Danni California, Part 10

Continued from Part 9, here.
Start the story here.

* * *

I knew two things that I hadn’t known before, I reflected, as I leaned back against the springs of the uncomfortable hotel bed.  The springs beneath me squeaked and groaned in protest against my weight, but I paid them little mind.  I had slept on far worse.

First, I knew the girl’s name.  Danni, she was called.  The girl had an accomplice, a boy waiting outside with a stolen car, and some of the bystanders heard him call out her name.

The name wouldn’t do me much good, however, now that I knew the second fact.

Danni had flown the coop.  She was nowhere to be found in Indiana.
I’d spent the last few days plumbing contacts far and wide, trying to get a bead on this girl.  The automobile stuck out, those weren’t exactly common around here.  When I heard that she was making her getaway in a car, I hoped that I’d be able to use that tip to locate her.

The next day, the car turned up abandoned in a ditch off one of the main roads.  My contact told me that the thing was shot to hell – broken rods, a bent axle, and the engine was basically slagged.  “Only good for scrap,” he confided in me.

Didn’t do me much good.  That just meant that Danni and her male driver had ditched the vehicle.  Danni probably just flagged down the next car or cart to come along, pointed that big .45 of hers at the driver, and continued merrily on her way.

For some reason, the thought of that little slip of a girl, her red hair flying out on the loose as she happily hijacked some poor sap’s vehicle, made me smile a bit.  It was probably just the ridiculousness of the image in my mind.

Shifting a little, trying to find a halfway comfortable position on the sharp and complaining bedsprings, I felt something poking into my leg.  I reached into my pocket, and my fingers closed on the offending object.

I drew out the small metallic object.  It was the pair of bullets, one from my gun, one from Danni’s gun.  I had tucked the fused mass into a pocket after the robbery, and had been carrying it around ever since.

I knew that I ought to throw it away.  Priests were trained to travel light, after all.  It served no purpose.

Yet staring at it, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it meant something, that the two bullets colliding, a little miracle of physics, had some deeper implication for me.  I was not a religious man, but holding this bullet sent a little shiver down my spine.

After a minute, I tucked the little lump of copper and lead away.  Ignoring the prodding of a spring in the small of my back, I turned my attention back to the problem at hand.

But no matter how I turned around the question in my mind, there was no other answer.  I’d have to wait for Danni to strike again, hit another bank, to tell me where she was.

I wasn’t looking forward to telling my supervisor that I’d missed my chance to bring her down when I had the upper hand.

Still, there was something about the hunt, the chase, that always got my blood pumping.  I was a wolf, out on the hunt, stalking and tracking my prey.  I would be slow, deliberate – but I’d keep on coming, until Danni could run no further.

I didn’t know how long it would take, but I would catch her.

To be continued . . . 

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Book 16 of 52: "Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America" by Barbara Ehrenreich

Hey, Barbara Ehrenreich!  I remember reading “Nickel and Dimed”, one of your previous novels, on how it was impossible to survive on minimum wage – and then immediately read another novel, by Adam Shephard, who proved you wrong.  But I’ll try not to let that bias my opinion of your newest book, Bright-Sided.

Actually, I felt that Bright-Sided was a good book, overall.  The book starts off with talking about Barbara’s realization that she had breast cancer – followed shortly after by her discovery that breast cancer support groups tend to be saccharine sweet with their positive attitude, seeing the disease as an opportunity, and insisting that everything is candy and roses (and coincidentally, lashing out against anyone who dares say otherwise).

After that first chapter, I started to feel that this book is an attack on optimism itself!  What a ridiculous idea!  But then I read more, and I started to see that, although it’s not clear at first, there are definite differences between optimism (I believe that things will work out okay) and positivism (I am convinced things will work out okay, and because I am convinced, they’re guaranteed to happen that way!).

Ehrenreich points to positivism as being responsible for, among other things, the recent recession and housing market crash.  Anyone who dared to consider negative things happening, an end to the bubble of rising house prices, was promptly ignored and shunted to the sidelines.  Similarly, more and more churches these days (especially megachurches) tend to preach a message of positivism, that as long as you believe, all good things will happen to you.

Ehrenreich even mentions The Secret, a breakout novel in 2006 that insisted that, just by visualizing good things happening, they would be guaranteed to happen!  While having a positive outlook on life is, I believe, a good thing, one should not ignore basic facts of life, like the fact that earning $20k a year does not let you buy a new Lexus.

