The reviewer finished reading the book “Cosmic Rays; Stellar Empire Series, Volume 1” and deactivated his ebook device, pushing the button in an almost angry way.
Turning to his laptop computer, he logged into the service to start writing his review. He found the author to have a juvenile sense of character development, well seasoned by a lack of both scientific knowledge and the English language. Perhaps the reviewer was old school, but he felt that someone writing science fiction should at least have a working understanding of physics. Failing that, a consistent rule set within the novel itself would have been an improvement.
The brave new world of Indie book publishing had opened the flood gates for every poseur at art to see their works in print. The reviewer suspected that most of the new breed of authors spent their time work-shopping with other equally skilled authors or engaging in online contests that were thinly veiled marketing scams by publisher services companies, rather than actually writing. Talk about the tail wagging the dog! These authors enjoyed saying they were authors, more than having something within them which had to be written.
The reviewer used his customized online tools to learn everything possible about the author. Good, the neck-bearded idiot has an author page on social media! he thought to himself, That makes it easier. Right click the mouse, save his photo into the Final Review folder. His bio said that he lives in Covina, California with his parrot and Maine Coon cat. Nice. He’s twenty-nine, lives in Covina; Ah! here he is. The reviewer copied the address and telephone information onto a text document and saved. He also made a new folder with the author’s name and added it to the rest. Photo and text files were moved to the author’s folder. Time for a road trip, he told himself.
The reviewer mapped his route to Covina, and estimated that it would take two days to get there. Two days to conclude his business and two days to return. His bags were already packed, as his decision was made when he read the first chapter of “Cosmic Rays”. One bag contained clothing and incidentals; the second bag was a long soft-shell case. He saved the review in draft form, as there was more that he would need to add before it was fully complete. Setting his home alarm, the reviewer loaded up his camper van and set out for Covina.
During the drive, he listened to randomized songs from his extensive music collection. His collection was eclectic, with one exception. He had no rap or hip-hop music as he maintained stolidly that it wasn’t music. Artists who couldn’t play instruments, were unable to sing without an auto-tune, excessively sampled other real musicians or were little better than glorified DJs, did not receive his custom. Those artists all sang alike, used the same approaches, and often were barely discernible from their competition. The reviewer liked artists whose singing or playing would be uniquely recognizable within the first few bars. The reviewer had a standard, and it was all his own.
Upon arrival near Covina, the reviewer paid cash to park his camper van at Arrow Glen Manor RV Park and hooked the van into the electric power and Internet services provided. He unhooked his small Honda Civic from the tow rig, and set out to put the author under surveillance.
The reviewer found the location easily, and parked along the street several blocks away. Putting on his walking shoes, the reviewer walked the neighborhood where the author lived, hoping for a sighting in the daylight. As he walked he appeared to be any resident out for a stroll. He made several rounds of the neighborhood and finally approached the small house. Taking a $50 dollar bill out of his wallet, he folded it in half and rang the doorbell.
The door opened a crack and a middle aged woman asked, “Yes, what can I do for you?”
“Hello, I was just out walking for some exercise and found this sitting in your driveway. I wanted to see if it belonged to you.” the reviewer said holding up the $50.
“No, I didn’t have it to drop, I mostly have ATM $20s.” she said.
“Is there anyone else living here who might have dropped it? I know it isn’t mine, and would hate to keep it without at least trying to find the owner.”
“It might be my son, but I cannot imagine him having lost $50, since he mostly mooches my $20s. He’s at work, but should return around 6pm. If you want, I’ll leave him a note.”
“Thanks, here, you should hold on to the bill. I’ll check back tomorrow when I take my exercise if you don’t mind. I’m staying with relatives down the street.”
“You know, it is pretty rare around here to find someone so honest. Thank you. If it isn’t his, I’ll have it for you tomorrow.” she said.
The reviewer waved and walked back down the street. Clearly he would have to come back today around 6pm so that he could see the author. Getting into his car, he headed back to the RV park for some lunch and a nap. Since he had a few hours prior to meeting up with the author, there was ample time for more research.
Let’s see, he said to himself, poseur authors often spend a fair amount of their time reviewing other authors’ work. Maybe he has an account with the online marketplace and reviews books there. Ah, there you are. Let’s read of few of his reviews, shall we?
