.”

“Sounds like you have a little Greaser in the making.”

“A little daredevil is more like it. I caught her making a ramp yesterday. Don’t tell her mother.”

“Did you help her?”

“Well, of course I did,” he said, leading me toward the house. “She was going to do it one way or the other. I could teach her to do it right.”

And that had me thinking back to all of the stupid, dumb ass things I tried to jump a bike off of. It was long before I understood how ramps worked. Funny how much blood you spilled learning things the hard way.

Inside, Greaser’s house sounded a lot like mine when the family was over. Voices of young girls screaming “he’s here” carried over motherly directions to “slow down” and “stop running in the house.” Dogs were barking, don’t know if they were saying the same as the girls or the ladies, but they were insistent. In the background, a television show with an over enthusiastic laugh track found the situation hysterical, which it was.

“I’m Caitlin,” the older sister announced as she landed in front of me, then pointed to the toddler attached to her mother’s hip, “and this is Victoria but everyone calls her Tory.”

“Hey there, Tory,” I said to a sweet little this of about two. Thumb in mouth, she hid in her mother’s neck. She wanted no part of me.

That was okay. Every kid’s different. “Do they call you Caty?” I asked Caitlin.

“No,” she said simply, her large blue eyes watching me. “You ride a bike? I do, too.”

“I saw. I heard your Grandad is going to give it a tune-up.”

“Yes. I asked him to put a V-8 engine in it, but he said the frame couldn’t handle it.” She shrugged. “Maybe Santa will bring me one that can.”

“You can ask him,” I said, not trying to hold back a smile. Greaser had his hands full all right.

“Will you take me for a ride?” she asked. “I still have fifteen minutes until my bedtime.”

“Caitlin,” her grandfather said. “Mr. Conner just got here, and he’s had a long day.”

She was disappointed but not surprised as she turned away.

What the hell. Somebody should have a good day. “I have a little gas left in the tank. You need real shoes, Caitlin. Not those girly things.”

She hooted and hollered, feet pounding on stairs somewhere that I couldn’t see but we all could hear.

Greaser shook his head. “You didn’t have to do that, Hippy.”

“You didn’t have to let me crash here,” I said back.

It sounded like a pack of dogs tried to come back down those stairs all at one time. I looked to the doorway, expecting the girl to scream bloody murder. Instead, she landed on the linoleum bright eyed and out of breath along with two eighty-pound dogs who looked like they expected a ride too.

“Get your jacket, Caitlin,” her grandmother said. “It gets cold on a bike.”

“I’m fine,” she said, taking my hand.

“Get a jacket,” I said. “Something wind proof.”

Her eyes widened. “Are we gonna go fast?”

“No!” Bethany answered.

Caitlin swung her gaze to me.

I held up my hands. “Her house. Her rules.”

“Dang.” Her little shoulders slumped. “Fine.”

“I better help her or Lord knows what she’ll come back with,” Audrey said, handing Tory to her mother and following her daughter out.

“I hope you know what you’re doing,” Bethany said.

“I give my grandkids rides all the time.” That statement was 100% true. However, none of my children had given birth to the reincarnated soul of Evel Knievel. If we went faster than Bethany would have approved of it was still half the speed Caitlin wanted me to go.

And to be truthful with you, I would have loved to have found a stretch of back road and opened the engine up for the child. But we found a happy medium and topped it off with ice cream, bringing some back to the others. It’s a good day when you can have dessert followed by a home cooked meal.

Audrey’s girls climbed into her bed, which gave me the room formerly known as the guest room. I wasn’t happy with Greaser and Bethany about the situation. I had other options. I could have taken the couch, although my back would have been pissed to high heaven. I could have done a hotel or a motel.

“It’s all right, Hippy. I wouldn’t have said so otherwise.” Greaser ran his hand over his face, the lines deeper than before we started the conversation. “Audrey’s in a situation. Her deadbeat husband walked out on her and the girls. We knew thing weren’t great between them, then she calls and said he told her he doesn’t want to be a husband or father anymore. Just like that, he left them. But Hippy, that’s all he did. He won’t divorce her. He’s not supporting the girls. He barely sees them. Sometimes I wonder if Tory really knows who he is. Or if he cares if she does.”

