Thursday, December 13, 2012

One Elevator, One Coat Rack That Doesn't Fit--And One Stubborn Guy

I'm happy to serve as a greeter in a very large restaurant. It's a fun part-time job. Tuesday night there was a party, a large party, and two people brought an extra coat rack from upstairs and put it in the lobby.

I promised to put it back in its proper place when I went in on Wednesday morning. The proper place was up one floor and at the opposite corner of the building--a considerable distance away.

I knew the two people who brought it to the lobby brought it down from the second floor on an interior cargo elevator. I thought they did it that way because there were a lot of guests in the building and they didn't want to drag it through the crowds.

I should point out that the coat rack is about eight feet long, and it's not the kind that folds in the middle.

I should also point out that I'm five-foot-six and weigh 128 pounds. I'm not a member of the Big & Tall club. Hell, I'm not even a mascot.

Wednesday morning when I went in, I grabbed the end of the coat rack and started to pull. I decided it would be easier (I was wrong, but we'll get to that) to pull it down a public corridor, around a corner, through another lobby, and take it up a passenger elevator to the second floor.

It's easier for two people to move the thing than it is for one person to move the thing, but I'm pretty good at walking backward, so I pulled it a couple hundred yards. Did so with pride, did so with no problem.

When I pushed the button to summon the elevator I realized...the coat rack is longer than the elevator is deep.

A smart man would have pulled the coat rack through a dining room, into the kitchen, and taken it up the larger cargo elevator.
I decided not to do that. Not after dragging it that far.

When the elevator doors opened, I pulled the giant coat rack in at an angle. That put me in the far right corner of the elevator.

I cheered when the doors closed neatly, without touching the coat rack. Cheered!

...Then I realized a couple of things:
1. The elevator wasn't going anywhere until I pushed a button to change floors.
2. There was a giant coat rack between me and the buttons
3. Flipping one's middle finger at the elevator buttons will not make the elevator move

I decided not to wait for three hours for the building to open in the hopes that someone would push a button to summon the elevator and inadvertently rescue the man trapped behind the coat rack.

So, utilizing height I don't have, I wriggled under the hangars and stepped over the boot shelf...and pushed "2" so the elevator would go to the second floor.

Proud of myself, I said, "HA!" the stumbling way of a man who has not yet had enough coffee to be allowed to walk around by himself...

...I wriggled back through the coat rack to stand where I started in the first place!
That place, in case you don't remember, was trapped behind the coat rack!

I realized my mistake while the elevator rose. I also realized I would have to remove the coat rack in a hurry because the elevator would return to the first floor all by itself if I didn't move fast enough.
When the elevator doors opened on the lobby on the second floor, I started to push the coat rack out. I was NOT breathtakingly successful in this endeavor. The wheels got trapped on the tracks for the elevator door.
Once again utilizing my lack of height, I wriggled under the hangars and stepped over the boot shelf. I lifted the wheels out of the elevator tracks with both hands and pulled the thing, at a grindingly slow pace, out of the elevator.

I didn't cuss. I coddled the thing. "You can do it, coat rack. C'mon out. Gooooood coat rack!"

Once in the lobby, my and my coat rack, I put my hands on my hips like a super hero and said, "Welcome home big guy!"

That's when I saw--we'll call him "Hank"--Hank. He was watering the live Christmas tree in the lobby. He didn't lift a finger to help me, and I don't blame him. He was stunned. He was watching me with the same disbelief people use when they see forty-three clowns step out of a compact car.

I looked at Hank and he said, "That coat rack doesn't fit on that elevator."

This kind of statement, the kind that flies in the face of reality, amuses me to no end. I said, "Sure. Now you tell me."

I put the coat rack where it's supposed to go, and counted it a personal victory. Yes, I rode the elevator down... I had to apologize to the buttons for my crude hand gesture.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I'm Toast! (Trying to make a right out of two wrongs)

About twenty years ago, I bought a nice electric blanket for my wife and me. I spent some bucks on it. Got the kind with a control for each side of the bed.

I use the electric blanket a lot. Heck, I like to crank up the window AC in the summer and still use the electric blanket. Yeah, baby! It's one of those quirks that make

My wife, on the other hand, almost never turns on her side of the blanket.

I'm banking on that being the case at least until tomorrow.

Now we come to the two wrongs:

Wrong One:
When we first got the electric blanket, I screwed up when I made the bed. I put her control on my side of the bed! 
I started out with my control set on 3 of 10. I was still chilly when I climbed in bed about half an hour after she went to sleep, so I turned it up to 5 of 10.
Half an hour later, still cold, I turned it to 6 of 10.

I slept unwell for an hour or so and was still chilly. So I cranked the control up to 7 of 10.
I didn't notice she had one leg sticking out of her side of the bed.

Half an hour of the fetal position, after she elbowed me away, I was still cold.
So I cranked the control thing (while cussing through chattering teeth) to 9 of 10.

Then I hit 10. Ten, the big one-oh.

She was flopped over onto her back. A fine sheen of sweat glistened on her forehead. She was still asleep, but her hair was plastered on her sweaty head.

Honest... It wasn't until morning that it occurred to me that I might have made a mistake and left myself in control of her slumbering fate.

Unfortunately, she figured out what happened. It's taken me 20 years to live that one down.

Wrong Two--time to fix the original error:

She still doesn't use the electric blanket much, but I use it all the time.
It stopped working on my side the night before last. I've been cold. I've been shivering.


So, this afternoon on my way home two things ran through my mind:

1. I won't have time until tomorrow to buy a new blanket

2. She probably won't turn on her side of the electric blanket tonight. If she does, the light on her dial will come on and she'll think she's turning up the blanket. 

Tomorrow, I'll buy a new electric blanket and we'll be fine.

Tonight, she'll either:

A. Not turn on her side of the blanket and I'll get away clean with my little game

B. She will turn on her side of the blanket and figure the whole blanket has stopped working.

C. I'll get an elbow to the ribs and curl up with a cat on the couch.

Lord, please... Let it be "A".

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Found the Pen I Thought I'd Never See Again

My wife knows I like fine pens. I have lousy handwriting, but that doesn't mean I have to settle for one of those stick pens or click pens that make the rounds, often with tooth marks on the end--sometimes from many, many mouths.

      About twenty years ago, she spent some of her hard earned money on a Cross pen and pencil set. They were emerald green, with gold plated clips. They weren't too heavy, or too light. They felt good in my hand and looked good. I lost the pen, and although I missed it, I received a Mont Blanc rollerball pen shortly after that as a recognition for a job well done. The Mont Blanc won a little piece of my heart...until I got tired of paying $14.99 a week for re-fills. They're real proud of those refills!   

   Cross stopped making that particular line of pens and pencils in the 1990's. Of the two--the pen and pencil set, or the wife--I would much rather still have my wife by my side than the pen in my hand. Lucky for me, she's still here!

    Still... I want both. The trouble is, Cross didn't make that particular set for very long and they don't make that one anymore. By the time I decided to seek replacements for the set I lost, they were out of production. I thought I had lost the opportunity. I let the idea go.

   Now there's eBay. I didn't trust eBay when it was just an auction site. I don't know about you, but when I want to buy something, I want to buy it. I don't want to stay close to my computer and try to beat someone else. I don't want to compete for my stuff.

   When I shop eBay, which I do a lot these days, I go for the "buy it now" option.

