Chapter 5 – At The Club

I slammed the crash bar on the Y’s exit door way harder than necessary, startling a black-and-white cat which sprang from my path as I hurtled out. It darted under a convenient evergreen bush from where it watched me warily as I tossed my bags into the back seat of my car.

If I wanted to keep taking fencing lessons, I was going to have to learn to keep my emotions under control. Seeing Leon would be an occupational hazard. I almost went back in to apologize but decided it would be better to let things cool off. I would bump into him at the pool soon enough.

Besides, it was time to go see Kaaro and his mystery project.

The reminder on my phone consisted solely of an address on Third Street, the artery that connected The District to downtown.

The District was a former industrial area that had recently been rehabbed into urban lofts, funky shops, bars, and restaurants.

Anton Kaaro, through a variety of silent partnerships and shell corporations, had provided much of the capital for the transformation. The money ironically came from the very activities the development pushed out of the neighborhood.

Kaaro was pretty smug about it, too. He had been calm and quite sure of himself when I had questioned him in jail the other day.

No, that wasn’t right. Kaaro wasn’t in jail. He was standing in the middle of the sidewalk, phone to his ear. He raised a hand as he saw me pull up, gesturing to a nearby parking spot.

Anton Kaaro was in his late fifties. Like Leon, he wore his hair short, but it was black as night with just a touch of gray at the temples. His eyes were green and he was dressed head-to-toe in gray. Gray suit, gray shirt, gray tie, even gray shoes. Looming next to him like a twilight shadow was Kaaro’s bodyguard, one Bilol Grymzin.

Grymzin also wore gray. Gray slacks at least, although the material they were composed of had never existed in nature. Neither had whatever petrochemical bath had birthed his faux-leather jacket. He was a couple of inches taller than me, thick and muscular, and nearly as wide as he was tall. His greasy black hair had started to recede, although he was compensating by letting what hair remained droop down well past his collar. A single eyebrow topped his close-set eyes and wide nose, which featured a cross-hatching of tiny blood vessels.

I nodded at Grymzin as I approached. He stared at some point over my left shoulder, not acknowledging me in the slightest.

Kaaro stowed his phone in a pocket of his suit jacket. “Good morning, Travis.”

His voice was soft but resonant with no discernible accent. You had to listen very closely to catch the slightly more formal sentence construction that indicated he hadn’t grown up speaking English. He was also the only person on Earth besides my mom who called me Travis.

“I trust you had a restful night.”

“You could say that,” I said. “So, what’s up?”

“I wanted to show you my newest acquisition.”

Kaaro gestured to a narrow door in the middle of the block, the kind that sometimes led to apartments on upper floors of buildings like these. Sure enough, a stairway was revealed as he swung open the door. He started up the stairs. I gestured for Grymzin to precede me, but he shook his head.

“After you,” he rumbled, his Eastern European tongue adding a glottal stop before the y.

I shrugged and followed Kaaro, trying to ignore the itch between my shoulder blades at having his thug at my rear.

“This building contains one of the best-kept secrets of our fair city,” Kaaro said as we ascended. “It is one of many constructed in the early 1900s by Abraham Siemans.”

“As in Siemans Department Store?”

“The same.”

I was too young to have ever shopped at Siemans, but it had been the downtown anchor for more than a century before finally surrendering to the inevitable mall-ward flight of retail.

“Most business barons of his generation built showy mansions near the country club, but Siemans was different,” Kaaro continued. “He considered a commute wasted time. He had seen townhouses in Washington and Boston that were quite luxurious despite being on the upper floors of commercial buildings.  So instead of putting several walkup apartments into this building, he built one large dwelling for himself.”

“I had no idea you were such a history buff.”

“I read.”

By now we had reached a landing on the second floor. I looked through an open door on my right. A paint crew labored in a corner. Much of the room was covered in drop cloths, but what parts I could see were impressive.

A massive bar ran nearly the entire length of the space. It was constructed of mahogany so dark it seemed to absorb the room’s light. The serving surface was translucent stone lit from underneath to create a rich, golden glow. The floor was also hardwood and gave off the acrid smell of recent refinishing. Daylight streamed in through large bay windows at the other end. To my left was a doorway that opened into a slightly smaller room. This one featured a fireplace and ornate chandelier, into which a workman was screwing blacklight bulbs.

“That will be an interesting effect,” I remarked.

“Each room will have its own look,” Kaaro explained, “enabling customers to have the feeling of bar hopping without having to close out their bills or drive to another establishment.”


Kaaro took me out the back door where a rooftop bar had been constructed, along with a DJ stand and dance floor. The next floor (I thought of it as the second, but really it was the third from ground level) featured several smaller rooms. One contained a shorter but still very elegant bar made of the same materials as the big one.

The door to the next floor was closed. Kaaro turned to me with a smile.

“You will like this, I think,” he said, opening the door with a flourish.

Like the first level, the door opened onto a narrow room occupied primarily by yet another ornate bar. This one’s underlight glowed blue. This room also opened up into a more spacious area where the bar ended, but unlike the others, there was no furniture, just a small table in the corner.

“What do you think?” Kaaro asked.

I shrugged. “What are you putting in here?”

“Why, Travis, I’m disappointed. I put more stock in your powers of observation. This will be a place for live music.”

That was a bit of a surprise. Kaaro’s establishments tended to be low-overhead where entertainment was concerned. They were designed primarily to be an efficient system for the exchange of alcohol for money. Not to mention the accompanying lowering of inhibitions which made some customers ripe for Kaaro’s less legal, but more lucrative, businesses.

“What kind of music?”

“I think our town could use a jazz club, don’t you?”

“A jazz club? That’s a little different image than your other properties, isn’t it?”

He shrugged again. “To stay healthy, a business needs to branch out.”

“Um, if you’re expecting a jazz club to be a profit center, you may have to adjust your expectations.”

“The jazz club will be just one of the several different themes, as you have seen. It will give the club an upscale image, different from our other businesses.”

