Book 25 of 52: "Moriarty" by Anthony Horowitz

A fiction book!  And a book set in the same universe as Sherlock Holmes, just after the famous consulting detective has vanished, locked in the clutches of his foe Moriarty, over the Reinenbach Falls?  How could I pass this up?

“Moriarty”, as I mentioned, is set in the same era, where our hero is Frederick Chase, a detective with the Pinkertons, sent across the pond to England while tracking Moriarty’s American equivalent.  Now that the evil professor is gone, Chase fears that Clarence Devereaux, the American version, will move into the power void and create an evil empire spanning both continents!
Chase, although initially at a loss, soon finds himself teaming up with Athelney Jones, a local detective who has his own hero-worship for Sherlock Holmes.  As the two dig further into the case, following a seemingly never-ending trail of bodies, we start to pick up some comparisons between Jones and Chase that mirror the original relationship between Watson and Holmes.

I’m sure that’s intended.

As the book began to draw to a close, however, I felt that everything seemed to be wrapping up a bit too neatly.  And, just as that thought entered my mind, BAM!  Twist!

Admittedly, I should have seen that twist coming, given several clues, but I was still quite surprised.  Although there doesn’t appear to be much chance of a sequel, this book was a great read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, staying up extra late to finish it.

Time to read: 4-6 hours, but one single day!

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Unsettled

When I stepped outside, the squirrel raised its head to stare at me.  Even though I was close, however, it showed no fear as it watched me with unblinking eyes.

*

It wasn’t until the third turn of the key in the ignition, my heart pounding in my throat, that the engine finally turned over, coughing and sputtering to life.

*

I glanced down at my feet, only to see a winged shadow pass directly over me.  When I looked up, there was nothing in the sky.

*

She didn’t say anything, but I caught her looking at me out of the corner of my eye, a resigned frown on her face.

*

It wasn’t until I had closed my eyes and laid back down that I heard the sound again – a faint scratching from somewhere in the dark room.

*

As I felt my foot descend on nothing, panic blossomed in my mind.  There had only been twelve steps, I thought, not thirteen.

*

A smudge on my glasses, I thought, as the shape loomed at the corner of my vision once again – but then I remembered I was wearing contacts.

*

When I stepped onto the subway car, a dozen pairs of eyes scrolled over me.  One pair, however, seemed to linger far too long on my face.

*

Sitting uselessly in the waiting room, I stared blankly at the painting on the wall across from me.  Somehow, the face seemed to be sneering back.

*

A sudden, faint pressure against my skin made me jerk, as though I’d walked through a spider’s web, even though I stood in my own kitchen.

*

My eyes snapped open.  I was still in bed.  But for a moment, I felt as though the blankets were bindings, preventing me from moving even a finger.

Danni California, Part 18

Continued from Part 17, here.
Start the story here.

* * *

When I next awoke, I was able to sit up, groggily lifting up my hand to press it against my forehead.  My eyes scanned around and I saw that I was still in the same room, still sprawled out across the same rough bunk, as where I last remembered being, just as Danni…

Danni had kissed me!  My mind seized onto that fact, clung to it like a drowning sailor clings to a spar of wood.  There were a million other thoughts circling around the periphery of that fact, a million ways to interpret it, but I didn’t let them emerge from the shadows.

Looking around, my eyes caught a flash of red-orange hair.  There she was!  But as I turned towards her, I immediately saw that something was wrong.

Danni was crouched down by the closed door leading out of the shack.  Now that I could sit up and look around, I saw that we were in a single-room cabin, shoddily constructed and with stars visible through the cracks in the wooden boards.  Aside from the bed on which I lay and a small, uneven table, there was no other furniture inside the shack.  The roof looked to be made of tin boards, more rusted than bolted together.

My eyes, after making this quick circuit of our location, returned to Danni.  Such was the extent of my grogginess that it wasn’t until my second glance at her that I realized that, in her hand, she held my revolver.

“Danni,” I whispered, and the girl practically leapt a foot into the air.

She moved quickly, rushing over to my side, one hand rising up to press briefly against my lips before she withdrew it.  My eyes went to hers, and I saw fear reflected back at me.

“I think there’s someone outside,” she whispered to me, her voice barely audible.  “Jasper, I’m scared.”