Greaser shook his head. “How does a man do that to his family?” he asked, his voice breaking. “Marriage isn’t easy. I can understand if he didn’t want to be in his marriage anymore, fine, that’s one thing. But how do you turn your back on your children?”

“I don’t know,” I said truthfully. “It’s never been something I’ve understood.”

“He hasn’t left town. And this isn’t a big city. Everyone knows everybody’s business. Audrey couldn’t stay in the house, emotionally. I don’t know if it was the right thing or not, but I get it. That’s when she moved in here.”

“Does she have a lawyer,” I asked. “Doesn’t she have rights?”

“She’s got lawyer and the lawyer’s been trying,” he said. “But what is he supposed to do when Brad won’t do anything, like turning over his income documents? The lawyer’s stuck. Audrey’s stuck. The girls are stuck.” Greaser’s fist pounded the table. “And Brad’s the pig wallowing in the mud, enjoying every minute of it.”

“Everything okay in there?” Bethany called out.

“My hand just slipped,” Greaser called back. “Everything’s fine.”


The next morning, I climbed into one of Greaser’s three trucks and accompanied him to the three-acre plot Angela affectionately referred to as his playground. Those who didn’t look on the place with as much kindness or vision might have used words like junkyard or heap. The property was situated along what was once a private airfield and the building had begun life as a hangar. A plastic sign over the man-door announced it to be the home of “Merry Go ‘Round.”

“So you got a business now?” I asked, standing behind Greaser while he unlocked the door.

“Have been for a while,” he said. “Ended up with so much side jobs, I had to step back on day work. Bethany’s still working at the hospital, so we could ride on her benefits.” He looked over his shoulder and grinned. “Never in my life thought I’d be a small business owner. Come on in.”

Inside was dark except where light sliced past us through from the open door. Greaser flipped some heavy switches, each with a solid click. “Still got the old mercury lights. We gotta give them a minute.” He flipped a few others and a line of LEDs instantly responded. To my right was a small office, the door open. Nearly in front of me was old, round kitchen table covered with mail, magazines, and anything else that didn’t have a place. That included the four mismatched chairs. Stretching out along the wall as far as my eye could see was a kick ass work bench, loaded with tools and a hell of a lot neater than the kitchen table.

Slowly, one lumen at a time – that the unit science types use to measure the amount of light the human eye can see – the mercury lights heated and great space of the hangar came into full color view.

“Holy hell, Greaser!” I laughed in amazement at the world my friend had built. Take a museum with one of every motor vehicle you’ve ever seen, cross it with machines that did work – from vintage farm to factory presses with tubes instead of buttons, and spread all of those around vintage carnival rides, then put them together under one roof. That is what I saw. “When are you going to start to charge admission?”

He looked around and sort of laughed at himself. “I’m a premier restorer of anything mechanical, if you believe the Yelp reviews. Own about half of what you see, the other half are jobs.”

The door behind us opened. “Mornin’ Greaser. Boy it is one pretty day out there. I’m thinkin’ it’s right to work in the back forty…” The man who talked before he looked saw me. “I’m sorry. Didn’t realize we had a guest.”

“This ain’t no guest,” Greaser said. “This is Hippy. A good friend from way back in Indiana. Hippy, this is Jackson, my electrician.”

“Good to meet you, Jackson,” I said, holding out my hand. “Well, consider me free labor for the day. What can I do for you Greaser?” We argued back and forth about the value of a good meal and a clean bed. I ended up with Greaser’s short laundry list of maintenance on the building and property. He’d pay for materials and anything else I needed. Jackson would be my extra set of hands.

After inspecting the different tasks, I opted to begin with tearing off a piss poor overhang someone built over the back entrance. It was hanging on by a nail, literally. If it wasn’t taken down, it would be coming down on it’s on sometime soon and taking part of the building siding with it. Beyond the pain and suffering it would save my friend, this project gave me time to talk to Jackson.

The man was about the same age as Greaser’s Audrey. And, sure enough, they’d only been a year apart in high school. I asked if he knew her husband and his face changed from easy going to negative.

“We were in the same class,” he said. “On the same baseball team for years. I was at their wedding.”