Kaaro stopped and tilted his head, trying to read the expression on my face. “What?”

“I just never figured you would open a jazz club.”

“I never had a manager who was a jazz fan before.”

“A manager?”

Then it sank in. “You mean me?”

“Just so. Did you think I hired you only to be a bouncer? That would be a waste of talent. Besides, the online casino will go live in the next few weeks, and I anticipate that will take up much of my time.”

I just stared at him, completely at a loss for words. Kaaro took advantage of my silence to pull out his phone and study the screen with a frown. He looked over my shoulder at Grymzin, who had plodded along behind us throughout our walking tour.

“Bill, my phone is nearly depleted. Will you go down to the car and get my external battery?”

Not for the first time, I wondered why Kaaro always called me by my given name but used an Americanized version of Grymzin’s.

For his part, the Uzbek looked as if he wanted to say something, his ponderous gaze swinging from Kaaro to me and back again. Kaaro raised an eyebrow at his hesitation.

Grymzin closed his mouth and spun around. A moment later we heard him thump down the stairs.

Kaaro waited until the heavy tread faded. “You don’t have to give me an answer right now, Travis. But showing you this club is not the only reason I wanted to talk to you today.”


“I have had some disturbing news, and it has to do with you.”

“With me?”

“Well, indirectly, at least. You know the police have been investigating the shooting death of your friend Sam Marcus.”

If I had been surprised that Anton Kaaro had just offered to let me manage a jazz club, hearing him utter Sam’s name was a complete shock.

“Yeah, I heard,” I finally managed.

“They have not made much progress in their investigation.”

I didn’t ask how he knew. Anton Kaaro had always seemed to know what was going on in the PD. Apparently, his sources in the department were still good.

“In fact,” Kaaro continued, “they are getting ready to move the case to inactive status.”


“I think they are giving up too quickly.”

“And why do you care?”

“He was your friend. Even though you don’t show it often, I can tell his death has been weighing on you these past weeks.”

“Everybody dies.”

“True. But someone killed your friend. Don’t you think that person should answer for it?”

“Why do you think I will succeed where the police failed?”

“Why, I have faith in your investigative skills, my friend,” Kaaro said with a chuckle. “Just as I have faith in your administrative skills or else I would not turn my latest venture over to you.”

“Yeah, about that…”

He held up his hand. “We can discuss that later. Now you need to look at the files on Sam and see if there is anything your former colleagues missed.”

“How am I going to do that? I can’t just waltz into Central Station and ask for the murder book.”

“I would never give an employee an assignment without also providing adequate resources. Let’s step into your office.”

I followed him into a room behind the bar.

My “office” was a square box not much bigger than a closet. A desk, chair, and small filing cabinet, pretty much filled the available space. I didn’t know what things were normally kept in a bar manager’s office, but I was pretty sure a binder with a case number and the name Samuel Markus written on it in black marker was not one of them.

I swung around to face Kaaro. “Where the hell did you get the case notes?”

“From the police, of course.”

“Leon will decorate his office wall with the skin of whoever let this out of the station.”

“That’s not something you have to worry about.” He glanced nonchalantly at his watch. “I must go. Let me know if you find anything interesting.”

I waited until I heard his slightly-lighter-than-Grymzin’s tread fade down the stairs before I opened the murder book.

The first thing that spilled out of the binder were several eight-by-ten photos of the murder scene. I knew what the pictures would show, of course, but there was no way I could prepare for the sight of my friend’s body.

Ah, Sam.

I squeezed my eyes shut and closed the book. I wasn’t ready to look at these pictures yet, no matter how much I wanted to find Sam’s killer.

I tucked the book under one arm and headed downstairs. I was almost to the front door, distracted by my incongruous memory of Sam’s bleeding form that I wasn’t paying any attention to my surroundings.

Thus, I didn’t notice the man standing beside the stairway until his fist crashed into the side of my head.

The punch swung me around, but I managed to catch the banister to keep from hitting the ground. This luckily served to put the rail between me and a glowering Bilol Grymzin. Moving with a speed that belied his bulk, he spun around the stair’s edge to grab me.

Still seeing stars, I managed to duck away from his grasping hands. Dropping the murder book, I kicked out. My heel connected with his thigh hard enough to push him back and out of reach. But not for long. He grabbed for the leg, but I was able to pull it back and slither to the side. His momentum carried him onto the first step of the stairway where I had stood a moment before.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” I shouted, desperate to buy time to clear my head.

Grymzin didn’t reply, only grunted as he slammed into me. This time there was no avoiding his bearlike grasp so instead I stepped in, and as his arms began to close around me, drove both hands up as hard as I could, connecting solidly with his chin. The extra six inches as he stood on the stair above me gave my punch extra force. He reeled back against the railing, causing it to creak and sway dangerously. Sagging against the pillar, he shook his own head.

It was your standard big guy-little guy fight. He was stronger with an enormous reach. I was quicker, but if he got even one of those big arms on me, he’d crush me like a soda can.

“What the fuck, Bill? Anton isn’t going to be happy if you break his nice new staircase.”

“Worth it,” the big man rumbled, “if I get to break you along with it.”

He charged again, but this time I was able to dance easily out of his path. I don’t know why I kept talking to him. It was like trying to reason with the Hulk. But I kept at it.

“Our boss doesn’t want his employees fighting.”

“He’ll get over it.”

“Why, Bill? At least clue me in!”

Grymzin grunted again. “Mr. Kaaro pays me to keep trouble away from him.”

“Me, too!”

“Bullshit. Mr. Kaaro is too trusting. Once a cop, always a cop.”

“Too trusting? Have you met Anton Kaaro?”

Grymzin didn’t reply this time. He charged me again. I ducked and weaved, thinking he was trying to ram me against the wall, but he anticipated my dodge and as I slipped to the side, his ham-sized fist was waiting for me. A rainbow exploded behind my eyes as I desperately scrambled to stay out of his grasp.