Before I could respond, I heard the snap of a twig echoing in the silence outside.

Praying that my muscles would respond, I forced myself up from the bed.  I could feel soreness and stiffness in my limbs still, but my arms and legs moved as my mind commanded, and I sat up on the bed.  I slid forward, down onto my knees on the floor beside Danni.  My hand reached out to her, and she handed me my pistol.

There was definitely someone outside.  As I scanned around, straining to see through the cracks in between the boards of our ramshackle shelter, I caught a flash of movement.  By the time I had the gun up and pointed, though, I didn’t know if the intruder outside was still there.

As soon as I pulled the trigger, I would lose the element of surprise.  I only had one shot.

Next to me, I felt Danni lean in close, her eyes wide as she looked around.  I couldn’t pull my eyes away from scanning the cracks, but for a moment my concentration was broken as the young woman put her arms around me.

I knew that I just had to be patient.  The person outside was cautious, patient, but they didn’t know that I was inside and waiting for them.  I took a deep breath, following my training.

There!  Even before the thought had crystallized fully in my mind, the gun was up, my finger tightening on the trigger.  The revolver cracked as a heavy slug punched out, straight through one of the boards in the shack’s wall.

And a second later, we both caught the thud of a body hitting the ground outside.

Danni leapt to her feet, but I reached out, catching her wrist.  When she looked down at me, I held up two fingers.  There could be another person out there, a partner.  She reluctantly sat back down, and we sat in silence for ten more agonizing minutes, listening.

We heard nothing.  Finally, after I felt reasonably confident, I stood up, and we stepped outside.

The body wasn’t hard to find.  The man had been dressed in black, but his pistol was silver, glinting brightly even in the dim moonlight.

I used one foot to turn the body over, even though I knew what I would find.

The eyes of a Priest stared sightlessly up at the night sky as a dark stain spread outward from the hole punched in the center of his chest.

To be continued . . . 

Book 24 of 52: "The Reputation Economy" by Michael Fertik

Sometimes, especially when I read non-fiction books, I feel a bit of despair (especially when the book discusses some large-scale environmental, governmental, or economic problem).  But other times, after I’ve read a book, I feel galvanized to take action, to get out into the world and start working on improving my status.

“The Reputation Economy,” by Michael Fertik, falls strongly into that latter category of books.
This book talks about how, in the near future, there will be far too much available data on any person for hiring agencies, airlines, and other companies to make a manual evaluation.  Instead, these companies and corporations will turn to computer algorithms, using these algorithms to create “reputation scores” for each person.

How valuable are you?  That depends on your reputation score.

There are lots of ways to increase reputation scores, Fertik insists, by doing everything from leaving Yelp reviews, to building social networks, to keeping an up-to-date LinkedIn profile, to modifying your online browsing habits.  The author recommends checking out what happens when you Google yourself (is the first page links to your professional work, or links to an amateur blog that just won’t seem to die?).

In the future, Fertik argues, online, automatically calculated reputation will be reflected in nearly every facet of your life.  Whether you earn that promotion at work, whether you get bumped up to first class on your next flight, whether you get a good rate on your home mortgage – it all depends on reputation.

Of course, there are some caveats to the author’s rosy vision of the future.  Most of the current computer algorithms can best be described as “good, not great”, and a lot of sites can’t offer a full, all-encompassing “reputation score.”  And these days, with privacy concerns looming large, more people are taking steps to cloak their online actions.

Still, I felt compelled after reading this book to get on Yelp, get on LinkedIn, and start trying to polish up my outward-facing reputation.

Can’t hurt, right?

Time to read: About 6 hours.  It’s pretty straightforward, but I paused a lot to consider the far-reaching consequences of some of the author’s suggestions.

"Grandpa, tell us a story!"

“Urp.  Johnny, stop hitting Miranda with that!  What even is that thing, anyway?  Some sort of foam cross?”

“No, Grandpa, it’s a Minecraft sword!”

“Minecraft?  You kids and your TV games.  Whatever it is, stop hitting Miranda with it.  Give it here.  Let’s see.  Ugh, this is the sort of toys they give you?  No wonder everyone’s declaiming your generation as lazy.”

“Wot’s declamming?”

