Blog Archive

Armed and Dangerous Book 1 and 2 "Links to all chapters"

Below you will find chronological links to all 17 Chapters of "Armed and Dangerous," A G.I.Joe Origins Story.  At the bottom of th...

Wednesday, November 17, 2021


 Hello everyone,

I know it has been a while since I regularly posted on this page.  Truth be told, life has been tough.  And before you start with your criticism, I know, everyone's life has been.  And I just want to let everyone who has been popping in to read posts and chapters from my previous books that I appreciate each and every one of you.

This COVID-19 epidemic has really turned the US, no wait the world onto its side. Remote teaching, losing my second longtime job, family deaths, and my mental health struggles have prevented me from being literarily productive.  The words, ideas, and stories are still there, but the desire, time, and enthusiasm have been greatly hindered.  I know this is by no means an excuse, but I felt that I owed you all an explanation.  

Thank you for reading my work and I promise there is more to come.



Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Checking in

 I have been really busy as the world has fallen into chaos over the last 15 months or so.  A lot has happened that has not only been out of my control, but the control of everyone else as well.  I have lost family members, much like a lot of you, to this horrible pandemic.  I have felt alone, depressed, and enraged by the restrictions placed upon our world, jobs, home life, etc.  As a result, my writing has been virtually nonexistent.  I have not padded a thought in my blog, to a manuscript, or even read a book in over a year.  Well that's not completely true, I read one pleasurable book from my favorite author, but that is all.  So, I guess what I am really doing here is checking in with all of you.

How has your pandemic-based life been?  Feel free to vent.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

"Society's Cesspool," Book 3 Chapter 8

Chapter 8

The terrorist organization, known as Cobra had been gaining traction and a threshold worldwide.  They had already infiltrated some minor governments in the Middle East, succeeded in forming an alliance with the Dreadnoks, and were in trade negotiations with both M.A.R.S. Industries and the Red Shadows.  The serpent-like organization was slowly wrapping its coils around some very important areas and filling their coffers with the investments of some prominent factions.  Cobra was everywhere in a short period of time and oddly enough most of the world didn’t even know it.  Operating under the guise of some well-known manufacturing corporations, investment firms, and ammunition suppliers, Cobra Commander was easily sinking his fangs into the economy while creating the need for the services his corporations provided.  It would only be a matter of time before he had injected himself into some of the richer and more influential governments of the world.
Brexit had created an opening for him in the UK, election interference an opportunity with the Russians, and withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan created an opportunity for a Middle East presence.  Civil unrest in the United States government, a resurgence of white supremacy, as well as their withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and NATO was setting the stage for the dissemination of Cobra propaganda and the installation of operatives in their government.  His plans were slowly but surely coming to fruition and he had barely spilled an ounce of blood. If the current trends continued, world domination from the shadows seemed more and more obtainable.
The door to the commander’s throne room opened and a rather common-looking man entered dressed in a three-piece suit. 
“Hello, Fred VI.  Ssso nice to see you.”  The man made an extremely low bow before the seated commander and kept his eyes averted.  “Pleassse rise.  What have you to report?”
The gentleman rose slowly and allowed his gaze to fall upon the supreme leader. “Permission to approach.”
“Granted, pleassse make yourself comfortable.”  At that statement, the commander pressed a button on his left armrest and a chair appeared from a concealed compartment on the floor.  “I trust your position within BACRO Indussstries has been interesssting?”  The man nodded enthusiastically.
“I believe I have two things that you will find of great interest, Commander.  They have a very talented young scientist by the name of Frankenstein that has been working on creating lifelike AI.  The technology is topnotch and can fool even the most discerning of eyes.  I believe he is someone that we should actively recruit to our cause.  And if he resists, we should simply steal the technology for ourselves.”  The commander put up his hand to temporarily silence the man.
“A scientissst of this caliber needs to be convinced that Cobra offersss more than his current employer.  But if he should resist working solely for could always work for both interested partiesss.  And what of his employer.  Speak to me of Dr. Vincent D’Alleva.  Would he be interested in joining usss?”
“That brings up another interesting dilemma, Commander.  It seems that the good doctor has gotten himself involved in some unsavory characters.  Namely, Declan H.Mann.”  Cobra Commander leaned in, showing that he was interested.

