Free Fiction Thursday – Love Stinks, Inc.

Annie HS cover webLove Stinks, Inc.

Annie Reed

1

Dyte glared at the black cat perched on the center of her desk. It couldn’t stare back at her since it was just one of the many wildly successful plush toys her company produced, but that didn’t stop her from hating its adorable little guts.

The cat held a puffy red heart in its front paws. The universal Don’t Do This symbol, a circle with a slash through the center, was printed on the red satin fabric along with the stylized logo for Dyte’s company—Love Stinks, Inc.

The plush cat was part of this year’s line of stuffed animals meant to appeal to chronically unattached women (and chronically unattached men confident enough in their masculinity to buy themselves a stuffed toy). Given her company’s more than healthy bottom line, the world contained about a bazillion single people who didn’t mind dishing out $9.95 for a fuzzy toy to cuddle with on Valentine’s Day just to make themselves feel better about being alone.

Just like Dyte was alone.

She leaned forward, planted her elbows on the smooth surface of her desk, and rested her chin in her hands so she could gaze at the cat at something approximating its eye level.

“What’s your secret?” she muttered at the cat. “Why do people love you so much?”

She should be happy the toys were so successful. A significant amount of her company’s research and development budget had gone into determining a perfect size for the plush toys (big enough to cuddle but not so big they would give a real cat or dog or skunk a run for its money), the length and thickness of their fake black fur (somewhere between shorthair and Persian, when measured in feline terms), and the color of their over-sized eyes (a washed out blue somewhat darker than the noontime sky uncluttered by clouds but not as deep as the clear blue of a high mountain lake). That still didn’t the ridiculous popularity of the things. Even the skunks.

At least the toys weren’t spelled. She’d put her foot down (metaphorically speaking) at the mere suggestion, even though both R & D and her sales department had lobbied long and hard for inclusion of a compulsion spell—a “minor” one, they had assured her—in the stuffing inside the red satin heart all the plush toys held.

As far as she was concerned, customers would either buy her company’s products because they wanted to, or they wouldn’t. The last thing she wanted to do was compel people to fall in love with a stuffed toy.

Compelling people to fall in love was her dad’s thing, not hers. It was hard enough to be taken seriously in business when you were the immortal daughter of Cupid and Psyche, and you had a ridiculous name like Dyte because your mom thought it would be a nice tribute to name you after your grandmother.

Like Aphrodite had ever given one whit about her granddaughter.

Which was fine with Dyte. From the stories she’d heard, grandmother had a vindictive streak a mile wide, just like a lot of the old gods in the family tree. Even though Dyte was an immortal like her parents, she was glad to stay off grandmother’s radar.

If only she’d managed to keep her private life off her dad’s radar.

