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A Theatrical Murder: STAC Mystery #13

Twenty-five days old, the New Year isn’t so new anymore, and STAC Mystery #13 is almost a month overdue.

Regular readers/followers will know why. I began the year seriously ill, and even though I’m over the worst, I’m still light-headed and lacking in energy. All I really want to do is sleep. It’s allegedly the best remedy anyway.

The annoying thing is, A Theatrical Murder needed only another few thousand words to complete it. But, there you go. Sod’s law. Like buses, you can wait weeks for those few thousand words to show up, and then they all arrive at once… well, I’m hoping they will.

In between sleeping, I’ve made a start on those final words, and with luck and a following wind the complete thing should be off to editor, Maureen Vincent-Northam by the end of the week.

In the meantime, here’s a taster from the tale.

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It’s a cold and blustery New Year, and the Sanford 3rd Age Club are in Skegness (pictured) for an experimental production of Hamlet, which stars Teri Sanford, Sylvia Goodson’s granddaughter, as Ophelia. But the director, Malcolm Sedgwick, is not only known for his eccentricity. He’s also renowned for his bad temper, as Joe, Sheila and Brenda discover when they come across him in confrontation with Raif Dempster, a rival who is putting on a production of Aladdin at a nearby theatre. As Joe and Sheila watch, a full blown fight is about to develop in the middle of Skegness promenade.

***

The taller of the pair, dressed in an old-fashioned trenchcoat, was haranguing the other. “Dempster, you couldn’t direct traffic along a one-way street let alone put on a production of any serious intent.”

Dempster, wearing what appeared to be a dark blue, patterned kimono beneath his quilted anorak, laughed harshly. “You’re a fine one to talk, Sedgwick. What was it the Doncaster Post said about your Hamlet? More of a tour de farce than tour de force. Now, I was here first, so go spread your comic cuts elsewhere.”

“Comic cuts? How dare you?” Sedgwick’s colour rose in direct proportion to his temper. “I take on only the most daunting of projects. I don’t idle away my time playing a clown for the benefit of children and late night viewers on Channel Four.”

Dempster laughed again. “Listen to yourself, you pompous, arrogant, ham. You know, Sedgwick, you’d do well in Aladdin. Playing a horse’s arse would come quite naturally to you.”

That was the tipping point for Sedgwick. Discarding his leaflets, he launched himself at Dempster, who dropped his leaflets and prepared to defend himself. Before anyone could stop them, they were rolling and grappling on the wet ground, and Joe was struck by the absurdity of the Jolly Fisherman who now appeared to be laughing at their childish behaviour.

Several men from the crowd intervened and pulled them apart. Joe, Sheila and Brenda, meantime, collected the leaflets together.

“I’m afraid they got mixed up,” Sheila said to Dempster.

“Thanks, missus.” The actor took a bundle from her. He selected a leaflet for Hamlet and tossed it to the ground. “I’d rent a dormitory on Ben Nevis before I’d publicise your farce, Sedgwick.”

Several yards away where Joe and Brenda had passed over a handful of leaflets, the equally enraged Sedgwick, held up a flyer for Aladdin at the Bijou, Mablethorpe. Holding it up for everyone to see, he tore it in half and threw it away. “Your aficionados might just as well throw their cash into a coke oven, you ham.”

Sedgwick meandered off in the direction of the Rep, Dempster in the opposite direction, and the crowd began to disperse, going about their business melding into the cold and rain.

“Actors. Who’d have ’em,” Joe grumbled.

“What do you mean?” Brenda asked.

“If you’re gonna trade insults, just trade insults. Dormitories on Ben Nevis, throwing cash in coke ovens. Airy-fairy, arty-farty nonsense.”

As the crowd thinned even further, they crossed the street making for the town centre.

“Sedgwick is the director of tonight’s play, isn’t he?” Brenda asked.

“And the star,” Sheila replied. “And I’m really not looking forward to it, now.”

***
A Theatrical Murder, STAC Mystery #13, is published by Crooked Cat and will be on your virtual bookshelves, very soon.

Worst New Year Ever

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It’s official. This is the worst start to the New Year ever.