Monday, March 2, 2020

"Society's Cesspool," Armed and Dangerous Book 3 Chapter Links

The road so far.  The end of 2019 and 2020 has been rough so far.  Family illnesses and other life circumstances have cut into my free time and pleasurable writing.  What time I do set aside for writing I tend to devote to possible publications over fanfiction.  But, there is just something about the opioid war and some of these Cobra characters that keeps me coming back to write more.  So with that said, here are the links to the current rough chapters in book 3.

Society's Cesspool Chapter 1

Society's Cesspool Chapter 2

Society's Cesspool Chapter 3

Society's Cesspool Chapter 4

Society's Cesspool Chapter 5

Society's Cesspool Chapter 6

Society's Cesspool Chapter 7

Society's Cesspool Chapter 8

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

"Society's Cesspool," Chapter 7 Book 3

Chapter 7

It had been nearly three months since the Dreadnok known as Burnout had taken a job at Bacro Industries. The company was thriving and the adrenaline junky was having a hard time justifying any actions that would financially-impact the corporation. As far as he had been able to ascertain, the Headman had been very hands-off in his dealings with the main company. He had not seen him in or around the lab. He had observed the shipping terminal behind the main building on several occasions and even the operations there seemed on the up and up. To the casual observer, all operations seemed Kosher.

The encrypted message from Zandar was specific. He had wanted to know what the situation was and whether the Dreadnoks could benefit from it. The initial plan had been to ruin the Headman and to overrun his drug operation, but new information had come to light which portrayed him as being a shrewd businessman with a genuine concern for the welfare of his clientele. Perhaps rubbing him out would not be necessary. If he could simply arrange a meeting with the cartel kingpin, he might be able to successfully broker a deal between the two criminal organizations. But if things went south, he might just end up at the wrong end of a well-trained pistol. The original slighting of the Dreadnok nation had been worthy of retribution, but in reality, it was Gristle, not the Headman, that had verbalized the threat.

The corporation is profitable, to say the least. There has been little, if any, illegal activity conducted in the main buildings of the corporation. The CEO, Doctor Vincent d’Alleva runs a legitimate company and has been welcoming and appreciative of his employees. Ties with this corporation could be quite lucrative to us. Perhaps we can come to an arrangement with the Headhunters that will be of mutual benefit to each of us and does not involve either faction shedding blood or losing face.

The acting leader of the Dreadnoks read over the message several times. At the end of the day, he was excellent at brokering profitable arrangements and he really didn’t want to wage a turf war with an upstart drug cartel that was over nine thousand miles away in the United States. The more he thought about it, the more he preferred a financial solution. And if the Headman was really the boy scout that Burnout was making him out to be, then there could be other perks as well. He padded off a terse response. See what you can arrange. The biker gang member got the mobile notification a short time later. The door to the lab opened and the CEO entered.

“Good morning, Doctors. I trust that everything is going well?” Without missing a beat, Burnout changed between open windows on his laptop and stood up to shake the man’s hand.

“Good morning, Doctor d’Alleva. Always a pleasure to see you.”

“And where is my favorite prankster, Dr. Frankenstein? He knew I was coming down to visit, did he run off to lunch in order to avoid my observation?” Just at that moment, the door to the lab’s biohazard room opened and Hotwire emerged wearing a mid-range hazmat suit. The security door locked after him and he removed his helmet and gloves, hanging them in the appropriate containment area. He kept the loose-fitting jumpsuit on and extended his hand towards the CEO.

“Good morning, boss. So good to see you again. Is everything copacetic today?” Vincent remembered their previous conversation and thought to push the envelope a bit further. “Everything is great, I’m just waiting for my Metamucil to kick in so I can have a healthy bowel movement without soiling my Depends.”

“Really boss?”

“No, not really, but since you’re always implying that I’m an old man I thought it might add to your level of discomfort if I provided you with a little TMI.” Hotwire’s expression didn’t change. He could still not gauge the man’s level of irritability, or sincerity for that matter. Vincent was a difficult read when he wanted to be.

“Didn’t I tell you to pack up your stuff and go home?” He let the statement hang there for a moment before he started to tap his foot impatiently. “Well? Didn’t I?”

“Umm...well Doctor. You didn’t instruct me to go home, but you had asked me to submit my late reports on our progress. And I did that as soon as I got off the phone with you.”

