The New Western

the-revenant-compA little over a week ago, I went to see The Revenant, the fictionalized version of the Hugh Glass story, starring Leonardo Dicaprio, and I have to say it was a great movie. Unlike most movies today, they eschewed the use of CGI, even when filming the bear attack that is the pivotal event of the story. And they filmed only in natural light, so the scenery is spectacular, and you can practically feel the cold seeping into your bones. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and correct that discrepancy.

The Revenant is among a crop of recent westerns, including the direct-to-DVD Bone Tomahawk, The Hateful Eight, and Jane Got a Gun, none of which I have seen. But I did read an article about how the newer westerns, while a welcome sight, were much more violent than westerns of yore.

Of course, one of them is a Quentin Tarantino movie, so you can expect it’ll be violent. A Tarantino movie without violence would be like Star Wars without spaceships: it just ain’t happenin. Obviously, not having seen any of these other movies, all I have to go on is what the article said, but I have to wonder about the author’s motivations (and I can’t seem to find the article now, or I’d link to it).

The west was a violent place, though that violence was probably not as prevalent as the movies would have us believe. After all, take people who really don’t fit in in the first place, put them in an area where the law doesn’t exist and there’s no one to curb their antisocial tendencies, and you’re gonna have violence. It’s just human nature.

However, I would guess that, based on what I’ve read, the violence was about like becoming a tornado victim in Tornado Alley: it’s very much a possibility, but if you look atThe-Hateful-Eight-banner-620x467 the statistics, actually not as likely as urban legend would have us believe. The period we call the Wild West didn’t last very long, in fact. The vast majority who traveled west were settlers, men with families in tow who were seeking a better life, something they simply couldn’t find in the stratified east. They were chasing a dream of having their own land. They formed towns and quickly hired law enforcement officers of various types. The Texas Rangers patrolled that huge area under the motto One riot, one Ranger. The US Marshals were also present throughout this period. And that doesn’t even include the town sheriffs and marshals populating the landscape.

That’s why there were places like Robber’s Roost and Hole-in-the-Wall. The bad guys needed places to hide out because, in all honesty, the vast majority of people in the west were against them. And they were armed.

What we read when we pick up a Dusty Richards or a Louis L’Amour novel is a romanticized version of the west, where the good guys were gooder and the bad guys were badder, and the honest citizens were often caught in between. Call it a nineteenth century version of The Avengers. Yes, there were the larger than life figures, some of which switched sides, like Bat Masterson.

When it comes to movies, the classics have actors like John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Randolph Scott, and so on. More recent stars would include Sam Elliot, Tom Selleck, and Jeff Bridges. When we pick up a movie with one of these actors in it, we expect more or less classic western action, where the good guys win and the bad guys get their comeuppance.

High_Plains_Drifter_posterThe 1960s saw a different type of movie come along, though, the fabled spaghetti western. Made with low budgets, they generally featured up and coming actors such as Clint Eastwood (who has also starred in more classic western movies), strident music, and lots of close-ups of actors making various noises in reaction to horrible deeds and a more violent, less idealized version of the west.

And now we have the more modern, more violent western, where the characters aren’t so clean cut, and they get dirty, and tired, and the action is more in touch with reality—albeit still a somewhat romanticized reality—than the classic westerns. There’s more grit and fewer Guys in White Hats who always get the girl.

I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. I can’t see how it would hurt to have a modern western made in the classic way. At the same time, I enjoy the grit and dirt I see, because, as much as we idealize those who settled the west, it wasn’t a clean or easy job. It was backbreaking labor, whether you were a cowboy or a sodbuster. Taming a frontier isn’t for the faint of heart or the spoiled. You gotta get your hands dirty to get anywhere.

And I’m sure the violent western is a reflection of our times, as so many movies are. It’s escapism, plain and simple. So while the author of the article I mentioned above seemed to deplore the violence in the new westerns, I’d say it’s here to stay, in all likelihood, and the best we can do is enjoy the stories. Or not. After all, no one is forcing you to go to these movies, or read the books.