(end of sample)

~~~

Love Stinks, Inc.

Copyright © 2015 Annie Reed

This story is no longer available to read for free, but it can be purchased at Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords, iTunes, and Barnes & Noble.

Be sure to check out the other stories in the Uncollected Anthology series!

Free Fiction Thursday – The Case of the Missing Elf

Missing Elf webThe Case of the Missing Elf

Annie Reed

I was having a non-argument argument with my partner about whether we should get a Christmas tree for the office when the front door opened and a whole passel of elves piled in.

Up front, I should tell you that my partner is an elf. A tall one. Broad-shouldered, pointy-eared, strong-jawed, and with the most drop-dead gorgeous blue eyes I’ve ever seen. You might be thinking Legolas from those movies, but Diz is more The Rock than Orlando Bloom. He even has The Rock’s glower. The cinnamon and marshmallow-colored mullet, though—that’s all Diz’s own.

Yeah, I know. A mullet. But considering how great the rest of him looks, who am I to complain?

Together, Diz and I run a private detective agency called D & D Investigations out of a former bakery in a rundown neighborhood on the mainland side of Moretown Bay. I’m Dee, the other D in D & D. I’m not an elf. Or a dwarf. Or a fairy or any one of a hundred other kinds of magic folk who call the area around the Bay home. I’m a plain old vanilla human with curly brown hair that tends to frizz when it’s humid, which is just about all the time. I also have a touch of precognition I’ve yet to learn how to control any better than my hair.

“You find missing people?” the nearest elf in the pack said.

I looked down at him. Unlike Diz, who’s a good foot taller than my medium height, these elves were all way shorter than I am. I counted seven of the mini elves. They all wore variations of the same outfit: forest-green pants, red-and-green shirts that were more tunic than shirt, and red, green, or white scarves. The elf who asked me whether we find missing people had curly salt-and-pepper hair peeking out from beneath a red knit hat with a white pom-pom on top. They made the office look like a seasonal munchkin convention.

“Uh, yeah,” I said. I resisted the urge to point to the lettering beneath the agency name on the plate glass window of our office—Missing Persons Are Our Specialty. We’d paid extra for that, but no one ever seemed to read it.

The elf behind the guy with the red knit hat elbowed him. “I don’t care what you say, this can’t be the right place,” he said in a stage whisper I could hear fine even though his voice sounded like he’d just taken a hit of helium. “Just look at it.”

The rest of the elves nodded and muttered among themselves. Except for the elf with the red hat, they all sounded like helium addicts.

(end of sample)

 

# # #

The Case of the Missing Elf

Copyright © 2014 Annie Reed

This story can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and Smashwords.

If you liked The Case of the Missing Elf, check out these other Diz and Dee Mysteries!

Free Fiction Thursday – Carl of the Bells

Carl Bells web

Carl of the Bells

Annie Reed

 

My friend Carl was born a few beers short of a six-pack, if you know what I mean. He’s one of those guys with a bucket full of great ideas you just know will never pan out. He told me once he could make a killing selling rocks in a box.

“People are stupid gullible,” he said. “They’ll buy anything if you package it right.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him Pet Rocks went out of style while we were still learning our ABCs.

Carl being Carl, I shouldn’t have been surprised when he interrupted our football watching one night to tell me about his latest money-making idea.

We were nursing beers at Big Ed’s Tavern on this particular Thursday night watching the Chargers beat the crap out of the 49ers on Big Ed’s dinky television.

Big Ed got the NFL channel, which was why we hung out there. The place was packed because the 49ers were playing this week, and Reno’s chock full of diehard Niners fans. Didn’t matter that this late in December the 49ers didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of making the playoffs.

Carl and I counted ourselves lucky we got our favorite seats at the bar so we could see the tiny screen. You’d think with all the money Big Ed raked in on Thursdays, he’d shell out the bucks for a flat screen TV bigger than a postage stamp.

“You know those bell ringers they got in front of every grocery store around town?” Carl asked me.

“Yeah, the Salvation Army guys.”

Carl gave me one of his that’s what you think looks, complete with arched eyebrow and all-knowing sneer. Carl’s been losing his hair since high school graduation, and he could stand to shed those thirty or so extra pounds around his middle. His sense of fashion is lounge lizard slick. Look at him sideways, and he could have doubled for Clark Griswold’s hick cousin in that Christmas movie my wife makes me watch every year.

The arched eyebrow combined with a sneer wasn’t a particularly flattering look on my good buddy Carl.

“How do you know they’re all with the Salvation Army?” Carl asked.

(end of sample)

~~~

Carl of the Bells

Copyright © 2014 Annie Reed

First published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, January 2013 edition

This story can be purchased at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Smashwords.

Free Fiction Thursday – The Snow Queen

Just in time for the holidays, this story will be free to read for two weeks!

Snow Queen web

1

Gunther missed snow.

Back home when he’d been a kid, come the first of November, more often than not he’d wake to big, fat, fluffy flakes sailing down from the sky like soft little pieces of cotton candy.

Put enough of those flakes together and he could build a silly snowman, complete with his big sister’s favorite knitted scarf, because what else were little brothers for than to torment their older sisters?

By the first of December, enough snow would have fallen to turn the hillside behind his family’s farm into the perfect place for sledding. Gunther and his sister took turns swooshing down the hill on his dad’s old sled, avoiding the oak trees and rocky outcroppings that dotted the hill. They didn’t stop even when their noses turned red from the cold and their feet got numb, but just kept right on sledding until it got too dark to see.

Snow days started with steaming mugs of his mother’s hot chocolate and his father’s special omelets filled with home-smoked bacon and sharp cheddar and ended with everyone warming frosty fingers and toes before a roaring fireplace after an enthusiastic snowball fight or two. Even as he got older and strong coffee replaced hot chocolate and an apartment in the city replaced his parents’ farm, Gunther still got a thrill every morning when he’d wake up to falling snow.