   The other night I was thinking about my lost pen and pencil. I wasn't really interested in replacing the Cross ballpoint... I'm a fountain pen guy now. I'm assembling a collection of cheap, Chinese fountain pens. Fountain pens are a left-hander's friend. The ink soaks into the paper and doesn't smear when I write. The nib--the point that delivers the ink--makes a nice sound as it rides over the paper. It doesn't slip like a ballpoint, and that improves my handwriting marginally.

   So, with a little time to kill, I stared pecking around eBay. I searched for "Cross Fountain Pen" just to see if I could find one in my price range.

   ...And there it was! Not only did I find a NOS (New, old stock) Cross fountain pen, I found it in the style and color of my long-lost pen/pencil set. The seller has them in green, burgundy, blue, and black. The price is right for me, too. It's a nice pen, the kind you don't let other people borrow or use. I've learned my lesson on that one, the hard way. I like a nice pen, and this one fits the bill: gold plated appointments, and an ink converter included so I can fill it from a bottle of ink. I think I'll collect all four colors.

   I'm not afraid I'll lose it, but I wonder how long it will take me to remember to unscrew the cap rather than just yank it off the end. The good news is that it's a quality pen, and I'm pretty sure the worse that will happen if I forget to unscrew the cap is that I'll transfer it from one hand to the other while looking like an idiot. I can handle that. It's good for a middle aged man to look like an idiot from time to time...

  ...It keeps him humble and prepares him for old age!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

I'm Starting to Enjoy Ordering On-line

I like to buy local products and shop in locally owned establishments whenever possible.
   Sometimes that's not possible, and I'm faced with a choice of driving to a bigger city (the one I live in has a population of under 3,000) to shop around in the hopes of finding what I want. Or I can buy online. With the price of gas... I buy a lot online.
     I'm not the only man who has developed a strange hobby, and I have a budding collection of fountain pens and mechanical watches. I've extolled the virtues (according to me) of each in past posts and I won't dwell on those this time.
   I'm starting to enjoy ordering things online. I don't particularly care which site I use to place my order. I do wish I could find American products I could afford when it comes to mechanical watches and fountain pens, and I'm hopeful that I'll be able to do that soon. Call it a goal of mine.
   The fountain pen and the watch pictured here are items I found on eBay, and they're coming to me from Shanghai.

What's Exciting About Buying Online?

   Some of you are old enough to remember "mail order", and it would be silly to say that ordering online is much different. It's slightly faster to order online than it is to use mail order. I don't have to wait for the mail to carry my order to the seller. I have my PayPal and checking accounts linked, so the ordering process is pretty much instant.
   You know what I really like? Tracking! It's cool, at least to me. I get a link and I can watch--in incredibly slow motion, timed with a calendar--the source of my anticipation.
   Computers and automation keep me updated far better than any person from any company I ordered anything from by mail. I know, for instance, that the pen pictured above is on a truck in Allen Park, MI and will arrive at my local post office around 6:00 AM tomorrow. By noon tomorrow I'll open the envelope, pull out the pen, and proceed to wash the nib and fill it with ink.
   I think I'll break in my new acquisition by writing a chapter in Sexton Retribution by hand. That'll be cool. The pen is a Hero fountain pen made in China at a factory that used to be owned by Parker, a factory that was shuttered when Chairman Mao covered the country in communism, and was re-opened a while back. It's stainless steel and cost me a whopping $4.99, shipping included. If it's like the other Hero pen I bought, it will work great. The watch is an automatic (self-winding) skeleton watch, made of stainless steel, and cost me a whopping $16.99, also including shipping.
   I'll be able to track that shipment around the world, too. I get a kick out of reading the updates and imagining my little purchase on planes, trucks, and conveyor belts on its way to me.
   Strange, the things we find exciting, isn't it? I like my little collection of pens and watches. It amuses my wife to see me amused with such things. She can't complain, though...she's a scrapbooker.
   That's it's own illness, and it's not that different from a man with a drawer full of fountain pens and watches.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Reading -- As Important for the Writer as Writing

I'm working on my 10th book, which happens to be the fifth (and final) book in the Sexton Chronicles. You should buy them all, by the way!
   Commercial aside, I'll get back to the story:

   I've been banging away happily on my own books. If you read Blackout: A Look Inside Wernickes, you'll remember that I was quite ill about seven years ago. In fact, I could easily have died from that illness. As I recovered, I typed the work of several different authors. I was trying to rebuild my brain, and I'm glad I did that. Doing so allowed me to take note of every facet of each author's writing. More importantly, it helped me flex mental muscles that hadn't been flexed--or if flexed, bent to hell and back--and come back to myself.

Lately, though, I've been doing the second most important thing a writer can do. (The most important thing a writer can do is write.)

   I've been reading. Like the guy perched comfortable on the side of the mountain, I've been enjoying the spectacle of other people's fiction. In one sense, it's a break. I get to relax and let someone else unfold events, build characters, and give me a new perspective.

   It's not easy to read when you're a writer. I don't analyze other people's writing if I can help it. I'm not a nit-picker by nature. Unfortunately, though, I do find myself caught up in the trees rather than the forest sometimes. I see sentences and paragraphs and can have a heck of a time just...well...reading.

   I forced myself. I forced myself to start spending a couple of hours each day in my favorite chair, in what I now call my reading spot. Reading Spot. It's an old, brown wing chair I bought right after I graduated college. It sits under a lamp on the top landing of the staircase on the second floor of our big house. When I glance up, I can look out the window at the trees, sky, and a bit of the street below.

   It's good to read without judgement. Without trying to figure out where the story is going, or where I would take it if I was the writer. I'm happy to report I've been able to do that lately, and it's precious to me. I'm not going to imitate the style of the authors I'm reading. I'm not even thinking about their style. I'm just reading.
  Actually, I suppose there's more to it than that. I'm absorbing. There's no way to pinpoint what I'm learning as I read. I just let the images, characters, and story take me to where the author wants me to go.
  Then, when my fingers caress my own keyboard, they do so with more grace. That's probably not the right word, but it's close.

It's the most enjoyable way I've found to improve my own writing.

And now for a blatant commercial -- Try one of my books. I think you'll like them.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Watch complete--with my Twist-O-Flex watch band

Behold! The Twist-O-Flex watchband. Yes, I bought one and had it put on my new automatic watch.
   Why did I do that?
   Actually, that question has been aimed at me, by me, for the past several days.
I explained in an earlier post (or two, or three) that I'm tired of putting batteries in my watch every year. I admit that I don't hold a quartz watch with the same high esteem I hold a mechanical watch. I like the idea that my watch contains lots of gears, gears that turn with the power of a small spring.
   I'm not an engineer. I'm not a gear head. Seriously, my wife does get very, very nervous if I use a tool or machine. The sewing machine--which is mine, by the way--is the only machine in the house I can use without making her pulse race with concern for my health. I've written some about that topic too.

   I think on some level, I wanted the watch I had as a kid. It was a Timex self-winding watch with a little Boy Scout logo on it. I had that thing for years and it worked great. Not sure what happened to it. I think I gave it to someone in a moment of weakness, while staring with wonder at a digital watch I thought I would like...and probably did until I realized it contained no magic, and had a battery that would die eventually.