2015 is almost three weeks old and I still haven’t shaken off this illness which hit me on January 1st. We know what it is… or what it was. Flu, which couldn’t get a proper hold because I’d had a jab, but which managed to floor me, and opened the door to a touch of pneumonia, which also couldn’t get a proper hold because I’ve had a jab.

I’m now near to finishing the third course of antibiotics, and the infection is all but cleared, but I’m left drained. I have no energy and a mind as fuzzy as cotton wool.

As if this is not bad enough, I had to take Her Indoors to the emergency dentist yesterday. Abscess on a tooth. Normally, I’d have moaned at her for being so soft, but the pain reduced her to tears late on Saturday night, and say what you like about her, she’s a tough old bird. It had to be bad to do that.

Now she’s on the same antibiotics as me, only for a different purpose. I reckon we must be due for a bonus off the company that makes ’em.

With both of us ill, that really does make it the worst start to the New Year in history, and just to depress us further, I’m 65 tomorrow. How can things get any worse?

The one pinpoint of light in this black hole of unassailable gloom and doom is tobacco… or rather, my lack of same.

I smoked my last cigarette on January 3rd. I have now gone sixteen days without a smoke and as far as I’m concerned, that’s good for the rest of my life.

Trouble is, I’m so ill, I’m not getting any of the benefits yet.

Sitrep

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To recap, I was ill over New Year, rushed into A & E on the night of January 3rd, and sent home full to the gunnels with antibiotics and steroids. I finished the pills last Saturday, January 10th.

I was back at my GP’s this morning. I’m still not right. Still coughing up crap, still tired, lacking energy, and he’s prescribed another course of antibiotics to get rid of the residual infection. Hopefully, by this time next week, I should be fully recovered, or as near fully recovered as makes no difference.

Still, let’s look on the bright side. It was a cigarette which sent me to A & E. The ashtray above shows ash from that cigarette. It was the last one I tried to smoke. Eleven days down the line, and I haven’t touched a cigarette. It’s not as hard as I imagined, either. I don’t get cravings, probably because my breathing is still so poor that I couldn’t countenance a smoke. But I do get habitual reminders. After meals, it was habit to light a cigarette. The same can be said of crawling out of bed first thing on a morning, and there are other, similar “prompts” throughout the day.

They don’t bother me. I can handle them.

Am I an ex-smoker? Not yet. I’m still an ex-smoker in the making. Determined to get there, wherever “there” is, but still in that position where it would be so easy to slip back into my evil smoking ways. When I’m through that, then I’ll be an ex-smoker.

Day Six

I posted my last piece on January 4th, twelve hours or so after being rushed into A & E with severe breathing difficulties. In that post, I swore I would give up cigarettes for life.

Have I?

I don’t know because my life isn’t over yet, but  I can tell you this: I last touched a cigarette at about seven o’clock on January 3rd, and it was the very smoke which sent me to hospital. Today will be my sixth day smoke free.

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Easy? Well, it’s been much easier than I anticipated, but that’s probably because I’m still stuffed full of the original chest infection. I have one more round of prednisolone and two more days of antibiotics to go, and then there will be the general clearing up. My sense of smell and taste are returning and I anticipate a bit of a cold turkey battle when I’m fully fit, but the illness has had its silver lining in that it’s masked most of the usual withdrawal symptoms.

On the downside, work on the latest STAC Mystery, A Theatrical Murder, has had to be suspended. My mind has been like cotton wool all week. Instead I’ve been doing some three-minute audio blogs with Flatcap. They’re very much easier to put together because I don’t have to edit them. If I write, for instance:

We visited Cleethorpes in 2011 for the first time in almost fifty year, and true to form, the tide were out.

After a little rehearsal, once it’s recorded, it can come out as:

Me and Her Indoors spent a day in Cleethorpes in 2011, and for me, it were the first time I’ve been there in 50 year. And true to form, the tide were out.

And I don’t have to write that in full.

Short audio-blogging is the way forward for Flatcap’s lampoons, and you can follow his half-baked opinions at http://flatcapsays.blogspot.co.uk/ where all his little homilies are embedded along with crummy, shaky photographs.

For me, I’ll be picking up the reins again any day now and the A Theatrical Murder won’t be long before it’s out there to entertain you.

