Nostalgia City Mysteries

By Mark S. Bacon

My friend Jim died yesterday

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Jim McCormick had too darn much talent. 

As an artist, he worked in a variety of media: print making, collage, drawing and ingenious constructions for which I can’t find a name.  He taught art at the University of Nevada – Reno from 1960 until he retired in 1992.  His students are among the renown artists in my part of the country.

McCormick continued to create art for many years after retirement, and he curated numerous exhibits large and small.  Throughout his life he encouraged and promoted northern Nevada artists, all of whom will be grieving along with me. 

As an artist and art professor he earned innumerable awards and his work was displayed at galleries and exhibits from Nevada to North Carolina to Maine.  He served on the Nevada State Council on the Arts from 1963 to 1970 and from 1980 to 1989. He directed the Nevada Art Research Project at the Nevada Historical Society, and in 1990 he received the Nevada Governor’s Art Award for Excellence in the Arts.

Jim McCormick

I knew Jim as the artist but also as a fellow writer.  He had neuropathy, a condition of the nervous system that caused him to gradually lose feeling in his hands, arms and legs.  When he could no longer create the art works that had been his life, he turned to writing.  Not that he wasn’t already a writer.  Over the years he authored many art essays and exhibition books for individual shows.  But now he dabbled in something new: flash fiction.

I had discovered flash fiction at the time too, so Jim and I started exchanging stories.  Sometimes we’d send them in email, other times at lunch we’d reach into our pockets, pull out whatever we’d written recently and critique each other’s work.

For the uninitiated, flash fiction is a story of exactly 100 words.  Technically, flash fiction stories can be longer, or shorter, but Jim and I both liked the discipline of writing a complete story in precisely 100 words.

We weren’t competing, just poking each other’s minds with new ideas, new approaches.  Once, we even taught a seminar in flash fiction writing at our church.

I have a journalism background and thus tend to put related elements together and in chronological order. I think my stories “work” in some sense, but I often remind myself to mix things up, try something different.  Jim’s stories, like  his art, are not all  representational.  And he had a great sense of humor that came through in his writing.  Often I would look forward to his puns and other word plays to see if he would make me laugh.

Occasionally, he’d mix the macabre with his whimsy.   The following two stories are great examples. (The one title covers both stories.)  I published these on this site several years ago and offer them again as a tribute to my multi-talented friend.

Stone Motor

By Jim McCormick

Stone Motor played a gig in the music room of a moss shrouded, antebellum mansion near the Mississippi. Its audience included the usual bland tourists and a blue-haired guide named Maude, who disclaimed the South’s loss in the War between the States. Lately, she’d been trying to poison visitors from up north with complementary mint juleps. Melvin Carnahan of Boston accepted one and he expired as he drove off the plantation. The band’s lead singer was arrested; seems he had a likeness of Jeff Davis tattooed over his heart. Soon after, Maude seized the mike and the rest was history.

Shortly after joining the band, lead singer and murderess Maude Dossage changed her name; she wanted a stand-alone nom de guerre. Slightly bent in her 80th year, red hair exchanged for blue, she told the Stone Motor boys her name was now Mudd. Sympathy with the Confederate cause persisted; she hatched a plot to do in Brooklyn born drummer, Grant Getty. Mint julep concoction again? No! Too good for Getty. He got it one cool evening when Mudd laced his doobie with strychnine; he never even made it to the bandstand. Thereafter, the smug Miss Mudd doubled on percussion.

Could you disappear?

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By Lori L. Robinett
First of two parts

Hunted, a current TV show, takes regular people and sends them on the run, hunted by professionals. Think how difficult that would be.  Even those in witness protection are sometimes found. But what if you had to hide? Imagine, you witness a murder and the bad guys know you’ve seen their faces, or you’re wrongly accused of a horrible crime.  Perhaps the authorities have confused you with a terrorist who shares your name or, like the main character in my new book, Fatal Obsession, you are pregnant and your unborn child is the subject of an experiment that holds the key to curing cancer, and a rich, powerful man is determined to harvest that research.  Could you disappear?

Consider all the interactions you have with individuals, how many contacts you have, the fingerprints you leave everywhere you go—virtual and real. And consider the sacrifices you would have to make to truly disappear. Could you do it?  The better question is, how?

