That's All I Read: I KNOW VERY WELL HOW I GOT MY NAME by Elliott DeL...

That's All I Read: I KNOW VERY WELL HOW I GOT MY NAME by Elliott DeL...: I KNOW VERY WELL HOW I GOT MY NAME  by Elliott DeLine and Red Thomas BUY ON AMAZON Publisher:  CreateSpace Independent Publish...

Storytelling worthy of Mark Twain or Garrison Keillor.


WINTER DUET by Anne Barwell

Lovers in a Dangerous Time

Walking down the street, hand in hand with the person you love.  Sharing a kiss in a crowded café...

These are things we take for granted today. We read romance novels and expect a happily ever after.

For gay men living in the not so distant past, all of this was a dream that—for them—would never be reality. Not only was homosexuality frowned upon, it was illegal and any men caught in what could be presumed a sexual relationship with another man would be sentenced to hard labour, or worse.  I say ‘presumed’ because even holding hands in public was dangerous. Some got a choice—avoid prison and choose to be chemically castrated. Not much of a choice, is it?

Kristopher, one of the main characters in my WW2 Echoes series, also had another dilemma he needed to work through. He, like many others of his generation, had been taught that having romantic and sexual feelings for another man was wrong.  That thinking had already caused him to walk away from one friendship because he was scared when he figured out what his true feelings were.  In Shadowboxing, the first book in the series, Kristopher’s father discusses the ‘Jewish problem’.  The Jews are viewed as ‘other’ and Kristopher soon realises that, because he is homosexual, so is he.

There’s a well known poem by Martin Niemöller that has stuck in my mind. It is about how first they came for others and I did not speak out, and then came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.

I’ve been asked why I wrote two homosexual couples in this series.  Each man approaches their sexuality differently, and they each reflect the differing ways men dealt with the fact it was dangerous to admit to someone else who they truly were.  While Kristopher needs to admit to himself who he is, and accept it, Michel already knows he prefers men, and has had a past relationship.  Matt’s self-awareness came with the realisation that he couldn’t continue his relationship with his friend, Elise. He loved her, but not romantically and didn’t want to live a lie any longer.  Many homosexual men pretended to be straight and were in relationships with women. Ken’s situation is different again. He’d never met a man or a woman he was interested in. Then he meets Matt, and even then neither takes the risk to admit their true feelings to each other until....

In Winter Duet, Kristopher and Michel take refuge in a safe house with a German couple.
Later, Kristopher tells Michel:
“You know what I really want? I want what Karolina and Georg have. I want to be able to be with and get married to the person I love and not to have to hide how I feel.” Tears formed in his eyes, and he blinked them away. “I want to be able to offer you comfort when you need it and not just when we’re alone.” He stood up abruptly, walked over to the edge of the loft, and kicked at the straw at his feet. “Damn it, Michel. How can what we have be wrong? It’s not. It feels so right. I feel complete when I’m with you, like I was missing something before but never knew it.”

Even if he and Michel survive the war, they are going to have to hide their relationship in public.  Given that, any HEA is going to be bittersweet. Ditto for Matt and Ken.  It’s the reality of the time in which they’re living, and portraying it unrealistically would be doing them, and everything they’ve been through a disservice.

Buy Link:

Echoes book 2 - Sequel to Shadowboxing

Germany 1944

With Kristopher finally fit enough to travel, he and Michel leave the security of their safe house and continue their journey across Germany toward Switzerland. Caught in a series of Allied bombings, they stop to help civilians and narrowly escape capture by German forces.

While investigating a downed aircraft in the Black Forest, the two men discover an injured RAF pilot.  After they are separated, Kristopher and the pilot are discovered by a German officer who claims he is not who he appears to be. Determined to find Michel again, Kristopher has to trust the stranger and hope he is not connected to those searching for him and the information he carries. Meanwhile Michel is intercepted by one of the Allied soldiers he met in Berlin. His help is needed to save one of their own.

Time quickly runs out. Loyalties are tested and betrayed as the Gestapo closes in. Michel can only hope that they can reach safety before information is revealed that could compromise not only his and Kristopher’s lives, but those of the remaining members of their team—if it is not already too late.

