New Published Story, Why are We So Murderous, Book Review –Bottled Lightning, New Short Story — Sunset Cruise

Newly Published Short Story!

I have a few more stories floating out there right now.  Hopefully, one or two of them find homes before the end of the year

Why are We So Murderous?

I recently read an article that said there were 750 homicides in all of Canada in 2020, which at that time had a population of about 38 million people.  The U.S. has about nine times as many citizens as Canada, and so the expectation might be that we would’ve had about 6750 homicides in 2020.  Oh nay nay, not even close.  Different sources give different specific numbers, but in general, all agree that there were approximately 21,000 homicides in the U.S. in 2020.  As you consider that difference in the murder rate, consider, also, that for most of that year we were on lockdown. 

This sparked me to look into worldwide homicide statistics in comparison to the U.S.  The first thing I learned was that if the reporting in the U.S. is inconsistent, it’s flat-out random in much of the rest of the world.  The United Nations took a shot at compiling data from 2014 through 2020.  Of course, not all countries are covered, and some countries that are covered don’t even specify the genders of the citizens killed.  (Gender for this conversation being defined as indicated by the victims’ genitals at time of death.)

I reviewed some of the numbers, and here are some general stats I gleaned:

  • Globally, in countries that report the victim’s gender, you’re almost four times (4x) more likely to be murdered if you’re a man.
  • In the U.S., you’re only three times (3x) more likely to be murdered if you’re a man.
  • In the U.S. approximately 7% of murdered men for the time period were murdered by a significant other or other family member compared to 33% of murdered women being murdered by their significant other or a family member

These factoids reminded me of various articles I’ve read that say murder is the top cause of death for pregnant women in the U.S.  Studies differ, but at the very least the rate for murder as a cause of death is equal to the rate of ALL  pregnancy-related mortality issues combined for pregnant women in the U.S.  Pregnant women, or those whose pregnancy ended within a year, are murdered 16% more often than women, in general.  If you’re a black woman, being pregnant is even more dangerous:  Black pregnant women have three times (3x) the risk of being murdered (per a study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, October 2021).

A 2019 study published by the National Library of Medicine found that the elevated rate of homicide for pregnant women is a global phenomenon. But in that study, the rate of such homicides in developed nations is highest in the United States. 

Why are we so murderous?

I don’t know the answer but it’s getting worse.  There was a steady climb in the U.S. murder rate from 2015 – 2020, with 2020 having 5000+ more homicides than 2015.

Of course, the goto reason for a lot of people will be the ready availability of guns.  And if you look through a tunnel at just the relationship between the homicide rate and the number of guns owned by private citizens, there does appear to be a correlation. 

There are 1.1 million registered handguns in Canada, and approximately 6 million in the U.S. It’s estimated that Canada has 11 million unregistered guns in the hands of its citizens. In the U.S., it’s estimated to be 393 million.  We are said to be the only country with more civilian-owned guns than people.  And many of them are handguns (i.e., not hunting guns).  Pew Research found that among the U.S. citizens who own only one gun, for 62% of them it’s a handgun.  And overwhelmingly, for the citizens who own multiple guns, a least one of them is a handgun.

These are eye-opening factoids.  But, unless guns have some inherent overpowering evilness to them – some species of gun-metal dwelling demons inhabiting them that compels people to murder, the relationship between the numbers can’t be causal.  Guns were used in only 62% of the homicides in 2020.  That leaves another almost 8000 murders committed by other means.  Eight thousand murders by means other than guns in one year.  A year in which Canada’s homicides totaled 750. A year for which we were mostly locked down.

So, we can’t blame guns for the fact that we’re so wont to kill each other off. (I am, however, guessing that whatever the reason is that we’re so murderous, it is part of the reason we have so many guns).

The next “usual suspect” is the media.  There may be the tiniest kernel of truth here because we’ve all seen the stories of spree killers who murder to achieve fame.  (This tendency is exactly why we should never call school killers by their names – instead labeling them Loser #1, etc.)  Then there’s the whole true crime television industry – almost all of the shows featuring murders.  Anyone who knows me knows they’re my goto vegging choice.  But I sometimes wonder as I’m flipping channels looking for one I haven’t already watched, are their producers out trying to drum up murders to keep the franchises going?  (Now there’s a premise for a future murder mystery novel!)

