Sunday, October 28, 2012


Buddy was still trick or treating after nine o’clock at night. Porch lights were out and almost no one opened their door to his repeated bell ringing and loud knocks. When they did, all he got for his trouble was, “We’re all out of candy.”

When he said, “How about a few bucks instead?” He got the door slammed in his face.

He was repeatedly asked, “Where is your costume?” to which he answered, “This is it. I’m dressed as a sloppy, red-headed teenager.”

One guy asked him if he “Wasn’t too old to be trick or treating?”

Buddy told the turd that he suffered from premature aging disease. The guy told him to see a doctor.

Buddy carried a small notepad and pencil in the back pocket of his jeans and he wrote down the addresses he planned to revisit later that night. He drew little pumpkins next to the addresses; the more pumpkins, the nastier the trick. The guy that told him to see a doctor got five pumpkins; the highest rating possible.
Buddy walked in his front door and went to the fridge for a beer. His mom was working the 11 to 7 shift at the hospital and by the time his old man came home from his weekly poker game he’d be too smashed to noticed a beer or two missing.

Buddy flopped on the couch, picked up the remote, switched on the TV and began channel surfing. He watched an old horror flick that was spoiled by too many commercials, and then dosed off several times, watching nothing in particular. Finally it was close to midnight and time for him to make his repeat Halloween visits. He stopped by the garage for a few things before he took off on his route.
A mottled moon hung in the dark sky, sometimes melting mysteriously among the lowering clouds. The wind moaned mournfully through bare trees standing like sentinels along the street, and dry leaves scattered this way and that across lawns and sidewalks. Buddy shivered as he walked along retracing his steps to the various houses on his list. He scanned the streets, but there wasn’t another soul out this late.

Buddy made it a point to go first to the house he’d given five pumpkins. He checked to see that all the lights were out and then cut across the lawn to the side of the house next to the garage where he’d noticed a hose on his first circuit of the neighborhood. He took the end of the hose, went to the garage door and getting down on his knees, inserted the crowbar he’d brought and managed to lever up the garage door just enough to shove the nozzle under it. He went back to the side of the house and reached to turn on the faucet. That’s when he noticed that the hose wasn’t connected.

“Shit,” he said under his breath. He should have remembered that people were disconnecting their hoses and blowing out their sprinkler systems. He bent over and searched for the hose end in the dark. When he finally found it he straightened up to screw it on to the hose bib. Standing there in front of him was a big guy with a pumpkin for a head. He said, “Trick or treat,” in a weird voice without intonation or expression.

At first Buddy was scared out of his mind, dropped the hose, and just stuttered nonsense. But he gained control of himself and studied the guy closer. Of course the outstanding feature of the guy’s costume was the pumpkin head, which seemed to fit perfectly on his shoulders and had eyes that glowed with a sinister yellow-green intensity that was really pretty scary. And the guy was definitely big -- big shoulders and long arms hanging ape-like at his side. In one he cradled a head; dirty black hair, shreds of flesh hanging from the neck -- a pretty realistic looking fake, thought Buddy.

Pumpkinhead’s costume was completed by a tattered tweed overcoat that looked like something out of the 1920s, a faded red wool scarf that hid his neck so you couldn’t see how the pumpkin was connected, pants that were two sizes too short, and dirty leather work boots.

“Trick or treat,” the guy said again in that toneless voice.

“Yeah, like I’m giving you anything,” Buddy said. “Aren’t you too old to be out trick or treating, weirdo?”

“Trick or treat,” the guy said again, like an automaton. If the guy kept this up, Buddy thought, he’d spray him down, like he had the neighbor’s dog, trapped cowering in the corner of its dog run.

“Fuck you,” said Buddy to the looming presence, and turned to pick up the hose.

“Trick,” Buddy heard, at the same time he felt the guy’s hands clamp around his head.

It wasn’t quite as cold the next Halloween and the kids that came by trick or treating were able to show off their costumes without having to wear overcoats or scarves and such. That is with the exception of the big kid that came by at the tail end of the evening; the kid with the pumpkin head.

