Anniversary of the Disappearance of Keith Call and Cassandra Hailey

Call Hailey Site
Crime scene photo of where Keith Call’s car was found on the Colonial Parkway near Yorktown, Virginia.

For those of you that follow my blog, you know I take the anniversaries of victims of unsolved crimes seriously.  April 9 marks the 29th anniversary of the disappearance of Richard “Keith” Call and Cassandra Hailey. I say, “disappearance,” because their remains have never been recovered. While it is surmised that they were murdered, we do not know what their final fate was.  We only know that they have never been seen since the night of their journey into the unknown.

Keith Call 30001
Keith Call – Student at Christopher Newport
Cassandra 2
Cassandra Hailey – Christopher Newport student

Over two years ago I had no idea who they were or how they were intertwined to the murders dubbed the “Colonial Parkway Murders.” A lot has changed in two years.  Like most cold cases, the story is often treated as a footnote in the annals of law enforcement.  Keith and Cassandra are not a mere statistic, they were vibrant young people with the world and lives ahead of them.

In working on our book on these murders (A Special Kind of Evil) we’ve had a chance to interview Virginia State Police, FBI, and, most importantly, family members of this pair.  I can’t call them a “couple.”  They disappeared on their first date, and it was not a romantic affair but a trip to a movie and a visit to a college party off-campus near Christopher Newport in Newport News, VA.

It started out so innocently – like a scene from a 1980’s teen movie.  Keith picked up Cassandra at her parent’s home.  They went to the movie then onto the party and mingled, and Keith left to take her home.  That’s the short version.  In the early morning hours, only a short time later, Keith’s car was spotted on the Colonial Parkway by several people…including his brother.  It was at a pull-off right after Yorktown heading north on the Colonial Parkway, less than 15 feet from the road in plain sight.  Keith’s father found the car on the way to work but was not entirely alarmed by what he saw.

The majority of their clothing was in the car and the National Park Service rangers proposed to the media that they had gone skinny dipping in the York River.  It was a preposterous suggestion – it had been in the low 40’s that night and just getting to the river would have been treacherous, especially if you were naked and in the pitch darkness of the historic roadway.

On top of that, both of them had an aversion to the Parkway.  Two years earlier, a mile or so from where Keith’s red Toyota Celica was found, there had been a brutal killing of Cathy Thomas and Rebecca Dowski.  Their deaths were horrific and proved to be the first of four pairs of killings on the Virginia peninsula.  Their murders cast the first shadow on the Colonial Parkway.

Most in law enforcement have contended that Keith and Cassandra went there to make out. Empty beers were found in the back seat of the car near their clothing. When you find clothing and an abandoned car in a place known for wild partying and young couples parking to do what young couples do when they park, it almost made sense.  Almost.  The thing was that Keith was in a serious relationship at the time.  He and Cassandra had not demonstrated any romantic inkling towards each other.  Many authorities still cling to the concept they went there to park.  This was reinforced by search dogs that seemed to indicate they were taken separately from the vehicle to the icy cold York River.

I favor Major Ron Montgomery’s (York County) thinking however.  In my interview with him he told me he doesn’t believe they were ever on the parkway…that was just where Keith’s car was abandoned.  Honestly, there’s a lot to back that theory up. There is no tangible physical evidence that verifies they were on the Parkway.  On top of that – the Parkway is past where Cassandra’s house was.  They would have had to driven her past her home to go to the Parkway, and when they left the party Keith’s intention was to get Cassandra home before curfew.

I used to love driving the parkway before I worked on this book.  Now I drive it and I go slow, noting the changes to the terrain over three decades.  I am always torn between the natural beauty of the drive and the horrible things that happened there.

All of the crimes tied to the parkway murders are horrible.  This one stands out for most people for one reason – there were no bodies.  Keith and Cassandra were simply gone.  Having a body does not ease the pain but it is important beyond description.  It means their remains are someplace known.  I cannot fathom the anguish of not knowing where your loved brother, sister, or child is.  Keith and Cassandra left that party and drove off into nothingness.  It is an open wound that tears at you as a writer or as a human being.

The sad part is that someone out there must now something about what happened to them on the drive between Christopher Newport and Sandra’s home in Grafton, VA – most likely on or near Route 17, J. Clyde Morris Boulevard.  In that short distance, someone had to see something – even if it was a faux police car pulling over Keith’s red Toyota Celica.  At the time you probably didn’t give it a second thought.  Today your information could help re-energize this 29 year old cold case.  There is no such thing as an inconsequential tip.

Keiths Car
Keith’s car…did you see it that night?  

If you do have any information, please contact the FBI at (757) 455-0100 or me at I will be passing along any tips directly to the authorities.

Having spent considerable time crawling through these murders each one is special…and I will cover them as each couple’s crime arrives on the calendar.  Today however it is about Keith and Missy (as she was known to her family.)  Today, we need to focus on solving their disappearance.