And this time, it won’t reek of stale tobacco.

***
Yet again, I have to apologise. I cannot open this blog for comments until the lazy spammers decide they’re going to target their crap a little better and leave me alone.

When I’ve Had Just One More Cigarette

There’s not a lot of humour in this post. There’s no search for sympathy, either. Instead there’s an awful lot of anger and it’s aimed specifically at the idiot in the picture.

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My missus took that shaky, crappy photo about ten o’clock last night, using my cheap and nasty mobile phone. It was in one of the cubicles at the A & E Department of North Manchester Hospital, and before you tell me that the phone should have been switched off, it was. I switched it back on for the picture, which was more important than petty rules.

And just in in case you haven’t made the connection yet, the dickhead in the picture is me.

I’ve been very ill since before New Year. A huge chest infection which has been slow to clear up. Bitter cold weather, poor immune system, and I’ve been on steroids and antibiotics since early on New Year’s Day.

A part of the “cure” was to leave the cigarettes off, and I haven’t touched one since New Year’s Eve. I’d also decided that this year was “E- Year”. I’m 65 in three weeks, and it’s time to give it up for good. I can do it. I know I can.

So everything was moving swimmingly towards a victory over this damned chest infection, and then at about five o’clock yesterday afternoon I decided I fancied a smoke and lit a cigarette.

I never took a drag. I just lit it. That was enough to trigger a bout of coughing which I could not control. I couldn’t cough out what was causing the problem because I couldn’t get a deep enough breath and likewise, I couldn’t use my Ventolin inhaler for the same reason. That frightening session carried on for almost ten minutes, and once I was calm I rang NHS Direct. They promised to ring me back in an hour. They eventually rang back in THREE hours but by then it was too late because at seven o’clock, again triggered by this desire for a bloody smoke, I had another out of control, coughing/breathing fit. This time, Her Indoors rang for an ambulance. And at eight o’clock, they carted me off to North Manchester.

After the usual bloods and other bit and pieces, they put me on a nebuliser for ten minutes, gave me another shot of steroids and just to be sure, took a chest x-ray. The upshot of all this was nothing wrong that we didn’t already know about, a huge chest infection which will take time to clear. They adjusted my present prescriptions, extended the course of steroids and gave me a slightly stronger antibiotic and sent me home. Her Indoors and I walked back into the house at about midnight.

And I was angry. Not with the missus. She winds me up no end, often for the most trivial of reasons. I wasn’t annoyed with the ambulance guys for hauling me across Manchester, or even with the NHS for making sure I had to drag that far when there’s a perfectly acceptable A & E on our doorstep. I’m not even annoyed because I received no adequate explanation of why we were taken ten miles instead of three.

I’m furious with myself because the entire fiasco was for the want of a cigarette.

I have been a slave to the weed for fifty years. My early retirement was brought on by furred arteries and breathing difficulties, both caused by tobacco. Since I retired, my smoking has gone up because I’m sat around home most days with rock-all to do but smoke.

I even put Joe Murray through the same problems. In The Summer Wedding Murder, he has repeated coughing attacks, and in Costa del Murder, he is finally diagnosed with COPD and has to pack in smoking.

I have tried every trick in the book to stop, and none of them worked for me the way they did for Joe. Why? Because I didn’t really want to stop.

Well now, little weed, you have pissed me off for good. I have not had a smoke for four days now, and if even lighting one in the house is gonna mean hours and hours in A & E, then I’ll stop lighting them. I will put a moratorium on smoking in my house and car. I know Her Indoors won’t argue. She’s been pleading with me to do it for years. I will declare a tobacco exclusion zone around me. People have been saying for years that I’m a pain in the arse, spouting about this, that, and especially the other. Well, now I’ll be a bigger pain in the arse spouting about smoking and the damage it does.

And the picture above? That stays on this machine. I may even set it as my wallpaper. A semi-permanent reminder of the damage these little sticks of poison can do.

***
I regret I can’t open the blog for comments. I’ll end up with bone idle spammers commenting for no good reason, and worse than that I’ll get every dickhead in virtual never-neverland trying to sell me either smoking alternatives or cures, neither of which I want.