“Oh.” Kristopher paused, his spoon halfway to his mouth. “I’m sorry. I never thought. I didn’t mean to….” The words trailed off. Telling them he hadn’t meant to embarrass them would only serve to do just that.

“I’d never heard the poems before either,” Michel said. He glanced toward the door, as though suddenly nervous.

“That’s the thing with wars,” Karolina said. “They draw all sorts of different people together, don’t they? It doesn’t matter who you are. Out there on the battlefield everyone’s the same, aren’t they?”

“Yes, they are.” Kristopher swallowed a mouthful of beans while he collected his thoughts. “I was a musician,” he said at last. “It was a long time ago. Sometimes it feels as though it was in another lifetime. I’ve been trying to work out why the code phrase sounded so familiar. I’m sorry. I guess I should have kept it to myself.”

“Nonsense,” Georg said briskly. “Don’t apologize for having a good education, and if it gives you some distraction to get through this terrible time, you should use it.” Karolina placed a hand on his shoulder. He reached up and placed his hand over hers. A sad look crossed her face, and she suddenly appeared a lot older.

Kristopher bit his lip. He lowered his gaze and concentrated on eating. He hadn’t meant to upset either of them. Michel had warned him to keep any conversation brief and focus on very general topics.

Damn it. He wasn’t very good at this at all. For a short time he’d forgotten their situation and been caught up in the moment, remembering his passion for his music and wanting to share it.

“Paul….” Michel spoke Kristopher’s assumed name, and he looked up. “Karolina’s right. This war has drawn people together who normally wouldn’t have even met. Perhaps we should take it as an opportunity to learn new things, hmm? We all have something to offer.”

“Well said, Gabriel.” Karolina squeezed her husband’s hand. “It’s been too long since Georg and I had the company of young people. You said you were a musician, Paul. What instrument did you play?”

“I play the violin, although I haven’t picked it up in years.” Kristopher watched the couple, noticing the way in which they took comfort from each other’s touch. He wanted so badly to be able to just lean over and take Michel’s hand in his and be open in front of others as to how they felt about each other. During the months spent in the attic at St. Gertrud’s, they’d still had to be careful, but they’d been left alone for much of the time. He hadn’t realized just how difficult having to hide their relationship was going to be.

“We’re not that young,” Michel said when Kristopher lapsed into silence again. He’d told Kristopher he’d turned thirty on his last birthday. Kristopher was almost a year younger and had wondered at the time where both of them would be by his next birthday, which was only a few months away.

Georg chuckled. “You’re about the same age as our boy, so to us, that makes you young.” He got out of his chair. “I’m going to make some tea. Do you want some? Here, Karolina, have my chair. You’re not getting any younger.”

“My husband, he thinks he’s funny,” Karolina said. She gave him a light peck on the cheek and went to clip his ear again, but he ducked out of the way and headed toward the kitchen.
“He’s only offering me his chair to keep me away from my knitting. He knows full well I’ll poke him with one of my needles if he gives me too much cheek.”

“How long have you been married?” Michel asked. He seemed amused by their banter. Kristopher wondered if it reminded him of his parents.

“Since just before the last war.” Karolina picked up the cloth bag Kristopher had noticed earlier and settled into the other armchair. She opened the bag and took out yarn and what appeared to be a large knitted square on needles. “We’d met the year before, and I waited for him to come home to me and our newborn son. I didn’t allow myself to think he might not. Tell me, do you have someone waiting for you?”

Kristopher glanced at Michel. Karolina wasn’t exactly following what he’d been told about keeping to safe subjects either.

“I have someone, yes,” Michel said finally. “I want nothing more than this war to finish so we can have a life together, but sometimes I doubt that will ever happen.”

“It will,” Kristopher said firmly. He placed his bowl on his knee, feeling the warmth of it through his trousers. “When you love someone, you wait for however long it takes.”

Anne Barwell lives in Wellington, New Zealand.  She shares her home with two cats who are convinced that the house is run to suit them; this is an ongoing "discussion," and to date it appears as though the cats may be winning.

In 2008 she completed her conjoint BA in English Literature and Music/Bachelor of Teaching. She has worked as a music teacher, a primary school teacher, and now works in a library. She is a member of the Upper Hutt Science Fiction Club and plays violin for Hutt Valley Orchestra.