Snow softened harsh noises. Snow took the rough edges off things. Snow made November feel like winter and made December feel magical, frosting strings of twinkling Christmas lights into blurry little stars of red and green and blue.

That had been December in the Midwest.

December in Moretown Bay, a coastal city smack dab in the middle of the Pacific Northwest, was nothing but dull and gray and dreary.

Icy rain pelted the shoulders of Gunther’s heavy winter coat and ran down the sides of his neck as he bent to unlock the iron security gate at Chocolatapus, a specialty candy store located in a trendy waterfront marketplace complete with cobblestone streets and an open-air craft market during the summer.

Unlike the used bookstore and curio shop next door run by a curmudgeonly old wizard who only opened the place to the public for an hour a day on the second and third Tuesdays of every other month (most of the wizard’s customers shopped by appointment only), Chocolatapus was open seven days a week, ten hours a day.

As the store’s manager, Gunther worked most of those days and hours, but to tell the truth, he didn’t mind. It wasn’t like he did much with his time off anyway, and besides, working at Chocolatapus had turned into the best job Gunther had ever had since he’d left home nearly ten years ago. Not that being the manager of a candy store was exactly where he saw himself ending up after all the time, not to mention money, he’d spent earning a college degree.

He might even like Moretown Bay if only it didn’t rain so much in the winter. Which made winter seem like spring and summer and fall, only a little colder. And which today made him miss his family and home and snow days all the more.

As for Chocolatapus, the store was pretty nearly perfect. It sold milk chocolate and exotic dark chocolate and every kind of chocolate in between, along with silky caramels and chewy taffy, salty-sweet kettle corn and crunchy almond brittle. In December, the store also stocked Gunther’s favorite: swirly peppermint sticks that reminded him of the candy canes that always appeared as if by magic on his family’s Christmas tree on Christmas morning. With long glass display cases filled with sweet treats lining both side of the narrow shop, the store felt warm and cozy and smelled like his mother’s hot chocolate mixed with all the best memories of his childhood.

After Gunther pushed the heavy iron security gate away from the front door, he murmured the words of the spell that would disable the wards around the front door.

Gunther didn’t have any magic of his own—no one in his family did—but more magic folk than Gunther had ever seen anywhere else lived in Moretown Bay. Spells that could be used by regular old humans were available for purchase from licensed witches and wizards pretty much anywhere in the city. For all he knew, the curmudgeonly old wizard who owned the shop next door sold spells on the side.

Of course, spells could also be reversed for the right price.

(end of sample)

~~~

This story is no longer available to read for free, but it can be purchased at Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble.

Be sure to check out the other stories in the Uncollected Anthology series!

Free Fiction Friday – The Magic of Home

This week’s free fiction story celebrates the first issue of the Uncollected Anthology with my contribution, The Magic of Home.  This story will be available to read for free right here until August 15th.  Enjoy!

Annie MM for website

THE MAGIC OF HOME

Annie Reed

The motorcycle whispered to Twig as they zoomed past the shipyards at the south end of Moretown Bay.

Home.

Tucked safely inside her helmet, the tips of Twig’s long ears quivered in response to the motorcycle’s rumbling voice. She felt its yearning not only in the subtle change in its magic, but in the throaty roar of the engine as they increased speed, racing north on I-5 toward the city that shared its name with the bay.

Twig leaned forward. “Almost there,” she said. “Almost there.”

Her words tore apart on the damp night air rushing past her, but she knew their meaning would still reach the heart of the machine that had been her friend for a decade. Not all magical beings needed ears to hear or words to understand.

As much as she wanted to get them both home, they couldn’t afford to draw the attention of any police—or wizards—who might be patrolling the freeway.

I-5 passed through the center of the city as the freeway wound its way north into Canada, a wide ribbon of asphalt and concrete hemmed in by high-rise office buildings, luxury hotels, and apartment buildings too rich for Twig’s blood. This part of the freeway had always been heavily patrolled. Twig doubted that had changed in the years she’d been gone, so she throttled back on the engine to bring their speed closer to the surrounding traffic.

The motorcycle fought her, so Twig whispered soothing words to it until it accepted her decision. She hoped it was the right one.

Under other circumstances, just seeing the city itself might have taken her breath away. Tonight the sky was clear. No fog had rolled in off the water to obscure the view, and the tall buildings in the city center gleamed like jewels against the starry sky. She could make out the spires of the Justice Center, gleaming white and silver like a monument to law and order for all, human and magic folk alike. Spotlights had turned the modern glass and steel Trexler Towers blue and green, the colors for a local sports team.

Twig wasn’t surprised that the city was still celebrating the team’s world championship, even though that particular sport wasn’t truly played on a global scale. Everyone, magic folk and humans alike, needed something outside themselves to believe in.

Hurry, the motorcycle whispered. Gillfoil approaches.

Twig tensed. As sensitive as her ears were to the currents of magic in the world around her, the motorcycle’s senses far exceeded hers. If the motorcycle felt the presence of the gang’s enforcer, that meant he was near.

“Where?” she asked.

Behind. Less than a mile.

“Can we make it?”

The motorcycle hesitated. Twig could imagine her friend calculating speed and distance, and the effect of mass and magic on both.

No.

(end of sample)