“Nothing, angel.  Okay, get into bed, and I’ll tell you a story.  Come on, tuck in the covers.  There you go.  Now, what do you want to hear about in a story?”

“Fighting!  Knights with swords!”

“Dwagons!”

“Yeah, and dragons!  Like Mirry said!”

“Don’t call me that!”

“Okay, okay, settle down.  Dragons, huh?  Well, I actually do have a couple stories about those big beasties.  But you’ll have to both stay in bed, and no getting up to hit each other.  Deal?

“Good.  Now, everyone always pictures dragons as being around back in the Middle Ages, back when brave and valiant knights would joust with them on the backs of horses, fighting them sword against scale.  But just because that’s when dragons were most prevalent, it doesn’t mean that they disappeared as humanity rose.

“No, they just became more cunning.

“You see, once humans started showing up to fight the dragons with cannons and gunpowder, the dragons soon figured out that might was no longer the way to win against these pesky little pink-skinned fighters.  Most of the dragons began taking the form of humans, walking among us.  Now, they corrupt and savage us from within, claiming their treasure through trickery instead of force.”

“Like da Repubiccans?”

“Yes, Miranda dearest, I’m pretty sure that most of the damn Republicans are dragons in disguise.  But that’s not what this story is about.

“You see, while most dragons gave up their giant lizard shapes, there was one who was too proud, to arrogant, too stubborn to accept this new change.

“His name was Carathax, and he was one of the most powerful dragons to ever fly over our world.

“Carathax saw the technology that humans now used, how we mastered steam and metal and pistons, and he sought to take these advantages for himself.  He used his cunning and his wealth to hire humans, artificers, to craft massive plates of armor for him, to augment and increase his strength through the use of steam and pistons.  He gave himself bladed talons and shielded wings, and the heat of his fiery breath drove steam through his armor.

“For thirty years, he roared and raged in pain as the human craftsmen built his armor, gave him the weapons to turn his fiery breath and scything claws into a true engine of pure destruction.”

“That’s stupid!”

“What do you mean, Johnny?”

“Well, why would humans give all this to a dragon?  Why would they help him get stronger so he could kill them?”

“Carathax offered a lot of money.  And humans have always been willing to compromise their ideals for money, I’m afraid.”

“I still think it’s dumb.”

“And my boy, I agree with you.  I’m glad you can see it.  But these humans gave Carathax what he wanted, and finally, nearly half a century later, the great dragon’s modifications were complete.  Now carrying his terrible armament, the huge wyrm lifted off into the sky, setting out to bring destruction to the land.

“And he knew his target – King Llanar.

“King Llanar had, before he became a wise and just king, been one of the world’s greatest dragon slayers.  He had used not just his strength, but his wits, outwitting dragons and luring them into traps where their normal strengths – their muscles and flight and fire – could be turned against them.  He had become both famous and wealthy for killing these rampaging dragons, but he gave back much of his wealth to the people.  He was the most popular king to rule.

“But in the fifty years, King Llanar had aged, and although he was still a strong and just king, he now had a thick gray beard, and he could no longer lift a sword as high or swing as hard.  He still kept himself trim, but he knew that his dragon fighting days were over.”

“Why did Cartha wanna kill the king?”

“Good question, my dear!  As it turned out, although not even King Llanar knew this at the time, the king had been the one to slay the dragon Selendria – Carathax’s broodmother.  From when he was young, Carathax had sworn revenge.

“And now was his time.

“With his great mechanical modifications, Carathax flew across the kingdom, setting fire to entire towns in a swoop.  His armor turned away arrows, his bladed talons cut through nets and snares, and his great jet of flame, fueled through the tubes of the human artificers, burned hot enough to melt even stone.  He killed many at each town, and to the fleeing survivors, he roared out his challenge to King Llanar.

“And even far away, across the land at his castle, the king heard that challenge, and he responded.

“He rose from his throne, gathering his strength, calling for his attendants.  ‘The kingdom is in danger,’ he told his court, ‘and I must ride out to save my people.’

“‘But you have not the strength or speed of your youth!’ cried out his advisors, his most loyal knights.  ‘You cannot hope to win!  Let us go in your stead to fight the great dragon!’