She is an avid reader across a wide range of genres and a watcher of far too many TV series and movies, although it can be argued that there is no such thing as "too many." These, of course, are best enjoyed with a decent cup of tea and further the continuing argument that the concept of "spare time" is really just a myth.



THE PILLAR by Kim Fielding


Kim Fielding

Dreamspinner Press, August 2014


BLURB: During his youth, orphaned thief Faris was flogged at the pillar in the town square and left to die. But a kind old man saved him, gave him a home, and taught him a profession. Now Faris is the herbalist for the town of Zidar, taking care of the injured and ill. He remains lonely, haunted by his past, and insecure about how his community views him. One night, despite his reluctance, he saves a dying slave from the pillar.

A former soldier, Boro has spent the last decade as a brutalized slave. Herbs and ointment can heal his physical wounds, but both men carry scars that run deep. Bound by the constraints of law and social class in 15th century Bosnia, Faris and Boro must overcome powerful enemies to protect the fragile happiness they’ve found.

This novella is just about perfect.  The story is heart-breakingly sweet.  Its characters, both main and secondary, are crafted for the role they take in a historical piece, the history accurate without being pedantic.  The dialogue is personal and real and fills the need for sincerity and poignancy.  What's more, the story is organized just right to offer the elements of a fable precisely.  Everything happens in the story just when it should.  If you are waiting for the "but", there is none.  Kim Fielding's story is just right, a sort of It's a Wonderful Life where every element is supplied exactly when and how it should.

The Bosnian setting is realized without beating anyone over the head with it.  The time period is, to this medievalist's eye, well-executed.  The pace is steady and comes to a head just when it should.  The sex is compelling and sweet.  There just isn't one damn thing wrong with this adorable story.

I don't give stars, as you know, but if I could I would give this one six our of five.

My critical hat is off to you, Kim.


That's All I Read: A TASTE OF HONEY by various

A TASTE OF HONEY by various


 A Dreamspinner Press anthology

Celebrating bears.. whether grizzlies, panda bears, koala bears, chubbies or otters... they need love to, and this anthology has a lot to share with them.

My own story is in here, so I won't review it, but I will include the burb:

Truck Stop by Christopher Hawthorne Moss
When a snowstorm strikes an isolated diner in 1940s Nevada, diner owner Cleve is trapped inside with a single customer, a surly truck driver named Sully. As country songs play on the juke box, both men begin to reveal their secret desires and realize they have more in common than a preference for other men. They've made mistakes and faced disappointments, and they've both given up on finding love.

See if the country songs bring back some lovely memories.

Now to the reviews:

The Bear Fetish by John Amory
Robert has a full plate when he's sent from New York City to Albuquerque to prepare a regional bank to merge with a national chain. When he looks for a place to unwind, he inadvertently ends up at a gay bar on Bear Night. Used to living in the closet because of his cutthroat career, Robert is nervous... until a sweet Native American bear named Louis buys him a drink and starts to break through Robert's shell.

A warm and endearing story of a man who finds love where he does not expect it.

The Bear Next Door by Jack Byrne
It took a lot of effort for Bryce Philipson to get the attention of his neighbor, Rob Johnson, and even more persistence to prove to the middle-aged bear that he’s more than a spoiled rich kid. But both men are plagued by insecurities that threaten their relationship, and a tragic misunderstanding might prove the last straw unless they can learn to trust and forgive each other.

This one will make you appreciate what you already have.

The Bear at the Bar by J. Scott Coatsworth
Dex's life is all about the hook-up, and he knows he’s attractive enough to have any man he wants. If a guy isn’t his idea of hot—gym-toned with zero percent body fat—he won't give him a second glance, especially if he’s a bear. But then something happens that flips his perspective and makes him rethink his entire life and the decisions he’s made. In the end, though things go back to “normal,” Dex will never be the same.

Everyone dreams  of this sort of switch, or at least those of us not so traditionally beautiful.  I thought the insights Dex gains from his transformation were real and accurate enough to make the story work quite well.

Barefoot by Lillian Francis
A crunching tackle brought Finn’s rugby career to a premature end, shattering his confidence and leaving him shy and insecure about his sexuality, despite his size. Now, knowing how it feels to be left with no hope for the future, he volunteers at a homeless shelter.