Unfortunately, this also put Grymzin between me and the door.

The Uzbek smiled as he also realized I was cornered.

“This will go easier if you just stand still,” he grated. Sweat dotted his expansive forehead, but his breath came easy. I wasn’t going to just be able to outlast him.

“You expect me to just stand still and let you beat on me?”

The big man shrugged. “I don’t care what you do. But I do know that Mr. Kaaro will soon need to find another manager for his new bar.” And he lunged toward me once again.

Time seemed to slow down. He reached his left hand into his jacket pocket as he moved, and almost like I had x-ray vision, I knew there was a knife in that pocket.

But as this slow-motion attack continued, another version played out in my mind at the same time, like it was superimposed over my actual vision. Because in that moment, I also knew that Grymzin had gone for the knife instead of the gun tucked into his other pocket. Probably because gunshots in the daytime might attract unwelcome attention.

In my mind’s eye, I could suddenly see an improbable scene play out. It was ridiculous, the kind of nonsense you see in movie fights. But it was my only chance.

As Grymzin moved toward me, I lunged at him with a roar, putting every ounce of strength my legs contained into a shove to knock him off balance. I slapped my right hand against the arm that was going for the knife, trapping it for just an instant inside the pocket.

My other hand snaked inside his jacket and closed on the grip of the pistol. As my momentum carried us across the floor, I whipped it out and smashed the pistol butt into his face. He staggered backward which gave me room for a good wind-up. I slammed the gun into his temple. The murder in his eyes gave way to glazy confusion. I wound up again and gave him a matching smack on the other side.

He was now close enough to the wall that the force of my blow snapped his head back into the plaster. He raised his hands weakly before his eyes rolled back into his head and, like a massive tree falling in the forest, he slowly slid down the wall.

I rested my hands on my knees, quivering as the adrenalin rush faded. I looked at the gun in my hand, still not quite believing my crazy rush had worked. The after effects of Bill’s blows to my head apparently were still with me as well because there was a glowing red outline tracing the edge of the weapon. I closed my eyes and shook my head. When I opened them again, everything was normal.

Stuffing his gun into the waistband of my pants, I picked up the murder book and pushed open the door, leaving Grymzin snoring unevenly in an ugly pile in the corner.

Chapter 4 – Another Day

Sam Markuss body jerked as a hail of bullets tore into him.

TRAV! Sam screamed, bolting upright in his bed.

“God, not again,” he muttered.  His body was covered in cold sweat and his heart pounded like a rapper’s bass. He shook his head, still trembling from the nightmare. Lying back down, he glanced at his phone which was cradled on the nightstand. 5:22.

“Crap.” Might as well get up.

He pushed himself out of bed and grabbed a t-shirt and jeans that didn’t smell too awful.

Twenty minutes later, he set an extra-large Coke on the roof of his Prius and retrieved his backpack from the rear seat. At this hour, of course, there was no one around except a large black and white cat, which watched him from a perch on a loading dock near the entrance door.

“Gotta make some physics,” Sam said as he passed the cat.

It yawned.

“Yeah, that’s pretty much what my grant reviewers say.”

Originally built in the 1950s, Building 231 had been Sam’s home since he was an undergrad. His lab was in a Clinton-era addition to the original structure and was imaginatively dubbed The New Lab.

He sipped on his Coke, idly scrolling his phone as his computer whirred to life.

The building was quiet at this time of the morning so the sound of footsteps walking in the hall made Sam’s eyes swing toward the door. He sighed as the steps passed and receded.

It was ridiculous, of course, but for just a second, he had expected the door to open and Trav Becker to walk in carrying a fresh Coke. And maybe a pizza.

God, I miss him. Thats what sucks about death. No matter how much you tell yourself youre going to keep the memory of someone alive, there comes a day when you cant even remember what they looked like, let alone the last words you said to them.

What had been the last thing he’d said to Trav?

They’d been…in a park.

A park? What were we doing in a park?

Yes, it had definitely been in a park. Because there had been a couple of kids, and… someone else.

Sam chewed on his straw in frustration as he tried to draw the memory out.

A woman. Two girls and a woman. Why couldn’t he remember?

Of course, right after that, Trav had died so suddenly. No wonder everything was kind of fuzzy. But it was funny he hadn’t given this much thought in the days since. In fact, not since the funeral.


When had the funeral been?

Why cant I remember my best friends funeral?

His straw was now a chewed-on mess and completely failing in its function of Coke-delivery. Sam popped the top off the cup. He took a big swig of Coke and ice, crunching down with satisfaction.

His computer began beeping.

“What the hell is wrong now?”

His fingers danced desperately across the keyboard, Trav forgotten as he tried to save a hard drive which for some reason had picked that exact moment to fail.


Chapter 3 – Is It You?

The YMCA wasn’t far from my apartment. A twenty-something kid, who obviously did not take advantage of the free membership his employment gave him, buzzed the door. As I pulled it open, my nose was assailed by the smell of chlorine from the pool. I stopped mid-stride, staring at my bags. I didn’t even really remember picking up the one with the sword, but there it was.

“You okay, man?” the kid said.


“Alarm’s going to go off if that door stays open longer than a minute.”

“Sure. Sorry.”

I stepped in and let it click shut behind me.

In the locker room, I changed into sneakers and sweats and pushed the big duffel into a locker. Grabbing the other bag, I turned to leave.

“Where are you going, Trav?” called a voice.

At the end of the row of lockers, a guy about my age stood with a pleasant if quizzical look on his face. He was a little shorter than me but about twenty pounds heavier, carrying the extra in a barrel-shaped midsection.

He wore a Bulls tank top over a white t-shirt and shiny black shorts that just covered his knees. His black hair showed no touches of gray but was midway on its journey to the back of his head. He pushed a pair of black-rimmed glasses back into alignment with one finger. His other hand held a narrow bag like mine.

“You’re going to class, right?” he asked.


“Did someone start an underwater fencing class and not tell me?”