Having grown up reading westerns, I think I’ll give them a chance. After all, the only constant we have in life is change, so this too shall pass.

Later,
Gil

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Long Ago Spring

7022544797_ba8bdde317We’ve had a few nice days here in Northwest Arkansas. Temperatures in the sixties, warm sunshine, pleasant southerly breeze, birds singing, water sparkling so bright it blinds you. Spring in the middle of winter.

In some ways, I hate it, because I know winter isn’t over and this is like Nature teasing us before slamming the lid down again. On the other hand, it’s a bit like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Any break from winter is a welcome one.

Driving home from grocery shopping with the windows down, having a hard time paying attention to the road because it was so pleasant, I got to thinking. For some reason, the pleasant weather put me in mind of spring when I was young. The winters were harsher then, and lasted longer. More snow, more cold, and spring was definitely a welcome occurrence.

I grew up out in the country, and it didn’t matter what the weather was, my friends and I tromped all over. We had some favorite places we like to go, but pretty much everything was fair game. I lived not far from Glade Creek in Madison County, and I couldn’t tell you how many trips we made up and down that creek bed, in all kinds of weather. Hot, cold, snowy, icy, it didn’t matter. If we got it in our head to do it, we did it. I’ve walked miles of it on ice, stumbled along the banks in summer trying to keep my feet dry, made our way to some select pools to go swimming… the adventures were endless.

In the spring, though, there was something special about exploring the countryside after a long, cold winter. The creek beds had great piles of debris washed up from winter rains, and there was no telling what you’d find. The days were warm and pleasant, birds sang everywhere, and even the sparkles off the water seemed brighter, as if the water was laughing at being cut loose for another warm season.

All our familiar haunts looked strangely new, and the urge to explore them all again and again grew as the grass became greener and the trees leafed out. Birds were131 - Castle media (2) everywhere, building nests, singing in the trees. I grew up on a farm, so we’d see calves playing in the fields, get to watch hawks soaring overhead. Going to school was torture. Why be cooped up in a classroom when there was so much to do outside?

This was before gaming consoles turned into babysitters. My friends had an Atari (I don’t know which one, wasn’t aware there was more than one model), and I can remember us playing Pong on it at times. There were other games as well, but I can’t recall them. But our time on the console was rationed. And we’d grow tired of it eventually anyway. It wasn’t quite the same as playing games in the arcade, for one, and for another… well, there were things to do outside. We’d already spent too many days cooped up due to nasty weather. Sure, we went out in it a lot, but you can only take so much of that bone-shaking cold and wet feet before you figure it’s time to go back in and do something where it’s warm.

Remembering all this made me want to get out and tromp around again, maybe recapture some of the feeling I had when I was a kid. Unfortunately, that was almost forty years ago. I’m older, more jaded and, unfortunately, fatter and lazier. Of course, maybe if I tromped around out there, I’d not feel so fat and lazy, and maybe even not so old anymore. It’s something to think about.

But I’ve got the memories, memories from a time before cell phones and internet, GPS and Facebook. I don’t know that we actually had it better than the kids do today, but it sure feels like we did.

I’m glad I got to grow up like that.

Later,
Gil

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Money for Nothing

I’m gonna jump briefly on the bandwagon here, one that’s previously been touted by, among others, Kristen Lamb (this one  on how we’re paid is informative as well) and Wil Wheaton, and that’s the issue of free work for exposure. It’s as if, because we’re creative, we’re supposed to let you have parts of our work for free just because we’re not part of what’s considered “normal” working folks.

Really? You very rarely see this kind of thing from other professions. Sometimes free samples at restaurants, but you’re not gonna make a meal out of them. Yet we’re expected to give away stories, songs, and artwork in the hopes you’ll come back and buy more.

I live in Northwest Arkansas, the land of Walmart. Now, I gotta tell ya, sometimes when I shop there, you’ll see them giving away free samples of what are usually new products. But if you look at those samples, you’re not getting more than a bite or two, or a couple of drinks in the case of liquids. They’re not giving boxes of the stuff away.