One night he gives up his shoes to a homeless man. Of course, that’s the night he finally gets an opportunity to talk to Sam, the cute twink he’s been crushing on.

Mistaken identity and assumptions keep you guessing as this volunteer at a homeless shelter makes time with the man from thee grocer store where he picks up day old bread.  Thoughtful and enlightening.

Just Breathe by John Genest
Checking into a clinic one evening, Will is unnerved by the woofy Daddybear of a technician who hooks him up and gets him into bed… for a sleep study. When Will can't relax, the technician tells him a story confirming he prefers chubby cubs like Will. But recent performance problems and issues from his past hold Will back. After some uninterrupted sleep and an extraordinary dream, perhaps Will can let go of his pain and move forward.

I got such a kick out of this story of a man going for a sleep study, something this little bear had to do recently.  True to life the story yet hgas a magical side to it that makes it almost mystical.

Bear Chasing by Renae Kaye
Neil has a crush on the big guy across the road. But someone so masculine wouldn't be gay, would they? And even if they were, they wouldn't be interested in someone like Neil. The guy across the road could only be described as a bear, and Neil? Well, he's skinny, awkward and shy.

But what on earth was this "Woof!" business?

Neil's rather humdrum life takes a turn for the adventurous when he and his sister's kids get to know Rob whose car obsession causes first trouble but then a chance to get quite neighborly.  Bryce is endearing but Rob's affectionate nature towards him and others is the real selling poinct of this story.

Golden Bear by G.P. Keith
Norm’s comfortable city lifestyle is challenged when an ice storm downs his Internet and threatens his power lines. When friendly, golden-bearded Hydro worker Winston comes to remove a downed tree limb, Norm is smitten and insists on him staying for dinner. With his outside work uniform off, however, Winston is self-conscious about his heavy build. Norm has always gone for perfectly-toned gym rats, but as he discovers that Winston’s open, good-natured personality fits his build, Norm begins to see the beauty of a bear body-type.

How many of us have admired the city worker who comes to dal with one mishap or another.  In this case the fellow in Norm's backtard has insecurities of his own, making him a tender morsel for a tryst.

Hunting Bear by Edmond Manning
In Chicago’s warm June, bear-loving twink Tyler will go to any length to win the affection of his crush, the sexy construction worker known as “The Great White Bear”. With the help of his loyal friend Derrick, Tyler’s persistence finally pays off. Will he find true love with the Great White Bear? Maybe…maybe not. Tyler learns a few things about “hunting bear” that may change his heart.

The way this story brings two people together who were already friends is exceedingly satisfying.  The story is written with a precise wit that is masterful.

The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Getting Over Yourself by Robert B. McDiarmid
Following a brutal public breakup, Bill nurses his broken heart at a resort in Palm Springs. At his roommate Barnum’s insistence, he’s looking for some wild and sexy fun to help him get over his ex. He might get even more than that when he meets Arthur by the pool and they decide to see where the night will lead.

Just plain charming.

Banyan Court by Samuel Scott Preston
Returning to Honolulu for his sixtieth birthday, Professor Dan Kumagai sits by the tree in the Banyan Court and thinks back forty-odd years to his first and only romance. His time for finding love has surely passed. His grandnephew gives him an unexpected birthday present: a surfing lesson from a former Marine named Hank Ross. Dan assumes his attraction to the younger Hank is one-sided… but he couldn’t be more wrong.

This was easily my favorite story in this collection.  It has a stream-of-consciousness feel to it interrupted by grim reality so well handled that you sense the abruptness  yet fall in love with the two characters all over again.

Amped by Zoe X. Rider
Twenty-year-old Toby has looked forward to the Firesiren show all week, and now that he’s there, he’s in a rotten mood. He sulks at the back of the club, where he hopes to talk Wolf McCandless into buying beer for him. Wolf is older, always comes to the local metal shows, and is hot in a way guys Toby’s age aren't. Toby wouldn't mind getting more than beer from him. He just has no idea how to go about it.

The unexpected interlude in this story makes it all come together.

The Bear King of Snowbird Mountain by Michael Rupured
Recently single Jeremy Jenkins is an average guy working hard as a landscape designer in the mountains of Tennessee. At a conference in DC, he meets gorgeous Donald Matthews, who says the strangest things—like how he thinks Jeremy is hot and wants them to spend the rest of their lives together.