In the end, I think Ehrenreich’s book needs only one addition: “Bright-Sided: How EXCESSIVE Positive Thinking is Undermining America.”  Positive thinking isn’t wrong.  Delusional, excessive positive thinking is.

And as for Ehrenreich’s initial opening chapter on breast cancer – the truth is that breast cancer is a nasty, painful, long disease, with mediocre survival rates, and there’s nothing that we can do to either prevent nor improve survival chances.  However, telling this to people doesn’t help them at all, and may hinder them by depressing them, possibly even to the point of suicide.

Positivism doesn’t help people recover faster from breast cancer, but at least it might keep them from committing suicide upon receiving their diagnosis.

Time to read: about 6 hours.

"Any last words?"

The rifle held firm, but the man behind the gun grinned briefly at me.  A gold tooth glinted in the light.  Not dim enough for him to miss, I guessed.

“Any last words, asshole?” he growled, cocking the rifle.

I looked back at him, not letting any expression show on my face.  In my head, of course, I was frantically running through scenarios, but everything was coming up blank.  I couldn’t see any way out.

“Just shoot ‘im already, Jeb!” called out one of the other men.  They were hanging back – wisely, too, after I’d managed to put a knife through the throat of one of their companions.  Another one of the men was still alive, but probably wouldn’t be walking for a couple weeks until that testicle dropped back out of his stomach.

“Last words,” I mused, considering, as I watched that unwavering rifle.  “Okay, then.  I commend my soul to any god who can find it.”

“Nice,” grunted the man, and he pulled the trigger.

I tried to dodge, of course.  I can’t remember ever moving faster.  But still, I felt a giant’s hand slam into my chest, and my vision all went sideways.  For a second, I couldn’t breathe, and I dimly felt myself hit the ground.

“Freaking ow,” I complained a minute later, as I lifted myself up.  “God, that stings like a son of a-“

I froze, the sentence unfinished.

I’d just been shot, hadn’t I?  Right in the chest, too.  I should be in a lot of pain – and expecting another bullet at any moment, this one probably through the head.

But I didn’t feel any pain.  And around me, the world was still.

Until I heard a footstep in front of me.

“Well?  Come on, get up then,” said a voice, not unkindly.  “We don’t have all day.”

“Well, actually, I suppose we don’t have any days,” the voice kept on speaking, as I reached down and lifted myself up off the ground.  “But we do have plenty of time, although it’s not real time.  Just our perception of it.  Quite fascinating, really, how the quantification of time doesn’t mean much to us.  Perhaps there is another time particle, only accessible by ones like us.  Fascinating.”

The voice was cultured, and sounded like a mildly forgetful college professor.  It didn’t make any sense, given that I’d been shot in a desert canyon where the thugs had tracked me down, but I just added this onto the list of confusing things.

I stood up, looked up at the speaker, and felt my jaw drop open.

“Yes, yes, get all the gawking over now,” the giant, monstrous, eight foot tall figure in front of me said, sounding annoyed.  “Body of a man, kilt of linen, ankh, papyrus, take it all in.”

“Erm, plus the, uh, head,” I managed to add, feeling like my eyes were bugging out of their sockets.

“Oh, yes.  Head of an ibis.  To be honest, I often forget about that detail.”  The monstrosity reached up and stroked its long beak with one hand.  “Now, are you ready to get going?  We have much to do.”

“Uh, sorry, what?” I stammered, taking a step back away from this strange abomination.  “Who the hell are you?”

I didn’t think that an ibis could look annoyed, but the creature in front of me managed it.  “Thoth, of course,” he tutted at me, as if I was a schoolchild who had forgotten my arithmetic.  “The one fortunate enough to claim your soul.  Rolled a ninety-seven for you, so hopefully you’ll be worth it.”

“I- you won me?  What?”

The ibis-headed man crossed his muscular arms at me.  “You offered up your soul, and I claimed it,” he stated, as if I was especially dull.  “Now, either renege on the bargain and get it over with, so Ammut can devour you, or come along!  We have much to do.”

I had no idea what this creature was talking about, but being devoured didn’t sound at all fun.  “Um, coming,” I said, hurrying behind the bird-headed man as he turned away.  “So, uh, you’re a god?”

“Thoth, yes,” the ibis called back over his shoulder.  “God of knowledge and writing.  And very, very busy.”

Well, this was a new and unexpected chapter in my life.  Or, perhaps, after-life?  I wasn’t clear.