And no one expects them to. No one goes to, say, Keebler, and says, “Hey, give us a case of free cookies and maybe we’ll come back and buy some more.” No one petitions Coca-Cola for free products. No one goes to an insurance agent and says, “Give me free coverage for three months, and if I like it, I’ll renew at the end of that term.”

Why? Cause they’d get laughed at, that’s why.

No one else, anywhere else, is expected to do this. Only creative people are. Why? I have no idea. Yes, we need exposure. But we get hungry and cold just like everybody else, so we need food and clothing as much as they do. And electricity. And cars. And for God’s sake don’t let me hear you tell me to “get a real job” cuz I’ll slap you on the back of the head. Writing is a real job. If you don’t believe me, just try it sometime. Quit using that excuse that you’ll do it when you have more time. Or when you retire. When you’re a real writer (or artist or musician), you write whether you want to or not. Know why? Because it won’t let you sleep if you don’t.

I’m not an artist or musician, so I can’t tell you how long it takes them to get a finished piece, but I can tell you that even a short story can often take days to write, and that’s not counting editing the damn thing. If you think we sit down at a keyboard and pound out something in a short amount of time, you’re sadly misinformed on how all this works. Sure, we occasionally blurt out one or two thousands words at a sitting, but those occasions are rare for most of us. I shoot for around two thousand words a day, and it’s been a long time since I’ve met that goal in any kind of a consistent manner.

A novel can take hundreds of hours altogether before it’s ready to be published. Hundreds. Easily. And then you complain when our book is fifteen bucks. Yet you’ll spend five bucks on fifty cents worth of ingredients at Starbuck.

Think about that next time you browse a bookstore or Amazon, would you?

Later,
Gil

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Where Are the Editors?

I want to make a point perfectly clear at the outset: I’m not being self-righteous here, okay? Okay.

Having said that, I have to ask: where are the editors these days?

I’m reading a book at the moment—I won’t give title, author, or publisher, since I’m gonna be nitpicking it—that has a good overall story. But there are details that should have been corrected. For instance, take a look at this sentence: The horses back and whinny, as [he] swears and tries to control the frightened horses. Now, to me, this looks like the typical first draft mistake all authors make, and if I were reading the first draft, I’d have no problem with it. I’d mark it for the author and move on.

But this is a final, published book. I picked it up at my library. Has a great cover. The overall story editing is great. I haven’t spotted a plot hole yet, so I can’t fault that. But when you have a sentence like the one above—and it’s not the only example in this novel—you have to wonder where the editor was when he read that particular passage.

Now, to be fair, the novel isn’t exactly rife with things like this. Again, it reads smoothly, for the most part, and I can’t point out anything huge and say, “Look at this crap!” It’s more the little things, like unnecessary dialogue tags, as if the writer is afraid we’ll forget who’s talking, and the occasional sentence like my example, that pop up.

Again, I’m not being self-righteous. I’m sure I’ve missed things—in fact I know I’ve missed things—that make me want to face-desk. Hard. I’m not a perfect editor by any means, as anyone who’s read any of my texts and infrequent Facebook posts can tell you. Autocorrect messes me up so many times it’s not funny, and for some reason I can’t get it through my thick head to go over what I’ve typed before sending or posting it. And then, of course, there’s the old phenomenon that every writer is familiar with, which is it’s far easier to edit someone else’s writing than it is your own. Even in online posts and texts, we’re too close to our writing to do it justice (though some of the horrible things autocorrect does should stand out like a sore thumb).

At the small company where I work, I have to wear all the hats. I’m general editor, line editor, technical editor, and copy editor. I have to keep my phone handy to research things that I wonder about, so I can help the author get details right. I keep the Dictionary.com app on my phone to look up dubious spellings, and Google gets a good workout when I need to reacquaint myself with writing rules. I’m not having a pity party here, but it’s not always an easy job—I’m always thankful for those writers who write so well that I’m mostly looking for typos—and I can understand how things like this can get by an editor.