   So, when my Alias Kim automatic (which means self-winding, but sounds more modern) watch arrived a couple of weeks ago, I wore it with pride. Showed it off to people who had never seen a mechanical watch. I like everything about the watch. Hated the band. It was what the Chinese manufacturer called man-made leather. Yeah. I didn't know what that was either, until I decided to remove the stitching on the side of the strap and see for myself. What I found was a cheap combination of leather (the part that touched my wrist) with a layer of vinyl, covered by another layer of a stamped vinyl.

   I had long been a fan of leather watch straps. They're adjustable, and they're not expensive. I went out and bought one for $15 and had the jeweler put it on my new watch. It was okay, and definitely a step up from the piece of crap the manufacturer put on it.

   Still, I wasn't entirely pleased. 

   I remembered that old Boy Scout watch of mine. I remembered buying a Twist-O-Flex watch band for it. Twist-O-Flex is made by Speidel. I hadn't seen one in a long time and figured they had gone away, like a lot of otherwise good products, replaced by something more modern. (Much like automatic watches). I don't like the metal bracelets that are standard today. My wrist gains and loses as much as 1/2" in circumference during the day. That's enough to make a watch bracelet (the kind with a clasp) slide up and down on my wrist, and that drives me nuts.
   Twist-O-Flex. I'll admit, I think it's a nerdy, out-dated name. But! I like 'em anyway. There is no clasp. The band is made of little links. You slide it on over your hand and it contracts to the wrist. When my wrist expands during the day, the band expands with it. I have a small wrist and had to have the jeweler remove several links, but that's a one-time deal. I researched how to remove the links myself--and can see why having a jeweler do it is more than just a good idea. There are a lot of little prongs holding the thing together, and although the band is hard to break, it's also hard to take apart.

   This morning I picked up my new watch band--my nostalgia filled Twist-O-Flex. They've been around since the 1960's, these little miracle linky things. I like it because I won't have to adjust it during the day when my wrist expands and contracts. It won't slide around on my wrist, but does move enough--just enough--to keep my watch wound. One of the problems I was having with the leather strap is that it held the watch a little too tight to my wrist, and that didn't allow the rotor (weight) to move enough to wind my watch. This one will.
   It will also last a really long time. One of the benefits of it being a single piece is that there's no clasp to wear out. The links and the pieces of metal that hold them together are tough, and even if one breaks, I have the links the jeweler took out to use to replace them.
   Yeah, I'm a happy camper. I have my nostalgia watch (that keeps great time and was, for a mechanical watch, a very affordable $28, and a durable, comfortable band for another $20. No battery to replace, no clasp to replace, and some sweet memories of my very first "grown up" watch.
    I wish I still had that old Boy Scout Timex self-winding watch, by the way. I saw one on eBay for $179.00! Sigh.

   One last picture. It's not my watch, but it is the same model Twist-O-Flex I have on my watch. Mine looks better than the one in the photo--my watch is gold with a black face.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sign Confusion: "Feed the Horses, $1.00"

It's a beautiful summer day, and as I walked out of the restaurant, I glanced at the carriages lined up to give tourists horse drawn tours of the area. It's a nice thing, and I'm glad they're there. I like to see people enjoy the rides, and I admire the animals.
   For the first time, I noticed they had a basket of paper bags of feed, and a sign that said, "Feed The Horses. $1.00"
   I thought I would save the young driver some work. So I said, "I'll feed your horse for a dollar."
   He thanked me and handed me a bag of feed.
   "Where's my dollar?" I asked.
   "Excuse me, sir?"
   "I prefer to be paid in advance, but only because we just met."
   He looked perplexed for a minute. Then he said, "Sir, you pay me a dollar."
   "Why would I do that? This is your horse, isn't it?"
   "Well..." He thought for a second. "Yes, but the feed costs money."
   "The horse is going to eat with, or without me, isn't it?"
   "Of course."
   "Then why would I pay you a dollar to use your feed to feed your horse. I'm doing you a favor by feeding the horse so you can stand there and relax." I smiled. "I know you probably get paid more than a dollar to feed and care for the horse, but don't worry. I don't mind doing this part of your job for only a dollar. You seem like a hard-working young man, and you should get the profit from my work."

...Strangely, he decided he didn't need my help.*

*This conversation took play only in my head, not in real life. The imaginary conversation was enough. I paid myself a dollar for giving me something to laugh about as I walked to my car.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Never Again Will A Watch Battery Bite Me On The...

   It's always a headache when a quartz watch needs a new battery. You move along through life with it ticking away on your wrist. It's a happy little thing, the quartz watch. It ticks reliably. It ticks once per second. It is unquestionably an accurate, low-maintenance (except for batteries) timepiece.

   Quartz Watches!
   They're accurate. They're easy to maintain. They're on wrists all over the world. I have several of them. Some are expensive, and some are not so expensive. I have one that's Swiss (that's one of the expensive ones).
Quartz Movement -- Battery and electronics
   Know what I don't like about quartz watches? Batteries. They all need batteries. Sure, the battery lasts a long time. A year, or two, or three. Some watch manufacturers brag that the battery only needs to be replaced every five years. Some claim longer times.
   Yeah. They might be right, or they might be wrong. I don't know. I do know this: when the battery stops, so does your watch. No warning. You just wonder what time it is and suddenly don't know.
Automatic Watch Movement -- gears and weight
   Literally -- one second your watch is humming along, the next second is just like the last second except your watch has gone from being correct every second to being right twice a day. It'll be right at the time it stopped in the AM and right in the time it stopped in the PM, just like a clock face painted on a rock is right twice a day.

   I know it's old school, but I remember happily the days when a stopped watch was an easy fix. There was no need to take the watch to a jeweler or person with a cart in the middle of a mall. I just took the thing off my wrist, with a mental shake of my head for neglecting the simple task of twisting a knob, wound it, set it, and went along my merry way.
   The good old days weren't always good, but they weren't all bad either.
   Some of the younger people I work with say I'm old school. I accept that as a compliment whether it's meant that way or not. There's usually an undertone of admiration...and if there isn't, I pretend there is.
   The watch movement (the guts of a watch) on the right is an example of the type of movement I've always admired and the kind of movement in the watch I'm wearing now. Instead of a battery, my watch is powered by a spring. The spring is powered by winding when the weight turns a gear (or 12) or when I twist the crown with my fingers. If it stops, it will be because I neglected it either by not wearing it, or not winding it after I let it sit for a couple of days.
   I like my old school mechanical watch. I guess I'm not the only one. Automatic watches are making something of a comeback among younger people. I hear they're not as accurate as quartz watches, and with all the gears inside that have to work together precisely, I'm not surprised they're not as accurate. By "not as accurate" I mean they might lose or gain a few seconds a day. It's a good idea to check your watch against a reliable source every once in a while whether it's quartz or mechanical. All watches lose or gain a few seconds here and there. If you have to punch a time clock, I suggest you make sure your watch matches that clock...whether that clock is right or wrong. Unless you sell your wristwatch, it won't pay you like your employer does.
   Uh-oh. I just looked at my watch. Yes, it's still running. It's telling me it's time for bed.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