It was only then I noticed the sign above the door I was just about to open read Pool.

“Uh…” I shook my head. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in the pool.”

“Are you kidding? I’m a terrible swimmer. My car has better buoyancy than I do.”

By this time, I had started back toward him. He stuck out his glasses-adjusting hand.

“Missed you last week,” he said as we shook.

I shrugged. “Work.”

As we released hands, I snuck a glance at a white tag attached by a cord to the handle of his bag. J Correa.

“Ready?” he asked. I let him lead me out the correct door.

About fifteen people warmed up in the Y’s multipurpose room following the movements of the instructor, a wiry woman who looked to be in her early sixties. Several of the class members waved as my companion and I entered the room.

J Correa unzipped his bag so I did the same, still unable to shake the feeling that I had never done so before.

I resolved to take it much easier on the vodka in the future.

J drew a sword out of his bag, so I followed suit. His was a standard fencing épée. But it looked like a toy compared to mine. A thick, slightly curved blade reflected the room’s ceiling lights. A filigree was etched into the steel. The grip was covered by a basket-style guard.

“Nice!” J exclaimed with an admiring look. “Where’d you get it?”

“It’s…new.” Which did not answer his question, but he didn’t appear to notice.

A couple of the other students joined us. This attracted the attention of the instructor. She frowned and gave me an uncertain look.

“Planning to storm the castle?” she asked. “This is a fencing class, Trav, not Game of Thrones. I can’t allow you to use that in class.”

“I…Wait.” I suddenly remembered there had been something in the case besides the sword. Handing the blade to J, I rummaged inside, drawing out a stainless-steel sleeve matched my blade’s slight curve exactly. Retrieving the sword from J, I slipped it over the sharp side, securing the sleeve into place with a cork top at the tip and a hook-and-eye catch at the hilt.

Cynthia was unconvinced. “This is a beginner class.”

“C’mon, Cynthia. He obviously went to a lot of trouble,” said J.

“That’s enough out of you, Joseph,” she said primly. “I’ll consider it. For now, let’s just see if you can get through the warmup without slicing yourself open.”

She clapped her hands.  “All right, everyone, let’s get going.”

We gathered in three loose lines in front of her. The rest of the class held their épées by the handle and point. I followed suit.

“Forward!” Cynthia barked. Planting her left foot, she executed a lunge with her right. We copied her motion.

“Now, behind!”

This went on until we had pretty much hit every position on a clock face. We then repeated the operation with the other foot. Cynthia lunged so far her trailing knee nearly touched the ground. I could barely get halfway down, although my hamstrings did loosen somewhat by the end of the exercise.

We worked our way through a warmup that involved pushups, side-jumps, and other calisthenics. Then we retrieved our blades and went back to lunges, sword arms extended. Cynthia barked out instructions and corrected our form. I quickly discovered that holding my arm straight out, elbow down, was harder than it looked. Of course, holding a sword twice as heavy as any of the others didn’t help.

“Doing okay, Trav?” Cynthia asked, raising an eyebrow.


“Well, I guess it’s your lucky day. I found you a sparring partner who doesn’t mind your penis-compensating blade.”

She nodded toward the door where a man had just entered. He pushed a safety mask into place as he walked.

“That is so not what I am compensating for,” I muttered as I grabbed a mask from a table.

Like me, the new guy carried a sabre, although his was a practice blade, thick-edged and blunt.

We each raised our blades parallel to our masked faces in salute and went into the en garde position.

He lunged. I attempted to parry but was far too slow. With a negligent flip of his wrist he sent my sword flying.

I won’t bore you with the play by play of the rest of the demonstration. Because that was what it was. It certainly wasn’t a contest. You would have thought it was the first time I had ever picked up a sword. By the end of fifteen minutes, I was a sweaty, gasping mess. Finally, he backed off and gave me a salute I didn’t deserve. I pulled off my mask, grabbing the front of my t-shirt to wipe my face. My opponent pulled his own mask off and I saw his face for the first time.

“Had enough?” asked Leon Martin.

He shifted his sword to his left hand and stretched the other one to me.

Leon Martin was in his early fifties but looked ten years younger. His gray hair was cropped astronaut-close. There was only the barest hint of a middle-aged paunch at his waist. A pair of glasses, rimless to the point of invisibility, was one of the very few concessions the captain made to his age.

He had been my dad’s partner and my mentor on the force. He’d given me a medal last year.

No, that wasn’t right. If that were the case I’d still be a cop, not working in a bar. No, now a memory of being fired swam up from whatever mental depths I’d pushed it into.

All this barely registered with me because as I shook his hand the sweat in my eyes must have blurred my sight. For just a minute, in place of his glasses I could have sworn I saw a pair of green-tinted swim goggles and his wiry hair invisible beneath a navy-blue swim cap.

“What?” he asked. “Is there something on my forehead?”

“No. It’s just…” I wiped my eyes again and the vision vanished. “Never mind.”

“Nice sword,” he said. “Do you mind?”

I handed it over. He unclipped the blade guard and gave it a couple of test flicks.

“Impressive. But overkill for this class, isn’t it? Or do you have a castle to storm?”

I was already sick of that joke. “You never know.”

He whipped the blade a few more times, making sure he was well distant from me or anyone else in the room.

“I’m glad that you’re keeping up with the fencing,” he said, offering me the handle.

I put the guard back on. “Not that you could tell today.”

“Takes a while to get used to a new weapon,” he observed. “I’d be happy to help you work the kinks out.”

“I’m not sure that would be a good idea.”

He shrugged. “Suit yourself.”

We stood there in awkward silence before Leon cleared his throat.

“Trav. It’s probably good I ran into you…”


“I just thought you’d like to know we’re pretty much at a dead end on your friend.”

“My friend?”

“Sam Markus.”


I rocked backward, assaulted by memories that welled up in a tornado of mixed up images and fragments of conversations that didn’t seem to connect.