The sad fact is, I’m not the only editor having to wear multiple hats these days. Thanks to the Great Recession, publishing companies have downsized editorial departments (which to me is the equivalent to shooting yourself in the foot) in an effort to save money. The result is overworked editors who miss things they shouldn’t. Oghma has some thirty authors under contract (last I checked), and I don’t have to edit all of those (thank God!), but as I’m the only full-time editor, I do the lion’s share of them. I can’t imagine what some editors are going through on a daily basis at the major publishers.

The good thing is, at Oghma, we have beta readers, which lightens the load a little in that I know I don’t have to rely only on myself to catch everything. And knowing that, I’m able to relax a bit and, as a result, actually catch more than I probably would if there were more pressure. Having beta readers doesn’t mean I can slack off, but it does mean I don’t have to sit at my computer wiping sweat off my forehead and stressing because I may have missed something. I’m especially worried about plot holes, and having other readers who see things differently is a blessing. I don’t know if any of those people read my blog, but I still want to give a hearty thanks to them. They have no idea how much easier it makes my job knowing they’re there to catch my screw ups.

I’m seeing articles on a fairly regular basis these days talking about how book sales are up—both physical and electronic—so I’m hoping the other publishing companies will put something in place to help catch more of these mistakes and stop working their editors into the ground and early burnout. Sure, as an employee at Oghma, I want us to have anything we can to give us an advantage in this field. But as a reader, I want to see quality books out there because, in the long run, it helps all us authors and publishers more.

So let’s bring all those editors back, whatever the cost. We’re not the author’s enemies—despite popular belief that says otherwise—and if we could spread the load out more, all of us would benefit from a better product, and a better product would mean better sales. And better sales means we’re fulfilling the dreams of some very worthy authors.

Nothing wrong with that, is there?

Later,
Gil

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Touchdown

Imagine it—you’ve been on the ship for ages, maybe cooped up in cryosleep, maybe just passing time while in FTL, but now you’re here, at the target planet. The ship is in orbit above you, and the shuttle is touching down… now.

The pilots shut everything down, and for a few moments, it’s dead quiet. No need for environmental suits—this planet was targeted because a probe detected an atmosphere like Earth’s. It’s a rare find, so being on this mission is a privilege. You weren’t picked to be the first to step foot on this world, but you will be among the first.

You exchange glances with the other members of the initial exploration party, then you all get to your feet and shuffle to the door. The team leader opens it with a hiss and daylight floods the compartment. A whine of electronics as the ramp lowers, followed by a brief clang as it locks in place, and the member chosen to go first steps out of the vehicle.

You try to appear patient, but inside you’re bursting. Just because you aren’t the first doesn’t mean you aren’t eager to step outside. For one, you’ve spent so much time inside this ship you’re ready for broader horizons. But more than that, there’s the idea of being among the first to step foot on a new world, one everyone hopes will be ripe for colonizing. Earth certainly needs the resources and to lighten its population load.

Finally, it’s your turn. You walk down the ramp, inhaling your first breath of alien air. It’s clean, not like the polluted air back home, and full of scents that are strange to someone used to fumes and little else.

And the sights! My God, it’s amazing. Not a building or car anywhere, and the only voices are those of your teammates. You step onto the ground—a big moment for you, even if the big moment for mankind has already happened—and it takes a few seconds, and a bump from the person behind you, to remember to move. The novelty isn’t lost on you.

This. Is. Another. World.

You step to the side so the others can experience their moment of discovery too, but you barely see them. You’re standing on this planet’s version of grass. It’s soft and springy, and it looks a lot like pictures of wild grass back home, with long leaves that are a pale green in the center edged around with a greenish yellow. It slowly springs back up when you lift your foot off it.

In the distance, trees tower into the sky. They’re shaped like oversized broccoli—no limbs at all until the top, and then it forms a dome-like shape that’s a good twenty or thirty meters above the ground. A breeze ruffles the leaves and brings with the sweet smells of flowers.