But as I half-walked, half-jogged after the bird-headed god, I reflected that things could have turned out worse…

Danni California, Part 9

Continued from Part 8, here.
Start the story here.

* * *

Two weeks later, I was in Indiana, sitting outside and sipping at a cup of lukewarm tea.  The tea was not especially good, and there was still a chill in the spring air – but the view from my table was just perfect.

I picked up the cup of tea, lifted it to my lips, and repressed a shudder as the foul liquid hit my tongue.  And they had the gall to charge for this?  I was half tempted to demand my money back.  Indiana wasn’t that far from New York, but the hicks out here had definitely lost something in translation.

Setting the cup firmly back down, I lifted up my newspaper again – but kept the top of the paper low enough so that I could glance over the top.  Across the street, the tall marble pillars of First National Bank were quiet.  There was no commotion, and the few morning customers seemed content to slowly climb the wide steps as they prepared to make their deposits and withdrawals.

I was here on a hunch.  Three banks had gone down, all in cities to the South – but drawing a line through those locations made an arrow that pointed straight to First National.

It had been three days since the last robbery.  This bank robber, some girl who had decided that the reward was worth the eventual cost, would likely strike any day now.

My hand briefly slipped beneath my long black jacket, checking the weight of the gun that hung just beneath my shoulder blade.

The girl’s cost would soon be paid.

I didn’t have much longer to wait.  Before the sun had reached its peak in the sky, the little snatches of conversation carried across the street in the breeze vanished.  In their place, I heard yells, shouts – and then a loud, echoing gunshot.

I was on my feet before the echo faded.  I vaulted the waist-high fence of the cafe, my newspaper falling away in the breeze as I reached beneath my coat for my gun.  I took the steps three at a time, dropping my shoulder down so that I could slam through the front doors of the bank.

Even as I burst in, my eyes flashed around, taking stock of the situation.  Priests are trained on situational awareness.  “The trigger is only as fast as the eye behind it,” my old instructor used to shout at us.

There wasn’t much to spot, however.  Most of the people in the bank, customers and clerks alike, were down on the floor, some with their hands up covering their heads.  Behind the counter, two young men, their eyes wide with terror, emptied out their drawers into a pair of sacks.

And standing on top of a leather-covered counter in the middle of the room, the bank robber watched as she held her gun at the ready.

Her appearance surprised me.  She was young, just a little slip of a girl, the picture of exuberant and overconfident youth.  She wore loose clothes that nonetheless were pulled tight around a fit figure, and the curves suggested beneath those garments said that this was no immature girl.  A black bandana covered most of her face, but it couldn’t hold back errant strands of

Of course, my entry made a considerable amount of noise as I burst in through the door.  Even as I brought my gun out from its holster beneath my jacket, the girl on the counter spun, her own gun coming up to point towards me.

For a moment, there was a flurry of motion as we both simultaneously fired and dodged.  Even as I pulled the trigger, I knew that my shot went wide as the girl vaulted down behind the counter.  Her shot also missed, although I felt the slight breeze as the round passed by only inches from my head.  Well, the girl wasn’t afraid to take a lethal shot.

I landed crouched on the balls of my feet, up against the counter’s heavy wooden bulk.  I knew that the girl was on the other side – I could hear her breathing.

“Give up!” I called out, trying to make my voice sound encouraging, harmless.  “Just put down your weapon, and you can get out of here alive!” I hoped that I sounded believable.

But my query was in vain.  “Why don’t you give up, instead?” the girl called back, her voice high and clear.  “Come on, I promise not to rough you up too much!”

And then she laughed, high and clear and fearless.

For just an instant, I considered it.  Unlike my own promise, the girl wasn’t likely to shoot me.  And if I could break her out of this stalemate, I had a good chance of wrestling her weapon away, disarming her.  I’d quickly come back out on top.

And what’s more… there was something about that laugh.  It was so utterly fearless, like nothing I’d heard before.

“Last chance!” the girl shouted, and I heard her shifting on the other side of the bench.  “Or are you gonna try some crazy Priest bravery?”

She moved again – but this time, it wasn’t just shifting on her feet.  I leapt around the side of the bench, but she was already up and sprinting towards the side door of the bank.  Her gun was pointed back behind her, towards me, but her face was turned towards the exit.

My gun was up, and even though my whole body was in motion and off balance, I still took the shot.