Maybe a role for the media, but I just don’t feel that’s the root cause. 

Could it be that as a nation we never truly came out of our wild west days?  Maybe we’re still young – we’re only 246 years old, after all – so much younger than our European allies.  Maybe we just haven’t matured yet.   That excuse dies an ugly death when I again look north to Canada.  Sigh.

Clearly, as usual, I don’t have the answers; I just ask the questions.

In other news. . .

  • Great Britain lost Queen Elizabeth II this past week.  Actually, the world lost Queen Elizabeth.  She was a steadfast leader who hearkened back to days when diplomacy was civil.  I am sad for her passing and offer my condolences to her peoples.
  • My favorite neighbor boys came to visit the other day.  The visit started out as it often does with them asking if my dog Chico is still blind, and when I say yes, with earnest advice to give him carrots.  Then, as usual, I made them lemonade and a snack (this time cupcakes I had just baked).  After that, they played a few rounds of hide and seek, and this is where things took an unusual turn.  Suddenly, the seeker announced he was the Coronavirus and began chasing the other little boy.  When the Coronavirus touched the other boy, then they switched roles.  After a couple of rounds, then the Coronavirus only had to get close enough to breathe on the other boy (I put the kabash on spitting).  A few rounds later, with the original Coronavirus reinstated, he declared himself Delta and said he had mutated to be able to shoot out coronavirus rays.  They had to go home before I learned what mutant superpowers Omicron had…
  • Elon’s feeling a little bolstered because former Disney exec Bob Iger said that Disney found before it nixed a 2016 deal to buy Twitter that a significant portion of Twitter’s users were bots.  Our boy probably shouldn’t get too excited.  Disney had factored their findings into what was shaping up to be a rather cheap purchase price – they didn’t jump in whole hog with a mammoth offer and then question things.  And the truly deciding factor in Disney ultimately walking away from Twitter was the platform’s  high-level of hate speech. Iger’s reminiscing aside, the trial is still set for 10/17, so apparently, neither Twitter nor Elon are backing down.

Book Review:  Bottled Lightening by L. Mark Weeks

Tornait “Torn” Masao Sagara, managing partner of the Tokyo office of a global law firm, has almost more going on than he can handle.  He’s juggling two girlfriends, one of whom’s borderline personality issues make her a little dangerous, a not-quite-ex alcoholic wife, two college-aged kids who are not happy about his marital situation, and some shady clients who have a potentially conflicting interest in the client who has the majority of Torn’s attention:  the beautiful, vibrant and brilliant Saya Brooks who has created a technology that may single-handedly solve the climate crisis.

Torn is considering breaking his rule about getting involved personally with clients when Saya asks him to give her a ride on his motorcycle.  Before the ride ends, they are shot at by unknown pursuers in a Mercedes and chased by flail-wielding thugs on motorcycles.  Torn kills one of the thugs in self-defense, and by illegally riding tandem on Tokyo’s inner city circuit, catches the police’s attention, escaping the other thug.

The police appear doubtful of Torn’s story, putting him on the offensive to determine if he or Saya is the intended target of the would-be assassins.  When Saya is nearly killed by explosives planted at her company’s office, it’s clear that someone must be trying to stop her from commercializing her invention, which generates lightning on command and efficiently stores the inherent energy discharge.  But, Torn receives threats that promise that as long as he’s associated with Saya’s business, he and his family are in danger, too.  This is a significant issue for Torn, because at the point Saya became incapacitated by her injuries, Torn was notified that She had left him in charge of everything.  Oh, and she also left him a message that she’s in love with him. 

The story is written in a style that keeps the adrenaline pumping and provides amazing detail that in no way bogs down the action.  I felt like I was along for the motorcycle ride, and I learned geography and subtle cultural details of life in Tokyo.  The book was magnificently edited, with only two detracting issues, in my opinion, that kept me from giving it that fifth star.

The first detractor was that point of view was inconsistent.  I get it – it was the most expedient way to get important plot details moved forward, but it seemed strange to me to see the story through Saya’s eyes for brief passages.  Contrary to what other reviewers say, Saya was not truly a co-protagonist in the story, and, in fact, was off in a coma in the United States for much of the action. 