An entire world, and only ten people on it at the moment. Soon there’ll be more—they can’t bring colonists here until it’s reasonably sure this is a safe world—but for now it belongs only to you and your teammates.

It’s worth the trip. All those months cooped up in a spaceship, trying your best not to snap someone else’s head off at times, staring out what few portholes there were at the cold depths of space, all of it was worth this moment, this time in your life that nothing else will equal. It’s your first time on a planet that’s not Earth, not the planet of your birth. There’s work to be done, and no doubt you’ll grow accustomed to this place, but for now, this moment, you’re an explorer, one of the privileged first few to leave footprints, as it were, on this world. Even if your name never goes down in a history book, you’ll still cherish this forever.

The moment is over. Time to go to work. But you’ve got something now that very few others have, and it’ll keep you going for the rest of your life.

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Making the Best of Things

Here’s another story of Davin, the thief I invented a couple weeks ago. I know these aren’t the greatest stories, but if they’re intriguing enough, I’ll try to come up with better ones. Maybe they’ll be collected into an anthology someday. Let me know what you think of them.

 

Davin stood with his back against the wall, listening to the tramp of Nightwatch on the street. He eased forward and peeked around the corner and was rewarded with the sight of the patrols in their black and silver uniforms. The sound of their boots echoed off the close walls, making it difficult to tell where they really were.

He ducked back around the corner and, looking up at the darkened sky, took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

How had they gotten onto him?

And more importantly, how was he going to get away from them?

They had the area blanketed with officers as well as local security men. He’d managed to elude them so far, but just getting into this walled neighborhood—the same one his birthday party had been in two weeks earlier—had been tough enough when Nightwatch hadn’t discovered him. But with them all over the place, getting to the walls was going to be a major effort. He’d worry about getting over the walls when he got there.

The sound of the echoing boots faded and he took advantage of the lull. He dashed down the alley—unfortunately a very clean alley, with nothing to hide behind or in—heading in the direction of the neighborhood walls. He crouched low to present less of a target, and avoided the streetlights like the plague.

Two minutes later, he had to draw up again as another patrol approached.

He looked up. Nothing up there, no balconies to hide in, just a blank wall, which was a surprise. People in Calonia liked their balconies.

And the walls surrounding the neighborhood were so close.

He glanced in the direction of the patrol. They were still some distance away. Could he make it, get over the wall before they caught him? He gauged their pace, then eyed the distance to the wall. Getting up it from the inside wasn’t much of a problem. There were stairways everywhere for the security forces employed by the inhabitants to keep watch from up top.

But getting there in time and then making it over… well, that was another trick altogether, wasn’t it?

There wasn’t much choice, though. He was close to the egress point he needed anyway, where he could disappear into the alleyways of the rest of the city. If he could get there, Nightwatch would never find him.

Another glance at the patrol. They came on steadily, but were hampered by searching every doorway and shadow.

He sprinted.

Behind him, one of the officers yelled out, and a moment later, a flare bloomed in the night sky, their way of communicating with one another. Each flare had a different color, which told the others something very basic.

Davin didn’t bother to see what color this one was. He was too busy making his way up the stairs.

As he barreled up, a form emerged from the shadows at the top of the wall—one of the private security officers. He must have been waiting for just this.

Davin wasn’t a big man, and this guy was, but he had momentum behind him. He hit the guard in the midriff, shoulder down, legs pumping. It was like running into a palm tree, except this one gave way after a moment. The guard’s legs hit the low parapet and he pitched over the wall with a yell. A scant moment later the yell cut off with a thud.

With barely a pause, Davin hooked his grapple onto the parapet and rappelled down the wall. At the bottom, he shook the rope to loosen the grapple. Faces appeared above as he was coiling the rope.

He glanced at the guard—out like a light, but still breathing—then sprinted off into the darkness.

Another flare went up.

Down a short alley, then a quick right. This one was longer, and he ran down it full tilt, making as much distance as he could. From behind came the sound of running boots.