~~~

The Magic of Home is available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords.

If you enjoyed this story, be sure to check out the other stories in the Uncollected Anthology series!

Free Fiction Thursday – Here, Kitty Kitty

Kitty Kitty webPrivate investigator Dee and her gorgeous but grumpy elf partner Diz find missing people for a living. Tracking down a fairy’s missing ceramic cat should be a snap, right?

Dee should have known any case involving one of the fey would lead to disaster. Much less an angry little fairy who hurls weapons at her head and yells at her in Japanese.

To save her skull and find the kitty, Dee and her partner plunge headlong into the world of manga, anime, and cosplay. Diz might never be the same again.

This story is available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and Smashwords.

Here, Kitty Kitty

Annie Reed

I dove behind my desk as my miniature Zen garden went whizzing past me. The garden’s stone base slammed into the wall right about where my head had been a split second ago, sand rained down into my hair, and I wondered what else I’d left lying around the front office that the little fairy might decide to throw at me.

My name’s Dee, and I’m a private investigator. Clients usually don’t show up at my office and launch deadly weapons at me. Along with my partner, Diz, I run D & D Investigations. People—and by that I’m loosely referring to elves, leprechauns, Greek gods, and my family—hire us to find loved ones who’ve gone missing.

We rent office space in a shabby building on the inland side of Moretown Bay. The neighborhood’s seen better times, but I like it. A masseuse with a unique flair for marketing and questionable taste in aromatics has a shop across the street, and there’s an Asian store next to the office run by a very nice lady who two days ago introduced me to the little fairy currently hovering over my desk and yelling at me in Japanese.

I don’t speak Japanese. I think my dog might since his usual Golden Retriever grin was dialed up to a near giggle.

“Want to let me in on the joke?” I asked him as I crouched behind my desk clutching my battered executive chair like it was a shield.

Dog didn’t say anything. He only speaks to me in my visions. And yes, that’s his name until he tells me otherwise.

We’d been having a nice afternoon at the office, Dog and I, up until the fairy barged through the door. Diz was off doing whatever tall, grumpy, gorgeous elves do—by themselves—after they crack a case with their partner. Dog had been curled up asleep in a small patch of actual sunshine coming through the front windows. I didn’t blame him. Clouds, rain, and mist are the norm in Moretown Bay. Rare slices of sunshine should always be celebrated with a good nap. My cat was probably doing the same thing in my upstairs apartment unless she was still pouting. She hasn’t quite forgiven me for allowing a dog to invade her life.

Faced with an office full of sleeping animals and no cases to work on, I’d been trying to distract myself from obsessing over my terminally single state, this time with Zen meditation. Diz told me recently that I should learn to live in the moment and enjoy the process instead of focusing so hard on the results. He thinks that might help me control my visions. I’m not an elf or a fairy or any other brand of magical folk. Vanilla human, that’s me, only with a seriously unreliable touch of precognition. Since I suck at living in the moment, I thought learning Zen meditation might help, hence the little desk-top sand garden I’d purchased at the Asian market two days ago.

I’d been sitting at my desk raking lines in that stupid little plot of sand for what seemed like hours, trying to stop thinking about my partner’s pointy ears and the one time I’d witnessed the tantalizing curve of his towel-covered derriere and just be in the moment, when our latest supposedly happy client flew in the door, picked up the Zen garden, and threw it at my head. I ducked just in time. She’s got quite an arm for someone only ten inches tall.

“Okay, okay!” I said from behind the safety of my desk. Which, let’s face it, isn’t all that safe when the fairy hurling weapons at your head can fly just about anywhere she wants to. “I get that you’re angry. Want to let me in on why?”