Sam looking up from his computer, smiling tolerantly. Like I said, no backsies.

Sam somehow older than he should have been. They made their choice.

Sam frantically pushing and swiping at his tablet as I lunged at him.

“Trav, are you okay?”

Willing away the melange of contrasting images, I opened my eyes to see Leon frowning at me.

“Yeah, fine,” I said through clenched teeth. “Uh, thanks for letting me know.”

“I’m sorry, Trav.”

I shrugged. “Who’s on it?”

“Monroe and Randon.”

“Well, if anyone can get make headway with it, it’s them.”

“They could use some help.”

“What kind of help?”

“It appears that Sam had been manufacturing meth in his lab at the school.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“You just said Monroe and Randon were good men. Do you think they made up the report?”

“No. But there has to be another explanation. Sam has never gone anywhere near drugs.”

“You never know what people will do for money,” he said quietly.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Leon’s eyes turned hard. “It means that we both know who runs the drug business in the Tri-States, Trav. And you’re working for him.”

“Are you saying I had something to do with Sam’s death?”

“I’m saying it’s a little bit of a coincidence that your friend is killed right after you go to work for Anton Kaaro.”

“I see.” I looked around on the floor for my case. Locating it, I slid the sword inside. “Anything else?”

“Trav. We can use your help. Sam can use your help.”

“There’s nothing I can do to help Sam. As far as helping you, I’d be happy to.”

“Trav, that’s grea—”

I held up a finger before he could continue. “I’ll be happy to come down to the station, Leon. With my attorney. And after I see a warrant.”

Leon’s mouth snapped shut. “If that’s the way you want it, I suspect I’ll probably see you before too much longer in any case.”

“Is that a threat, Captain Martin?”

He shrugged. “Seems like we end up with most of Kaaro’s thugs downtown at one time or another.”

“A thug. Nice. Have a good day, Leon. I need to get to work.”

“Trav, wait. I didn’t—”

Not letting him finish, I stormed past the other members of the class. The Y showers were the last place I wanted to be right now so I just grabbed my stuff out of the locker, pulling my jacket on over my sweaty t-shirt.

Leon’s disappointment in me raised an ache in my chest way more painful than any of his sword touches. And being questioned about Sam’s death was just one more item now added to a growing list of things I didn’t remember.

But what was more disturbing was a clear memory I did have.

It was the sight of watching Sam Markus’s body jerk as a hail of bullets tore into him.

Chapter 2 – Something’s Missing

 Will I see you again? Sophie asked the good one, the one who had rescued her and Ella. It was so weird. He looked exactly like the man, wellmen, actually, who had kidnapped her. But somehow, she knew she could trust this one.

Anythings possible.

He gave her a little hug, then stood up.

Wait! Sophie cried. Dont go! If you leave…”

He looked at her curiously. What happens if I leave?

It all goes away, she whispered.

She reached out for him, but suddenly he was out of reach.

No! she cried. Tears filled her eyes as he suddenly seemed to recede, getting smaller and smaller in the distance.

Dont go!

She bolted upright in bed.

“Sophie,” a voice called. “Are you all right?”

The hall light outside her room flicked on and a silhouette appeared at her door.

“I’m fine, Mom,” Sophie sniffled.

Her mom glided into the room. She sat gently on the side of Sophie’s bed and gathered her daughter into her arms.

“Bad dream, love?”

Sophie buried her face into her mother’s shoulder, nodding.

“The same one? With the policeman?”

Sophie nodded again.

Her mom rubbed her back.

“Everything okay?” Sophie’s dad appeared at the door.

“Fine,” Mom said. “The dream about the policeman again.”

Sophie’s dad shook his head. “We didn’t really even meet the man. Did you talk to Ella’s mom?”

Mom nodded. “The occasional nightmare, but nothing specific like this. And Ella has never said anything about a policeman.”

“I don’t understand,” Dad muttered. “Unless…”

“Unless what?” Mom asked.

“Unless he actually was involved.”

“No!” Sophie jerked her head up and glared at her dad. “I told you! He didn’t have anything to do with it! He…”

“He what, Sophie?”

Sophie’s mom was smart, and her daughter hated not telling the whole truth. But it was so important that Sophie not say how she had met Detective Becker.

“Nothing. It’s okay, Mom.” She disentangled herself from her mother’s arms. “Sorry to wake everyone up.”

“It’s okay, dear,” her mom said. “Do you want me to stay with you a while?”

Sophie shook her head.

“All right then. Call if you need anything.”

“I will, Mom. G’night, Dad.”

“Good night, squirt.”

Sophie settled back into the covers and closed her eyes.

“I don’t understand,” her father whispered, not realizing how sharp his daughter’s hearing was. “Why the detective?”

“The therapist said it might have something to do with him dying right after the kidnapping,” her mom said.

Their footsteps faded as they padded down the hall to their room, but even had they still been near, Sophie’s parents would not have been able to hear her fierce whisper.

“That’s not what happened. He didn’t die! This is all wrong.”

Why doesn’t anyone else remember?

Chapter 1 – The Morning After

 As my mind swam slowly up from the gray depths of a fitful sleep, I became aware of two things. One, my mouth tasted like the stuff you pulled out of your clogged bathroom drain.

The second thing was a bare leg lying across mine. My left arm was wrapped around the owner of that leg, and it was starting to cramp slightly. Her cheek lay on my shoulder, her breath making a tiny cool breeze across my bare chest.

I ignored my aches and regarded the pile of blonde curls underneath my chin.


A muffled moan came from underneath the hair and Amy Harper rolled over onto her back. Her dramatic eye shadow had smeared, making her look a little like she was wearing a superhero mask.

“Oh…God,” she moaned, resting one hand on her forehead. She blinked a couple of times, then squinted at me.

“I know. I look terrible.”

“You look fine,” I said.

“Fine,” she repeated, her voice a hoarse rasp. “What a glib devil you are, Becker.”

We looked at each other, and as we did, foggy memories of the night before began to surface.