From Contempt to Convinced -- Defense of Fountain Pens

   Last evening I had the pleasure of talking to a couple of guests at the restaurant where I serve as a greeter. They looked to be in their late fifties, a nice couple visiting from out of town. They were on the other side of the desk from me and asked me for directions to a local attraction. I was more than happy to help.
   I grabbed a piece of paper, uncapped my pen, and started to draw a map and write directions. The man looked at my hand. He grinned and with just a hint of mockery in his voice--okay, a little more than a hint--he said, "What, are you from the sixties? Is that a...fountain pen?" He laughed to show he meant no harm.
   The difference between him and me at that moment is that I was prepared for that conversation and he wasn't. One of the many things that delights me about my fountain pen is that it surprises people.
   I said, "Actually, I am from the sixties. I was born in the mid-sixties and I'm pretty glad my name isn't Moon Puppy or some other hippy concoction." It wouldn't surprise me if I found out that the couple in front of me were hippies from the sixties, but that's a different story. They both laughed and I could see them checking my name tag to see if it did, indeed, say Moon Puppy. It doesn't.
   He asked, "Why would you use a fountain pen?"
   Ha! Thank you for asking. Muhahaha...
   "I'm a lefty, and the fountain pen ink soaks into the paper. Ballpoint pens smear ink on my hand when I write, and roller ball pens don't last long. With this thing, I can write all day without smearing ink on my hand or sleeve. One bottle of liquid ink lasts me about three years, and I have the pleasure of using a fine writing instrument.  The best part is that highly curious, educated people ask me about it."
   "Can I see that?"
   I could tell he was no stranger to fountain pens. Like a lot of people who grew up before ballpoint pens were commonplace, he peered at it like it was some sort of malignant piece of history. Morbidly fascinated.
   "I haven't seen one of these in years," he said. "Where did you get it?"
   Welcome to my lair. "I got it online. Fountain pens are expensive anymore, but I found this one for $20 at
    He handed me my pen. "Would you write that website down for me?"

Sunday, July 29, 2012

I've Been Looking For an Old-Fashioned, but New Watch

Have you heard of a self-winding watch? They call them "automatic" watches now, but it amounts to the same thing. They're mechanical beasts, and they don't require a battery. They operate with a little pendulum that swings with the motion of the arm through the day. The pendulum winds a spring, the spring makes a bazillion (or slightly fewer) gears move, and the gears move the hands. Cool, but old stuff.

I had a self-winding watch I loved dearly. I got it in 1973 with prize money from selling tickets to a Scout show. I wore it for years with no problems, but lost it sometime after I bought a digital watch. I'll bet it still runs, wherever it is.

The photo at left is a picture of the back of the watch I ordered the other day. The bottom portion is the pendulum that winds the spring that powers the watch. The glass center is kind of cool. I'll be able to see the watch work.

I feel a little guilty about my purchase. It's a Chinese watch. I looked for an American watch of similar construction, with a similar movement. I couldn't find one. Note that I said I couldn't find one. I mean I couldn't find one, period...not for any price.

It's a global economy. American companies, even our automobile manufacturers, use parts that come from other countries. I would prefer not to send any of my money to China, but that's not easy to do. I'm not going to comment on what could be done to stop that from happening because I have no more answers than anyone else does.

You might wonder why I want a mechanical watch. It's a valid question. Most of our watches are quartz watches. They're a lot less expensive--even the fancy ones--and they're more accurate than mechanical watches, for the most part.

Well... I like old-fashioned technology. I've written about why I like fountain pens. This is the same kind of thing. I want to hear my watch go tick-tock, and not just tick. Quartz watches operate on a steady electronic pulse through the quartz. If you look at the second hand on a quartz watch, you'll see that lurches forward one second at a time. Tick. Tick. Tick. It's not a big issue, whether the watch goes tick or tick-tock, but I miss the old ticktockticktock.

I like the idea of taking some responsibility for my watch. I want to have to do something beyond just strapping it to my wrist every morning. (Yes, I prefer a leather watch strap.) I want some control, and having to wear it or wind it to make it go is close enough to control for me. I also want to be able to start the watch if it stops...without having to go to the jeweler and wait a couple of days for him to get around to sticking a new battery in my watch.

So I decided to buy an automatic watch. I found very quickly that automatic watches are still available, but most of them are expensive. A Google search for "automatic watch" under shopping reveals prices from $70-5,000. Big range!

I found one I like on eBay, and not in an auction. I ordered it. It cost me a little under $30, and the seller is paying for the shipping. I've had to do some digging to try to find out anything about AK Homme watches. I found a couple of good reviews, most of which expressed surprise at how well the watch runs.

The "AK" stands for Alias Kim, and they have their own website in addition to selling on eBay. I wondered if I could find out more about the company that actually makes the watch, but so far I haven't. I do know this:
  • The watch movement is Chinese.
  • The Chinese have been making some very good automatic movements. Some reviews I've read say the Chinese movements are as good as the Swiss movements (and one of those sources was Swiss!), but they lack the prestige of a Swiss movement (of course), and therefore won't fetch the same price. I'm also sure the workers that make the watch aren't paid anywhere near what a Swiss watchmaker is paid. In fact, I wish the Chinese worker was paid more...and maybe someday they will be.
  • Fossil uses some Chinese movements in their watches (from what I've read). Look at their catalog someday, and you'll find they talk about the case being 100% American made, but not the movement. Timex has movements built in India, Indonesia, and some sites hinted they have some movements made in China.
At any rate, I ordered my watch, and I'm looking forward to having it show up in my mailbox in ten days or so. I'm looking forward to having my second hand sweep around the watch face. I learned that with a mechanical watch, the second hand moves five times per second (on average), which gives the appearance that it's sliding gracefully in a circle instead of ticking  once a second.

I'll have to take it to the jeweler every 5-10 years to have it cleaned on the inside and have lubricant applied, but that'll be cheaper than buying a new battery. Whether it will save me any money in the long run or not, I hesitate to say. I think it won't be long before I won't be able to find a qualified jeweler to repair the mechanism if something goes wrong. It'll be worth looking. A well-maintained mechanical watch can last for generations. Another advantage to quartz movements is that if something goes wrong, a jeweler just tosses the old movement and puts in a new one. I imagine that can be done with this watch, but the movement won't be inexpensive to replace. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. By then...I'll probably be tired of ticktockticktockticktock.

Monday, July 16, 2012

My First Foray into the Land Of eBay--a Scary land, to me

   I'm afraid of auctions. I'm afraid of eBay.
   I'm a little afraid of auctions because I won/bought something at one that I really didn't intend to buy. After a few too many beers, I started the bidding on a week long stay at a time share condo on the 9th hole at Tidewater Golf Club in Myrtle Beach. I opened the bidding with the thought that I would start the ball rolling and duck out. I bid $475...without a word to my wife, who was at home with the (at the time) delightfully happy thought that I would do no harm while I was out.
  No one else bid on the package. I spent damn near $500 without talking to my wife, who does not golf, and who has no interest in spending a week living on a golf course! The $475 didn't include the plane tickets I knew we would need.
   She took it well, I say with more than a little relief. Some friends split the cost with us and we had a nice week.

   The only eBay experience I had was through the same friend who joined us at that condo. He liked my Tommy Armor golf clubs and bought a set on eBay. I was with him when the UPS shipment came to our office. When he signed for the box of clubs, we looked at the box, then looked at each other. The box was only about three feet long. Golf clubs...three feet long.
   Apparently, my friend didn't read the description as carefully as he should have, and didn't realize the golf clubs were kids clubs! He got a great price, and his son got golf lessons to go with his new clubs.

   I need a new watch strap for my watch. My watch is a Skagen, a subsidiary company of Fossil, and I love it. The watch might last forever, but the leather won't. Trouble is, only a Skagen strap will work. The good people at Skagen will gladly sell me a new strap for $25 plus shipping and handling. I'm okay with that, almost, but I wanted to see if I could find a better deal.