(end of sample)

# # #

“Here, Kitty Kitty” previously appeared in Fiction River #1: Unnatural Worlds

Copyright © 2014 Annie Reed

Published by Thunder Valley Press

Free Fiction Thursday – Hunger in Blue

Hunger in Blue webMatthew Reynolds turned himself into the perfect cop. He purchased the perfect uniform. Worked for years to get his body in perfect shape. Practiced his cop’s stare for hours in front of a mirror to master the perfect mix of intimidation and understanding. He’s finally ready for his first night on the streets.

Matthew Reynolds never applied to the police academy. He knew he wouldn’t qualify. He’s not about to let a little thing like that stop him.

He’ll do anything to protect and serve. Anything at all. He has no other choice.

This story is no longer available to read for free, but it can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and Smashwords.

Hunger in Blue

Annie Reed

Reynolds tucked the tail of his new uniform shirt into his pants. Deep blue, almost black in the low light of his apartment, and one hundred percent cotton, or so the tag inside the collar claimed. Just enough starch in the fabric to keep the pressed lines crisp and clean.

He almost wished he hadn’t put on a clean black T-shirt underneath. The feel of the long sleeves against his forearms as he buttoned the cuffs was exquisite. How much better to feel the slightly stiff, scratchy cotton against his chest? His newly-flattened belly?

How much better to help him play the part?

He closed his eyes and breathed in deep. He had to control himself. The T-shirt kept the vest from rubbing his skin raw. The uniform shirt was tailored to fit over the T-shirt and the bullet-proof vest and still show off his physique in a way that made him look solid and powerful.

He’d been working toward this day for over a year. Scrimping and saving and studying, checking every move he made in the mirror to make sure his body language was right, his expression suitably intimidating and kind all at the same time. Not an easy feat. How did the real cops do it? Given the cops he saw on the street every day, most of them cut out the kindness. Reynolds promised himself he never would.

He was going to be a different kind of cop. The kind the world of today needed. The kind the world deserved.

(end of sample)

# # #

“Hunger in Blue”

Copyright © 2014 by Annie Reed

Published by Thunder Valley Press

Free Fiction Thursday – Rolo the Great

Rolo webMagic mixes with everyday life in this charming tale of hope and determination.

Rolo the Great, a courtly, pint-sized peddler of tourist trinkets, has at last found the woman of his dreams. Unfortunately for Rolo, she’s trapped in the belly of a brass pig.

In a place where magic co-exists with the mortal world, how can one small man with no magic of his own hope to rescue a damsel in distress?

Worse still, what if she doesn’t want to be rescued?

This story is no longer available to read for free, but it can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and Smashwords.

Rolo the Great

Annie Reed

Rolo the Great owned the corner of Sussix and Wales. Or at least, that’s what he called it.

In reality, Rolo’s home turf was a six-foot wide strip of concrete sidewalk on the southwest corner of Fourth Street and Madison Boulevard, just a mere two blocks from the tourist trap that was the fishermen’s and farmers market in Moretown Bay. Rain or shine, Rolo could be found on the corner hawking his wares, which this month happened to be spiral wires enchanted to sparkle in all the colors of the rainbow, with little trinkets of gold or silver jewelry or a small feather hanging off the ends. Given his courtly manner, not to mention more than his fair share of charm and wit and a smidgen of rugged good looks, Rolo was able to eke out a living by charming the ladies, tourists and locals alike. The spirals he sold were hair charms, which he was more than happy to show each lady how to wear, provided they bent down low enough for Rolo to reach their heads.

Rolo was only four foot tall, you see.

He wasn’t properly a dwarf or a halfling, and he was too tall to be a gnome. Whenever a potential customer was crude enough to ask him if he was an elf, he would happily brush back his unruly brown curls to show them his perfectly human-shaped ears, which meant he was also neither fairy nor nymph nor leprechaun. He was simply a somewhat short person who thought he was the King of England. In a past life, of course.

So it all made a certain kind of sense when he fell in love with a princess.

An enchanted princess.

Of course.

(end of sample)

# # #

“Rolo the Great”

Copyright © 2014 Annie Reed

Published by Thunder Valley Press

Free Fiction Thursday – Self Defense

Self defense webA powerful story about a single mother and her young son from award-winning author Annie Reed.