And to the insidious monster that was responsible for these crimes – my daughter Victoria and I are your worst freaking nightmare.  We are going to get the full story out, as full as possible, and we are going to generate new tips and leads.  Our books on cold cases generate tips for law enforcement all of the time – and this book will do the same.  Your days of living free thinking you got away with these murders are limited.  Why?  Simply put, we are not alone.  The people of the Tidewater want justice and the families demand it. We won’t let this story be a footnote.  We want it to be page one.

It is time for us all to work together to bring Keith and Cassandra home once and for all.  It is time for justice.

Centennial of US Entry into WWI

Bill Thaw – One of the Americans that joined the French Foreign Legion, then the French Air Service, then became a combat commander in the US Air Service.  August 1915 photo.

Today, April 6, 2017, marks the 100th anniversary of the US declaring war and entering the Great War.  We were latecomers to “the big show,” which had been raging since 1914. Even with the declaration, it took months before US troops began to arrive in France, and even longer before we actually waded into combat in 1918.  We fought in significant battles for a few months until the war ended on November 11, 1918.  As the author of several books on the Great War, I cannot simply let this event pass without a few random and wandering thoughts of my own.

My first exposure to the war came in childhood.  I remember my great grandparents had a farm handyman that was a vet – I think his name was Ernie.  Quiet man, never talked much.  It’s hard to believe that in my lifetime I knew a WWI vet.  All have “gone west” now.

The US doesn’t embrace the Great War the way we do WWII.  The First World War was a quick event for us, unlike the rest of Europe who bore the scars of it to this day.  We lost a lot of men though.  The Meuse Argonne Cemetery is filled with more Americans than the cemetery at Normandy, or so I read.  While the war was horrific – with flamethrowers, gas, tanks, bombs, trench warfare, etc.; our troops were only in it for a few relatively short months.  It failed to scar us enough to be remembered the way we do WWII.

It was a war that changed our country though.  We realized that standing on the sidelines, hiding under neutrality, did not spare you from the war.  It was the first war that brought about terrorism.  The US Capitol was bombed by the Germans.  Munitions plants in New Jersey were blowing up – even damaging the Statue of Liberty.  We were the victim of unrestricted submarine warfare.  In fairness, we were selling tons of munitions to France and England…so our neutrality was at best, a means for us to profit from the war.

While there are bound to be a lot of ceremonies marking this event, I would like to remind folks that we actually had Americans fighting in the war years before the official US entry.  Volunteers, mostly college students, joined the French Foreign Legion in 1914, looking for adventure.  Many of them transferred into the French Air Service, joining the Lafayette Flying Corps and the all-American (French led) Lafayette Escadrille.  These men would later become the heart and soul of the fledgling US Air Service when American did finally formally arrive in France in 1917.  Others joined the American Ambulance Service.

That’s right.  American men were flying and fighting and dying in the Great War four years before the rest of the country caught up to them.  They knew in their hearts what was right long before the rest of the nation did and took action – many giving their lives for a cause that the rest of the country ignored.  On this day of commemoration, let us not forget the men who went before.

Nor let us forget the commitment to our allies, still strong today.  As Colonel C. E. Stanton said to our French comrades upon our arrival, “What we have of blood and treasure are yours.  In the presence of the illustrious dead, we pledge our hearts and our honor in carrying the war to a successful conclusion…”

“…Lafayette, we are here!”

BattleTech April Fool’s Day – Operation Total Freakin’ Awesomeness

Let’s face it…we’ve all thought this at one point or another.

Every two weeks or so someone asks me to read their fan fiction.  I always decline.  I used to read fan fiction but I found that most of it was beyond redemption and some made my stomach queasy.  You know you’re doomed when someone says, “I’m three-hundred pages in and am not sure where to go with it.  Maybe you can give me suggestions?”  Or, better yet, you have someone who writes a story from 24 different perspectives – you know, so you can see the whole battle unfold.  Ugh.  How do you explain to someone that they are, in essence, extremely fu*ked?”  Answer, you don’t.

Back in the day, I used to read fanfic and give my feedback.  Then I had someone accuse me of lifting their story . “My story was about a ‘Mech commander, fighting impossible odds, and winning. You stole that idea for your book.”  Um dude, you basically described every BattleTech novel ever written.  Oddly, the guy that made the claim got it wrong – I never even read his 60 page single-sentence monstrosity.  It made my eyes bleed.

People float unsolicited ideas to me too.  “Here’s a story where House Davion destroys the Lyran Commonweath,” or “I came up with a new clan that has been forgotten about.”  Each time one of these crosses my inbox a new ulcer is born and I drift one step closer to that aneurysm that I know is coming.

I like good fanfic and encourage people to take their ideas to BattleCorps.  Don’t try and pitch it to me that I should read your work with the line, “they’ve already rejected it twice.”  That’s not quite the selling point you think it is. Also, submitting it in crayon on the back of a iHOP placemat is also not a format I find amusing.

Not all fan fiction sucks.  I’ve read some good stuff in the past, on my own accord. I support fan fiction that people post for free. Having said that though, a lot of it is a crazed fanboy delusion wrapped in energy-drink fueled nightmares with a thick foamy layer of twisted brain-farts that barely resemble the BattleTech universe.