The second detractor was that the dialogue between most characters was awkward, in my opinion.  In particular, the discussions with his children didn’t seem authentic at all.  Perhaps this was a way of reflecting that Torn is pretty much disingenuous, if not flat-out dishonest, with everyone.  If so, that intent didn’t come through clearly.  At times, the conversations seemed like subtitles with context lost in translation.  Luckily action and description carried the day in Bottled Lightning.

I was worried that the end the story was going to “neatly” wrap up with Torn walking into the sunset with the woman he most truly loved.  That would’ve been completely ridiculous because, although Torn is a protagonist you pull for, as a man, he’s a mess.  The ending acknowledged that fact.  Perhaps there will be future books where Torn evolves? 

Great book, and I heartily recommend it!

Short Story: Sunset Cruise

Joe and Ellen boarded the excursion boat behind their son Scotty and his family.  Joe was, truth be told, none too pleased to be going on this sunset excursion into the Delaware Bay, and his face showed it.  His expression soured even further when the kids (grandkids Lucia and Damien) demanded to go upstairs to the upper deck, and their daughter-in-law Mia said, “Okay.”

 “It’s not like I’m injured or anything,” he grumbled to himself.  But, up the short flight of stairs he limped.

The only seats available were in the first two rows of assorted plastic patio chairs assembled on the port side of the vessel.  Scott and his family took the front row, leaving the elder Mastersons to join a lone female passenger in the second row. 

“’Evenin’!” the woman said cheerily.

“Hi,” Ellen responded shyly, while Joe just grunted.

No sooner had his grandkids’ butts hit their seats than they were up running amuck.  Joe grunted his disapproval but said nothing.  Mia had made it very clear that Joe was not to in any way try to discipline her children.  He also disapproved of all the other undisciplined children running around like they were on a playground instead of what he had been promised would be a calm and relaxing cruise.  He especially disapproved of the teenager, whose head was apparently permanently tilted to the side to keep his overgrown mop of hair from falling into his eyes.  The kid had on what Joe was sure was a pair of boxers —  white, for crying out loud — along with an equally white wifebeater.  His hair and posture were bad enough, but his mother let him come out in public in his underwear? 

But Joe’s attention was immediately drawn away from Underwear Boy when Simon marched onto the upper deck.  Joe knew his name was Simon because his mother started yelling “Simon!” almost from the moment they stepped aboard the boat. 

Simon was about four and appeared to be made of pure energy from the thin static-charged flyaway hair on his head to the perpetual motion feet in his worn-out sneakers.  Joe could see Simon’s little blue eyes darting around looking for trouble to get into.  He longed to tell the mother, “Get your child under control, madam,” but didn’t see how he could do that when his grandson was currently beating like some crazed heathen on the high tension wires that served at a fence to keep unruly children from falling off the boat.

Scotty interrupted Joe’s silent exasperation when he reached a hand back to tap Joe’s knee and said with a chuckle, “Should we find something more exciting to do – maybe rip out another toenail, Dad?”

Ellen laughed, but Joe didn’t find the maiming of his big toe funny, so he just grunted in reply.

The woman sitting in their row laughed and said, “Now that’s an offer you don’t get just every day!”

Joe started to snap back at her, but Scotty interceded with, “We were on a banana boat yesterday, and Dad somehow got his foot in the tow line – snatched his big toenail off completely!”

“Yikes!” the woman exclaimed, grimacing.

Just then, someone yelled that there were dolphins “on the right” and everyone ran to that side of the boat, except Joe and Ellen.  “Everyone” included the woman in their row who nearly stepped on his injured toe on her way through. 

“They’ll probably all tip the boat over,” Joe remarked to Ellen.

“Shhh,” was all she said in reply.  After a moment she said, “I hope the clouds clear enough for us to see the sunset.”

“I told you all that it’s too overcast to get a decent sunset.  $160 to sit in plastic chairs and watch brats run wild for two hours.”

“Shhh,” she said again.

Scotty came toward them and yelled, “Mom, Dad, come get a picture in front of the red lighthouse!”

Obediently, they both got up to cross to the other side of the boat, Joe grumbling as he did so.  As he crossed the open area between the port and starboard seating sections, Simon whizzed by him with another little boy on his heels.  Joe spun about trying to avoid colliding with either boy and stubbed his nailless toe on the canopy’s supporting pole. 