When Miriam’s son tries to defend himself against schoolyard bullies, he’s victimized a second time by a school system that punishes the victim as well as the bully.

In order to help her son learn to be strong, Miriam must overcome the trauma of her own past. For bullies exist in every walk of life, and she’s tired of being a victim.

This story is no longer available to read for free,but it can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and Smashwords.

Self Defense

Annie Reed

Miriam sat across the desk from her son’s middle school principal and tried not to fidget.

Her chair was as uncomfortable as all the classroom chairs she’d ever sat in when she’d been in school. Straight-backed with a hardwood seat and battered metal legs, it was an adult version of the kid-sized chairs she perched on at every parent-teacher conference she’d gone to since Mitchell had started school seven years ago. Familiarity did not breed contempt so much as fear—the old childhood fears of being called to the principal’s office. Of being noticed. Of not fitting in.

Only this time Miriam wasn’t afraid for herself. She was afraid for Mitchell.

The principal didn’t shake her hand when Miriam introduced herself after a harried-looking office assistant ushered her into his tiny office. The man didn’t even stand up from behind his neat-as-a-pin desk. His only acknowledgment of her presence was to glance away from his computer screen only long enough to give her a look that made her feel like she was a minor irritation in a lifetime filled with nothing but irritations.

Miriam had offered her hand in greeting. When the principal didn’t give her the courtesy of accepting her outstretched hand, she pulled it back and straightened her skirt as she sat down. She tried to make the movement look natural, like she’d intended to do just that all along, although she was sure she’d failed miserably.

“We have a serious situation here, Mrs. Richardson,” the principal said. “You son was caught fighting.”

(end of sample)

 

Free Fiction Thursday – Long, Slow Suicide

LS Suicide web

Eli Goshen loves his wife. He has for over fifty years. He’s always taken care of her, but when she takes an unexpected gambling trip to Reno and fails to return, he has no choice but to hire a private detective to find her.

A detective who’s been around gambling all her life.

A detective who knows how fast a big win can turn into the biggest loss of all.

(This story is no longer available to read for free, but it can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and Smashwords.)

Long, Slow Suicide

Annie Reed

I usually meet clients in my office.

It’s not much of an office, little more than a closet with a desk and file cabinet the last tenant left in lieu of rent, and a couple of chairs I rescued from a mortgage company’s going out of business sale. But I like my clients to see I’m legit. Not some schmuck working out of her apartment who cobbled together a one-page website featuring a generic shot of the downtown Reno skyline with the words Detective, Reasonable and Discrete Photoshopped on top. I have an actual office.

Okay. So my website only has two pages. I also advertise on Craigslist. Shoot me. I have to eat like everyone else.

My new client, Eli Goshen, didn’t want to come to my office. He wanted to meet me in a casino.

Reno’s lousy with casinos. Vegas gets the splash and the notoriety, but we have more than our fair share up north. From the massive Silver Legacy, with its ridiculous, huge bowling ball of a dome, to the latest trend—mini strip mall casinos nestled next to the neighborhood Subway or Payless Shoes. If you want to shovel your paycheck in the mouth of a slot machine, you don’t have to go far in this town to find one.

I never understood the allure.

Gambling aside, breathing the air in a casino is like mainlining a rancid cocktail of secondhand smoke and alcohol fumes directly into your bloodstream. The gaming areas are one huge, windowless cave lit by enough neon and flashing lights to give an epileptic seizures. Heaven forbid the gamblers might notice the sun’s come up (or gone down) while they’ve been plunking silver dollars into a slot machine’s maw.

The carpets are loud, the games are loud, and the whole thing’s tarnished with a none too subtle sense of desperation.

Casinos sell the ultimate get rich quick version of the American Dream, but I grew up here. Casinos aren’t built because they lose money. They don’t need any of mine.

I tried to talk Goshen into meeting me anywhere else. He told me he was staying at the Downtowner and would meet me in the coffee shop in a half hour.

That brief phone call told me two things about my new client. One, he was cheap.

Casino food’s the best deal in town if you can stomach the atmosphere. Casinos can afford to lose money in their restaurants because they more than make up for it with gaming revenue. Most casinos have some kind of all-you-can-eat buffet for those who want to pig out, plus a coffee shop for those who don’t. Goshen was of the non-pig out variety.

The second thing that phone call told me was that Goshen was old.

(end sample)