There was a high-pitched clink, like a piece of jewelry on a woman’s wrist.

At the sound, the girl turned back, glancing over her shoulder at me as her arm came up to push open the door.  For just an instant, my eyes locked on hers.  I had only the briefest impression of vivid green, sparkling and almost smiling.

And then she was gone.

Gravity returned an instant later, and I had to stumble forward to catch myself from falling.  Behind me, I could hear the clerks and customers slowly and nervously returning to their feet.  But I didn’t pay attention to them.

Instead, I stepped forward a couple of paces, and then bent forward to examine a small object on the floor.

My bullets were copper-jacketed, for extra penetrating power against a target with a metal vest.  The girl, however, was using cheaper rounds, composed only of lead.  Yet still, the two rounds had hit each other with enough power to flatten each other out into a disk, a sandwich of two colors.

I picked up the still-warm disk, two bullets fused together, and weighed it in my hand as I gazed out the door.  The girl would be long gone, I knew.  I’d have to resume the long hunt.

In my head, however, I felt a curious and novel sense of foreboding.  I stood on the precipice of something, I suddenly felt – although I couldn’t see what it might be.  I didn’t know what might come…

To be continued . . .

Book 15 of 52: "The One Minute Manager" by Kenneth Blanchard & Spencer Johnson

What a weird, curious, short little book.

“The One Minute Manager” is one of those management books told as a parable, where we follow an unnamed main character as he meets a magical, mystical manager figure that somehow does everything right, where others fail.  In this book, that character is named, aptly enough, the One Minute Manager.

As our little straw man narrator/main character has discussions with the great One Minute Manager, as well as his adoring underlings, we get a picture of how, at least in this idealized world, managers are supposed to act in order to succeed.

In this perfect little world, the One Minute Manager sets clear, short, simple goals for his employees that they both agree on.  They meet each week to discuss progress on these goals, and the employees receive immediate and direct praise for things done well, and immediate scoldings for things done wrong.  These scoldings never attack the employee directly, but they do include praise as well, to encourage the employee to do better next time.

And that’s it.  That’s all the One Minute Manager does.

Oooh, magic.

Of course, this is all very well and good in the parable world.  But that’s not always the same as in the real world.  What do you do when the real world takes an unexpected turn that isn’t mentioned in our happy little artificial parable world?

For example, what happens when an employee simply isn’t motivated?  One minute a week isn’t enough to keep them believing that they should care about their assignment, especially if they’re salaried.  Or what if an employee has multiple projects – how does the manager decide which are most important?  How does the manager even make these decisions, aside from perhaps relying far too much on his own gut?

In all of these areas, “The One Minute Manager” is conspicuously silent.  Perhaps the strategy works in Parable World, but in the real world, I suspect it’s merely a reminder for managers to not micromanage or be too controlling or demanding on their employees.  And despite its short and easily readable form, this book really is just too simplified for most modern workers.

Time to read: 20 minutes.  Seriously, it’s only 100 pages, and only has about 50 words per page.

Writing Prompt: Meeting the Author

I kept on running.  My heart was pounding in my chest, my legs were aching, but I couldn’t stop.  I couldn’t even spare the second it would take to glance behind me.

Besides, I knew that they were getting closer.

I sucked in a deep breath, trying to control the precious oxygen.  Focus, Jack, I told myself.  You need to focus.  Running will only keep you alive for a little while longer.

You need to think.

I glanced back and forth as I took another corner.  I was on a street, both sides lined with small shops.  I could feel the sun shining down on me, warming my wind-ruffled hair.  If not for my pounding heart and screaming inner voice, it could almost have been peaceful.

Up ahead of me, I saw one of them come sweeping into the intersection in front of me.  They were getting smarter, trying to cut me off.  The shadowy mass, at least a dozen feet tall, rippled with the suggestion of bones, sinews, strange and abhorrent limbs hidden beneath the almost merciful blackness that ate all light.

I didn’t even slow as I turned.  A shop came in front of me, and I hit the door with a lowered shoulder.  It yielded, and I came flying inside.

I skidded, but stayed on my feet, staring around the shop.  It looked to be some sort of coffee shop, someplace filled with tables and students on computers.  No one looked up, of course.  They couldn’t even see me, couldn’t perceive that I was even there.

Except one young man.

For a moment, we made eye contact, and I saw him freeze.  His eyes widened, and his hand, halfway to the coffee cup beside his laptop, froze in mid-grasp.