I was on a mission to find out if Brad was the deadbeat Greaser painted him to be. He wouldn’t be the first parent to put blame everywhere except on their kid. Teresa works in a school and tells me the stories all the time. I suppose, if you want to be positive about things, you could say those parents are standing up for their kids, you know, being their shield.

Reality is, people don’t learn to stand if they’re always sitting. You don’t learn to run if you’re always being carried. You don’t learn to fly if you never leave the nest.

Now, I can equally suppose, if you leave the nest before you learn how to fly you can be like “oh shit” and then crash to the ground.

There’s gotta be a balance. Learn to fly, then leave the nest.

“The thing about Brad,” Jackson said, pulling me out of my own head, “is he’s all about Brad. I think he liked having a girlfriend and he liked being engaged and getting married. Even being married. I thought he was happy anyway. Until…”

He trailed off. There are somethings you aren’t supposed to say out loud, like someone you personally know and once liked didn’t like being a father. And, if I was reading into what he was saying, likely it was because being a father wasn’t about him, it was about someone else.

Were kids inconvenient?

Oh, fuck yeah. That’s why you shouldn’t have them until you want them.

Because when you want them? The price of inconvenience is a raindrop compared to the ocean of love and the other good shit.

“I get it,” I said, then brought the conversation to the jacked-up canopy. Another problem had found me, now I needed some space to find a solution.

I stayed with Greaser for a few more days on the excuse of getting his “honey do” list done. You know me by now. I needed to do my fact checking on Deadbeat Brad. That was easy. First because, at her attorney’s and everyone else’s advice, Audrey documented the hell out of Brad’s deadbeatness. Second, because a smile and a smoke will still get most anyone to talk about anything. Roanoke was ten times the size of my hometown, but it was a small city or a large town. It was the kind of place where your kid’s current second grade teacher was your second-grade teacher and the cop pulling you over knew your father. Third, because I called back down to Chattanooga and Max’s teenage boy scouted Deadbeat Brad on the social medias for me.

If that boy wasn’t on my side, I’d be scared.

Anyway, I had an awesome idea, but it was more than I could handle on my own. I brought Greaser and Jackson in and we spent a day setting the stage, so to speak. The question was how to get Deadbeat Brad out to the hangar.

“That’ll be easy,” Greaser said. He pulled out his cell and dialed the man in question. “Bradley, I’ve had enough of this. I want you out of my daughter’s and granddaughter’s lives and I’m willing to pay.” The muscle in Greaser’s jaw ticked as he listened to the response. “We’ll talk about that but face-to-face. Come to the hangar. Tonight. Nine o’clock.” He ended the connection and put the phone down. “He’ll be here,” he said, and then paced away from us, going deep into corner where light didn’t penetrate.

Jackson joined us for dinner at Greaser’s house. Greaser and I worked the grill while Jackson pushed the girls on the swing. Bethany and Audrey were in the kitchen fixing sides.

“She knows something’s up,” Greaser said grumpily. “Bethany. I can never get away with anything with her.”

“You don’t have a poker face,” I said. “What did you tell her?”

“Just what you said. That there was a problem that need taking care of and that only you, me and Jackson could do it. She shouldn’t worry and we’d be back after a few hours.”

I shook my head. “And people say I talk. Stay here while I fix this.” I went in and had a conversation with Bethany. By the end, she pretty much knew everything.

“After,” she said, “Audrey will need to know. Brad will use it against her. You can’t leave her in the dark. She needs to be able to prepare herself for what he might throw at her.”

“I can see that,” I said, conceding that a deadbeat who won’t get off the couch for their own child’s birthday would weaponize what Greaser and I did. If he could. “We’ll take precautions,” I said, and went to turn to the door.

A hand on my forearm stopped me.

“And I want to watch.”


Nine o’clock and the gravel parking lot was empty except for Greaser’s truck. Jackson’s truck and my bike were parked at the back door, where a new canopy safely hung, impossible to see without rounding the large building.

“He’s late,” Jackson said as straightened the black tarp over the tall frame.

“It’s a control thing,” I said from where I checked the rigging on the old carnival ride again. “It’s a all-about-Deadbeat Brad-thing.”

“He’ll be here.” Grease stood at the small window overlooking the lot. “Even if he doesn’t plan to take my money, he’ll want to see me sweat.” He turned toward us, running a hand over his silver hair. “It’s like Hippy said. It’s about control for Brad.”