Cash – Surviving requires money, and this means cash. No more credit cards, no more ATMs, no more PayPal. If you’re like most people, you might have a small amount of cash on you, but how much do you truly have available? If you had to run right now, you could hit an ATM as soon as you leave home and withdraw as much as possible, but most banks limit how much you can withdraw in a day—and you don’t have the luxury of waiting around to withdraw more tomorrow.

By going to the ATM, you’re leaving 2 trails – a digital trail of the withdrawal, plus a visual trail because there is now camera footage of you at the ATM (so the authorities now know what you look like). 

So, what else can you do? Grab things before you bug out that can be converted to cash, like jewelry, watches, cameras and small electronics. Think about things that can be sold for cash at a pawn shop. You’ll be leaving another trail there, because pawn shops keep records, so you want to pawn these things as quickly as possible, as close to home as possible, so you don’t tell your hunters which direction you’re going.

Social media –  Delete all your social media accounts and your email accounts. Delete absolutely everything. Destroy any hard drives that you leave behind. Bear in mind, deleting online accounts doesn’t actually get rid of anything. Once something is on the Net, it’s there forever. That said, you don’t want to make it easy for your hunters or have anything to show up on social media that allows someone else to tag you and thus expose you. Continue Reading →

Darkness and light in this Tahoe thriller

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Tahoe Dark
Todd Borg
341 Pages
Thriller Press  August 2016
Trade Paper $16.95 Kindle $3.99 or free with Kindle unlimited

One of my favorite flavors of mystery is the story that includes more than one serious crime.  The reader struggles not only to figure out whodunit but also to determine if the crimes are connected.  If you think you have a line on a promising suspect, you have to ask yourself, is this person also involved in the other crime(s)?

This mystery device complicates a story in ways that draw you in and appeals to both your left and right brain.  Todd Borg does this admirably in his 14th Owen McKenna mystery, Tahoe Dark.

And it starts with a bang.  David Montrop’s son is kidnapped and ransomed.  Montrop is forced to empty his bank account by tormentors who seem to know his every move.  Next, he’s killed with something rarely considered a weapon.  

 When private detective Owen McKenna’s phone rings, it’s the Reno police telling him the murder victim left a note suggesting McKenna as the likely murderer.  That sets McKenna off on a quest to find out why he was singled out by the victim and who really killed Montrop and kidnapped his son. 

Soon, an armored car is robbed in State Line, Nev., by four armed men in menacing hockey masks.  The armored car company president hires McKenna to find the robbers and the money. 

See the connection?  Is there one?  If so, it stretches from Lake Tahoe to Reno and runs through more law enforcement jurisdictions than you can imagine necessary to patrol one lake, albeit the largest alpine lake in North America.

 One of the appealing aspects of the book, and there are many, is Borg’s creation of an engaging, complex victim/suspect.  She’s a seemingly vulnerable, impoverished house cleaner who appears to have connections to all the crimes in McKenna’s world.  In Tahoe Dark, that world includes additional victims murdered in a most unusual, original and gruesome way.  The murder scenes are as chilling as he’s written in 14 books.  Try not to visualize.

You will also learn fascinating, if gross details about maggots in dead bodies delivered by forensic entomologist, Street Casey, McKenna’s girlfriend:

“Street told me that when an animal or person dies, the average length of time before a fly finds it and lays eggs is ten minutes.” 

One of the funniest lines in the book involves these bugs.  But I won’t spoil it. There are other good lines:

“I wondered if we could find out what it [a substance with an unusual odor] was without waiting two weeks to get a lab test.  So I asked this woman at the office who’s got a killer sniffer.  You know,  the kind who can smell a scent and say it’s a Lady Slipper orchid or the cleaning solution they used on the floor at the main post office in Bakersfield.”

You expect a PI to pop off snappy lines like this, don’t you?  Borg doesn’t disappoint, even offering a line about another PI:

“The couch faced a TV so old it had probably broadcast original episodes of The Rockford Files.”

Borg fans will be pleased to see his continuing characters including Casey, Tahoe cop Diamond Martinez and of course Spot, McKenna’s Great Dane sidekick.

Borg muses on the grandeur of the lake and the Sierra providing a contrast between the beauty of nature and the ugliness of murder.  In Tahoe Dark, Borg offers both light and shadow, and he does this with assurance.

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