I rushed forward, slamming both my hands down in front of the man, making him jerk in surprise.  “You!” I growled, my voice halfway between a roar and a pant.  “You’re him, aren’t you?”

“Oh my god,” the young man in front of me stammered, staring up at me.  “Oh god, I’m having a stroke.”

Outside the shop, a loud thud echoed through the room as one of the Unspeakables slammed into the door.  The wood held for the moment, but I could already see tendrils of blackness sneaking in through the cracks.  I had a minute, maybe two.

“Set take me, I don’t have time for this!” I snarled down at the confused young man in front of me.  Up close, he was anything but intimidating.  He looked soft and weak.  I doubted he’d last ten minutes in my world.

But it wasn’t my world – not really.

It was his, wasn’t it?  He had made it.

The young man was currently staring past me, his eyes locked on the shaking, sweating doors.  “What the hell are-” he began, but I was already moving around behind him.

“Hunters,” I said, snapping my fingers in front of the man’s face to break his spell.  “Now, write them away!”

“What?”

I shook my head back and forth.  “Ugh, I don’t have- look, you made them!” I shouted, stabbing my finger towards the door.  The wood was slowly splintering, and I could see the entire frame starting to give way.  “So you can write them out of existence!”

“I – I mean, I imagined them, but I didn’t create anything,” the young man in front of me stammered.  He really was useless.  And soon, we’d both be dead.

“Write!” I shouted again, stabbing my fingers down at the slim laptop in front of the man.  And, his fingers trembling, he started to type.

The Unspeakable howled in rage.  All it knew was blind rage.  It had no concept of satisfaction, even of itself.  All it knew was blind anger, hunger for the destruction of its target, hidden behind this puny and fragile defense.

“What – insight?” I snarled, staring over the young man’s shoulder at the words on the screen.  “That won’t help us!”  The door had almost broken away from its frame.

“Just give me a second!” the man snapped back, and his fingers kept moving.

The Unspeakable pulled back, about to throw its entire weight into the flimsy barrier.  But even as it charged forward, the whole building shimmered, fading away.

The Unspeakable didn’t have eyes.  It perceived what was truly there, seeing through any illusions.

But a moment later, the building truly was not there.  It had faded, not just from sight, but out of the entire plane of existence.  The Unspeakable’s quarry had escaped, and its howls of impotent rage threatened to tear its entire being asunder as it searched helplessly for a trail that was no longer there.

I lifted my head, staring out the windows of the building.  The loud cracking of the door slowly splintering had stopped.  So had all other noise from outside.  I could hear nothing, and all that swirled outside the windows was mist.

“But, I- what just happened?” stammered the young man in front of me.  “I mean, my writing isn’t real!”

I reached down and slowly patted him on the shoulder.  “It is here,” I told him.  “Now, come on – they’ll figure out our trick soon enough and be after us again.”

Listening intently, I slowly advanced towards the door.  “Come on, Author!” I shouted over my shoulder.

Behind me, the young man stood up, tucked his laptop under one arm, and then hesitated.  “I mean, I bet there won’t be a good coffee shop for miles,” he muttered to himself, looking down at the table.  “Maybe I can grab a to go cup?”

“Author!”

“Coming, coming!” the young man yelled back, tossing back the rest of his coffee as he scurried towards the door, following the protagonist he created years ago.

Danni California: Part 8

Continued from Part 7, here.
Start the story here.

* * *

I stared down at the sketches in front of me for a couple seconds, running my eyes over the lines of the girl’s face, and then lifted my gaze back up to my supervisor, sitting in front of me.

“She’s barely old enough to call herself an adult,” I said, my tone turning the words into a question.  “And the Organization wants to send a Priest after her?”

Across from me, my supervisor gave a shrug with one shoulder.  The man was infuriatingly good at that, I had noticed, and I already hated it.  I was still young, idealistic, and I believed deeply in the value of my work.  To see someone else treat our mission so callously bothered me at some small level.

“She’s a liability,” my supervisor (I refused to think of him as my boss) said, as if this explained everything.  “The girl’s come from nowhere, and she’s robbed nearly a dozen banks now.  A couple in Louisiana, but she quickly headed north, and the last few she’s hit have all been in Indiana.  So that’s where you’ll start.”

“She’s a bank robber?” I asked, returning my gaze back down to the sketches.  They were just rough pencil and charcoal, but the artist had managed to capture a glint in her eyes, a determined set to her jaw, that spoke volumes about the girl’s strength of character.