“Goddamn it,” he snarled through clenched teeth.

Simon’s mother said, “I’m so sorry!  Are you all right?”

“No!” Joe shot back.  He would’ve said more, but instantly Ellen was there telling the woman he would be fine.

He stomped back to his seat, and almost immediately here came that woman with the camera again.  As she narrowly missed his foot getting to her own seat, she said, “There’s starting to be a glow to the west – I think we may get a sunset yet!”

Joe just grunted in reply and pushed his chair further back.  Ellen hurried over and seeing the position of Joe’s chair pushed hers back, too.

Suddenly, someone yelled from the stern, “The sun’s coming out!”

Instantly their row mate was on her feet again, and she along with everyone else rushed off to get pictures. With everyone occupied with sunset pictures, Simon and two other little boys escaped their keepers and were involved in some game that involved them alternately hiding in impossible spaces (such as under folding chairs) and standing on top of the chairs.  Whatever the game was, it involved a lot of running and whooping and hollering.

“Somebody’s gonna get hurt,” Joe grumbled to Ellen.

Looking at the boys’ antics, Ellen didn’t shush him this time.

The boat turned so that the Harbor of Refuge lighthouse was positioned in front of the sunset on the port side of the boat.  Here came the woman back again, hurrying to get the shot.  Joe shook his head disapprovingly as she stepped in front of him  She turned to him and Ellen and said, “Would you like me to take your picture in front of the lighthouse?”  Ellen politely declined, and Joe grunted.

“Where’s Scotty and Mia?” he asked Ellen.

Ellen looked around and then said, “Maybe they went downstairs to the bar.”

“Harumph.  They could’ve asked if we wanted to go!”

“Joe, “ Ellen began in a tone that she rarely took with him.  “You’ve done nothing but gripe since we left the hotel.  I’m about to go to the bar without you, too.”

At just that moment, Simon who had been spinning around the canopy pole, came flying off of it, and with Joe’s chair two feet back from where it had been, crashed into Joe.  What remained of the berry punch in the pouch in his hand spilled into the crotch of Joe’s khaki shorts.

Joe came straight out of his chair, yelling, “Goddammit!  Where is your mother?”

Immediately, Simon began to cry, and his mother came running up.  Joe made a production out of pointing at his stained crotch.  He was expecting her to apologize for his shorts being ruined, and was completely taken aback when she said, “What in the hell is the matter with you?  He’s a child.  I don’t think him running into you warrants you cursing at him or making rude gestures to me!”

Joe sputtered, but before he could explain himself, she scooped Simon up and went to the back of the boat. Joe started to go after her, but Ellen grabbed his arm and told him to let it go.

“What the hell is she talking about?  I didn’t make any rude gestures at her!”

From behind him, Underwear Boy said, “Dude, you basically gave the universal sign for ‘suck it.’” 

“Wh-What?” Joe stammered.

Underwear boy’s friend stepped up and said, “I’ve already gotten five likes on the video!”

“Video?” Ellen murmured.  “Oh, dear God.”

Scotty, back from the bar asked, “What’s going on?”

“Your father’s crotchetiness just landed him in a viral video motioning for Simon’s mom to ‘suck it.’” Ellen replied.

“I didn’t motion at anyone to suck it!  I was showing her the juice stain in my crotch!”

Scotty, confused, asked slowly, “Why would you show anyone your stained crotch?”

“Exactly,” said the mother of the two boys Simon had been playing with earlier as she herded her children away from Joe and his family.

“Excuse me,” said the ship’s first mate.  “I understand there’s been a bit of a dust-up involving your party.  I’m going to have to ask all of you to take your seats until we dock. 

“But, I didn’t…”

“Just sit down, Dad,” Scotty commanded wearily.

Mia arrived from downstairs with the kids in tow.  She took a look at everyone’s faces and said to Scotty, “What did Joe do?”

Scotty replied, “I’m not exactly sure, but it’s something to do with his crotch being stained and him making obscene gestures at some kid’s mom.  And, apparently, it’s now a viral video.”

Joe didn’t even try to explain.  Instead, he just said, “When we get off this damn boat, I’m never stepping on another one.”

Ellen replied quietly, “We’re booked on the ferry to Cape May tomorrow.”