There had been several vodkas at The Kremlin. Then things had gotten a little hands-y. We had stumbled back to my place, pulling at each other’s clothes as we fell through the door. Finally, we reached the bedroom. And…

Actually, that was it.

Not for lack of trying, on either of our parts. But there had been, so to speak, no cork in my bat.

At some point, we had given up and pretty much passed out.

I looked at her. Something wasn’t right, but I couldn’t figure out what it was.

“What?” she growled with an exasperated head shake.

“Have you always been blonde?” I blurted before I could stop myself.

“Fuck you,” she replied.

She looked at me for a moment more, then swung her legs off the bed and stood. She grabbed her clothes off the floor, darted across the room, and slammed the bathroom door shut behind her.

 Glib devil, indeed.

I pulled on some sweats and gathered my own clothes. In the process, I nearly stepped on my phone, which apparently had fallen out of my pocket during the night’s futile exertions.

There was a reminder on the screen, alerting me to a noon appointment with Anton Kaaro downtown. The meeting subject simply read, “New Project.”

Why on earth did I have a meeting with the city’s biggest crime boss on my calendar?

Because I work for him. This gave me an odd feeling. Probably still the vodka.

Fortunately, I would have time to get a workout in before meeting him. With any kind of luck, vigorous exercise would flush some of the hangover out.

I brewed coffee while I was ruminating, and before long Amy emerged from the bedroom. She had re-dressed in last night’s clothes, a pair of skin-tight jeans composed of holes just as much as they were of denim and a tank top that displayed several inches of taut belly. The navy-blue leather jacket that completed the ensemble was thrown over one shoulder. In her free hand she carried a pair of high-heeled boots, the kind with a cutout in front to display bare toes.

The rocker-girl look was spoiled somewhat by the fact that with her makeup showered off, she looked like a fresh-faced teen.

“What are you grinning at?” she asked irritably. Still, she accepted the mug I handed her.


“What is the matter with you?”

“If you mean last night, I guess you poured me one vodka too many.”

“I don’t mean that. Although I never thought I would see the day when Trav Becker couldn’t get it up. You spent half the night staring at me like you’d never seen me before. What the hell is going on?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

She leaned in closer. “Cut the crap. If you want this to be done, Trav, just say the word. I’m not your fragile violinist.”

“Vio— You mean Mary?” I chuckled in spite of myself. “Mary Logan may be a lot of things, but fragile is not one of them.” I frowned at her as I continued. “And where the hell did that come from? Mary and I have been over for…Well, it’s over.”

“Bullshit,” she spat. “You still love her. You mumble her name when you’re asleep. And that’s fine. You’re not my first choice either. It’s been fun, but if you want to move on, just tell me.”

“I never said that.”

“Well, what do you want, then?”

I opened my mouth but nothing came out.

“That’s what I thought.” She put her mug down and pushed past me.

“Amy, wait.”

“Forget it, Trav. I don’t do head games. Call me. Or don’t. It’s not that big a deal.”

And she swept out the door, not even stopping to put on her toeless boots.

I thought about going after her but knew that would just make things worse.

So, I went back into my small kitchen, found the large bottle of Advil I kept in the cupboard for just such an emergency as this, and dry-swallowed four tablets.

I examined the room while I waited for them to take effect and was suddenly disgusted by the crumbs on the counter and the sink full of dishes. I busied myself putting the room into some semblance of order. By the time I finished I felt almost human again.

There was still plenty of time before I was due to meet Kaaro, so my original plan of getting in a workout seemed feasible. I pulled on some clothes, grabbed my gym bags, then stopped.


I had two gym bags. Why did I have two gym bags?

One was familiar. It was simple black nylon, no logo. I had picked it up at the dollar store figuring it would last a few months and then I’d get a nicer one. Turned out, the thing was damn near indestructible. I’d gone through three Kevlar vests while on the force. The gym bag had outlasted them all.

The smaller bag was bright red, narrower than the black one, but longer. I unzipped it and reached inside.

The polished steel blade of a sword glinted in the early morning light.

Traitor Preview – The Before Stuff

Book doctors will tell you never start a book with a preface. If it’s not important enough to be in the first chapter, it doesn’t belong in the book. So of course, Traitor begins with not one, not two, but THREE scene-setters!

What can I say? I’m a rebel.

If it’s been a while since you’ve last visited the Traveler-verse, you might want to check out the Traveler and Prisoner recaps. Even with three prefaces, we dive right into the action without much review.


Some Time Ago

 Sam Marcus looked up from his computer as the door opened.

“What the hell?”

Intending to bite the head off whatever grad student would come barging in without knocking, he swallowed his growl when he saw who it was.

“Oh. Hey, Trav.”

Sam saved the code he was writing and took a sip of Coke. It was warm, because he had brought it up with him…Christ. Hours ago. Suddenly, he was glad Trav had shown up. Time for a break. Sam grabbed his chin with one hand and the back of his head with the other and twisted. He was rewarded with a satisfying crack.

“What’s up?” he asked, now cracking his neck from the other direction. “I don’t suppose you brought lunch.”

Trav looked amused, glancing at his watch. “It’s seven-thirty. How long have you been here?”

“Since ten, maybe,” Sam replied

“You really lost track of time. What are you working on?”

“Math. The part I hate. I’ll write code all day, but getting the algorithms that drive the program right is hard. If I quit in the middle, it’s hard to get my train of thought back.”

He moved his hands to the small of his back and arched, achieving another crack. “If you hadn’t shown up I might have worked all night. But as long as you’re here, want to grab some dinner?”

Trav shook his head. “Later. Tell me what you’re working on first.”

“When did you get interested in my research?” Sam frowned. “You quit asking me about work sophomore year.”

“Humor me.”

“Well, you remember from the one physics class you took? The one where I spent about a hundred hours tutoring you?”

Trav rolled his eyes and made a get on with it gesture.

“At the quantum level,” Sam continued, “you can measure either a particle’s location or its momentum but not both.”