My Skagen
   ...Which led me to eBay. I found a watch--not just the band--but a whole watch. My logic is that I can buy the watch and have the band from that one put on mine. Why would I do that? Well...and here's where I might get sucker punched...the opening bid on the watch with the right kind of band was $0.99.
   Ninety-nine cents. The seller is throwing in the shipping.
   I didn't fall off the potato truck yesterday, and I was pretty sure I wouldn't get a whole watch, with the rare band that will fit my watch, for under a buck.
   I bid $2.00
   In an instant, I was outbid. I mean that. In an instant!
   In my head I pictured someone in a far corner of this round world, rubbing his fingers together in cartoonish glee, waiting to see what I would bid next.
    I upped my bid to $2.50.
    I was trumped in an instant. The new bid was $2.62.
   I decided to show my opponent I was serious. After taking a few minutes to research this watch, this watch I want just for the strap, to see what price it would sell for, new, retail, I was surprised to find out that the watch we (my opponent and I) are bidding on is 5 years newer than the one I want to put the band on, and retails for $125.
   Armed with that knowledge, I upped my bid to 5x's the opening bid. That's right! I bid $5.00
   eBay informed me I was the highest bidder. I cheered. Truth is, I was starting to want the watch, and not just for the band.
   This afternoon I checked my email. My $5 bid had been topped by the same joker who was outbidding me the night before with lightning speed. I called him all sorts of names.
   Tonight I hopped on and upped my bid by another buck. In an instant, so did my opponent. Aha! There's something...something...AUTOMATED... at play! Sho-nuff. I found out I can enter my top bid, and let his computer proxy duke it out with my computer proxy.
   That's when I found out I can set my maximum bid, and if he ups his bid, this time I'll be the one upping the bid in an instant! We'll let his computer proxy duke it out with my computer proxy.
   And with one minute remaining in this bidding war, if need be, I'll bid $25 for the $125 watch (remembering this watch will arrive with the seller paying the shipping charges), get the local jeweler to put the band from the watch I'm buying on the watch I have, and toss my "prize" in the drawer.
   That is, of course, unless the mystery counter-bidder, knuckle rubbing joker from the far corner of the earth, wants the watch for more than $25. If he does, he can have it...and I'll order a new band from Skagen and be no worse off than I am now.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"Master's Calling" -- An old short story, an intro to a new series

I wrote the following short story during a party in my fraternity house residence when I was in college. I haven't done much with it since then, but thought it might be a fun way to introduce Nick Galizzi, the American, the wizard who will be a central character in the new series of fantasy novels I'm going to start soon.