“But the king shook his head.  ‘It is with me that the beast demands battle,’ he told them, as he pulled on his shining armor, strapped on his sword, Wyrmsbane, which had served him so faithfully in battles long before.  ‘And I will not let any others die in my place.’

“And so, on the great fields of Karanor, King Llanar rode out to wait for Carathax. He went alone, and carried only a shovel and his sword.  He brought no armies, no great siege weapons.

“Two days later, the skies above the king grew dark with smoke, heralding the beast’s arrival.  Like a plunging meteor, Carathax dropped from the clouds to land in front of the tired and muddy king.

“Beneath his weight, the very earth split, the grass burned black by the heat of the creature’s inner fire.  ‘Dragon slayer, killer of my brood mother,’ Carathax greeted the king, spitting out drops of liquid fire with each word as he glared.  ‘Your kingdom is half in ruins – and after I have killed you, I shall set the other half ablaze, to burn forever!’

“‘I am sorry for killing your mother, but she killed us,’ King Llanar yelled back, as he tried to stand in the burning heat of the dragon’s very presence.  He leaned on the shovel he had brought, using it for support. The king did not even wear his sword.  ‘I have no quarrel with you!  You can leave my kingdom and do no more damage, and I shall not pursue you!’

“But the massive dragon shook his armored head.  ‘Never!’ he howled.  ‘I have sworn bloodlust, and I will see you BURN!’

“And with that, the great dragon beat his wings and lunged forward, towards the lonely king.  Llanar didn’t even have time to turn and look for his sword Wyrmsbane, for it was not even on his waist.  He had nothing but the shovel.”

“Wait!  Grandpa, what happened next?”

“Oh, you’re still awake?”

“Yeah!  You have to finish the story!”

“Okay, very well.  But I will turn off the lights.  It’s too bright in here.

“Ah, that’s better.  Now, where was I?  Oh yes.  So the dragon lunged forwards, towards the helpless king.  King Llanar just stood there, tired and muddy and leaning on the shovel, watching as this massive, heavy, armor-coated dragon bore down on him.

“And then something quite strange happened.

“As Carathax crossed the difference between him and the king, the ground, already cracked and ablaze from his very presence, suddenly opened up beneath him!  The ground cracked open beneath the weight of the dragon, and suddenly, the great wyrm found himself falling!

“With a great roar of frustration, the dragon plunged downward, into the huge pit!  The hole was large and deep – the king had spent his whole time at the fields of Karanor digging it, covering it up with a thin shell of wet mud.

“The dragon’s great heat had made the mud brittle, and the weight of his armor and mechanical devices broke through the shell.  Carathax tried to beat his wings, but he was too heavy, and could not lift off fast enough to keep from plunging down into the pit.

“And as he landed down in the pit, his belly slamming down onto the ground beneath, he landed directly on top of where King Llanar had buried Wyrmsbane, pointing straight up in the mud.

“The weight of the dragon plunged the sword into his chest, piercing between the plates of armor and into the great dragon’s heart.  Carathax let out one last bellow, and the heat of his fury burned the walls of his pit until they were black as coal and hard as stone.  But even he could not pull the blade from his chest, and that great cry was his last.

“For a long time, King Llanar stood at the edge of the pit, gazing down at the corpse of the great wyrm.  He leaned heavily on his shovel, still breathing deeply.  Wyrmsbane, his sword, was beneath the dragon’s weight, too far down to retrieve.

“And then, the king began the long, slow process of shoveling the dirt back into the hole he had dug, making sure that Carathax was lost to the world forever.”

“…Johnny?  Miranda?”

“Ah, good.  Sleep tight, my dears.  And remember, even the greatest beasts can be vanquished with courage and forethought.”

Danni California, Part 17

I wonder how long this is going to end up being…

Continued from Part 16, here.
Start the story here.

* * *

When I next woke up, my first thought was a fervent wish that I had remained unconscious.

Everything was pain, almost blinding, sparks of red and white shooting across the blackness of my inner eyelids.  I couldn’t hold myself still, and immediately curled forward, wincing and gritting my teeth to keep from screaming.

Then I felt something cool and damp press against my forehead, and a soothing voice murmured words I couldn’t understand.