I do not favor fan fiction where someone sells their novel or sourcebook online.  I have gotten into heated debates with these self-appointed constitutional and copyright authorities.  Let’s be clear, if you are selling your stuff, you’re infringing on the copyright.  If you are stealing BattleTech artwork for your little self-publishing venture, you’re stealing.  Just because BattleTech has been around for a while doesn’t mean you get to do whatever you desire.

Alright – rant mode off.  To commemorate April Fool’s Day this year – I offer you a “typical” bit of fan fiction for your consideration.  It is a tribute to every nauseating fan fiction ever created.  I’ve incorporated a few dozen elements in this story – something to offend and upset almost everyone.  So here – whatever you do, don’t enjoy it!

Operation Total Freakin’ Awesomeness

By The World’s Biggest BattleTech Fan Who Knows Everything About the Universe – Even More than Stackpole, definitely more than Pardoe.

Lieutenant Cody Whiplash Brightstar- callsign Tight-Testicles, piloted his family’s Stinger ™ with ease.  BattleMech’s ® had been the cross-dressing kings of the battlefield for over 30 centuries (give or take 28 centuries or so).  They were humanoid war machines capable of leveling city blocks even when they weren’t in the city.  They used tanks for rollerskates and greased their actuators with the blood of dead infantry who dared oppose them.  To blend with their surroundings, they were painted a variety of bright colors and patterns.  What was the point?  When you’re running at 97 kph in a three story, 75 ton war machine, blasting everything with lasers, particle burst slingshots, missiles, autocannons, hypersonic potato cannon, fuzz-busters, etc., camouflage is secondary to destruction.

The BattleMech ® Brightstar piloted had been a Star League machine, handed down generation after generation to him.  His father, grandfather, great-grandmother, great-great uncle, cousin six-times removed, and the guy his great-great-great grandmother had slept with, had all died in the cockpit of the ‘Mech that he was piloting.  That didn’t bother him. He was sure his fate would be different. I have the benefit of learning from their failures. Only after his father’s death did he assume command of the 12259th Lightfoot Lancers.

Like his ‘Mech, his unit could trace its origins back to the Star League, as could all of the really good and hip mercenary units.  The 12259th had opted to remain in the Inner Sphere when General Kerensky left the Inner Sphere to go and found the Clans.  They could have gone, but they were way too cool to just be a bunch of followers.  They had fought for all of the major houses and had been betrayed by all of them at one point or another…because that’s what cool mercenary units do, get betrayed.  Even ComStar rated them as “Posers,” which Brightstar treated as a badge of honor because ComStar was so damned weird to begin with.  The constant double-dealing and selling-out by their employers had given the Lightfoot Lancers a reputation of not only being awesome but somewhat a flight risk.

They stood on Urban – an almost forgotten planet in the Lyran Commonwealth ®, their latest employer and betrayer.  Cody’s father had negotiated a contract to garrison the world at the edge of the Periphery against the ice pirates and other raiders. The world was said to have held a Star League garrison in as Castle Bran complete with a Star League Memory Core somewhere on the planet.  Of course his father had been betrayed by the local Duchess, Duchess Imma Douchebage, who was scheming to become the next Archon General because that was what everyone in the Commonwealth did.  Urban was a world that was covered with old abandoned cities which made perfect scenes later in this story for battle.

Then came the Clan invasion™ !

They struck like a horny pit bull at a bitch in heat…humping the leg of every planet along the periphery border.  The Clans went all honey-badger (oddly enough there is a Clan Emerald Honey-Badger) on the fringe of humanity, devouring worlds and crushing entire regiments because of their vastly superior firepower, speed, and confusing tactics of only sending three warriors to defeat an entire battalion.

Now they had come to Urban.  Now they would face the 12259th in battle.

“Sir,” Dax Starscream signaled.  “The Clan commander wants to meet with you before the fight.  She sounds tough.  Said something about a combat trial.”

“Very well,” Cody responded, peeing just a little bit inside his coolant suit. “I will show her what she’s up against.  That should scare her into submission.” He was already plotting his escape off-world.

* * * * *

Star Commander Shamalamadingdong, a warrior of Clan Tin Sloth © tightened the straps on her battle stiletto high heels and adjusted her duraweave bullet-proof push-up sports bra.  Today the denizens of the Inner Sphere would feel her wrath.  Today they would be overwhelmed with her fashion sense and whipped into submission (in just the manner you are thinking) by her intimidating unibrow and tats of Elementals over the crease of her muscled buttocks. She put on her olive drab Nordstrom 211 combat lipstick for the occasion. Today we will take this world because, well, it’s in our way.  We will conquer all of the worlds in our flight path, despite the fact they could be bypassed, because it is the Clan Way ™.  One day the Tin Sloth will stand victoriously on the home soil of Terra and be the illclan and all of the other Clans, the Rancid Cows, the Copper Snails, the Jade Ratsuckers, The Ivory Poachers, the Mauve Moths…they will all acknowledge the greatness of the Tin Sloths!