Damn, he hadn’t even managed to steal anything. Couldn’t they leave it be, now that he was out of the neighborhood?

He took an alley that ran in a diagonal to the one he was in, running for all he was worth, then jinked left into another one and paused. The pursuing sounds had fallen behind, and he took a moment to regain his breath and take stock of his surroundings.

Unlike the alleys of the walled neighborhood, these were full of refuse, piles of stinking garbage and other, less savory things. Some of the heaps were large enough to hide in, but there was no way he was getting in one, not even on pain of capture or even death. Better to die quickly than suffer from something he caught in one of these mounds of filth. There were balconies overhead, but they were out of reach.

And the Nightwatch was closing in again.

Huffing a deep breath, he took off again, ignoring the rank smell that filled the air around him. Maybe the garbage would discourage the searchers.

He dodged left, then right again, not really paying attention to where he was going, just making yet more distance.

And fetched up abruptly in a small cul-de-sac.

For a moment, he stared in disbelief at the blank wall in front of him. He turned to find another way out, but his pursuers were closer than he’d thought. If he left the cul-de-sac, they’d see him and capture him. They were just too close.

He glanced up.

Another balcony. It was a silly place for it, right at the back of the cul-de-sac, but Calonians would have their balconies, even if they had no view. This one wasn’t that big, and didn’t even have the usual open railing, but was instead hemmed in with boards making up short walls.

Gods, this was not his night. If the balcony had the normal railing, he might be able to get enough of a grip on its floor to hoist himself up. But with the boards blocking access, there was no way. And he couldn’t jump high enough to grip the tops.

He glanced at the approaching patrol. He had to something, and fast.

Then he remembered a trick Amalia, his mentor in the thieving trade, had told him about once. She’d been small and strong, and she’d shown him the trick. It was a way of running up a wall, using a corner to gain admittance to something too high to jump to. He’d never been quite able to do it because of his weight, but he had nothing left to lose tonight.

He backed up, making sure to stay out of sight of the patrol, took a deep breath, and sprinted diagonally down the cul-de-sac, aiming for the corner to the right of the balcony.

You can do this. Just give it all you have.

He jumped, hitting the wall at an angle, and pushed off for the adjoining wall. The moment his foot touched, he pushed up and managed to grab the top of the balcony.

He’d done it!

Another heave and he stood inside the balcony. He took a deep breath, then laid on his side, curling up in a loose fetal position.

Now if only the Nightwatch couldn’t hear him breathing, he might get out of this.

The running boots came closer, then entered the cul-de-sac and paused.

“What the hells?” one of the officers said in a deep voice. “I thought you said he ran in here.”

“He did,” the other man said. “I swear it.”

They stood for a moment, breaths heaving.

“What about that balcony?” the second voice said.

“No way for him to get up that high. Come on. If he came in here, he slipped out without us seeing him.”

They ran off, footsteps receding quickly in the night.

Davin waited a good five minutes in case they came back or more followed behind, but no one else came.

Finally, he rose and stretched. He was going to have to practice this kind of thing more. There were people who did this all the time. Maybe it was time he learned some of their tricks.

He glanced around, saw a higher balcony across the way he hadn’t noticed earlier. It had a large glass in its door, and… was that a glint of something in the dim light?

He mumbled the words to the spell that enhanced his night vision.

Yes, it was. Something gold hung on the wall just inside the door. Even from here, he could tell it wasn’t just decorative.

He eyed the balcony. He could make the leap from here. Maybe tonight wasn’t going to be a total wash after all.

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A Sure Thing

It’s been a couple weeks since I posted here, partly because I’ve just been too busy to write anything, and partly because it’s been hard to think of anything to post. So I started thinking about it this morning and decided to try writing a really short story. And I did. Let me know if it’s actually any good.thief-screenshot-1

Davin paused on the balcony and looked around to be sure he was alone. The alley below was deserted. A warm breeze off the ocean stirred the palm trees, their fronds dark silhouettes against the starry sky. Somewhere off to his left, a cat yowled. And to his right, probably three or four streets over, laughter and the sounds of a party.