I opened my eyes.
At first, all I saw were blurred shapes, the world still hazy with pain.  I blinked a couple times, helped by that cool cloth still blotting against my forehead.  Slowly, those blurs resolved themselves somewhat into shifting strands of red hair, floating above me.

“I,” I began, my voice immediately cracking with disuse as I opened my mouth.

Before I could say anything more, a finger, soft and warm, pressed itself against my lips to hold them shut.  “Hush,” murmured another voice, soft and feminine and filled with caring.  “You don’t need to speak.  Just take it easy.”

The easy choice would be to let my eyes close once again, to drift back into the peaceful embrace of oblivion.  But I forced myself to blink, and slowly, the blurry shapes in front of me began to swim into focus.

Up above me were wooden boards, a roof of some sort.  I realized that I was horizontal, and it felt like I was lying on some hard bed.  Those red hairs floating in the air above me were connected to a girl crouching beside me, one of her hands still dabbing at my forehead with the blessedly cool cloth.

Although it sent pain coursing through my body with each fraction of a degree, I turned my head slightly to the side, looking at her.

Danni, her hair an orange halo around her face, smiled down at me.  “I’m glad you’re still alive, Priest,” she said to me, as her eyes flicked over me.  “I was fairly convinced you were dead for a while!”

“I might still be,” I responded, my voice still rough and raspy.  I found that, although the pain persisted, I could block out enough to start to pull together my shattered thoughts.  I tried to think back to how I had ended up here, but it was all nothing but shards in darkness.  “What happened?”

For a moment, a cloud passed across the girl’s face.  “The train was falling into the water beneath the bridge,” she said, “and you threw me clear of the cars.  I think you were going to jump after me, but-“

I remembered, a flash of panic and horror.  “There was another car, the one behind ours, that hit before I could jump,” I recalled.

Danni nodded.  “Yes.  I saw you get thrown clear, but you were limp, like a ragdoll.  I had to dive down to pull you out before we were both buried under the debris.”

I tried to raise my head to look around.  “Now where are we?” I asked, but as I tried to lift my chest, another wave of cutting, stabbing pain forced me back down, and I gritted my teeth as I panted and fought to remain conscious.

Next to me, the girl leaned forward, putting her other hand on my chest and pressing me gently down.  “Will you stop it?” she scolded, sounding almost motherly as she ran her hands over me.  “You need to relax, Priest!  We’re safe, that’s what matters, and you have to recover.  You were on Death’s doorstep, knocking, before I pulled you back.”

My eyes rose up to the girl, and a sudden flush crept through Danni’s cheeks.  “Not that I cared about you or anything, Priest,” she murmured faintly, reaching up to push a few strands of that bright red hair back behind an ear.

“Jasper,” I said quietly.

“What?”

“My name.  It’s not Priest.  It’s Jasper.”  A little chill passed through me.  I had never before told anyone, much less one of my targets, my real name.

But above me, Danni stared at me for a moment, and then smiled.  “Jasper,” she repeated, running her finger lightly down my cheek.  I could feel the heat of her skin soaking into mine.  “Well, Jasper, focus on resting.  Try to relax.”

I started to open my mouth to say something, but the girl leaned down to shush me.  This time, however, instead of pressing a finger against my mouth, she met me with her lips.

The kiss was as light as a feather, but warm as the sun’s spring rays.  As Danni pulled away, I wanted to say something, but I fell back into peaceful, shady oblivion before I could form the words.

To be continued . . . 

Book 23 of 52: "Junkyard Planet" by Adam Minter

When I picked up Junkyard Planet, a book with a bright cover showing a huge heap of garbage (see the image above), I was expecting to find a doom-and-gloom depressing story about how we are creating far too much garbage, our current lifestyle is unsustainable, and how our world is basically going to fall apart in the near future because of our current practices.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this book is nothing like what I expected.

Instead of focusing on doom and gloom, Junkyard Planet is written from the first-person observations of Adam Minter, a man who grew up in a junkyard (his father owned a local scrapyard in Minneapolis, Minnesota).  Adam talks about how the junk trade, once a small and local process, has been profoundly affected by the process of globalization.  It’s too expensive here in America to recycle anything – but all of that garbage has a ton of value overseas.