Master's Calling

  He knew the flash of pain would come. The flash of pain that would serve as the master's call to battle. The Peruvian sun splashed over his sunburned back. he raised the pickax over his shoulder and stuck it deep into the wall of earth before him. His body was lean and hard...but in many ways he was stronger than anyone thought. His bright green eyes radiated power over his high cheekbones.
   The pain pierced through his hand again.  He stifled a second cry, and stared into the tiger's eye in his ring. his eyes narrowed and he looked quickly at the others working with him. Ten people troweled for pottery elsewhere in the site, but everyone was too busy with their work to to notice Nick's behavior. His forehead creased deeper as he concentrated on the stone in his ring. His eyes narrowed as they flicked back and forth as if he could actually see something in the bands of brown and gold.
   He left the master in another world and hoped the time for confrontation--the time when he would be forced to destroy the man who gave him everything--would never come, but it had.
   I won't go, he thought. Nothing can make me fight him.
   A vision crossed before his eyes. A vision of Sherry, the woman he still loved, being taken by the master. He glanced again at the others. No one was watching him. He raised a hand and mumbled, then vanished in a hot flash of brilliant light.
   The other archeologists looked up from their work in time for the flash to burn their eyes. A woman screamed.
   She slammed the apartment door and kicked off her shoes before she finished walking over the five feet of Persian carpet to the couch. She flipped on the news and walked immediately to the kitchen for a drink. With her left hand she loosened her braided black hair and shook her head to fluff it. She stared over the counter at the television, trying to make sense of the flashing pictures and the newsman's blab through the fog of her headache, but it was no use. She was too tired to concentrate on anything, particularly the local news for Washington DC.
   Sherry was young and beautiful in a darkly seductive way. She was only twenty-seven and held a position of respect in the State Department. She loved her job, had everything she could want, and was healthy...but she was far from happy. She let the man she loved slip away because she couldn't understand him and now she missed the excitement he brought into her life.
   She stirred her gin and tonic--Nick's favorite drink--and crinkled her nose at the faint smell of lime. She sipped the drink, and a look of sheer exasperation crossed her face as the phone rang. As she reached to answer it, she flipped through the stack of mail.
   "Hello." Irritation shined through her voice.
   There was nothing on the other end. Nothing. No person, no dial tone, no recorded message. Nothing.
   She shrugged and put the phone down. There was a letter from Nick in the pile, and her headache, the phone, and the television were forgotten. his last letter said he was going to Peru with an archaeology expedition, and she was anxious to read about his adventures. His tales of adventure had been part of what attracted her to him when they met at a State Department party, but she tired quickly of his long absences. Often, she pleaded with him, even threatened him...but none of it worked. He said he couldn't give up his work. She broke up with him.
   For the first time that day, a smile warmed her face. She was always happy to hear from Nick--although the conflicting emotions she still felt for him always flooded to the surface when she did. She picked up her drink, lit a cigarette, and slid over to the couch in her stocking feet. She skimmed the first paragraph, smiling at the way he opened his letter. He was always so formal at if he was somehow afraid of her...but usually loosened his style after the first page.
   Before she finished skimming the first page, the phone rang again. Annoyed, she stared at it from her place on the couch. For the past few weeks, she got the nothingness on the other end too many times. The caller ID was no help. It was a different number each time. She was in no mood for fun and games.
   It didn't stop ringing like it  usually did when she let it go, and she finally got out of her seat. She kept the edge out of her voice only with difficulty. "Hello?"
   "Sharon Cook?" The voice on the other end sounded cold.
   "May I ask who's calling?" She wrapped an arm around her waist in an effort to stifle the chill that came over her.
   "I am the man who will save you from your hellbound lover."
   "Which hellbound lover?" The joke sounded stiff.
   "You are in danger, Sharon Cook, danger of the most extreme."
   "You are in danger from a demon, woman! Heed my warning or die!"
   "Who is this!"
   "Do not shout. You will arouse the attention of others in your dwelling. I do not advise that. you know the whereabouts of Niccolo Galizzi?"
   "Who is this!"
   "Never you mind who I am."
   She hung up. She wrapped a strand of hair around a shaking finger and picked up her drink with her other hand. The ice rattled in the glass. Nick's letter lay on the sofa, unread.
   The phone rang again.
   She looked at it with shock-wide eyes. Liquid sloshed out of the glass and she nearly yanked the hair out of her head when she jumped. Slowly, as if the phone was a snake, she reached out. A long tapered finger rested on the talk button. After the third ring, she slammed it against her ear. "What do you want!"
   It was a bad connection, but she recognized the voice. "Sherry? It's Nick..."
   "Nick! God am I glad to hear your voice. Where are you?"
   "Cuzco, Peru. I need you to listen to me carefully. We don't have much time. You have to get out of that apartment. Go somewhere crowded, like a bar or a restaurant. There's someone coming for you. He wants to pay me back for something he thinks I did a long time ago, and he's going to do it through you."
   This was almost too much for her. "What are you talking about? A religious fanatic just called me and told me I was in danger from a demon...and now you want me to leave my own home? Nick, what's happening? He even asked me about you!"
   "I don't have time to explain. I'm in a little Plexiglas booth with about a hundred Peruvians waiting behind me to make their own calls. Get out of the apartment."
   "Just trust me on this one. Damn it, Sherry! This could be your life."
   Nick never raised his voice to her in all the time she knew him. The fact that he was shouting now shook her to the core. She nodded vigorously at the phone. "Yes, Nick. I'll go."
   She heard a shout on the other end of the line, followed quickly by another. Shots were fired. The phone went dead in her hand. She held it in shock for several seconds, then the reality of what she heard filtered through her mind. "Nick!"
   She slammed the phone down on the counter.  Her heart pounded. She looked stupidly at the hardwood floor and realized she dropped her drink. Shattered glass had cut her nylons and little tracks of blood filled the runs in her hose. Tears stung her eyes.
   The phone rang again.
   She wanted to scream. She couldn't decide whether to answer the phone or let it ring. What if it was that fanatic again? But what if it was Nick?
   The phone seemed to ring louder the second time.
   She bit her lip.
   The phone didn't stop ringing.
   She had no choice. She picked it up and placed it against her ear as if it might bite her. Everything seemed unreal. Everything had to be a dream. She'd been dreaming since she kicked off her shoes and turned on the TV. She had to be dreaming.
   "Sharon, you hung up on me." It was the fanatic again.
   "Who is...?"
   "...When a woman terminates a conversation with me, I get angry. Doubly angry when the woman will not tell me where her demon lover is hiding. I want Niccolo Galizzi!"
   She felt the hair on the back of her neck rise. She reached behind the phone charging stand and ripped the cord from the wall. It didn't work--the phone rang in her hand. It couldn't, but it did. I won't answer it, she thought. It can't be ringing. It can't!
   Moving slowly, her mind only beginning to accept Nick's words, she picked her shoes up and slid them on her feet. She felt faint, but her eyes were determined as she walked to the bedroom to pack a bag. Nick said to leave, she thought. I have to go.
   My god! What if he's dead?
   She forced the thought from her mind, but that didn't stop tears from sliding down her face. The phone continued to ring even though it was no longer connected. She grabbed an overnight bag from the top shelf of her closet and started to fill it with whatever clothing she happened to grab. Tears coursed down her cheeks as visions of Nick lying dead in a phone booth filled her mind's eye. 
   She never heard the muffled boot steps coming down the hall.
   She never saw a shadow pass over her shoulder from the door to the bedroom.
   Nick regretted raising his voice to her. He slapped his hand against his thigh and leaned against the counter under the phone. His heart pounded. He had come close to losing his life many times, but nothing frightened him more than talking to Sherry. She was the one person in the worlds he knew, including himself, that he ever allowed himself to love.
   He told her again to get out, and once again stooped to every voice trick--mystic or mundane--at his disposal.
   He caught a strange motion out of the corner of his eye. A glance out the door gave him a bleak picture while he talked to Sherry. Somehow, the master sent soldiers after him...which meant he was only pretending not to know where he was. He didn't want Nick. He wanted Sherry!
   There was a group of soldiers standing outside the phone booth. Armed soldiers. The officer of the group shouted, "Fuego!"
   Nick's hands came up. Words flew from his lips. Light danced over his body.
   The sounds of shots reached his ears as if from a distance. Glass shattered around him, and the bullets smashed into the soundproof wall behind him, but none of the glass touched him.
   The soldiers stared at the carnage they had just created as if they had no idea they could have made such a mess. Nick stepped through the shattered door. The look of anger on his face and the power glowing in his eyes was enough to make the soldiers fear for their lives.
   He approached them slowly, pointed with a strange gesture, and and spoke in a language so old it had become basic human memory, "Felciamian!"
   The guns in their hands disappeared as if they never existed. Nick smiled as he shouldered his way past them. As he walked by the officer his smile broadened. "You lose."