The couple he visited last were still talking about him after they’d shut off the lights and went to the family room to watch Desperate Housewives.

“That kid wears the same costume every year,” said the wife. “Same tattered overcoat and scarf, that horrible pumpkin head, and carrying that grotesque, rotting head under his arm.”

“Well, not quite the same,” said the husband. “Last year the head had black hair. This year it was red.”

Sunday, October 21, 2012


We dug and dug and swept away the sand
And kneeling down to peer into the cave
We saw a body wrapped from strand to strand
A mummy in its royal grave

We came to resurrect the ancient Pharaoh
Not with ancient arts, magic spells, nor necromancy
No, no nothing quite that fancy

We ground his bones and made a poultice of the marrow
Then sold the morbid mess to an apothecary
Who mixed the potion with a leaf of golden yarrow
And an ounce or two of Andalusian Sherry

Lady Marymount and her husband, Sir Fitzhugh
Were prescribed a daily dosage of the Pharaoh’s nectar
So her headaches might relent
And the nectar might his gout subdue

But in the night there roamed the Pharaoh’s specter
Floating through the mansion’s silent gloom
And no power nor priest nor pleading rector
Could stay the Pharaoh from his tomb

And he took the Lady and the Baron
His essence flowing through them like a pus
And like the dreaded ferryman, Charon
The raging Pharaoh came for us

Now we lie there with the Pharaoh side by side
There in Egypt in that self same cave
The two of us, the rotting Baron and his bride
Preserved forever in the Pharaoh’s fetid grave
Charon, the Ferryman to the Underworld, Jose Ben LLiure y Gil, 1919
For several hundred years, peaking in the 16th and 17th centuries, many Europeans, including royalty, priests and scientists, routinely ingested remedies containing the remains of mummies stolen from Egyptian tombs.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Lion and the Sun: A novel that's more topical than ever

Iran and its nuclear ambitions seems to be constantly in the news. How close is this oil rich, bellicose, unpredictable nation from building a nuclear weapon? Is that its intent, or is its purpose strictly peaceful, as its leaders claim?

I spent five weeks in Tehran in 1978 as part of a US Military Assistance Advisory Group. I was fortunate to get out on one of the last US commercial flight to leave Mehrabad Airport. Subsequently, I worked at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria, on nuclear safeguards, and followed that assignment up with work in the intelligence arena. After I retired, I wrote a novel, The Lion and the Sun, which drew upon that experience. The material in the novel comes from unclassified sources, but it is accurate in the way it paints the development of Iran's nuclear capabilities. Anyone who doubts Iran's real purpose will find that the tale told in this novel erases any doubt.
The Soviet Union’s house of cards finally came crashing down in 1991, sending the West near euphoria. Unfortunately, there were thousands of nuclear weapons stored in various locations in Russia and, as with the Russian ruble,  security at Russian weapons storage sites collapsed. The US spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to shore it up. Despite its best efforts, something slipped through the cracks three years later; something that in the wrong hands, would put a great big crater in the middle of Manhattan.

Daniel Conte, a veteran of 25 years with a covert unit attached to the CIA, is getting old, he’s burned out, and he’s on the razor edge of being divorced. Conte has promised his wife he’ll participate in marriage counseling to get their troubled relationship back on track just in time for Christmas. But Conte is assigned the mission of tracking down the missing nuclear weapon component, and like the good soldier he is, he drops his domestic agenda and once again does the bidding of his CIA masters.

Conte’s mission takes him from Vienna, to Istanbul, to Tehran, where he’s in serious danger of returning home in a body bag. Along the way he reconnects with an old adversary from Russian intelligence, becomes involved with a beautiful MI6 agent, and comes up against a smart-mouthed Turkish intelligence intern who seeks advice from him on her love life.

Conte heads off on his globe trotting tour in November of 1994; just nine months after Aldrich Ames is revealed to be a Soviet mole in the CIA. The implications of Ames’ treachery will be felt by Daniel Conte in more ways than he can imagine as he puts his life at risk in the service of his country; ways that will challenge his core beliefs and test his courage and his values.