She stepped off of the Ironclad Class dropship ramp and saw her opposition – Cody Brightstar.  She was unimpressed.  A mercenary…who dares evoke the Star League in the name of his unit. She mentally connected the pimples on his forehead to form the letter “L”, outlining her opinion of her competition.

“I am Star Commander Shamalamadingdong, of Clan Tin Sloth© and the Skywalker Bloodname © and I have come to take this cesspool of a planet from your feeble, relatively weak, grasp. I initiate this formal Trial of Keepsies against your paltry and unworthy forces.  With what forces will you defend this pimple-on-the-Great-Kerensky’s-ass-of-a-planet ™?” she barked at him.  She wasn’t entirely sure, but she thought she saw a small wet spot form on his coolant suit crotch as she issued her Challall.

The Inner Sphere scum cleared his throat and the wet spot on his crotch seemed to grow with each beat of his paltry heart.  “I don’t know – what are you attacking with?”

“The Tin Sloths are steeped in honor.  Before we were the Tin Sloths © we were the Rainbow Trout, absorbed during the Great Trial of Deathly Pummeling.  We abhor waste and are great recyclers – as was the will of Nicholas the Whacked.  I would be willing to take you on alone, in one-on-one combat for possession of this lint-trap-scrapings you call a world.”  She paused long enough to spit the tobacco she had been chewing, splattering it at Cody’s feet.


“Affidavit – that’s ‘yes’ for you, you ignorant tapeworm on society,” she replied with confidence, ending with the cursory and required Clan word for “aff.”  Clan Warriors had an entire dictionary of abbreviations and words they were required by the Holy Nicholas Kerensky to include when they spoke. It was the depth of their “culture.” Nicholas had based the Clans on the animals that had come to him during a drug-induced binge where he had almost drowned in a pool of his own vomit.  The warriors of Clan Nova Shart went so far as to go on a LSD and acid induced high annually to try and recreate his experience.

“To the death?”

”To your death – aff,” she said.

“What if I cheat and bring my entire company?”

“Then I will bring my trinary,” she replied.

“Well, that sucks.”

“Aff,” she replied with a wicked grin.  “What say you…you goiter on the neck of mankind.”  The goiter insult was one only the Sloth’s used and was considered devastating amongst the Clans.

“Could I send someone in my place?”

“A warrior with honor would never do such a thing.”

Cody stared at her with a blank expression on his face through the ten seconds of awkward silence – a silence she shattered like an artillery barrage.  “Neg Cody of the Brightstar bloodline.  You must fight your own battle.”

“I accept?”

“Is that a question or your response to my challenge, quiaff?”

“My response?”

“This,” Shamalamadingdong said to herself, “is going to be easy.”

“You know your mike is hot,” Cody replied.

She gritted her teeth in anger and swore to kill her Tech, despite the fact it was not his fault.  “We meet at noon tomorrow at the place of your choosing,” she said out loud.  Don’t bother to purchase a coffin, I intend to fry your remains in the cockpit.

* * * * *

“You’ll be dead before the end of the first salvo,” Tech Sergeant Chen said to Brightstar.

“I have a plan,” Cody said with confidence that came from two bottles of Benadryl and a handful of pills he found in a men’s room floor.

“You pilot a bloody Stinger ™, Chen replied.  “You’d be better off wrapping yourself in aluminum foil and carrying an Airsoft pistol.”

“You know that abandoned military museum near the spaceport?” Cody asked.

“Yeah – all of that stuff is antique,” Chen said frowning.

“Here’s a list,” he handed an Apple ™ iNoputer to the sergeant.  “Get these things and meet me in the bay.”

Chen surveyed the list suspiciously.  “You’re mad!  These are museum pieces you’re talking about.”

Cody Brightstar smiled in response.  “I’m not crazy.  No, I’m going to win.”

The next day Cody stepped out in his modified Stinger ™ and stood before Star Commander Shamalamadingdong.  Her Spitting Sidewider Class OmniMech ® was adorned with patches of brightly colored faux fur, typical for the Tin Sloths, giving her a strange (if not nauseating) camouflage pattern.  The OmniMech ® was easily 35 tons heavier than his Stinger.  Despite that, and the fact that she had been genetically bred for war, and had trained her entire life for battle, in a society where warriors were the epitome, and that her ‘Mech had superior technology…Cody felt he had a good chance of taking her down. Part of that was his confidence in his skills.  The other part was bold arrogance capped off by a copious amount of cheap vodka he had just consumed.

“You showed,” she said on the open battle channel.

“You thought I wouldn’t?” he replied.

“You surat-suckling Inner-Spherers are known to lack courage, honor, integrity, and left testicles,” Shamalamadingdong replied.  “You have reconfigured your Stinger ™ , affidavit?”

“Oh these?” he lifted up his arms where duct tape held the new weapons securely in place.  “Yes.  I did.”  BattleMechs ™ were like Legos ® in that you could pop off any component and with a bit of brute force and Gorilla Glue ™ you could make them work.

“Your shoulder mounted missiles are a joke.  You will not even damage me with so few,” she boasted, popping open her faceplate and wiping the sweat from her single brow.

Cody made his Stinger ™ shrug with his neurohelmet control.  “You may be right.  We will have to see.”