The reviewer read for a while, shaking his head periodically when reading something particularly trite. He found a review of a fellow science fiction author, who was a nominal competitor. The author criticized his peer for poor character development and lack of scientific knowledge. Hah, talk about the pot calling the kettle black! The review went on to note the author’s use of haibunish forms, which piqued the reviewer’s interest. He downloaded a copy of the book and searched for the referenced section. Reading through it, he laughed. What a pretentious wanker! Establishing himself as an expert and then miscategorizing the verse form. The book section was simply free verse without the trappings of haibun, no matter how much you squinted your eyes. He must have heard the term in a workshop and applies it to any unusual verse. This just gets better and better.
Getting out his hacking tools, he determined the current IP address for the author’s home. Running a scan, he could see that they owned several smart appliances which were hooked to the Internet. The reviewer found a TV, security system, thermostat, garage door opener, and video cams. The new Internet of Things is making this almost too easy! He compromised the security system, garage door opener and the multiple video cams. Running his commands through a proxy server in Ukraine, he set several events to occur around 9:35 pm.
At 5:45 the reviewer parked his car on the author’s street, so that he had good sightlines to the garage and front door. While he waited, he read the book the author had criticized on his ebook device. Contrary to the author’s views, the reviewer felt that the character development was fine and that, while the competing author didn’t have a scientific background, he was consistent throughout the book. Definitely not bad enough to be a candidate for one of his final reviews.
At 6:10, the author pulled his car into the empty garage. The reviewer, seeing him in person for the first time, had to hold back a chuckle. The pudgy author was wearing a 7-11 clerk smock and a fedora. The hat definitely took the curse off the indignity of being a store clerk. The garage door closed and the reviewer switched to internal video to see the author going about his business. He watched the author read his mother’s note, look at the $50 and put it in his pocket. Going into his room, he fired up his computer and brought up a document which appeared to be Volume 2 of the Stellar Empire Series. The reviewer rolled his eyes and closed things down. There were a number of restaurants close by and he had little to do until 9:00.
At 9:00, the reviewer headed back to the neighborhood and parked on a dark portion of the street. Utilizing the internal cameras remotely, he confirmed that the author was still at home. The reviewer donned his dull dark coverall and assembled the black sniper rifle with suppressor. There was a small hedge made up of poorly kept trees that formed a dark corner in one front yard. The house had dark windows as though no one was home. The reviewer crawled under the hedge and placed the rifle on a brace facing the author’s closed garage. Using the range finder, he made adjustments to his scope, then settled in to wait.
At 9:35, several things occurred in quick succession; the reviewer published his review of the author’s Volume 1, titled “Final Review” and the author’s garage door started cycling open and closed. The author looked up from reading the bad review and got up angrily to see what was happening in the garage. Nothing the author did seemed to affect the cycling garage door until he finally got a ladder and unplugged the unit.
Waiting for his moment, the reviewer fired with a sharp crack one round into the author’s torso, which dropped him to the floor. He then shot one additional round into the author’s head. His final review was complete.
Staying in place for a few more seconds to make sure that the muffled shots were not noticed, the reviewer gathered the two spent shell casings and disassembled the gun before placing the parts into a shopping bag. He then walked at a normal speed on the sidewalk until he got to his car, then he drove away.
The next day, the reviewer hooked up the car to the camper van and headed back for home a full day early. During the stops along the way, he looked for more candidates deserving of a final review.
After winning the lottery several years earlier, the reviewer had a lot more time for his favorite hobby, reading. Unfortunately, the authors he followed could only write new books so fast, thus he was forced to consider new authors. Being somewhat methodical, he would finish even the badly written books, and was offended that the bad authors would waste his, indeed everyone’s, time and money. Taking a cue from the fictional serial killer Hannibal Lechter, he had resolved to improve the quality of the Indie publishing space by removing authors who failed to meet his standards. In order to fail, the author had to be markedly lazy, not spending the time or effort to do a workmanlike job, or have nothing whatsoever to say. If they spent more time in workshops than they did actually writing, they would likely qualify once published.
The reviewer had all the time in the world to be methodical, but it had not escaped his notice that killing bad authors one at a time might not be the best approach in terms of efficiency. As he thought through the problem, he asked himself where such authors congregated. Book clubs and workshops. There the authors sat around stroking each other’s egos with no one ever saying, “Your work is crap, you should stick to your plumbing day job!”