Here’s To 2015

On the last day of the year, it’s traditional for me to look back on the last twelve months.

It’s been a poor year on many fronts, but that’s comparative. At the side of many in our unjust and unequal society, I have it fairly easy, and any stumbling blocks have been of my own making.

I lost my way slightly in 2014, as a result of which my fiction output was down on previous years. That’s something I hope to put right in the coming weeks and months. Healthwise too, I’ve had my ups and downs, but again, it’s because I won’t do what I’m supposed to do. That, is also scheduled to change as we put the party season behind us.

By contrast, my wife hit a landmark this year with her seventieth birthday. Her real age, in other words, the age she appears, is about sixty. That’s what healthy eating, non-smoking and moderate drinking can do for you.

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We’ve seen a bit more of Europe this year. An early visit to Gran Canaria, a spring week in Benidorm, and an October week in Cyprus, not to mention the usual jaunts to Blackpool and, just a few days ago, Whitby.

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Most of the time, life is as boring as ever. TV continues to pour out more and more dross, to the degree that I don’t think we’ve switched it on over Christmas.

Will 2015 be any different? Can’t see TV improving, but the rest could if I take the right action. Will I do it? That remains to be seen. If I could predict the future, I’d be a wealthy man rather than sitting here wondering about it.

Flatcap will have his own views on the year just gone, and he’ll be speaking to you later.

I regret that, thanks to the legion of lazy spammers, I can’t open this blog up for comments, so let me wish you all, whoever you are, wherever you are, the very best of the coming year. May all your hopes and dreams come to pass.

Whitby Bound

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With Christmas out of the way and a lull before New Year, Her Indoors and I have decided it’s not worth hanging round the house watching the mega-dross which passes for TV these days. So we’re hopping on a bus and clearing off to Whitby for a day or two.

Not that the TV in Whitby is any better than it is in Manchester, but we’ll be stopping in a large hotel with an adequate bar and some promised entertainment. Hopefully that doesn’t just mean large screen TV.

I’ve paid for a sea view so we’ll be able to watch the waves lashing the harbour wall rather than watching the snow lashing our street.

And of course, to keep Her Indoors happy, there is the inevitable shopping.

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We’ll be back Monday afternoon, so until then be good. If you can’t be good , be careful if you can’t be careful, read the latest STAC Mystery, A Killing in the Family. (Bet you thought I wouldn’t have the balls to chuck in a cheap plug, didn’t you?).

.

Christmas Morning Aboard The Chuckling Pig

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My publisher, Crooked Cat, has been running a yuletide special on Facebook for the last four or five weeks. Under the umbrella title, Christmas with the Crooked Cats, the authors have put up novel excerpts, short stories, poems, articles all with a general Christmas theme.

Today it’s my turn, and I’m contributing two items.

First, it’s a specially written piece from an old series, Space Truckers. So here we have the crew of The Chuckling Pig getting together to celebrate Christmas.

***

Clutching his forehead, Bazill Beatel staggered into the galley of The Chuckling Pig to find his captain and best friend, Grenlon Garamine at the table, drinking coffee.

Gren was dressed in his usual jumpsuit, the standard uniform of any space trucker, but where he normally sported a baseball cap bearing The Chuckling Pig logo, he now wore a paper hat in the shape of crown.

“Morning, BB,” Gren said with a broad smile. “And Merry Christmas.”

BB helped himself to black coffee. “Is it?”

“What do you mean is it?” Gren asked. “December 25th. Christmas Day.” He pointed through the viewport where a brilliant pinpoint of light beamed in the blackness of space. “Look. The star of Bethlehem.”

BB looked out and saw the bright, white beacon hanging in a field of stars. “That’s not the Star of Bethlehem. It’s Ganymede. One of Jupiter’s moons.”

“Is it?” Gren asked.

BB jerked his thumb at the viewport. “If you lean to your left, you can see Jupiter next to it.”

“Oh. Right.” Gren chuckled. “Well, it looked like the Star of Bethlehem to me. Come on, BB, it’s Christmas, and we have a coupla days off. Why are you so grumpy?”

BB clutched his pounding head again. “Hangover. I can’t remember what I was drinking last night, but I know I drank too much of it.”