Jackson crossed his arms. “And we are going to take it.”

Artificial white light flashed through the window. Silently, we went to our places. I went to the rig, stepping into the shadows where I wouldn’t be seen. Until it was time.

Jackson slid into Greaser’s office. Within steps, Jackson would have Deadbead Brad at an advantage.

Greaser went to the door and opened it. “Bradley. Thanks for coming.”

“I was surprised you called. More surprised at what you said.” Then Deadbeat Brad walked in. “What makes you think I want your money?”

It was the first time I’d put eyes on the man. He wore shorts and a polo shirt. His hair was cut neat enough, and he had a goat-tee that hung a few inches down his neck. There wasn’t anything special about him. I mean, if I was a woman, he wouldn’t have done it for me but, just the same, if I saw him in a Walmart my head wouldn’t go to deadbeat.

“When haven’t you wanted money, Bradley?”

This was one of the trickiest parts of the sting. Greaser keeping it together. He didn’t have a temper, he wasn’t that kind of man. But every man could be dangerous when he was facing the one ripping his child down one tear at a time.

“It all comes down to money,” Jackson said, stepping out of the office. Which was not part of the plan.

Deadbeat Brad whirled, his arms out, ready for a fight. “Jackson. What are you doing here?”

“Making sure Greaser doesn’t kill you. Have a seat.” Jackson gestured to one of the seats at the table. “He has an offer for you and didn’t trust himself not to do something more. Isn’t that right, Greaser?”

Greaser nodded as he sank a chair and then found his voice. “This needs to end.”

Jackson musta picked up on the same thing I did. He stepped in, smooth as butter, though.

Deadbeat Brad pulled out the chair next to Greaser and fell heavily into it. “Daddy swooping in as usual to making this better for his little girl?”

“That’s what good parents do,” Greaser said. “That’s something you wouldn’t know anything about.”

“Greaser,” Jackson warned softly.

Deadbeat Brad sat up quickly, leaning forward and jabbing at Greaser with his index finger. “Watch what you say to me, old man. I’ve left Audrey and the girls alone. If I wanted to, I could make it worse. So much worse.”

Greaser shook his head, bit his tongue. “Divorce her. You both can move on.”

“Why should I?” he barked, his face turning ugly. “You know how much it will cost me? Buying out the house? Child support? Why should I sign over my paycheck to her?”

Greaser mimicked Deadbeat Brad’s pose. “Because you only own half the house. Because they are your children, too.”

Deadbeat Brad launched to his feet. “Fuck you, Greaser.” When Greaser rose, Deadbeat planted his hands on his chest.

Instead of Greaser staggering backwards, he caught Deadbeat’s hands, pinning them to his chest. Forty some years of working with his hands had given Greaser the power of Popeye, if you all remember who he was. And Greaser didn’t need to eat spinach.

Jackson was quick on the handcuffs, not that Greaser let go even after Deadbeat was bedazzled in silver.

“What are you fucking playing at, Jackson?” Deadbeat went for bravado and failed. “Greaser. Let me go.”

Greaser was calm. Scary calm. “Why should I?”

Deadbeat didn’t have an answer.

“Jackson.” In the name, Greaser gave a quiet order.

His man complied and, in another two minutes, we were back on our original plan. Deadbeat was cuffed and in route to the rig. He cursed and then threatened, running the gambit from cops to rape.

Jackson punched him then. Made him bleed. I’m pretty sure it was the first punch the kid had ever thrown, and it was a good one.

Deadbeat was quieter after. He knew this shit got serious.

In front of him was a carnival thrill ride created by Greaser and modified by me and Jackson. The platform sat chest high. Deadbeat Brad’s seat was at the base on a post that went higher then those hanging mercury lights. Some ten feet in front of the seat was a bank of twelve televisions on a black metal rack. The screens were off.

For now.

Between Deadbeat Brad and the televisions was another adaptation from the carnival. The prize wheel. Only our wheel didn’t have prizes.  

I stepped onto the platform, to my position next to the computer Jackson set up for me. I pressed the first key stroke and stage lights came on, right in Deadbeat’s eyes.

“Turn those off,” Deadbeat ordered. “I can’t see.”