“The Uncertainty Principle.”

Sam gave his friend a pleased nod. “I’m impressed. I guess I wasn’t wasting my time with you after all. Well, there’s a theory related to the Uncertainty Principle called the observer effect, which…”

Trav held up a hand. “That’s okay, I don’t need to hear any more.”

“What do you mean?” Sam suddenly became aware of a shadow behind Trav, just on the other side of the half-open door.  “And, who is that with you?”

Trav moved aside.

Sam’s eyes widened as another Trav Becker stepped into the room.

“What the fuck?” he sputtered. “What the hell is going on here?” Sam hadn’t noticed before, but he now realized Trav had traded his usual jeans and St. Louis Cardinals jacket for what looked like black fatigue pants and an equally dark vest. The mirror Trav was dressed identically, except he was carrying a black nylon duffle bag.

“You hear that?” the first Trav said to the other.

“Yeah. Too bad.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Sam looked from one Trav to the other, still trying to process the impossible sight.

“Well,” Trav Two said with a sigh, “if you were working on something besides the Cat Box, maybe we could have grabbed dinner. Hell, six months ago, The Boss might have shown up here himself to recruit you.”

“Unfortunately, we aren’t hiring anymore,” said Trav One.

“What? You aren’t making any sense!” Sam sputtered. “And how do you know I call it the Cat Box? And who the hell are you?” The last was directed at Trav Two.

“Always with the questions. You’re just too curious, Sam.”

And with that Trav One raised the gun he had been hiding behind his back. Sam watched, unbelieving, as the muzzle flashed one, two, three, four times, the sound of the reports reduced to that of a loud cough by the suppressor screwed into the Glock’s barrel.

The impact drove him backward until he bumped into the wall. There was no pain at first. For just a moment Sam thought this was some crazy joke and that the gun contained blanks.

“Wha…?” He started to say. But then he looked down at his chest to see blood and abdominal fluids flowing from four neat holes.

And then the pain began.

What the hell are you doing? he screamed. Or at least that was what he intended to say. What came out was merely a wet gurgle as his legs gave way beneath him.

The Travs watched dispassionately as Sam gasped and tried desperately to suck air into his perforated lungs. They pulled surgical gloves from pockets in their vests. Trav Two unzipped the duffle bag and pulled out a propane torch, then two cans of drain cleaner, a half gallon of paint thinner, several packets of a popular cold remedy, and some coffee filters. He arranged the objects on a small table next to a plastic box, about eight inches high with a T-shaped handle on the top.

Trav One stepped over Sam’s outstretched legs so he could reach the standup desk where the computer rested. He typed in a few commands then stood back as the hard disk erased itself.

By this time, Trav Two had finished arranging the contents of the duffle on the table. Both men looked around the room.

“We done?” Trav Two asked.

Trav One nodded, giving Sam a final glance.

“Sorry buddy,” he whispered.

The two Travs closed their eyes and vanished.

A corner of Sam’s mind told him he should find that shocking, but he was too busy dying to give it proper consideration. It was far easier to just stare in the direction his eyes were already pointed and listen to the soft beeping as the computer’s BIOS attempted to locate the operating system that was no longer there.

The world began to slip away, but Sam’s waning attention was attracted by a knock on the door.

“Sam?” Trav Becker called softly as he opened the door.

“Did you forget something?” Sam demanded. “Like maybe to stab me?”

Again, that was what he intended to say. But all that came out was a whistling moan.

“Well?” said a voice behind the door.

“We’re too late,” Trav said, pushing the door open. He dashed across the room, dropping to his knees. He put his arm under Sam’s shoulder and gently eased him away from the wall and laid him on the floor. “Just lie still,” he said. “Don’t try to move.”

“Oh, no.”

Yet another Trav followed this one into the room. Identical expressions of dismay stretched their angular faces. The lead Trav pulled off his baseball cap, which bore the logo of the movie Jurassic Park.

“Well, fuck.”

“Sorry buddy,” the other one whispered.

You already said that, Sam wanted to say. But instead he just watched the two Travs seemed to fade and grow farther away until they vanished behind a curtain of gray.


Just Now

Morgan turned to Fay. “You can’t let them do this!”

The older woman shook her head. “It’s you who doesn’t understand,” she said sadly. “We’ve been fighting this war for years. What gives you the right to wade in here and tell us everything we’re working for is wrong?”

“He won’t be hurt,” Buck said to her. “But I can’t risk him undoing everything we’ve worked for.”

He turned to me.

“Last chance.”

I shook my head.

He sighed, his shoulders sagging a little. He waved a hand at Gear.

“Let’s get this over with so we can go back to work.”

“What about Morgan?” I asked.

He frowned. “What about her?

“I have your word she’ll be okay?”

“As okay as any of us will be,” he replied. The oldest Trav turned to Gear again. “We’re running out of time.”

“This would go a lot quicker if you would shut up and let me work.”

“Fine. Just hurry up.”

Please.” Morgan pleaded. “Don’t do this. Listen to him!”

“It’ll be all right,” I told her.

And I stomped down as hard as I could on Emdall’s instep.

He let go of my arm, howling. I snapped my hand around and grabbed the back of his head. Before Gomez, on my other side, could react, I banged their noggins together. Their lookalike faces slammed into one another with a dull crack, and they both went down.

Gear looked up at the commotion and saw me coming for him.

Eep!” He frantically pushed and swiped at his tablet.

Stepping over the two unconscious bodies, I leaped at the little man.

And suddenly everything went black.


In Between

I floated, equally unconcerned that I could neither see, hear, nor feel anything or that my last action had been hurling myself at the middle-aged analogue of my best friend.

A few seconds, or maybe a million years later, I registered another presence near me.

You really walked into that one, didnt you? the presence said.

As I mulled over these words, the memory of the last few seconds of my life swam back into my memory as well. I had tried to stop Gear from doing something. Something really bad for me. I felt like I should be more upset about what had happened to my body. However, since I didn’t seem to have a body anymore, maybe it wasn’t that important.