America shreds and stores its trash, from paper to old automobiles to thrown-away Christmas lights, and sends these bales of recycling over to China in returning shipping containers (that once brought Chinese-made goods to our shores).  In China, where the labor is cheap, these items are broken back down into their components, mostly metal – and then turned into new items to be sold to America.

The recycling trade is vast, extensive, cutthroat, and always balanced on a knife’s edge.  Even tiny shifts in the prices of commodities can make – or break – a trade.  And there’s always competition for the rich resources of America; Chinese traders will cut each other’s deals to the bone to be the one who walks away with a shipping container, often containing hundreds of thousands of dollars of raw metal.

The recycling trade is, by no means, clean.  Especially in developing countries, there’s an abysmal lack of safety regulations, and many people develop diseases or die early because of their exposure to heavy metals or breathing in of toxic fumes.  Yet still, these recycling jobs often pay more than anything else, by huge margins.

It takes nearly 1,000 tons of gold ore from a mine to harvest one ton of gold.  But that same one ton of gold can be harvested from merely 41 tons of cell phones and other electronic devices, where gold is used for circuit board connections.  There is huge wealth, almost all of which is extracted in one way or another.

It’s not a clean or environmentally friendly process – but nearly everything is recycled, in one form or another.

Time to read: About a week, in chapters here and there, mostly before bed.

Strange Loops

I sat up with a gasp, a rush of adrenaline suddenly flooding through my veins as I clenched down at the stained table beneath me, staring around.

All around me, the bar looked just as it always did – shoddy, uncleaned, and with a smell all its own that slowly crept in and pervaded the nostrils.  I’d seen it a hundred times before, had spent more money here than I liked to think about.  I’d gotten drunk more times than I could count, had stumbled out across the uneven floor towards the sliding front door lock enough times to know every rut and pit in the synthstone that covered the ground underfoot.

I’d woken up here many times.

But none of them had ever felt like this.

I stood up, my legs erupting underneath me so violently that the cheap chair tumbled backwards onto the floor behind me.  My hands flew up to my chest, patting at the surface through my thin black shirt and all-weather Flex jacket, searching for a bullet hole that was no longer there.

No, I corrected myself.  Saying that the bullet hole was no longer there was wrong.

The hole wasn’t there… yet.

With a deep, shuddering breath, I forced myself to stop frantically grabbing at myself.  I was already attracting the curious attention of some of the other patrons – and most of them were the kind of folks that one didn’t want noticing you.  Not if you wanted to live for long, at least.

I stifled a hysterical chuckle at that thought.  Living long, hah!  That wasn’t going to be a worry for me, at least!

I turned and, feeling like my movements were almost robotic, I bent over and picked up the fallen chair.  I set it back up on its legs, but didn’t resume my seat.  Instead, moving like a drunken sailor who hadn’t yet acquired his space-legs, I stumbled over to the bar’s counter, looking up at the bartender behind it as he sneered down at me.

“What time is it?” I gasped out.

The bartender, a six-armed and six-legged Ifrit, rolled his eyes before answering – a movement tough to miss, considering that his eyes were on eight-inch stalks protruding from his lumpy little head.  “Eight past planet-set,” he grunted at me.  His voice sounded annoyed, even through the scratchy little crap-quality translator box around his neck.

“Eight past set,” I repeated, collapsing down onto the closest bar stool.  I closed my eyes and pressed both of my palms against the closed eyelids, trying to think back, to remember.

The sun had just been rising over the curve of the planet out the windows when the man had pulled the trigger, when I had felt a giant’s fist slam into my chest and drive me off my feet and down to the floor.

That meant that I had eleven, maybe twelve hours.

The bartender sidled a little closer to me, moving in a way that can only be performed with two extra sets of legs. “Something wrong, sir?” he asked, probably hoping that whatever I had wasn’t contagious across species.

I lowered my hands and opened my eyes, and the Ifrit took a half-sidle back from my thousand-yard stare.  “Twelve hours,” I said, my voice sounding hollow.  “I’m going to be shot in twelve hours.”

The Ifrit grunted.  “Sucks, man,” he offered.  “Give you a little privacy, then.”

The bartender stepped away, and I tried desperately to remember everything I knew about strange bullets…

Danni California, Part 16

Continued from Part 15, here.
Start the story here.