I ignored him and initiated the second sequence. The twelve screens flashed to life, each with two feeds from a camera somewhere on the black web. Faces of all nationalities peered out, many leaning in to get a closer look.

Jackson climbed onto the platform and took his post behind a mounted camera. The light on the side of the camera changed from red to green.

“Jackson. I know who you are,” Deadbeat said, threat clear in his voice.

“After tonight, everyone’s going to know what you are,” Jackson said. “We are live.”

Deadbeat Brad blinked, ducking his head to see. “Who are you? Who are they?”

“I am your host. Couldn’t you tell by my suit?” I asked. The shirt, jacket and tie were borrowed from Greaser, but the jeans and boots were my own. I looked respectable from the waist to the neck, which was all Jackson’s camera would capture. Next, I did a Price Is Right wave to the monitors. “They are your audience, our contestants” I enabled the audio feed and spoke in my best host voice. “Welcome, friends, to Fuck the Fucking Fucker, a gameshow of reconciliation.”

“A gameshow?” Deadbeat asked, his voice choirboy high. “Of what?”

“Reconciliation,” I said. “It’s a Catholic thing, where you pay for your sins.”

“I don’t have any sins.” His denial was rapid and adamant. And long. And empty. “You gotta believe me.” He turned to the audience. “You gotta believe me. They’re crazy. Greaser? Where are you?”

“It’s just you and me, Deadbeat. And our audience. Here’s how our game works. One of our audience members will be selected at random to play. I’m going to read one of the deadbeat things you’ve done and then spin this.” I turned and pressed another button, a spotlight lit. “This wheel. Our contestant will press the red button on their screen to stop the wheel we will learn the price for that transgression. The game continues until we run out of deadbeat moves you’ve made, which will not happen, all of our contestants get a turn, or you become incapacitated.”

“Incapacitated,” he squealed. “What the hell does that mean?”

“We’ll find out. Our first contestant is Tokyo459. Here is your deadbeat moment: Deadbeat Brad did not help plan the birthday party for his younger daughter’s first birthday. He also didn’t buy a present.”

“I was working,” Deadbeat shouted.

I put the wheel in motion.

Tokyo459 watched carefully and then gave a shout of, “Now!”

The indicator at the top lit as did the slice of pie that was there at the time. “BURN,” I read. “My lighter, three seconds, you name body part.”

“What!?!” Deadbeat shouted.

Tokyo ignored him. Well, he ignored what he was saying. He paid plenty attention to Deadbeat’s body. “His chin. I want to see if goat-tee burns.”

“ You can’t do that,” Deadbeat shouted.

“We got a fire extinguisher,” I assured him. One magically appeared by my boot, put there by Greaser. I moved it near to Deadbeat’s chair. He tried to avoid the flame of course, but he could only move so far. His goat-tee didn’t catch fire but it smolder and stunk.

It freaked the son-of-a-bitch out.

“I’ll do it,” he shouted. “I’ll divorce her. I’ll give her child support.”

“Nice to hear,” I said. “Our next contestant—”

“I said I’d do it,” he shrieked. “Aren’t you gonna stop?”

You could see it in his eyes. He didn’t get it. So, I cut him some slack. “Deadbeat, you mistake what’s going on here. This isn’t some bullshit scare tactic to get you to man up and do the right thing. You’re passed that.”

He shook his head like it was on a swivel.

“Look, you could have done things straight from the start,” I said. “Sat down with your wife, figured things out and made the split. When people can’t figure it out for themselves, that’s when lawyers and courts get involved. Sometimes courts make the best of bad situations and sometimes there’s only making bad situations worse. Then there’s the path you chose. Stall. Duck. Deny. Meanwhile your children are growing, which means they need clothes, and to grow they need to eat, which means they need food. You haven’t provided for your children. You’re a deadbeat, Brad.”

The insult soaked in, turning his ears red. “You act like I’m the only person in the world who is trying to protect myself—”

“From your own children? There are other deadbeats in the world. Male and Female. But you’re the only one here. BloodLov3r, you’e up. Since Deadbeat left his family, he averages having his daughters twice a month for four hours, always bringing them back early. Let’s spin the wheel.”

“All they do is cry!” Deadbeat sounded a lot like what he was accusing his babies of doing.