But Donald isn't just a gorgeous man. He's a descendant of the bear king of Cherokee legend, forfeiting his crown for a future shown to him by a seer long ago.

A charming fable with a heartwarming core.

Life's Tiny Surprises by Tara Spears
What possessed Mac to celebrate his thirtieth birthday alone at Giordo's restaurant, he'll never know. He's as lonely as ever, until the tiny wisp of a waiter makes a declaration that leaves Mac dumbfounded. He worries that accepting Jerrod's offer to make his birthday special will end the way such nights always do: with Jerrod gone without a trace after he's conquered the bear.

I loved this story.  It turns convention on its had and makes two men's dreams come true.  It's surprising how such a simple premise can come alive in a story well told.


Mercy's Prisoner (Volume 1 of Life Prison)

Mercy's Prisoner

"'You have committed a vile and savage act, one that any other nation would punish with death. Our punishment, on the other hand, will only be to give you what you want. You have sought to live in a world without boundaries of civilization, and such a world shall henceforth be your dwelling place.'"

A cold-hearted murderer. A vicious abuser. A young man hiding a shameful secret. A bewildered immigrant. A pure-minded spy.

All of these men have found their appointed places at Mercy Life Prison, where it is easy to tell who your enemies are. But a new visitor to Mercy is about to challenge decades-old customs. Now these men's worst enemies may be hiding behind masks . . . and so may their closest allies.

"Mercy's Prisoner" can be read on its own or as the second volume in the Life Prison series. Friendship, desire between men, and the costs of corruption and integrity are examined in this multicultural speculative fiction series, which is inspired by prison life at the end of the nineteenth century.


Life Prison. In the unmerciful world of Mercy Prison, there is no rule but unending pain. For Merrick, the arrival of his new guard provides hope that he may break beyond the boundaries of his life prison. But appearances can be deceptive, and Merrick does not yet recognize the danger this guard poses to his future.

Men and Lads. Two guards. Two prisoners. A multitude of problems.

Milord. He was the model prisoner, respectful to his guards and loyal to his fellow prisoners. What no one knew was that he held the key to destruction.

Isolation. Being locked in a prison cell can cause a man to re-examine his priorities. Especially when the door never opens.

Curious. His job is to guard the prisoners. But against what?

Mercy's Prisoner: Epilogue.

Mercy's Prisoner: Historical Note.

Tags: romance, friendship, comradeship, bisexual and gay characters, asexual and celibate characters, bdsm characters (in one story), multicultural characters, prisoners, guards, wardens, rebels, spies.


I had trouble sleeping that night. I don't know why; sleep had always been my one blessing at Mercy, transporting me back to the pleasant days preceding my arrest. I usually woke with a smile on my face. But tonight, tired though I was, I found myself staring up at the ceiling, hour after tedious hour, wishing there were cracks there that I could count.

Some of the prisoners had started a debate the previous year over what was most painful about Mercy. Was it the separation from family and friends? The beatings? The humiliations? The backbreaking work? The rapes? The list went on and on.

I hadn't participated in the debate, which, like all such conversations, had taken the form of shouts exchanged between the cells. There was a reason I'd been granted the luxury of a single-man cell: my last three cellmates had been prepared to murder me rather than live another moment with me. Since the death of a prisoner was not, alas, one of the many pains permitted at a life prison, Mercy's Keeper had finally dealt with the problem by giving me a cell of my own – which, of course, had been my plan all along. It was irritating to have to endure being strangled three times in order to achieve what I wanted.

Particularly since I couldn't hope that the stranglings would be successful.

Though I had no desire to become chummy with the bog-scum who inhabited this place, my own unspoken contribution to the debate was that boredom was the greatest pain. Boredom didn't come often – most days after work I was barely awake enough to do whatever my present guard required of me – but when it occurred, it was excruciating, like being flayed slowly by a dagger. I often thought that, if I were ever broken into madness, it would be through such a spell of boredom.

I say all this to explain why, when I heard the cell door being opened at lamp-lighting time, my first thought was not (as one might expect), "Oh, no, not again," but rather, "Thank the gods, something new." I rolled over onto my stomach and raised my head to look.