Shamalamadingdong cleared her throat like a chronic smoker than spoke again.  “We shall fight this engagement in our time-honored and tradition-laden rede-mandated manner – steeped in ceremony and ritual.  The Trial of Keepsies is our most sacred tradition.”

“Um, okay,” Cody returned.

“First, you will step back 19 paces, one each for the great clans who will send you to your grave.”

“Aren’t there 20 clans?”

“Negatory,” she snapped.  “There is one, the unspoken clan, who we don’t acknowledge existed and we never speak about them.”

“But you just did.  You just told me about them.”

“Nuh-uh,” the Star Commander said.  “Did not.”

“So you basically don’t talk about them?  What did they do that was so heinous?”  Cody pictured a fraternity panty-raid gone horribly awry resulting in the death of everyone involved.

“Crimes so dark and disturbing that we cannot speak of them.  Things that soiled the very fabric of our traditions and society.  Acts so hideous and perverse that the mere mention of them is punishable by death – or being forced to watch the ancient broadcasts of ‘The View,’ or Spiderman 3.”

The mention of Spiderman 3, a film that had led to the Kentares Massacre, was no small thing and sent a chill down Cody’s spine.  Strangely, he managed to fake being cool.  With pure bravado Cody smiled.  “You don’t know what they did do you?”

“Negatory,” she replied.  “As I said, we are forbidden to speak of it.”

“Okay, I back up 19 steps.  Then what?”

“We fight – to the death!”

“Huh,” he said unimpressed.  “I expected a lot more.  I mean with all of that talk of tradition and stuff.”

“That is all.  Our traditions are simple really, but extremely steeped in history.”  Pride rang in her words.

“Okie-dokie,” he said, starting backwards in his modified Stinger ™.  The rubble and ruins of a once vast city around them would provide plenty of places for him to run and hide once the firing started.  Besides, I have a few tricks up my sleeve.  Shamalamadingdong backed up her imposing, if not oddly colored ‘Mech as well.   When she stopped they stood facing each other.

“Okay,” Cody said coolly.  “Now what?”

“It begins – with your death!”  She raised her arm mounted weapons aiming at him.

Cody used his neurohelm to raise the arm if his own ‘Mech, pointing over her shoulder in the distance.  “What in the hell is that?”

Shamalamadingdong turned her ‘Mech to face the new threat, one that didn’t exist.  Cody broke into a run, swinging behind a crumbling building.  “You are a cunning foe.  I respect such guile.  I shall relish grinding you to pulp under the feet of my Spitting Sidewider ®. “

Cody flattened his ‘Mech with its back against a building…to better blend in.  “You have a weird way of showing respect.”

* * * * *

The Star Commander stealthfully poked her ‘Mech’s head around the corner to see if the inner-spherer scumbag was there – but he was not.  Her tactical display had lost track of him in all of the rubble and ruins.  I believe he means for me to chase him all across this planet.  That thought did not daunt her.  Her OmniMech brandished enough firepower to consume his paltry Stinger ™ in a shot or two.  Sure its destruction might litter the area with radioactive debris once his fusion reactor was ripped apart, but that was a small price to pay for honorable victory.

She stepped into the street when suddenly her ‘Mech reeled.  Her damage indicators showed damage to the neck coil, just under the cockpit.  Spinning she caught another blow from Cody’s ‘Mech, a karate chop to her head.  She was caught off guard, since Clan warriors did not stoop to physical attacks, despite the fact their ‘Mechs were humanoid in shape and form. She used her joystick to angle her targeting reticle on the inner-sphere scumbag but he made that difficult, bitch-slapping her ‘Mech about the cockpit/head hard.  The impacts of the open-palmed slaps made her bite her lip, suffering 1/3 a hit point in damage.  Curse you Cody Brightstar!

Using her neurohelm to control the massive Sidewinder, she unleashed a roundhouse kick.  Cody’s nimble Stinger ™ tucked and rolled and her leg crashed into the building she stood next to, sending a wall of bricks and wood falling onto her.  Cody came out of his summersault, stood and ran.  She went to lock weapons on him and unleashed a blast with her CT-001 Piercer Model J pulse laser.  A stream of 4th of July-like sparklers of red and blue filled the space between them, glancing off of Cody’s right leg for four points of armor damage and eight points of paint damage.  She wanted to unleash the fury of her SearTech 8-9-200 Particle Projection Cannon but cursed to herself.  He’s within my minimum range, so I cannot shoot him.  Curse that surat-loving pond scum!  She broke into a run in pursuit but his erratic dodging and tendency to run through the crumbling buildings, coupled with her own ‘Mech sinking deep into roadway which was never built to handle 60 tons of running OmniMech, allowed Cody to evade her pursuit.

He will not get far.  The next time, I will have range on him and he will die, perhaps even with honor. 

* * * * *

Cody’s sprinting had heated up his ‘Mech so much that he had to pull his s’mores off of his cockpit dash and store them in the cooler near his seat or the chocolate would have melted and made a sticky mess.  I won’t let that happen again!  The air in his cockpit smelled of marshmallows, the sweat of dead relatives, and the stick of his own despair.  It was the smell of desperation and victory.  His earpiece in his neurohelm chirped.  “Tight Testicles – come in.  This is Range Rover ™, over.”