   He grinned as he stepped onto the crowded street and disappeared in full view of tourists and soldiers.
    Sherry screamed when hands grabbed her from behind. The touch was cold, the hands sinewy and strong. She kicked and twisted, screamed and grunted. It was futile. She could not break the grip. The cold voice from the phone murmured in her ear.  His breath reeked of rotting meat. "Sharon Cook, the man you love is a monster from the lowest hell. He must be destroyed, even at the cost of the life of an innocent."
   "Let me go, you son of a..."
   "Silence! You will cooperate, or I shall be force to kill you."
   She grunted as the air was forced from her lungs. Sparks danced in her vision and she fought furiously. Her arms were pinned to her sides, useless. Her feet kicked in the air inches above the floor.The cold voice burned in her ear.
   "You will not attempt to raise your voice over a whisper again. I will kill you if I your lover would. If I must stoop to his level, I will do so."
   The pressure on her ribs lightened, and she sucked in air as fast and hard as she could. "He'll kill you."
   The man holding her stiffened. "We will see, little one, we will see. Now it is time to leave this place. The Evil One holds too much power here."
   He released her and spun her like a child. She found herself staring into the palest gray eyes she'd ever seen and, to her surprise, a benign old man's face. He smiled over cracked, yellow teeth. "I am a wizard, and I did he put it...after you for something he did. He will not defeat me."
   "Sure he won't."
   He slapped her face. Sherry felt her flesh burn, and a welt rise. Her eyes fogged with pain. She lashed out to slap his face, but her hand hit something hard half an inch in front of his hooked nose. She stared at her hand. Smoke rose from her palm and fingers. His laughter burned in her ears even as a chill ran down her spine.  With a push, he forced her to fall onto the bed. Her eyes widened. Was he going to rape her?
   There was no hint of lust in his eyes. He stood about six feet tall and was very road through the shoulders and chest. He wore a purple robe with a sword belt and scabbard serving as a sash around his thick waist. He stared down at her and threw his shoulders back. His hands moved in odd contortions at his side, and he murmured softly in a language she couldn't understand.
   The bed spun in lazy circles. Wind whipped through the air in the bedroom and a faint odor of ozone filtered into her nostrils. Sherry clenched her eyes shut and clutched the comforter. The winds howled over her and the bed circled faster. It was hard to breathe, and she thought she would be sick.
   The wizard's voice boomed over the wind. "Mecuricam ad esducia moritatium!"
   She was still screaming when the wind stopped. The bed stopped as well.
   "Remain here," he said. "I shall return to your home dimension to insure the Evil One follows you to his death."
   She opened her eyes, but the world still seemed to spin. She couldn't focus. Everything went black.
    Nick tapped his fingers on the armrest in the cab. It had been almost twelve hours since he spoke to Sherry on the phone, and he was anxious as hell to get to her apartment. He stared at the city lights as they floated by. Finally he looked into the tiger's eye in his ring. He concentrated every fiber of his being on finding her. It was no use. All he could see in the stone were walls of gray mist. That had never happened before. Either the master was cloaking her for some reason, he he took her to...
   "We're here, sir."
   Nick tossed him a fifty and was out of the cab before he could make change. He rushed to the glass doors to the apartment building and the attendant let him in without question. He never felt the push from Nick's mind to his.
   He took the stairs two at a time instead of waiting for the elevator. Slid his key in the lock and rushed into the apartment. Sherry was gone. He knew that in his mind, but his heart didn't want to accept it. He flipped on the light. The cigarette smoke he smelled was stale. He noticed his letter on the couch, and saw broken glass on the floor when he went into the kitchen. The phone was missing, but he saw it on the floor at the end of the hall.
   He cast a minor spell and pale green light flooded the apartment. As if he was seeing a movie backward, he saw green shadows flicker around the apartment. He saw the master walk backward out of the bedroom and into the corner of the living room where he appeared in front of the television. He saw Sherry walk from the bedroom to behind the kitchen counter. He saw the phone fly from the hall into her hand and watched her plant the phone back into the wall. He saw the drink reassemble itself and fly up from the floor. He watched her hang up the phone and answer it several times. He smiled tightly when she looked obviously relieved at one phone call, and realized it was his.
   He stopped the spell when she came in the door. He'd seen enough. It wasn't enough that the Master warped his mind in a demon summoning gone awry. The fact that he started to believe Nick--his prize pupil--was an incarnation of that demon was what undid him. Still, Nick vowed to let the master live in the hope he would repair his own mind.
   Now it had gone too far.
   "Niccolo," the master's voice called from behind him.
   He spun, a snarl and a spell on his lips, but he never cast the spell. the master's benign face filled the TV screen. His pale eyes twinkled in amusement. Nick glanced at the DVR. It was on. That meant the old wizard watched her long enough before he attacked to know what the technology did and learned to manipulate it with magic.
   The recording of the old man turned serious. "Evil One," he began, "you have noticed by now that I hold Sharon Cook. Realize, evil, that she will die unless you follow my instructions explicitly."
   Nick sat on the couch. He stared hard at the screen. The muscles in his jaw pumped against themselves as he ground his teeth.
   "Rest before you attempt to follow her." The old man smiled like a serpent. "After your flight from Peru, I am quite certain you need rest before we battle to your death."
   "Cocky bastard," Nick said to the screen.
   "...After you have rested, you will walk into your woman's bedchamber. There you will see a path of light. Follow it to her, and to me."
   "..Sure," Nick muttered, "...and walk right into one of your traps."
   "Remain on the path. You see, your woman will die--and so will you--the moment you step off that path. I will be watching."  Static snapped; the screen went black.
   He stood and took a step to turn the recorder and television off. "You don't honestly think I'll wait and give you more time to set your traps, do you?"
   There was a hiss when he touched the power button on the TV. He threw himself back on the couch. A cloud of green gas filled the room. He'd moved quickly, but it wasn't enough. The gas had already invaded his lungs.
   Consciousness seeped back to Sherry. Pain soaked through every cell in her body. The dizziness and nausea had only weakened. She tried to move, but couldn't. She couldn't feel her arms or legs.
   The old man appeared--just appeared--and his pale eyes regarded her as if she was a fly-ridden piece of meat. As far as she could tell, she was no longer on earth. She was still on her bed, but all of her other furnishings were gone. A three-legged table was next to the bed, and under it was a small stool with a threadbare cushion. On it was a crystal with white smoke circling inside.
   She turned her head slightly as the old man seated himself at the table, placed his hands on his knees, and continued to glare at her.
   Aside from the bed, the table, and the stool, there was nothing. Gray mist floated below the bed and table. Above her there was only more mist. A chill danced along her spine.
  The old man moved. He raised his hand, pointed at her, and muttered in a foreign language. She felt her body rise. Chains came out of nothing above her, and shackles appeared around her wrists. The chains yanked her arms over her head. Then, like snakes, two more heavy iron chains rose out of the mattress and clapped around her ankles. She writhed, but couldn't break loose. "Let me go!"
   The old man smiled. He reached over and grabbed the hem of her skirt. Effortlessly, as if the skirt was paper instead of cloth, he tore it from her legs. with his other hand, he ripped off her blouse.
   "You're sick!"
  His eyes flashed the hollow look of a lunatic. "You are the one who is sick! Evil! You are a rotten whore who consorts with a demon. He is a being fro the lowest hell. He cannot stop himself from being evil, but you could have stopped him when he seduced you."
  "No," she whispered. "He's a good man."
  "He is demon!"
   Her voice dropped even lower. "I love him."
  "Look into my eyes, woman.'
  She felt a compulsion to look in his pale eyes. She fought it. She didn't want to see those eyes. Those soft eyes. "No." There was a quiver in her voice.
   He spoke gently. "Look into my eyes.
   "Look into my eyes." His voice was so soft. So gentle. He meant her no harm...
   Her eyes connected with his. It made her feel good, looking into those eyes. Everything was going to be okay. She could trust him...with anything.
   "Now listen to me, child. Listen to the master. Niccolo Galizzi is an evil. Do you believe that?"
   Her voice was a husky whisper. "Yes."
   "You will help me destroy him."
   Her voice carried a vehemence of the kind she didn't know she could possess. "I will help you destroy him!"
    Nick snapped awake His eyes felt puffy; his head ached, but he felt stronger than he did before the spell took him...and madder than all hell. The master took his woman, and nothing would stop him from freeing her. She didn't love him, he knew, and maybe she never would, but he loved her. That was enough for him.
    He reached down and pulled the leg of his Levi's over his boots. he quickly slid the dagger out of the boot and threaded the scabbard through his belt. He turned and walked down the hall to the bedroom. He kicked the phone out of the way and stopped in the doorway to the bedroom. The bed was missing, but everything else: the vanity, the pictures on the wall, the ashtrays, the dresser, and the nightstands were all in place. He knew the master got to her shortly after his call by the overnight bag on the dresser. She'd been packing in a hurry, but it did her no good.