“And almost a killer,” my supervisor added.  “Girl carries a .45 – hell of a big gun for such a sweet little thing, but she knows how to use it.  Nearly blew the leg off one of the local cops when he tried to corner her.”

I raised my eyebrows.  The girl in the sketch didn’t look like a cold-blooded assassin.  “Just trying to arrest her?” I said in doubtful tones.

My supervisor winced, as if he’d been hoping to avoid clarifying.  “He might have decided to take a couple liberties with her,” he added.  “Small town cops tend to be… unreliable.”

Nice way of phrasing it, I thought to myself.  Better than saying that most of them are petty thugs with a power complex, not much better than the criminals they’re supposed to stop.  But I know when to be diplomatic, so I held my tongue.

“Anyway,” the man picked up, leaving behind the embarrassment of small town police, “we’ve been asked to step in by the banks, and they’re sending you.  Find this girl, put a stop to the robberies, and maybe see if you can recover any of the cash.”

“Capture is acceptable?” I asked, looking once more down at the girl’s picture.  She didn’t look like someone that the banks desired so desperately to be dead that they’d hire us.  The Organization did good work, but we didn’t come cheap.

My supervisor was shaking his head, however.  “They want this to be an example,” he told me.  “Put a bullet in her.”

I made sure that the man didn’t see my grimace as he stood up from my desk and walked away.

I knew, however, that despite my personal objections, the mission came first.  I had been a Priest for nearly a decade now, and my training taught me to overlook personal feelings.  Feelings, sentimentality, they were just distractions.  I trusted my gut, my training, and my Colt.  Whatever mistakes might have led this girl into a life of crime, they were already committed.  And now, with a Priest after her, she didn’t get another chance.

The Organization already had a train ticket paid for and ready to carry me out west, towards Indiana.  My packing consisted of grabbing my knapsack and slinging it over my shoulder, and then checking my weapons as I headed towards the door.

Priests traveled light.  We carried just enough to do the job assigned to us.

To be continued . . .

Book 14 of 52: "Free: The Future of a Radical Price" by Chris Anderson

Most of the time, the management books I read tend to re-hash the same facts over and over, so although the facts are good, I feel like I’m experiencing deja vu, like I’m reading the same book over and over.

Chris Anderson’s book Free, however, definitely has some new concepts – and that’s a great thing!

Anderson has noticed that, especially with the rise of the electronic market on the Internet, more and more things are being offered for free.  Is this the death of business?  Are free products going to eliminate many paid products?  Are we seeing the death of multiple industries, killed by a thousand free competitors?

In a nutshell, no.

Instead, Anderson argues that there are many ways to make money with free!  He outlines several main approaches:

  • The “Discounted” model, which includes options such as “buy one, get one free”.  You’re not really getting a second copy for free.  You’re getting two copies in exchange for some money.  This is the model most commonly still seen in the physical world, outside the internet.
  • The “Freemium” model, where users can pay for added features or enhancements.  Super popular in apps or other programs, where users are willing to pay to unlock custom content or to remove advertising.
  • The “Unlimited” model, where users pay a single price to access as much content as they want.  Netflix is the prime example.
  • The “Limited Time” model, where users can try a free trial version, intended to get them hooked on the product, before continuing to buy the full version when the trial expires.
  • The “Third Party” model, where users are the product, not the customer.  A program might gather data on its users in exchange for giving them a free tool – and then sells this data to interested companies.
  • The “Reputation” model, where the end goal is not profits, but reputation, recognizability, popularity.  Think of comedians who tweet.
I personally read “Free: The Future of a Radical Price” with a considering mind, because, as an author, I’m very interested in getting people to look at my books, hopefully with the end goal of purchasing them.  Will giving away books help me to sell more books?
Looking at the above models, it’s clear that some of these won’t work.  I can’t really sell upgraded versions of the books, so no Freemium.  The Unlimited model is already in effect through Kindle Unlimited on the Amazon site, and that does tend to generate a significant portion of my profits.  Limited Time and Third Party models don’t really apply to book sales.  
However, the Discounted model would be interesting to consider.  If I advertise that, with the purchase of one book, users can receive a code to download a second book for free, would that drive sales?  
In any case, “Free” definitely gave me a lot to think about, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone involved in sales, possibly of some small entrepreneurial venture that utilizes the internet.
Time to read: about 8 hours.  Because I stopped to think about what I’d read a lot, this took a while to get through.