“And…..STOP!” BloodLov3r slapped a keyboard. “Soar? Damn it. I wanted slice.”

I turned and pressed another button. Hydraulics hissed and a roller coaster harness lowered over Deadbeat, locking him in securely.

But not too firmly.

“Count down, BloodLov3r.”

Deadbeat was frantic, trying to figure out what was about to happen to him. BloodLov3r drew out the countdown, enjoying the fear he was inciting. “…3…2…1…Go!”

Behind the rig, Greaser ran the mechanism that lifted Deadbeat thirty feet straight in the air. It prolly felt like it was going to launch through the top of the hangar. But he didn’t. He slowed to the top, then fell back down. Gravity, well, she’s a bitch. He fell until the last few feet, then those hydraulics kicked in again, cushioning the landing.

Feet on the ground, Deadbeat was sweating and white was a sheet. His chest rose and fell, rose and fell.

Soar couldn’t come up again or I’d lose Deadbeat before we got any learning accomplished.

As it happened, it wasn’t a worry. The wheel stopped on CREEPY twice. One was a huge ass spider, probably hyped up on steroids, and the other three centipedes. Deadbeat pissed himself when the latter crawled up his short leg.

SLICE was hit on. The woman owning it had me cut carve the word “deadbeat” into his chest.

BURN hit two more times. The first one was applied to the back of his knees. An unconventional yet effective choice. Balls was predictable but a crowd pleaser.

Deadbeat wasn’t at all cooperative and so our little game was exhausting for all of us. Greaser and Jackson had to play roles. We talked about it and knew it was likely. They didn’t hesitate, even when Deadbeat spit on them.

Then the indicator lit up SOAR again. Deadbeat paled. Our contestant punched the button as soon as it appeared and Greaser had him flying before he could cry, “No!” As soon as he landed, the player hit it again and Greaser had him back in the air. The third time he came down, he was passed out.

We closed the show out and hustled Deadbeat into his truck. Greaser insisted on driving Deadbeat home. If he woke up, he wanted to be the first face he saw. Jackson and I followed, just in case. There was no trouble. We left Deadbeat in his truck, having taken the pound of flesh, and went back to the hangar to dismantle proof of the night.


The sun was rising when I sat on the borrowed bed. I pulled off my boots, my feet grateful for the cool morning air. It was too early to call Teresa. Still, I picked up my phone, thinking about it.

The screen flashed to life. Missed texted messages were stacked up, almost half a day old.

Call re: Dexter Green

He was dead man walking

You may have killed him, but someone murdered him first.


No Brads were injured in the making of this story, but there should be a special place in hell for deadbeats of the male and female variety.

According to Merriam Webster, first known use of the word f*ck as a verb dates to the 14th century

I wish I make half the stuff I invented for this episode. That would be cool.

Welcome to April, Josh. Godspeed.

M2D4 Toe Tag: A Bad Bout of the Yips by Ken Harris

A Bad Bout of the Yips is a PI mystery. Partners Steve Rockfish and Jawnie McGee are neck deep in the kind of trouble that puts you six feet under. First, there is the case. Their clients are being threatened and their property burned to incentivize them to sell their putt putt business. Then, there is the next streaming show. Angel is coming to talk. And so is his money. Finally, there’s the mob. Annetta Provolone may be under house arrest but Jawnie’s the one who is locked down until the retrial. Nothing goes right. Not a single, damn thing.

Bottom line: A Bad Bout of the Yips is for you if you like stubborn private investigators with smart mouths and ideas so bad, they’re great.

Listen to the first chapter here or wherever you get Mysteries to Die For podcast.

Strengths of the story. It’s a hard call on whether the characters, the fast paced storytelling style, or the dynamic storylines is the starring feature. Together, they hit the trifecta of PI mysteries. There is enough humor and irreverence to keep Yips from becoming too heavy even as the ruthlessness of the mob characters has you worried for everyone’s well-being.

Where the story fell short of ideal: There only place the story fell short of ideal was Siri listening to Jawnie and doing what she wanted the first time she asked. Ken Harris is truly living in a fantasy world. Beyond that, there isn’t a place where the story fell short. It is the third in a continuing story and, IMO, would be best enjoyed after reading the prior installments. Don’t think of it as a gotta do, think of it as a get to do.