   The wall directly in front of him was no longer there. A path of light led from the center of the rectangle on the carpet where the bed had been into the wall of gray mist standing where the bedroom wall once was. He stepped through the mist on the shining path. As it enshrouded him, he looked over his shoulder. Just as he expected, the bedroom wall with the door was gone. There was only gray mist.
    He knew where he was. He had passed through this kind of limbo before in his lifelong quest for arcane knowledge. He walked slowly, fully expecting traps with every step. There were none. There was nothing but the path, the path that was in and of itself, a trap.
    She lay at the master's feet. A smile sat on her lips. She traced the length of his scabbard with lone long, tapered finger, and ran the first finger of her other hand between her breasts. "When will he arrive, Master?' she purred.
   "Soon." He burst into laughter. "The Evil One has touched the path! See the doubt on his face! He seeks a way to surprise me, but that is not possible. Ha! Come, come!"
   Nick took a deep breath as he walked down the shining path. He didn't waste his concentration looking for traps. It was obvious the master sought a personal battle, and wouldn't resort to deadly tricks...yet. He felt his anticipation turn to dread with every step, but his anger rose higher and higher too. Sherry did nothing to deserve this. She wasn't a party to this battle between teacher and pupil, and the master was as evil as he accused Nick of being when he captured her.
    In spite of his rage, he had few illusions about his chances of killing the master. He studied at his feet for ten years and had learned faster than any other apprentice in the history of Sexton. He had studied in Tibet, Mongolia, Jamaica, Peru, and India. Nick had uncovered many spells in Sexton that even his teacher didn't know, but he had no doubt the other man's experience was deeper than his. His only hope was that the master's craftiness was warped along with his mind. He had to either outwit him, or die by his hand.
   Sherry was chained in place above the bed again. her hair was unbound and flowed gracefully around her face. The chains hurt...and she liked it. She had satisfied the master, and now she would watch the evil one die.
   "He comes, my pet," he breathed as he stared in the crystal. "He comes. Remember, you will be the first thing he sees. Scream and writhe."
   "Must I seduce the demon?" She pouted.
   "No. You will only arouse his wrath against me. In his anger, he will make a mistake...and he will die."
   She fell silent, watching him with dark eyes.
   His eyebrows pinched as he looked into the glass. His mouth contorted. He slammed his fist into the table. "Damn him!"
   "What is it, Master?"
   "Silence, whore! Your demon lover is delaying for some reason. I do not know why."
   Sherry's eyes widened as Nick stepped out of the mist. He looked strong, stronger than she'd ever seen him. Her heart pounded. Nick! No! He is the Evil One! No! He isn't evil. No! He is a demon!
   The master stood and grinned at Nick as he walked toward the table. "So you have come, Evil One." 
   Nick said nothing. He raised a hand and mouthed a spell. He never finished the incantation.  With a roar, the master clapped his hands together. Blazing light flashed around Nick. There was a clap like thunder and Nick's body exploded in the light.
   The master froze. Suspicion flickered in his eyes. "That was too easy, Niccolo. What game is it you play?"
   A shadow formed on the path just behind the wall of nothing. Nick's form stepped out of the wall and grinned.
   The master bellowed. He curled his fingers and snapped them in Nick's direction. Blue lightning sizzled the air. Nick made no attempt to dodge the bolt. For an instant that burned in Sherry's mind for an eternity, Nick's body twisted in the lightning. There was a nearly overpowering odor of ozone. When it cleared, Nick's body was gone.
   "Nick!" she screamed.
   The master fixed his cold eyes on the woman. His voice rang out with power, the first spell he used to charm her. "Remember, pet, he is the Evil One!"
   Sherry's eyes glazed.
   Nick stepped out of nothingness again.
   This time the master only stared. "What trick do you play? Do you seek to tire me? Do you not wish to fight? Why is it you flee from my spells? Have I taught you nothing?"
   Nick didn't reply.
   Another Nick stepped out of the mist and stood by the first. Then another stepped out. then another. Soon there were seven Nicks standing in a line in front of the master.
   "Enough!" the master roared. He snapped his arms in the air and shouted in an ancient tongue. Red mist formed above the crowd of Nick look-alikes. Red bars floated down into the mist under their feet.
   Nick's voice hovered around Sherry and the master like the voice of a ghost. She craned her neck in an attempt to find the source, but couldn't see anything.
   "Master, you've gotten slow in your old age, and more than a little careless."
   "Do not attempt to goad me into a mistake."
   "Hell, you've been making mistakes all along. A fireball? Lightning? Concensor's cage? Pretty strong stuff considering you could have wiped out my illusions with a gesture."
   The master grunted and spun toward Sherry. He shouted and snapped his hands at her in a hurling motion. Fire formed on the ends of his fingers and arced at her. "See me destroy your love!"
   She screamed. The fire bent around her and sailed into the mist.
   The trick accomplished its purpose. nick lost concentration on his own spells when he cast a protective shell around her. The shadows of himself within the cage disappeared. Nick appeared in front of the master. His legs were spread to shoulder width, an his arms were in the air. Sweat glistened on his forehead, and his eyes were locked on Sherry's.
   The master kicked at Nick's midriff. He grunted and his hands dropped to his sides. The master hit him full in the face with one of his fists and aimed a hard kick at his groin. Nick fell back and disappeared into the mist below.
   "Where are you, Evil One? How many times did I tell you while you were still human to watch for physical attack?"
   Nick's hands shot out of the mist and wrapped around the master's ankles. "Xexicamus fuegari!"
   The master screamed as blue flames consumed his robes. his body shook in pain and an inhuman roar slipped form his lips. Then, with Herculean effort, he bent and grabbed Nick's hands. In spite of his pain and the flames, he pried Nick's hands off his ankles as if they were nothing. The flames ceased.
   The veins in the master's neck stood out. His face went red as he tugged Nick's wrists. Nick's fingers locked around the master's wrists and he pulled in the opposite direction.
   Nick was yanked from the mist. The master grunted and grabbed him around the waist from behind. Nick's face was a mask of pain. His clothes smoked where the master's hands grasped, and he screamed. His arms were pinned at his side and he bent his right arm at the elbow in an attempt to reach his dagger. The master's hand burned through his clothes and his flesh turned black where burning fingers clutched it, but Nick managed to draw the dagger. He stabbed the master's side. His grin turned to a grimace, and the grimace turned to a demented grin as he yanked Nick's dagger from his side.
   He dropped the dagger into the mist. Nick was nowhere in sight. "Show yourself, Evil."
   Nick rose out of the mist. White light shimmered around him in a protective aura. Two blackened shapes of burned flesh were visible on his stomach, but there was a cold smile on his face. "I've learned far beyond what you were able to teach me."
   The master nodded and looked hard at the man who was once his pupil. "Yes. You have become quite a challenge, but the forces of light will always defeat the darkness."
   "Which of us is which?"
   The master vanished.
   Nick blinked. He raised his arms and began to float above the mist. For the first time since the fight started, he looked at Sherry. With a gesture, the chains holding her snapped and she fell to the mattress. "Go on, Sherry. Go home. don't step off the path, and get out of the apartment as soon as you get there."
   She didn't reply. She only stared at him.
   "What's the matter? I said..."
   He grunted as lightning smashed into him. He was knocked form the air, and his lips curled back in silent agony. The master popped out of the mist with a cackle, and held the lightning on Nick's quivering body. He thrashed as he tried several times to stand, but fell with every attempt. His clothing burned and he could only raise enough power to stop the lightning from destroying his flesh. He wouldn't last long.
   "Your woman is a most excellent lover."
   "No!" Somehow, whether through his love for her, or his hate of the master, Nick called every ounce of his power. Pure emotion flooded through his mind. His agony slipped away. A spell burned itself across his mind. A spell he knew even then he had never learned. He shouted words. Power cracked the air as he spoke.
   The master screamed--a terrible cry--and slapped his hands to the sides of his head. Flames engulfed his hair. His eyes melted. The skin charred, then flaked away. It was over. The master's charred skeleton slipped silently into the nothingness below.
   Nick put his hands on his knees and panted. Slowly, he straightened and walked to the bed. Sherry slid one hand under the pillow and the other around his neck. he bent to kiss her and jerked back with a cry of pain.
   His eyes locked on hers. His hand snapped to his side and locked around her hand and the dagger in it. Rich, dark blood covered the satin sheets. "Why?"
   "You are evil!"
   He released the dagger and wrapped a strong hand around the back of her head. She struggled to break away from the grasp. He pulled her face against his. His strong lips mashed against hers. She clawed at his back, struggled fiercely to break his kiss. The strength fell from her. Tears clouded her eyes. She closed them.
   "I didn't mean to hurt you," she whispered. She stood and wrapped an arm around his waist, pressing it against his wound to stop the blood. "I'm so sorry."
   He leaned heavily against her with his eyes closed. "That's okay. I lied... I'm not really an archaeologist."
   She laughed. "Be quiet, you idiot. Just be quiet."  She kissed him on the cheek and helped him to the path. While they walked, she vowed to herself that she would never let him slip away again. "You have some explaining to do," she whispered.
    "That's what I figured." He laughed and it turned into a cough.
   The gray mist closed around them.