The Man Who Built in the Sahara

“And to think,” the man sitting in the leather-padded chair across from me commented, his lips twisting up into a little smirk of self-satisfied humor, “they all thought that I was absolutely crazy.”

I nodded, not quite sure how I should respond to this comment.  Throughout the whole interview, I’d always had the slight, sneaking suspicion that my subject was, in fact, just the slightest bit crazy.  But I knew better than to say this out loud.

Fortunately, the man just chuckled a little to himself, and then leaned forward to pour himself another glass of champagne.  Beneath our seats, I felt the private jet shift slightly as the pilot adjusted the course.

“Shouldn’t be much further, now,” my interview subject commented, sparing a quick glance out the jet’s nearest window.  “It’s a bit out of the way, I know – but that’s part of how I became so successful in the first place, isn’t it?”

I nodded again, mentally telling myself that I had to pull this interview back on track.  “So, Mr. Gibbs, did you see something in the tech world that tipped you off, something you spotted before anyone else?” I asked him.

Across from me, the man’s smile faded somewhat as he leaned back in his chair, interlacing his fingers behind his neck.  “A hole,” he commented at length, his brows furrowed a little.

Jefferson Gibbs was not a small man.  From the moment that I had arrived at the airport for this interview, I had felt slightly dwarfed by his presence.  Even as he leaned in to shake my hand, I felt like I had stepped into a circus, like I was up on stage with a trained bear.

Initially, I had worried a little about conducting this interview on a jet – would Gibbs even fit inside the private plane?  But once we had climbed the steps, I saw that the man had completely redone the interior, replacing the rows of smaller seats with just a couple larger swiveling leather monstrosities, in which we now reclined.

“Saved so much on fuel that I could afford the whole interior being redone,” he explained to me, as we settled into the seats and prepared for takeoff.  “But with energy so cheap now, well, gotta put that money to use somewhere else!”

The man maintained a ferociously genial attitude, and he seemed to keep grinning at me no matter what question I asked.  Once again, as I saw him flash his wide, white teeth at me, I had the feeling that Jefferson Gibbs had a screw loose.

“A hole?” I repeated, hoping the man would elaborate.

And for just a second, that smile went away.  “Yeah, that’s what I said, isn’t it?” Gibbs growled, leaning forward aggressively.  I kept my face neutral – a well-practiced skill as a reporter familiar with the rich and powerful – and the man relaxed after another minute.

I don’t know if he decided that I wasn’t a threat, or he just wanted to brag some more, but Gibbs’ anger vanished as quickly as it had appeared.  “See, everything was in place except for one missing piece of tech,” the multibillionaire elaborated, glancing again out the window.  “And I knew that, if I could push the demand for that tech high enough, someone would figure it out and make the rest of my investment profitable.”

At face value, the strategy sounded absolutely insane.  But there was no denying that it had worked for Gibbs.

When he started, the whole world deemed him crazy.  A minor player in the computer science world, whose singular claim to fame was a patent on improving microchip density, Gibbs stunned the world when he announced his plan to build several geothermal heat engines out in the middle of the Sahara desert.

Admittedly, the idea had several merits.  Geothermal heat engines, which relied on using the temperature differential between the hot desert surface and the much cooler interior of the Earth to generate power, were some of the cleanest and most efficient energy plants in history.  Land in the Sahara was incredibly cheap, and once the high initial cost of the engine had been paid, the device would run for many decades without needing more than routine maintenance.

“But there’s no need for power out in the middle of a desert!” critics pointed out in the papers around the globe.  “Forget the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ – the guy’s building a power plant for nowhere!”

And indeed, without a market, Gibbs’ investment seemed doomed to failure – until, just weeks before the plant was set to come online, the Tesla Motor Company announced that they’d made a huge leap forward in battery technology.

Suddenly, batteries were smaller, lighter, and capable of holding hundreds of times their previous charge.  Everyone wanted to switch to battery power – and they needed someplace to charge those tanks.

Gibbs had the cheapest fuel line for that demand – and as power poured out of the Sahara, the man shot to the top of the Forbes 400 Richest Individuals.

“Ah, here we are,” Gibbs interrupted my thoughts, nodding towards the window.  I turned and looked as the jet banked in a descending circle.

