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.

Blonde?

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.

“Sorry.”

“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.

Bags?

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?

Nothing.

Then why are we here?

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

And I cant keep it from happening?

No.

Can you?

Nope.

Will I remember any of this?

Sorry.

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

Traitor_eBook_Cover

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!

Traitor_Final

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: “..at 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.

New Covers and pub date for Traveler 3!

Once upon a time, I wrote a thing. Not long after, I wrote another thing.

Then, for a very long time… I wrote no things.

But no longer, because I am pleased to announce that Traitor, the third and final volume in The Traveler Chronicles, will be released on February 29, 2020!

It took four years to write the book. It seems right to release it on a date that only comes once in the same span.

To celebrate, Traveler and Prisoner have gotten all-new covers, created by Drew Morton.

Watch this space for the cover reveal, previews, and all kinds of marketing nonsense as Leap Day (henceforth to be known as Traitor Day) gets closer.

My Most Memorable Concert Experience

My wife scored tickets to J-Lo at Summerfest this year. She’s excited about seeing a legendary singer and movie star, and it got me thinking about my favorite concert experience.

With four decades of broadcasting behind me, not to mention being an omnivorous music fan, I’ve seen hundreds of concerts. But the most memorable one was also one of my earliest.

The year was 1979, I was home from college, working a summer job in Council Bluffs, Iowa, the town where I grew up. I bought tickets to see America in Omaha’s Civic Auditorium, with a friend and co-worker, Steve Haberman.

I wasn’t a huge America fan. The reason I went was to see the opening act, a new group named McGuinn, Clark & Hillman, who had just released their debut album. I say new, but these guys had been around and had an exceptional pedigree. The astute music fan has already recognized Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark and Chris Hillman as founding members of the Byrds.

I liked the MCH album, and was also intrigued to see what Byrds chestnuts, or Chestnut Mares (See what I did there?) they might pull out during their set.

In retrospect, I must have been even more of a fanboy than I really remember, as I chose this concert over seeing Eric Clapton, who was playing a day or two later in the same venue.

So, the concert arrives, my friend Steve and I have seats in the first balcony with a good view of the stage. There’s a middle aged man with brown hair and a beard a couple of rows behind us, who we laughingly decide is an incognito Clapton.

 
(anyone besides me remember this tune?)

The MCH set is good, including their minor Top 40 hit, “Don’t You Write Her Off,” but it was the encore that made it memorable. My sharp-eyed friend picked up some commotion just offstage and said “let’s go to the main floor.”

So, we run downstairs, and arrive in front of the stage just in time to hear Roger McGuinn say, “Here’s a great old song, and a great friend to help us out… Eric Clapton!”

Clapton had, in fact, arrived a day early before his own concert. In retrospect, I don’t know why we would have thought the guitar god would have been sitting BEHIND US, IN THE BALCONY, but since Steve was also the person who introduced me to weed, it is possible my thought processes were somewhat cloudy.

Wearing a faded jean jacket, Clapton walked onstage. He was clean-shaven, so had it not been for McGuinn’s introduction, we might not have recognized him.

Until he started to play, of course.

Clapton buckled a Fender strat around his shoulders, and proceeded to rip through a torrid version of “Eight Miles High.”

We would have listened to that band jam all night, but unfortunately the headliners wanted to go on, so the ex-Byrds and EC left the stage. We went back to our seats and dozed through an unremarkable set from America.

Nearly forty years later, that 15 minutes still ranks as my most memorable concert experience. And I’m happy to say that Steve, Eric, and I are all still around to reminisce about it.

Okay, probably Steve and me more than Eric.

What’s your most memorable live music experience? Tell me in the comments!

Showing The Rifle

Like anyone who has spewed forth a book, I’m occasionally asked what the toughest thing is about writing. I’ll mumble something about the difficulty of making time to write when you have a full-time job and family, or trying to write when you’re not inspired, or something equally cliché.

But I’m lying. I don’t want to talk about it, but one thing that is BY FAR the hardest thing to do, even now that I’m closing in on the end of my third book.

Knowing how to show the rifle.

You probably recognize the phrase. Playwright Anton Chekhov famously wrote that if you show a rifle hanging over the mantle in Act I it had better go off in Act III or you shouldn’t mention it.

Chekhov was referring to the importance of keeping extraneous detail out of your writing. If something doesn’t serve a distinct purpose to plot or characterization, chop it out. Great advice.

But for me, “showing the rifle” is more about burying the clues that the protagonist uses to solve the mystery the book is about. Because what you want to do is show the rifle in Act I, sure, but do it in such a way that when the gun goes off in Act III, it’s a complete and utter surprise to the reader.

For my money, the hardest trick in literature.

I’m a pretty easy audience. I’ll put up with wooden characters, familiar scenes, trite dialogue. As long as the story is moving at a good clip, I’m happy. But the second the detective suddenly produces a clue that was conveniently not mentioned when she first “noticed” it, or pulls some piece of arcane knowledge out of thin air, I’m out.

Of course, the opposite is true as well. There are few things more irritating than reading a setup that is so obvious it might as well be highlighted, then spending the rest of the book waiting for the “big reveal” on page 277 that you saw in Chapter 3.

So I obsess over the rifle.

It’s nerve-wracking. You painstakingly plant clue after clue, then scuff just enough metaphorical dirt over each one, hoping they go unnoticed. Because to you there’s a big, red arrow pointing at each one that screams “LOOK, LOOK! SETUP FOR THE END OF THE BOOK HERE! RIGHT HERE! HE’S GOING TO REFER TO THIS LATER DURING HIS *SHOCKING* PLOT TWIST! BE WARNED!”

Move along, nothing to see here. Not an important plot point, I promise.

Fortunately, to this point, no reader of mine has ever said anything about the big red arrow. In fact, I have even occasionally received what I consider the absolute highest praise a plot-driven author can receive:

“I totally did not suspect the twist at the end!” 

There is no rifle in the Traveler books. At least, not yet. But if I put one in, it will definitely go off. And if it’s still a surprise after I telegraphed it for you just now, I’ll take that as a compliment.

Parts of the preceding originally appeared on the blog of one my literary heroes, Ed Gorman. Ed passed away in October 2016. But you can still read some of his final musings, as well as those of guests and friends at newimprovedgorman.blogspot.com.