“Go ahead Range Rover ™,” he said, happy to hear Dax Starscream’s gravelly voice.

“Our sensors show Shamalamadingdong moving towards the south edge of Central Park.”

“Roger that,” Cody said pulling up Mapquest ™ on his tactical display and waiting for it to recalculate.  The old park was perfect.  Flat, clear of debris, it stretched for three miles.  I have her now.

He trotted his modified Stinger ™ and brought his new weapons to bear.  When he reached the edge of the park he knew Shamalamadingdong’s sensors would pick him up.  Before she could charge, he activated his direct channel to her.  “Star Commander, this is Lieutenant Brightstar,” he said in his best Sam Elliot/Daniel Radcliffe voice.  “There is nothing between us, I suggest we slug it out at this range.”

Shamalamadingdong roared with laughter and he pictured her unibrow furrowing.  “We are at least 60 hexes distant and you are in a Stinger ™.  Even if you could swamp out for LRM’s, you couldn’t hit me at this range.”

Cody adjusted his father’s fuzzy red dice so he could make her out better in the distance.  “Then you have nothing to worry about, unless you are afraid of me.”

“I fear no man.”

Bring it on witch!  “Then I double-dog-dare you, come and get me!”

Her Spitting Sidewider ® started to move towards him, casually, arrogantly.  Cody hit the target interlock trigger button (TITB) and fired his four missiles mounted on his torso.  The missiles streaked out and slammed into the Sidewinder ®, sending massive chucks of armor flailing into the air like butterflies scattered in a stiff spring breeze.

“Impossible!” Shamalamadingdong howled.  She picked up her pace trying to close the gap.

Cody locked on his machineguns and opened fire at 40 hexes.  The bullets couldn’t miss the building-size ‘Mech, riddling its armor with each step.  Cody stayed locked onto her, pausing only to take his s’more out of the mini-fridge in his cockpit.  Each step ripped her armor apart more and more. Piles of .50 cal armor piercing round casings littered the ground around his ‘Mech, forming small piles as he unleashed machinegun fury.

At 35 hexes range he triggered two more stubbier missiles.  They streaked in hitting her ‘Mech’s crotch region, penetrating deep and blowing it apart.  The Sidewinder‘s ® left leg fell off and Shamalamadingdong plunged forward, furrowing a trench in the sod of the old city park.

“How?” he heard her gasp.  “You used a machinegun beyond its three hex range.  And those missiles, you hit me at two miles out.  That is inconceivable!” Pure frustration and quasi-erotic fury rang in her words.  Cody was tempted to touch himself he was so happy.

“I raided the old military museum.  I outfitted my ‘Mech with 21st century Browning machineguns, MGM-140 ATACMS and FGM-148 Javelin missiles.”

“But their ranges and the size of their warheads….”

“All 20th century tech.  I know, it surprises the hell out of me too.  Hey, what can I say, sometimes the best tech is the old tech.”

“You cheated.”

“I turned information into ammunition – literally,” he replied.

She struggled for several agonizing moments to get her ‘Mech upright. It listed like a Marine in port on payday.  “You have won Cody Brightstar.  Urban is yours to keep.  The Tin Sloths will depart.”

Cody grinned.  “I guess that makes you my bondsperson,” he finally replied.

Shamefully she replied, “Affirmative.”

“Awesome!  First things first, you’ll need to cut that unibrow of yours in half.  Second, report to my HQ for duty.”

“What assignment will you have me fulfill?”

“Laundry Shamalamadingdong – starting with the underwear I have on.  I may have spoiled myself a little at the start.”

# # #

So there you have it – the most horrible BattleTech fan fiction ever written…a tribute to every horrible piece of fanfic out there.  I stopped counting the mistakes, errors, and illegalities involved with this at 51 – so this parody is fairly robust in its violations of the laws of God and man.

I fully anticipate at Gen Con this year seeing Clan Tin Sloth patches and t-shirts, because no matter how bad this was, there will be some that love it.  Me, I’m looking forward to the logo for Clan Nova Shart which is destined to surface at some point.

The Cynic’s Guide to Making Your Meetings Effective

My snapshot of a typical week’s worth of meetings – totally scientific.  

I have spent the better part of my daytime career in meetings, and I am no better for it. If people were compensated by how effective their meetings are, most would be living in cardboard boxes or in a van down by the river.  Even worse, most people don’t seem to care that the way they run meetings sucks.