The reviewer experienced an epiphany, What was it that every faux author wanted? Simple, a publishing house to discover them and come calling, even though they would pretend otherwise. So what if he posed as a talent scout and invited himself to their meetings? Genius!
He sat down immediately and starting working on a hack of the biggest ebook publishing platform’s author database, looking for author names, addresses, titles, revenue generated, and reviews. He was briefly amused that he had used the publishing platform’s own cloud computing service for very little cost to hack into their own databases, through multiple remote proxies. Downloading the data, he parsed it by geographical locations and started identifying clusters of potentially bad authors. Now he had a list that supported working on group removals.
He focused on Kansas City for his first group to investigate. Perusing social media he was able to look for commonalities and page subscriptions for writing clubs or workshop groups. Slowly, but surely, a list of candidates was compiled. Figuratively holding his nose, he ordered a copy of each candidate’s latest book to read, which doubtless sent them into a frenzy when their online account registered the sale in real time.
Over the next two weeks, the reviewer read each of the books, making notes for his reviews. As he finished a book, he would either circle the author’s name on his list or cross it off. Very few were crossed off but, for those that were, he wrote an online review stating that their book was not terrible. Choosing the largest group of six authors, who met regularly at their writing club Writer’s Muse, the reviewer called the organizer of the group, Patty Brauner. Patty had written three simply dreadful books about her childhood rise from abject poverty, but all with great cover art and misleading back cover marketing text. He doubted there were many repeat sales.
“Hi Patty, my name is Judge Smith, I work for a division of Bertelsmann and evaluate Indie authors for possible publishing contracts. The reason I am calling is that I’ve noticed a cluster of likely authors who are affiliated with your Writer’s Muse group.” the reviewer said.
“Yes, that is the group I founded. What is your interest?” Patty said.
“Well, Patty, it seems to me that whatever you’re doing there is working. There are a number of published authors in that group that I would like to speak with, yourself included. Is there any way that I can attend a typical meeting to meet everyone and see how things are done?”
“Why, certainly. This is so exciting! We have a meeting coming up in a couple of weeks. We meet in my home. We generally work for an hour and a half then socialize until it ends.”
“Patty, one thing I must ask of you. It must be confidential as to why I am coming to the meeting. Let’s just say I am another aspiring author. The reason is that I want to see how your journey works, undisturbed, before people start acting strangely because I represent a publisher. We can break the news during the social hour, if that works. Landing a cohesive working group into contracts is much more interesting to me than simply finding sole artists.”
“I know what you mean. Together we are greater than the sum of the parts. I’ll keep it confidential until then, Judge. If I may ask, were you named after the actor?” Patty asked.
“I get that question a lot, especially in the United States. No, the answer is much more mundane, I am afraid. My mother thought I looked far too serious for a newborn baby, thus the name,” the reviewer said thinking fast as he changed the subject. “Are you aware of any agent representation issues that I should be concerned with prior to the meeting?”
“No, none of us have used agents up until now. So far we haven’t wanted them,” Patty divulged.
“No need for it at this point, I’m sure agents will approach all of you once our interest is made plain.”
Patty provided the reviewer with the date, time and location of the meeting, and they concluded the call.
The reviewer then ordered a small batch of business cards for Judge Smith and his fictitious division of Bertelsmann to be delivered to a drop box on the way to Kansas City. He also prepared a disguise that incorporated a temporary change of hair color, close trimmed mustache, beard, accentuated cheekbones, an expensive fedora, and European-cut business attire with patches on the elbows. Should fit right in, he thought to himself.
The day before the meeting, the reviewer packed up his camper van and car with everything he might need. Checking through his list, he then set out for the Walnut Grove RV Park in Shawnee Kansas with a short stop to pick up his business cards. Upon arrival, eight hours later, he disconnected the Honda for ease in transportation.
Hooking into the RV park Internet services, he established the usual secure access to international proxies and started to review what had taken place with Patty during the last 24 hours. Had she been able to keep her mouth shut? Without too much effort, he was able to enter her email server and started reading. Patty didn’t do too badly, but she did reach out to all of the authors and urge them baldly to come, without providing any details. Good girl, he thought, you’re still a candidate! My God, she subscribes to about fifty daily writing sites. No emails to Bertelsmann checking into my credentials, good. I think we are a go!