He was a slightly built man; I could see that at once from the outline of his shape against the fire in the pit. With my eyes still dazzled by the newly lit lamps, I couldn't immediately make out the man's face, but I could see one of his hands, gripping hard the hilt of his dagger. That grip stopped my heart for a moment, but even my wildest imagination couldn't hope that the new guard would start our acquaintance by stabbing me, so I raised my eyes to his face.

And my heart stopped once more. I jerked upright in bed, twinging an old hip wound as I did so. I had been rather foolish during my first year, testing the guards in various ways. I winced.

The guard said softly, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to startle you."

"Not at all," I said through gritted teeth as I rubbed my hip. "I'll return the favor when I can."

It took no artifice on my part to sound annoyed, though the annoyance was aimed solely at myself. This was not the guard I had been preparing myself for. I had expected a rod-mutilating monster, and what I found myself faced with was a young man.

His face came full into the light as he stepped forward. Wearing the uniform of a Compassion guard, he looked even more like his father: he had the same thin lips and the same straight eyebrows. But the eyes were empty of all coldness – indeed, of all expression of any sort – and there was no smile on his lips, cruel or otherwise.

"My name is Thomas," he said. "I'm your new guard."

I noted the use of his given name rather than his paternal name, and with the instinct of a veteran fighter I dropped and made my attack accordingly. "Ah, yes," I said. "The son of Compassion's Keeper. I can expect great deeds from you, I'm sure."

His lips grew even thinner, but that was all; it seemed that he was well used to this mode of attack. He said, as though I had not spoken, "My job is to provide service to you during your stay at this prison, and to make your stay as comfortable as is possible under your circumstances. If you have any needs, I hope you will let me know of them."

I stared at him open-mouthed for a moment, and then I gave a hoot of laughter that resounded through the entire level. The early-morning conversations across the fire-pit paused briefly, and Sedgewick, who was passing my cell, glanced in with narrowed eyes before continuing on.

"Let me – let me understand you correctly," I said, struggling to gain control of myself. "You'll give me any service I want?"

"Any service that is in accordance with the rules of your stay."

"But the only rule is that I should not be permitted escape, either through death or any other means. So you'll give me anything else?"

"If it's within reason, yes."

"Anything at all?"

"Tell me what you want, and I'll be able to give you a firm answer." His patience, I saw with delight, was wearing down.

"Fine," I said, leaning back and pulling off the blanket to reveal my body underneath. I had given up wearing clothes at bedtime several guards before. "I want you to come over here and service me on your knees."

Available as a multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): Mercy's Prisoner.


That's All I Read: SCREWIPS by Jamie Fessenden

That's All I Read: SCREWIPS by Jamie Fessenden: SCREWIPS Jamie Fessenden BUYFROM AMAZON.COM Dream spinner Press March 6, 2014 B00IUMQHOS Blurb: In 1996, Jake Stewart is sta...

Another sure thing from Jamie Fessenden.


Trial (Life Prison: Hell's Messenger #1)


"Compassion's Keeper took his hand off the dagger hilt only long enough to turn a page. '"Sentenced to sixty lashes of the leaded whip. Sentence commuted to a transfer to Compassion Life Prison."' The Keeper raised his eyebrows. 'That's the first time I've ever heard a transfer to this prison described as a commutation. We'll assume that particular phrasing was meant as a joke.'"

The prisoner has suffered endless pain and has raised a rebellion. Now he faces his greatest trial.

For fifteen years, Tyrrell has struggled against odds to better the lives of his fellow prisoners. Now he must start all over again, for he has been transferred to Compassion Prison, reputed to be the worst life prison in his nation. The first signs of trouble at his new prison are brutally armed guards, a probing physician, and a Keeper of mysterious motives. But Tyrrell knows that, when he walks into his new cell, he'll face danger beyond measure:

The prisoners of Compassion, who are waiting to test him.

This suspenseful novella (short novel) can be read on its own or as the first story in the "Hell's Messenger" volume of Life Prison. Friendship, desire between men, and the costs of corruption and integrity are examined in this multicultural speculative fiction series, which is inspired by prison life at the end of the nineteenth century.

Tags: bisexual and gay characters, multicultural, prisoners, guards, wardens, spies.