When I was at Ford, we determined that our division lost upwards of $50k a day on poorly run meetings.  We changed that with intensive training and some simple rules.  I have learned a few things along the way, so allow me to share (in my usual snarky way)…

  • Have an agenda. I recently got back to this.  You don’t have write War and Peace – just a line or two about what the meeting is about.  Are you driving for a decision?  Then state that.
  • Start and end on time. People eventually get the idea that you are being effective. I never start more than two minutes after the scheduled time.  Sorry dude, that’s just how I roll.  Either be there or not – but this train is rolling out of the station.  Starting and ending on time is showing respect to people.
  • Don’t stop to catch someone up. That just burns time.  If that person needs to know what they missed, talk to them one-on-one later.
  • If you don’t have the right people in the meeting – then kill the meeting. If someone says, “We really can’t do it without Joan’s input,” then say you’ll reschedule with Joan.  Corollary:  Invite the right people to the call to begin with.  Don’t invite the whole world.  Invite the minimum number of folks needed to meet the objectives of the call/meeting.
  • Don’t read your PowerPoint deck. It is hard to believe, but most of the people on the call attended school and can read (though sometimes that is questionable with senior leadership.) Your slides should reinforce what you have to say.  And the fewer slides, the better.
  • Document the decision or summary of the meeting. One sentence can do it.
  • Silence does not mean agreement. Whoever the idiot was that first said, “If you’re silent I assume you’re agreeing,” clearly doesn’t understand people.  Sometimes I am quiet because I can’t think of non-swear words to convey my shock and awe at the raw stupidity of what I have just been told.
  • Engage everyone. If you invited people to the call you must want to know what they think.  If they are being quiet, ask them what their perspective is.
  • Facilitate your meeting. There are some people who are just blowhards.  They babble on-and-on just to wear out everyone else.  Keep the meeting on point.  Feel free to time-box discussions.  “We’re going to allow 15 minutes for debate on this subject.”  Personally, I like cutting people off when they are on some rambling tangent – but I’m partially evil.
  • Acknowledge people’s contributions. “Thanks Stephanie – that was a good point you raised.”
  • Schedule your call for the smallest amount of time necessary. We’re all busy.  Don’t schedule an hour for something that should take 20 minutes just because you’re paranoid that Mary is going to pontificate her perspective.  Surprisingly you can get most things done in the time you allot if you run your meeting right.
  • If you check that phone one more time I will break your fingers. You’re not in the meeting to play with your phone.  Shut it off or stuff it in your pocket.

Most of this stuff falls into the category of, “common sense,” but let’s face it, that is a rare commodity in most offices.  Share this with the guiltier members in your team.  There’s a chance they will get a clue and even if they adopt two of these suggestions, you’re ahead of the game.

Want more snarky ideas for work?  Check out my book – Corporate Rules – The Cynic’s Guidebook to the Corporate Overlords.  


To the Gellesian Fields Part 9


For our previous novelized gaming sessions, please go to the bottom of this post.

Theren Meliamne…

We stood atop the largest of the Bailey Hills as Lexa Lyoncroft departed with the demon’s skull that Althalus had been so obsessed with.

“There’s something you should all know,” Bor Boskin said when she was out of earshot.  “Lexa…she’s one of the Sisterhood of the Sword.

“That purged priory?” Arius said.  “They betrayed the church, that much I know.  Their members were excommunicated and their leaders executed.”

That may have carried weight with our paladin, Arius had a blind eye when it came to the dealings of the church.  I was not so misguided as a druid.  The church had been attempting to do the same thing with us, erase us from history.  So far, they had had failed.  I wondered though – what had happened with the Sisterhood of the Sword to lead to such a violent reaction from the church?  Was it something they were guilty of – or had they been played as guilty of some crime they had never committed?   In many respects, she may be facing the same wrath of the church my own people had been dealing with. “At least that explains that curved sword she had.”

Althalus nodded.  “Nothing good ever comes with people carrying big curved swords,” he said, as if his words carried the weight of law. I would have argued with him, but the memory of her with that sword in her hands was enough to hold my tongue.  This time the warlock was right.

“So where do we go from here?” Bor asked.  “We have the message now.”

Our course was clear to me.  “We were sent to complete the ride of the Gray Rider.  We take the message to Lord Sklaver at Karn.  We give him the message and we are done.”

“Karn eh?” Arius said, turning around and looking back down the road through the Gellesian Fields from which we had traveled already, twice. “I have to admit, I’ll be happy to put this place behind us.  And to get there, we have to go back home.  I will be good to return for a day or so, resupply, rest up. This place wears you out, from those trying to kill us to these strange hell-spawned creatures we have seen.”

It was hard to argue with a longing for home – even for a day or two.  I had seen much since leaving our village and had much to share with my fellow brothers.  I looked at my bonded brothers and they all nodded.  “So we go home – then onto Karn.”

We set out that day, making good progress.  The Gellesian Fields was wearing on our nerves though.  Our sleep was always restless in this place, no doubt because of the tormented spirits that lurked there.  The second night as we headed south, we came across a reminder of the horrors of where we were.  We heard a shuffling near our camp, from a small copse of trees.

We had learned that such sounds rarely were friendly and we were up and armed quickly.  As we moved in, a horrible abomination emerged.  Pale grayish blue skin, a sickening tongue – it had to be a ghast, from what little I knew of such thing.