Here, it was quiet.

It better be. When Carl told him about this particular job, he’d been a bit leery. A nobleman’s house completely empty this time of year? When the snows blanketed the capital and even the hardiest of court hangers-on deserted Ampistad for warmer climes?

“It’s a sure thing,” Carl had said. They sat at a table enjoying the sunshine and balmy temperatures that winter brought.

Davin smirked. “A sure thing? That doesn’t exist in this business.”

Carl grinned at him. “Tonight it does.”

He studied his friend who also served as his fence. Carl had never steered him wrong before. “I don’t know. It’s my birthday. I was planning on going out tonight.”

Carl leaned forward. “So go out afterwards. I’m telling you, this one is worth delaying your celebration. And he’ll be back by tomorrow morning. This is your only chance.”

“You’re sure?”

“As sure as death and taxes. Diamonds, Davin. Loose diamonds. Untraceable, too. I can unload them for… I’d say sixty percent of market value.”

Sixty percent? Well, considering thirty percent was a good thing, maybe it was time to rethink not working tonight.

“All right. But you be ready. I want to party after. Have the money, because I don’t want to wait.”

Carl had grinned and said, “You got it. You’ll have a birthday in style this year, my man.”

So here he was, crouched on a balcony in the better part of town, about to sneak into the winter residence of one of the most powerful men in the realm, at least according tothief_bank_heist_mission-wide Carl. Davin didn’t pay much attention to politics, so he had no way of knowing.

He eased onto the balcony’s floor, went to the sliding door, a new invention he had little experience with. But a lock was a lock, and less than a minute later, he had it open.

Another pause to look around. The cat yowled again, and the party still raged on. No Nightwatch in sight, though, which was good. Just getting into this walled-off neighborhood had been tough, and he was thinking sixty percent was just about right for a job like this.

He stepped inside, slid the door almost shut. Better to leave it slightly open in case he had to make a hasty exit.

It was quiet in here. He stood for a full minute, getting a feel for the place, something he did on every job.

Silence.

Okay. The diamonds were downstairs. Carl had suggested using the balcony because, thanks to their newness, sliding doors were easier to get through than the banded oak numbers on the ground floor. Those would have taken considerably more work.

His feet didn’t even whisper on the carpeted floor. He mumbled one of the few spells he knew, and the darkness receded a bit. Just enough to keep him from bumping into something and knocking it over, but not enough to let him see clearly.

He’d never been that good at magic.

Down the stairs, turn to the right. The safe was kept in the huge hall this guy used for throwing parties. Seemed a strange place, but Davin had seen stranger. The door to the hall opened silently on well-oiled hinges.

He paused. Something wasn’t right. That empty, abandoned feeling that had pervaded the rest of the house was gone. The room felt occupied, and by more than one person.

Had Carl set him up? Had the watch caught him and turned him?

Whatever the case, Davin wasn’t hanging around to find out. He was just turning to leave—as quickly as possible—when light bloomed all around him.

Oh, gods.

Temporarily blinded, he almost forgot to let go of the magic that let him see, but when he did, he found not the Nightwatch, but….

“Surprise! Happy Birthday!”

Thief1Warmth flooded his cheeks. A huge crowd of his friends—and business associates—stood attired in party clothes, holding champagne glasses. Streamers fell from the ceiling, and balloons bobbed in the air.

And right in the middle of it all stood Carl, grinning from ear to ear, raising a glass in his direction.

Davin grinned.

And then he saw the diamonds they’d laid out for him. Not rocks, but tasty desserts that cost plenty themselves.

Carl practically pranced over and put an arm around his shoulders.

“Told you it was a sure thing,” he said, that grin never leaving his face.

Davin laughed, then narrowed his eyes at his friend. “Okay, you got me. But just remember—your birthday is coming up.”

“I’m looking forward to it. Now let’s party.”

The diamonds were all they’d been promised to be.

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