“Mulled twine,” Gren told him.

“You mean mulled wine.”

“No,” Gren argued, “I mean mulled twine. It’s made from pulped, pressed and fermented hemp, and you drank two bottles of it.”

“I did? Where were we?”

“Doomy’s Choke ’n’ Go. We were with Sulin Tassil and Marianna Kalor. You invited them for Christmas lunch.”

BB frowned. “Christmas lunch? Today?”

“Well there wouldn’t be a lot of point asking them to Christmas lunch on Easter Sunday, would there?”

BB shrugged. “Sulin Tassil? Great chick, but she doesn’t mix well with mulled twine? No wonder I feel rotten.”

“This’ll cheer you up.” Gren reached to the drawer behind him and pulled out a lumpy, misshapen parcel which he placed on the table. It was wrapped in tissue decorated with crudely drawn Christmas trees and Santas. “Doomy didn’t have any Christmas wrapping,” he explained, “so I had to improvise.”

BB unwrapped the parcel and took out a new, black leather wallet. Suspicion haunting his handsome features, he asked, “Why did you buy me a wallet? You never pay me so I never have any money.”

“We’re partners, BB. Whatever The Chuckling Pig earns we split it,” Gren said.

“Yes, eighty-twenty in your favour, and I stand most of the overheads out of my twenty percent. In any other life it would be called slavery.”

“Come on, BB, it’s Christmas.”

“Right. So I get an empty wallet and what else? A bill for the ink you used drawing all those Santas and Christmas trees.”

An eager smile spread across Gren’s face as he ignored BB. “Did you buy me anything?”

BB reached under the sink and pulled out a perfectly wrapped parcel, with an immaculately placed tag reading, Merry Christmas, tightwad.

“You had Mekkano wrap this didn’t you?” Gren asked.

BB nodded. “What’s the point of keeping a servobot if you have to wrap Christmas presents yourself? Go ahead. Open it.”

Gren tore feverishly at the wrapping and retrieved a small box, decorated with photographs of the contents, a handheld general remote control device. Suspicion haunted his tubby features.

“Where did you get this?”

“It’s a great little toy,” BB enthused “It’ll operate your portable holovid, your communicator, and stuff. It’ll even call Mekkano for you.”

“BB, we delivered a consignment of these to Phobos last week. They were factory imperfects sent for crushing.”

“Yes? And?”

“So where did you get it?” Gren demanded.

“I found it in the hold after we left Phobos.”

“Great. So you don’t buy me a Christmas present, you steal one, and it’s one that doesn’t work.”

“It does work,” BB argued. “They may have been factory rejects, but they all worked.”

“Yes,” Gren agreed. “They drove our navigation systems nuts, and interfered with the fuel flow regulators. When we left Charon with them, heading for Phobos, it’s a miracle we didn’t end up orbiting Sirius.” He tossed the toy to one side and checked his chronometer. “Half past eleven. Sulin and Marianna are due in less than an hour. Hadn’t we better get ready for them?”

“I’ll get right on it.” BB jabbed the intercom button. “Mekkano, galley, now.”

“Complying, muscular moron.”

Almost immediately the door slid open and Mekkano glided in. Shaped like a dustbin, floating on anti-grav pads, his all-seeing single eye rotated to take in the surroundings before finally settling on BB. “You called oh masterful minion of Yuletide yomping?”

“We’re expecting company,” BB said. “What’s for lunch?”

“Today being the Feast of Stephen, I have a special menu,” Mekkano announced. “Turkey flavoured burgers and fries.”

“What? Why can’t we have real turkey and stuffing and all the trimmings?” Gren demanded.

“The turkey as a species died out in 2988, lord glutton,” said Mekkano, “and your budget allowed for only the cheapest of soya substitutes.”

“I said you were a tightwad,” BB said.

“Screw you,” Gren sulked.

“No, master muttonhead,” said Mekkano. “It is pronounced Scrooge.”

“And Scrooge you, too,” said BB.

***
I hope you enjoyed that little piece. Later today, you’ll find Flatcap delivering his Christmas message on Facebook, and that too will be in the Christmas with the Crooked Cats group page.