Am I dead?

A mental chuckle. No. Although in the grand scheme of things, that would probably be easier. Youre in between.

Why am I here?

I slowed things down a little so we could have a chat.

I pondered that for a couple of millennia, finally deciding I was, in fact, a little curious.

What about?

About whats going to happen to you.

And that is?

Gear has erased a bunch of your memories. Hes sending you to a place where you wont remember being a Traveler, or much of anything he doesnt want you to.

I cant say I like that very much.

Im not surprised.

What can I do about it?


Then why are we here?

I thought you deserved to know what was about to happen.

And I cant keep it from happening?


Can you?


Will I remember any of this?


Then whats the point?

Later. We dont have a lot of time. Like I said, we cant keep this from happening, but I think I can help you steer toward a place that might be just a little bit more useful.

What good is that if Im not going to remember anything?

Well leave you some bread crumbs.

Bread crumbs?

Let me explain.

And he did.

Traitor – Now Available for Pre-Order!

He’s been a Traveler.
a Prisoner.
But to prevent catastrophe
the world will need…
a Traitor.

Pre-order today!

Kindle ebook from Amazon

Signed physical copy from the Traveler Store


Stripped of his memories and exiled to a world filled with foes, Trav Becker fights his way through parallel universes against an adversary capable of anticipating his every move. But the Traveler will do whatever it takes to be reunited with the woman he loves.

Chaos sweeps through the multiverse, pushing Trav, Mary, and their loyal friends Sam and Morgan into a desperate fight for survival.

On the run and forced to seek help from the unlikeliest of allies, can Trav and his friends prevent the looming collapse of reality itself?

Dennis W. Green’s mind-bending Traveler saga races to its explosive conclusion.

Traitor Cover Reveal!


He’s been
a Traveler,
a Prisoner.

But to prevent catastrophe,
the world needs…
a Traitor.

Stripped of his memories and exiled to a world filled with foes, Trav Becker fights his way through parallel universes against an adversary capable of anticipating his every move. But the Traveler will do whatever it takes to be reunited with the woman he loves.

Battle lines close in and chaos sweeps through the multiverse, pushing Trav, Mary, and their loyal friends Sam and Morgan into a desperate fight for survival.

On the run and forced to seek help from the unlikeliest of allies, can Trav and his friends prevent the loomng collapse of reality itself?

Traitor drops on February 29. Pre-order link coming soon!

My Brush with Hayden

Legendary Iowa football coach Hayden Fry passed away December 17 at the age of ninety. You’ve heard tributes to Hayden Fry from fellow coaches, former players, and sports experts.

This is not one of those. But my Hayden story might give you a little insight to the man behind the legend, and how he looked out for someone when he didn’t have to.

For those who don’t follow college football, in addition to turning an Iowa team that had the losing-est record in the NCAA into a national power, Fry also ran something of a “coaching college.” All eleven of his assistant coaches from the ear
ly 80’s went on to become head coaches in their own right, including his successor Kirk Ferentz. At last count, Hayden’s “Class of 1983” has garnered a staggering 722 victories, including 32 bowl wins and 15 conference titles.

But this story isn’t about that. It’s about a chance encounter the coach had early in his Iowa tenure with a wet-behind-the-ears broadcaster that has stayed with me for nearly four decades.

The year was 1980, Coach Fry’s second year as Iowa’s coach. I was a sophomore at the University of Iowa, working my first radio job, a part-time Dj and producer at KXIC radio in Iowa City. One of my duties was to help with the football broadcasts. This entailed producing a weeknight call-in show that featured Coach Fry answering questions posed by KXIC play-by-play guy Gene Clausen and the sports directors of the other stations in our small network, from tiny Iowa burgs like Burlington and Muscatine.

Gene and Hayden broadcast out of a room down the hall from me, wearing headphones so they could hear the questions posed by the other sports directors, whose voices were piped in so that all the participants could hear each other and interact.

One night, there was an equipment glitch in the conference room. None of the microphones worked. So Hayden and Gene had to come into the tiny production studio with me.

To fully understand the story, you need to know just a little about how radio studios are designed. In an audio production room, speakers are always automatically muted when the microphone is turned on, to eliminate feedback. This is why you always see DJs wearing headphones when they’re talking.

So here’s the scene. Hayden and Gene are squeezed into two chairs in front of the control board, sharing the studio’s only microphone. I am perched on the edge of the counter, because there isn’t room for another chair. I have the only available set of headphones, so my job is to keep the mic off so Hayden can hear the question, then quickly flip the switch on so he can answer. And that was how it went for nearly the full hour of the show:

Mic off: Hayden listens.

Mic on: Hayden answers.

Mic off: Hayden listens.

Mic on: Hayden answers.

Mic off: Hayden listens.

But somehow, after about forty-five minutes of this on/off switching, I lost the rhythm.

I turned the mic ON while the away sports director was speaking, and clicked it off just in time for the three of us to hear: “ do you think about that Hayden?”

Oh, crap. I have just screwed up Hayden’s call-in show. My career is over. 

Hayden, Gene, and I all stared at each other for a beat, then Hayden signaled for me to turn the mic back on, and in his unmistakable Texas twang, calmly drawled:

“Y’all mind repeating the question? I guess I wasn’t paying attention.”

The guy repeated his question, a little annoyed, but we managed to survive the show. Neither Gene nor Hayden mentioned my gaffe.

Hayden could have blamed technical problems, or the idiot kid who didn’t know how to do his job. But he took it on himself. It was a little thing, but it was taking care of the little things that made him a great coach and a good person. Also, it was the kind of quick thinking that I imagined served him very well in those down-to-the-wire games.

Hayden Fry would go on to become one of college football’s most legendary figures, whose impact continues today, more than two decades after his retirement.

But I will always remember the coach who took the blame for an error made by a young producer whose name he didn’t even know.