* * *

Most people, seeing the bridge ahead of their speeding train explode in a wave of fiery ignition, might have paused in shock, gasped, or wasted time on some other useless activity.

Those people weren’t trained Priests.

As soon as my eyes registered that burst of flame, I knew the train was going down.  I spun around, rising up from my seat as I shoved my gun roughly back into its holster and out of the way.  One arm shot out, wrapping into a fist around a handful of Danni’s shirt, and I hauled her up and out of the compartment.

A moment later, even despite the screeching of brakes as the train conductor frantically attempted to bring the massive vehicle to a halt, I felt us starting to tip.

The train was going over the edge.

Screams rang out from around the car as we started to tilt, obliquely pitching forward.  I did my best to stay on my feet as the train car shifted beneath my feet, and although I had to hold Danni up, she didn’t let out any noise.  When I shot a quick glance at her, I could see that her face was pale, but she wasn’t yet lost to panic.

Doing my best to stay in the middle of the pitching car, I hurried towards the rear of the car, the back door that led out.  “Come on,” I called to Danni, and she did her best to keep up with me.

But before we could reach that back door, the car suddenly gave a sickening lurch, and tilted until it was nearly straight vertical.

I felt my stomach clench.  We were dropping, in free fall off the track.

The drop only lasted a second or two, although it felt like longer to my adrenaline-fueled mind.  I kept one arm looped firmly around Danni as my other arm clenched onto one of the seats, holding up both of us as the car tumbled down towards the bottom of the bridge.

There had been water down there, I remembered, and a moment later we impacted with a combined splash and a screech of tearing, shearing metal.

Below us, I saw the front third of the train car immediately fold and crunch like an accordion, and several screaming passengers from that part of the car were immediately silenced.  As we hit the water, the car dropped back to somewhat near horizontal, and I didn’t waste time.  I stumbled forward, kicking out at the back door.

The door opened, thankfully, despite several deep kinks in the metal frame.  Turning back to Danni, I grabbed her with both hands and pulled her up to me.  The girl still didn’t look lost completely to panic, but I could see that her eyes were wide.

“Hope you can swim,” I said to her.  Before she could reply, I heaved her out of the train car, into the water rising up to swallow us.

I knew that more cars were still falling, and before I could leap from the drowning train myself, another car impacted next to us with a massive splash, knocking the floor beneath me askew.  I did my best to stay on my feet, but I felt myself slip as I pitched forward.

As I tumbled out of the train car after Danni, I saw the metal edge of the rear platform rushing up to meet my head.

A moment later, everything went black.

To be continued . . .

Book 22 of 52: "The Mirror Crack’d" by Agatha Christie

Sometimes, I pick up a book because it has an amazing tagline or introduction, but I soon find that the author has failed to deliver on the potential of his or her plot premise.

For Agatha Christie’s novels, on the other hand, I find that the opposite is what tends to be true.  Take this mystery, for instance.  This is a Miss Marple story, and already I’m less than interested – it’s tough for me to see eye to eye with an elderly woman who has never even left her village, and tends to rely mostly on gossip to solve her murders.  And in this story, obviously written later in Christie’s career, Marple is getting up in years, to the point where she is nearly house-ridden, and must rely on a nurse for much help.

If that was all I knew about this story, I would have put it down.

But I kept reading – and I’m glad that I did.
Although the story begins with the elderly and confined Marple, we soon leave her behind as we follow an older, but still beautiful, actress.  She has just moved into the large mansion in the town, and throws a party – where one of the guests winds up poisoned!

Soon, however, it becomes clear that although the guest, a rather disagreeable middle-aged woman, was the one who ended up dead, the poison was actually meant for the actress herself!  Who has it out for this woman?  And will she end up dead before Marple (helped out by a much younger relative in the police) can pin down the killer?
I won’t give away more, but once again, I couldn’t guess the killer.  In fact, this time, I thought I had the right individual chosen – but then changed my mind.  If I had just stuck with my initial assumption, I would have finally gotten it right!  Damn you, Christie, and your slippery little mind!
Time to read: a little under 3 hours, as is typical for her stories.  I wonder how long it would take me if I sat down with all her books and refused to budge?