Flatcap Goes Christmas Shopping

Her Indoors sent me to the supermarket the other day to deal with the Christmas shopping.

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I hate Christmas at the best of times. I see no good reason why I should feel cheerful in sub-zero temperatures while walking streets covered in snow, ice and a dirty slush that reminds me of the gravy they served in the Gas Board canteen 40 years ago. I suppose it could be worse. It could remind me of the custard they served in the Gas Board canteen 40 years ago.

I also fail to see why I should feel any goodwill to my fellow shoppers. Most of them barge past me like I don’t exist. One young woman snapped, “Get out of the way you old fart.”

Never one to be backward in coming forward, I grumbled, “If I were thirty years younger, I’d put you over my knee and tan your arse.”

She replied, “If you were thirty years younger, I might let you.”

It’s the age we live in.

I got to Savepennies supermarket about ten o’clock and it was heaving. One look at the decorations, one whisper of the brass band playing Christmas carols and I was nearly heaving, too.

My first port of call was the cafeteria, where they were plugging the Merry Festive Full English Breakfast, only £4.99.

The only Christmassy thing about it was a sprig of holly in one corner of the banner, so I asked the lad, “What’s the difference between the Merry Festive Full English and the one you serve all year round?”

“About £1.30,” he replied. “That’s assuming you want two sausages.” He cocked an ear at the sound of O Come All Ye Faithful from the brass band. “Plus you get the atmos.”

“I’ll just have two rounds of merry festive toast and a pot of merry festive tea,” I said, “and there’s a merry festive tip in it for you if you can shut that racket up.”

He legged it downstairs and the last I saw of him he was negotiating with the band’s conductor to get them shifted to the Spindle Inn across the road.

After a read of the merry festive free newspapers, I wandered round the store, ignoring the merry festive toothpaste and merry festive washing-up liquid, and at the fruit stall, after weighing a bunch of merry festive bananas, I noticed ‘merry festive strawberries (best before December 10th) £2.00/punnet’. Further on, I stumbled across ‘merry festive potatoes (ideal for chips) 1.20/kg,’ but what really caught my eye was the warning on a bag of merry festive table salt. Caution: this product may contain salt. Well hit me with a merry festive cruet set and charge me fifty quid.

After ensuring I had enough merry festive toilets rolls and merry festive tins of dog food I finally limped through the checkout to a merry festive bill of £87.53.

“I only gave £65 for my first car,” I moaned at the girl.

“Well,” she said, “it is Christmas.”

“I’d never have guessed.”

***
 

Did you enjoy Flatcap’s observations? Read this again and more of the same peculiarly British, cynical, sledgehammer wit in Flatcap – Grumpy Old Blogger, available for download in all formats from:

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

Smashwords

 

Out

MIB
We’re a month away from Christmas, a time of year when ghosts are traditionally at their most active. I don’t know why this should be, unless the spirits think they’re missing out on the partying.

The small (and fictitious) town of Ashdale is no exception to this rule, and with yuletide in the air, there is a major disturbance at the exclusive Ashdalean School for Boys, where pop sensations, the Wicked Witches are making their latest pop video.

When the unexplained figure of a man dressed all in black, shows up on the cameras, and the school library is wrecked by a violent, unseen force, it’s time to call on the expertise of Spookies.

The Man in Black is darker than the original Spookies Mystery (The Haunting of Melmerby Manor) yet it retains the humorous undertone.

More confident in her abilities, Sceptre, the Lady Concepta Rand-Epping, Countess of Marston, is as imperious as ever, Kevin just as jittery when confronted with the spirits, and Pete maintains his throwaway air of healthy scepticism.

On the Spirit Plane, Fishwick, finds himself battling with the ghost of a mischievous vicar and two violent, angry spirits, both of whom are far stronger than Sceptre’s ethereal butler.

But in the real world background the actions of a sinister and secretive, quasi-religious group turn this into a more dangerous assignment for the Spookies team.

Chaos and crime, pop music and poltergeists, mysticism and murder, all seasoned with a soupcon of silliness and a tank full of thrills in Spookies #2…

The Man in Black.

MIBtin

THE STAC MYSTERIES