The reviewer pulled out the package of chocolate chip cookie dough that he had prepared the night before, his own special recipe. Cutting the dough in half, he made the first few perfect batches of cookies and set them aside to cool. The final half of the dough required special treatment. These cookies were to be larger than the rest and included macadamia nuts, and a variety of chocolate chip types. The reviewer readied a small HAZMAT chamber for the completed cookies. As they came out of the small oven, he carefully dusted each of them with a powder that he kept in a small vial inside the chamber. He watched while the powder was fully absorbed and the cookies cooled. Once he was sure that none of the powder had escaped, he purged the chamber with compressed air for several minutes and loaded the cookies into two plastic containers which were placed in the refrigerator. Now he could eat some dinner and relax with a glass of wine.
The next day, he monitored Patty’s compromised email account as well as her text messages. So far, she was living up to the compact. There was no unusual traffic amongst the group other than to all confirm that they would be in attendance. As the sun started to go down, the reviewer started the process of becoming Judge. No one at the park noticed his transformation and he drove off for the meeting.
Arriving in Patty’s neighborhood he parked down the street, positioned for an easy exit. Gathering the cookies along with a Moleskine notebook he headed for the front door and rang the bell.
Patty opened the door as if she had been watching for him. “Judge? Hello, I am Patty. Welcome to our group. What do you have there?”
“Hello Patty, it is a pleasure to finally meet in person. These are some special treats I prepared for the social bit of the evening. It’s a little something that I like to do.” Judge said as he handed the containers to her “No nibbles until after!”
“Certainly, I’ll put these in the kitchen for now. Come in and meet the group. Group, this is Judge Smith a prospective new member to Writer’s Muse. Sit, Judge, we’ll introduce ourselves as we go through the meeting.”
Judge smiled and did a small hand wave to the group while sitting down. The meeting kicked off much as Judge had expected. Each person introduced themselves, made various excuses as to why they hadn’t written much during the last week, then read several hundred words of what they had written. Then the group would give constructive feedback. As each person on Judge’s list spoke, Judge would write notes within his book. Judge smiled as he imagined the meeting to be much like that for Alcoholics Anonymous, “My name is Joe Blow, I’m an author. Last week was very hard for me and I was unable to write because …” The room would respond with vocal encouragement, as payment for what they would receive when they too rendered their excuses to the group. Some of the authors had decent skills, like Patty, but nothing interesting to say. Authors who persist even when they have nothing to say are as bad as those without the skills, Judge thought. Regardless, cleaning up this nest will be a service to the arts.
Finally the meeting closed, and Patty opened up the kitchen for refreshments.
“Patty, do you mind, my process is to make the conversational rounds while handing out cookies?” Judge picked up his containers and opened them. “Patty, as hostess and one of the main reasons I’m here tonight, you get the first one of the special cookies I prepared with my own hands.”
“Thank you, Judge! I do love chocolate chip cookies.” Patty said as she took several bites. “These are so good! What is your secret?”
“Butter, tender loving care, and my secret ingredient.”
Patty announced to the group why Judge was there, creating a buzz of side conversations. Judge reiterated what he had said earlier to Patty and went on to add that he looked forward to speaking with each of them. As he passed by each person he offered up cookies depending on whether they were on the list. If they were not, he would pass them the standard chocolate chip, telling them to take more than one if so inclined. If they were on the list, he would pass the special cookies and insist that they take one.
“I must confess that my feelings will be hurt if these aren’t appreciated,” Judge said in a self deprecating way, “Consider these special cookies the same as receiving a rose, in a different kind of contest.” The authors laughed appreciatively and tucked into their respective cookies.
One person on his list refused, citing an allergy to macadamia nuts. There’s always one, Judge thought, I’ll have to deal with him in a more conventional way. He was one of those citing writer’s block during the meeting, but now he was itching to get away from the meeting, saying that he had an idea that needed to be set down before he forgot it. Judge made an appointment to meet with him the next day.