He lay on the cold concrete in the darkness, cursing in an indiscriminate manner that embraced every guard he had possessed the misfortune to be serviced by. The chill of the ground, combined with his wetness, had set him shivering, and he could taste blood in his mouth where his teeth had caught his cheek as he fell. In an automatic manner, he checked his teeth. They were all there, except for the four he had lost over the years, courtesy of past guards.

He allowed Bailey to pull him onto his feet, and as he did so, he realized that laughter echoed in the dark room. The laughter did not come from either of his guards.

He raised his head. He was in a large, high-ceilinged room. That much he could tell from the echoes and from the fact that he could not see the ceiling. Most of the room was lightless. But in the left-hand corner ahead of him, on a balcony about where he would expect a ceiling to be, sat two men lit by wall-lamps. Both wore dark blue uniforms, and both had their boots resting in a leisurely manner on the low, barred railing of the balcony. Both had rifles in their laps, and both rifles were pointed straight at Tyrrell.

Tyrrell felt his empty stomach lurch. One of the men who had been laughing called across the room, "Mercy's man! What gift do you bring us today?"

"Compassion's man!" Oslo called back in a casual manner that suggested he was acquainted with the other guard. "I have a prisoner transfer for you. Fresh meat for the banquet."

The rifle-bearing guards seemed to appreciate this small witticism more than Tyrrell thought it merited; they hooted with laughter. "Tenderizing the meat, are you?" asked the second guard, who held a cigarette between his lips.

"Oh, believe me," said Oslo, grinning, "I've poked the meat quite thoroughly to make sure it's well done."

Tyrrell rolled his eyes. Even Bailey winced at Oslo's poor wit.

The first guard lifted his rifle and set it aside. "Ah, what a pity we will not be able to feast at length on him at our banquet. But we are somewhat gentler on our prisoners than you are at Mercy Prison. How many fuckings a year do you service each of your prisoners with? One hundred? Two hundred?"

"We're working on raising the number." Oslo's voice held nothing but amusement.

"Whereas we are unlikely to see your prisoner more than once or twice this year . . . if that much." The first guard pulled his boots off the railing and leaned over the railing, remaining in his chair as he scrutinized the scene before him. The wavering light of the gas-lamps on the balcony wall moved shadows across his face, which was thoughtful. "Hard to say from this distance," concluded the guard finally. "Why the transfer?"

"Your Keeper knows. You can probably guess. His name's Tyrrell."

The second guard, who had removed his cigarette from his lips in order to tap it over a spittoon nearby, went suddenly still. The first guard raised an appreciative eyebrow. "Oh-ho!" he said softly. "So that's the way of it. I was wondering how long it would be before Mercy's Keeper lost patience with those riot-rousers he's been housing. What happened to the others?"

Oslo shrugged. "We'll know when we get back. The first decision our Keeper made was to arrange this transfer. Your Keeper seemed willing to take him in."

The first guard shrugged as he leaned back in his chair. "Our Keeper," he said, "has all sorts of grandiose plans for this prison, though whether any of them will come to fruit is another matter. I suppose that servicing riot-rousers is part of his plan. Will you break your fast with us? Starke likes to arrive early for his gunner duty . . ." He gestured toward the second guard. "But I prefer to extend my dawn break as long as possible. You're welcome to join me in the guards' dining hall. The night watch will be coming off-duty soon, and I can introduce you."

"Yes," muttered Bailey through gritted teeth. "Warmth. Yes."

Oslo ignored him. "Good food wouldn't go amiss," he said, smiling. "And I hear that Compassion Life Prison is famed for that."

More hoots of appreciative laughter erupted from the first guard, though the second was busy drawing a long lungful of smoke from his cigarette and scrutinizing Tyrrell with an expression he could not read.

"We promise to feed you only the best," replied the first guard, getting to his feet and reaching toward a hand-sized lever set within a small, red hatch on the wall. "Come to the dining hall when you've delivered your charge. You remember the way, I'm sure."

"I hope I do," said Oslo, beginning to tug Tyrrell forward into the darkness, "but everything may be changed here, from what I hear. Your Keeper seems to want to turn things upside down."

"We'll see," said the second guard as his eyes followed Tyrrell's progress. His voice was barely audible, and his expression was hidden behind a puff of smoke. "We'll see. . . ."

Available as a DRM-free multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): Trial.

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