The creature sprang on Galinndan, biting him on the same spot that the zombie had torn into his shoulder.  He reeled back in agony.  I struck it with my staff, which seemed to be lighter and stronger than ever before – no doubt the result of that water I had dipped it in several days earlier.  The wood ripped a nasty gash on the beast’s flesh, but it was seemingly unphased.  Althalus unleashed his eldritch blasts, but they only leave a shouldering hole in its upper left body – and an angrier look filled its eyes.  As it turned to go after Althalus, Bor sprung at it with his warhammer Skull Ringer.  His swing was so swift and true that it cut into the body of the creature, shattering its spine as his swing exited.  The ghast stared at us with confusion as its body folded in half at the furrow that Skull Ringer had cut.  It dropped.  I would say that it was dead but with such creatures, it had to be more than dead.  What is it when the undead die?  Good…yes.  But are they really dead?

The next day we came across a small carved stone pillar along the road.  Somehow we had missed it on our journey north.  There was a clay urn on top, sealed with wax.  We checked it and found no markings.  My thought was that it was some sort of offering, no doubt to some dead warrior or people that had fought in the Fields.  Galinndan pried it open and we found very old coins, platinum, gold, and silver.  We dumped those in a backpack.  I was wary of taking them but it seemed foolish to leave such treasure along the road.  At the same time I wondered if disturbing such an offering was to have consequences.  As it turned out my concerns were well founded.

On the fourth day since leaving Lexa Lyoncroft we left behind the Gellesian Fields.  As we glanced back we noticed an ominous darkness that seemed to hover beyond the stone arch.  It was as if thunderclouds were obscuring the sun over those troubled lands.  I pointed it out to the others.  “Did you notice that before?”

“Nay,” Arius said, leaning on one of the halberds we had captured from the orc patrol.  “It does not surprise me.  That place was an open wound on the land – a place where evil festered.  That Lexa, she was one of the nicest beings we saw there – and she tried to kill us.”

He was wrong of course.  I am a druid, the land, the creatures, and growth of the world are part of my fiber.  The land was not the problem with the Gellesian Fields, I was sure of that.  It was the heinous war that had been fought there, the corruption of magic and death that had been perpetrated there that had made the lands seem so dangerous.  The races of the world, not the land, had made those fields so hazardous.  I didn’t correct Arius though.  The last thing I needed was the perspective of the church and another one of our endless debates.  The problem with paladins, their lives are centered on the fact that they are always right.

Lexa…she had a story that we simply did not know.  I also felt that we would be seeing here again too.  Bor thought that same, so he confided to me.  Next time, I swore, the odds would be more even.

It took us three more days to reach Whiterock and home.  We returned to home and the people that we had left looked at us at first as if we were strangers, then they recognized us and greeted us warmly.  Even the portly burgomaster rushed to us to ask us if we had been successful.

“Yes,” I said.  “We recovered the content of the message that the Gray Rider had been robbed of.”

“What was it?” he asked excitedly.
“A message for Lord Sklaver’s eyes alone,” Arius said.

“Then you will be leaving for Karn?”

I nodded.  “Yes.  We need to rest up from the creatures we have fought in battle.”

“Then rest you shall get!” the burgomaster said as if he could will such a thing.  “We are all happy that you have all returned home.  We look forward to your stories.”

“Not tonight,” I said.  My private solace in my forest was all I wanted.  Once there, I knew I could gather the strength for the next leg of our journey – the Road to Karn.

Thus ends the latest segment of our campaign.  I hope you are enjoying this as much as I am writing them up. Below are previous episodes:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Character Background Material

My New Campaign


Review of A Taste For Murder by Burl Barer


I’ll open with the proviso that the publisher of this book, Wild Blue Press, is the same publisher that is printing our next true crime book.  They did not solicit this review – I saw their notice for a flash-sale on this book for 99 cents and picked it up.  (If you follow them on Facebook, they do these kinds of sales often and obviously you can score some good true crime cheap.)  So, this is an unbiased review.  Also, I will give no spoilers. 

Burl Barer sucked me in early on with this book.  Frank Hernandez dies at home, dying a most horrible death…apparently from poisoning.  His wife suspected a colleague of the crime.  From there, Barer takes you on a joyride into the bizarre.  From the opening of this crime this seemed cut-and-dry, but it is like riding the Hulk rollercoaster at Universal Studios.  You think you’re going one way and bam! You’re suddenly spinning the opposite direction.

Mr Barer does an outstanding job of putting the reader in the community where this murder took place, Montebello, CA. Adding to that was the details of what this poisoning did the victim. This is not a clinical read, but one that helps you understand just how horrific this murder really was.    

I have never read any of Burl Barer’s books but I became a quick fan.  He leads you down a dark corridor, lantern in hand, on a journey that I didn’t expect at the start of the book.  I devoured chapter after chapter, not ever losing my interest.  After the first third of the book, it was as if there was a new twist every chapter or two.  Barer masterfully takes you on the long journey from murder to conviction. 

To say that this case was full of bizarre behavior is an understatement.  The murderer seems to be running con jobs within con jobs at times. 

About halfway through the book I realized I actually had heard something about this case.  That didn’t diminish it in the least for me. 

Is this a good solid true crime book?  Absolutely.  I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.  Well worth your time to consume (pun intended).