Judge stayed and made conversation with the remaining authors. He assured the persons that didn’t get the special cookie that they should stick with the group, as it was clear it was headed somewhere good. Finally, Judge thanked his hostess Patty saying he would be in touch within the next few days. Gathering his containers together, he made his way to his parked Honda. Driving away, he pulled into the parking lot of a small convenience store and became the reviewer again by eliminating beard and makeup using a container of quick wipes. Looking for any security cameras and finding none, he threw his containers, cards and the spent quick wipes into the dumpster next to the building. Running down his operations checklist, he returned to the RV park and took a thorough shower, washing out the temporary hair coloring.
The reviewer then logged into the ebook platform site and wrote final reviews for each of the authors who had eaten the special cookies. The poison they had ingested would not kill them for several days, which was more than enough time to finish what business he still had in town. The final author would require a solution utilizing firearms, given the time constraints, but the reviewer was well prepared for that eventuality. He wrote the author’s final review, as well, but did not publish it.
Using his hacking tool kit, he was quickly able to determine that the author lived alone but was a bit of a throwback when it came to new technologies. The author’s computer, which he was currently using to write, didn’t have a webcam nor did the reviewer see one within the author’s home network. It did appear that he was listening to death metal as he wrote. Of course, the home network had been compromised almost immediately due to the author not changing the router default passwords. He didn’t even seem to have an active mobile phone, or at least one on the network. The reviewer went on to social media, and found the author’s business page to be mostly dedicated to his novels without much day to day activity.
Taking a deep breath, the reviewer decided to go out once more and see if there was an opportunity to close things out that night. Failing that he would have to plan something for the next evening. Putting on his dull black jeans and long sleeved black turtleneck, he got back into the Toyota for another drive to the author’s neighborhood.
This was a much seedier neighborhood than where the Writer’s Muse group met, gang graffiti adorned any wall that would stand for it, but there did not appear to be much foot traffic by that late hour. Cruising by the author’s house, he could see a light in what looked to be a bedroom window. The street was very dark, as it appeared that no street lights were operational. The few lights illuminated the homes willing to have paid for them, but there were not many. Perfect, he thought, I guess we can finish tonight. The reviewer parked about half a block down the street, opened his laptop and checked the status of the author. Still listening to death metal and writing.
The reviewer took his semiautomatic 9mm pistol from its case, and screwed a new canister silencer onto the end of the barrel. Everything in his kit was a dull black, the final touch was to place his black balaclava into his front pocket and the pistol into a shopping bag. That wouldn’t be needed until he was off the sidewalk and inside the house. The reviewer exited his car, and calmly walked the half a block to the author’s house. Looking around, there was no one out, so the reviewer moved swiftly to the outside wall of the home. Putting on his balaclava, the reviewer tested the front door which was locked. The back door was locked as well. The author was sitting in a bedroom on the first floor.
The in-ground basement had a window well which was perfect to hide a forced entry. Scoring a circular scratch onto the glass using a special key with an industrial diamond tip, the reviewer then tapped gently inside the circle until it popped into the basement room with a small clatter. Reaching in through the hole, the reviewer unlocked and opened the window. Using a small flashlight, he looked around the room. It was finished but was apparently used for long term storage. Gently stepping down, the reviewer entered the house.
He took out the pistol and placed the empty bag folded, into one of the open boxes.
Holding the flashlight in his mouth, he walked quietly towards the basement stairs. He walked up the steps slowly, hearing each creak of the stairs as loud as thunder. He paused and realized that he could not hear the author’s death music, then realized that he hadn’t heard it at all. Perhaps the author was wearing earphones? Turning off his flash light, he slowly opened the door to the basement stairs and entered the kitchen.
The only light came from nightlights, several in the kitchen and one in the hallway. At the end of the hall, there was light coming through a partially open doorway. Listening carefully, the reviewer could hear tinny death metal music, confirming that headphones were being used.
Holding his gun in firing position, the reviewer looked through the open sections of the door. The author was against the far wall, typing and listening to the music. The reviewer slowly opened the door just wide enough to admit him, and walking softly aimed the pistol at the back of the author’s head as he approached. At two feet the reviewer stopped, braced his hands on the gun and pulled the trigb6tyg5ytnui8..
[Published posthumously from files discovered by the author’s estate]
All rights reserved (C) 2017 D. M. Kalin