Down below us, in regular lines across the undulating tan sand of the Sahara, steel towers rose up from the ground.  Each tower was topped with an array of black panels, gathering in the heat of the brightly burning sun above us.  That heat, I knew, would be conveyed down into the earth, where it would mix with the cooler air rising up from the bowels of the earth and would drive a series of electricity-generating turbines.

Across from me, Gibbs stared out the window at the source of his great fortune.  The expression on his face was unusual.  He looked almost hungry, desiring, as he stared out at his power plant.

The man had taken a great risk building this plant, I knew, no matter how vociferously he insisted that the strategy made sense.  I wondered what his next leap would be – and whether he’d be able to get lucky twice in a row.

Danni California: Part 7

Continued from Part 6, here.
Start the story here.

* * *

“And that,” the man in black said, leaning back a little from his typewriter to gaze at his audience, “is where I first heard of Danni.”

Jenny glanced over at the other member of the audience, feeling confused. Old Hillpaw was nodding, as if this made sense to him, but she was lost.  With the strange sensation that she was back in the single room farmhouse where she struggled through all six grades of school, she put her hand up in the air.

“I’m lost,” she blurted out as the man in black turned his gaze towards her.  “Who are you, anyway?  What do you do?”

Old Hillpaw’s eyebrows drew together into a thunderstorm of a frown, as if this knowledge should be obvious.  But the man in black just sighed, shaking his head back and forth.

“Ah, how quickly we fade into obscurity,” he said, speaking more to the empty air than to his bar companions.  “Let me try something else, miss.

“Have you heard of the Priests in Black?”
Even Jenny knew that name.  She physically jerked back in her chair, her mouth dropping open as she stared at the man in black.  As the new and terrifying realization made its way through her mind, she pushed her chair back, as if trying to put physical distance between her and the story’s narrator.

“You- you’re one of them?” she gasped out, shaking her head back and forth in a tangle of hair as if trying to deny reality.  “But they’re killers!  They assassinate people, shoot people!  They’re murderers, and worse!”

Unbelievably, the man in black tossed back his head and laughed, a surprisingly hearty laugh that shook his whole frame.  “Relax, young lady,” he said, as he reached up to wipe a tear from his eye.  “I haven’t killed someone in longer than you’ve been alive.”

At his urging, Jenny settled down a little, although the whites of her eyes were still wide around the edges of her harried and insecure expression.

“But yes, I was one of them,” the man in black said, once he was sure one of his audience members wasn’t about to bolt from the table.  “Of course, we called it the Organization.  Loyal, we were, as well we should be after the time and training they invested in us.  But even still, I didn’t mind the other nickname we picked up.”

The man nodded to Old Hillpaw.  “I wager you know it.”

Hillpaw licked his lips.  Even though he hadn’t physically reacted, the old-timer looked almost as nervous as the waitress next to him.  “Machine gun priests,” the old man said, his voice hoarser than usual.

“That’s the one,” the man in black nodded.

Jenny glanced over, confused again.  “Wait, they were priests?  I thought they were assassins?”

Even this new revelation about their storyteller couldn’t prevent Old Hillpaw from giving a lecture when he knew more than another.  “Oh, they weren’t true priests,” he explained.  “But they dressed all in black, long coats like robes, with their guns hidden underneath.  And when they wanted someone dead, they’d deliver last rites with a machine gun.  Hence the name, see?”

The waitress still didn’t quite understand, but she nodded.  Hillpaw opened his mouth, about to add more, but he then remembered the other person at the table, and decided to not completely dominate the conversation.

“That’s how the public saw us,” the man in black said, quietly.  “But to us, it was a calling.  We were the arm of the Organization, keeping the world on track, eliminating the criminals, the insane, those that caused a threat to the order.”

“To your Organization’s order,” Old Hillpaw challenged.

The man in black didn’t respond, but his eyes settled on the old man.  After a second, Hillpaw flushed, dropping his gaze down.  “Sorry,” he muttered into his nearly empty drink, and then tossed back the rest.

“We eliminated threats,” the man in black repeated.  “And so, one morning, a sketch and a description arrived at my desk.

“The sketch showed a girl, once with her face bare, and once with a black bandana covering up her nose and mouth.  The description called her slender, lithe, with blazing red hair.  She was armed and considered extremely dangerous.”

The man in black glanced over at his stack of papers beside his typewriter, and shook his head.  “I didn’t know her name, didn’t know her story.  Not yet.

“All I knew was that she was my next target.”

To be continued . . .