“I see. So, you thought everything between us is O.K.?” He continued to tap his foot the entire time staring at the brilliant but rude scientist standing before him. Hotwire began to sweat. He had never seen the CEO this perturbed.

“I’m sorry sir...Dr. d’Alleva sir, for my previous conduct. I was out of line and shouldn’t have made the comments that I did. Please, don’t send me home.” The next twenty seconds passed uncomfortably, the scowled expression remaining plastered on the CEO’s face.

“Well Randal, you leave me with little choice than to…”

“Please Doctor, I was only kidding.”

“Than to…”

I said I was sorry boss.” By now the arrogant scientist had made his way to his knees and was pleading for forgiveness.

“To...award you with an extra week of vacation.”

“Huh?” The CEO laughed out loud before slapping the young scientist hard on the back.

“I got you, Hotwire! Do you need a bathroom break now? You look like you just had an accident.” He sniffed at the air loudly. “Smells like it too.”

“Hardy Har! Har! Real funny, gramps. I..I...mean Doctor d’Alleva You got me. Alright, are we going to talk about my current project or continue with the middle-school humor?” Vincent continued to laugh at the irritated scientist’s expense for several more seconds before straightening his tie and composing himself.

“Yes, of course, Dr. Frankenstein, I am eager to hear about your recent breakthrough.” The two consulting scientists exchanged glances and Burnout removed a large manila folder from the lower desk drawer which he then handed to the CEO.

“I think you’ll find the information on page sixteen to be of great interest to you. It explains the changes made to our newest plant suppressor. It doesn’t kill off the weeds by poisoning them. Instead, it interferes with their reproductive cycle rendering them infertile. In a single generation’s time, we will be able to eradicate 79% of all annual weed species. This will be a huge breakthrough in lawn care as it will wipe out crabgrass, nettle, knotweed, purslane, and carpetweed. But it doesn’t stop there, boss. It will never wipe out all of the pesky plant species so the thirty or so percent that survives will have to be treated again the next season. Add in the plants that undergone annual mutations and we will never be out of business.”

“That is good news. But what is this that I hear about it rendering some perennial species incapable of reproduction as well?”

“I kind of figured that you would have caught on to that. That’s good news because the plant suppliers will need to produce more flowers for sale to replace the ones that died off. Kind of a one-hand-washes-the-other mentality.”

“I see. Is the percent high enough that we need to fully disclose it to the customer?”

“Surprisingly enough, we are under the threshold for mandatory disclosure.”

“That is awesome news!” The CEO paused for a moment before removing a post-it note from his pocket. “Oh yeah. Now I remember. What about the asexually reproducing species?”

“Well, those are still presenting a problem that we’re working on, but once again, this also ensures that we stay in business?”

“Fair enough, but I am hopeful that we can create a product combination that is equally as effective against the bryophytes, pteridophytes, and those ever troublesome Taraxacum.”

“Yeah boss, but just remember that vegans like to eat dandelions.”

“True, but they’d rather buy them at some millennial supermarket than pick them off their back lawn.”

“A valid point Doctor.”

“OK, well we can toss around some formula modifications later on. I understand you also have a huge breakthrough regarding F.A.C.E.” While Dr. Dd’Alleva waited for a response, he heard a familiar voice coming from the back of the room. He looked up and stood awestricken as a second Hotwire emerged from the back supply room.

“You see gramps. The project is so convincing that you didn’t even realize that you were conducting a conversation with an AI.”

“What? What?!”

“That’s right doc. You were talking to pseudo-me the whole time. Did you really think I would grovel after your diaper joke? Please, the program is slightly flawed because it is designed to make the best decision, not necessarily the one I would have chosen.”

The CEO nodded only half-listening to the scientist’s explanation. The gears in his head began to formulate a plan. One that could possibly get him out from under the thumb of the drug kingpin and give him back some semblance of a life.

“So, Randal. How do we go about producing one that looks like me?”

“Great idea boss! I thought you’d never ask.”

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Supernaturals by Tonka

     The 1980's were chock full of innovative and unique toylines.  Children of this time period experienced toys with unique play-action features, some having never been seen before in a toyline.  One theme that popped up in several toylines was that of holograms.  A hologram is an image that is only visible under light from certain angles.  Visionaries added this feature to the shields that their action figures carried with them.  Tonka took the gimmick one step further by creating an action figure line that used flip holograms for the actual character's face and body.
     Each character had two distinct forms one being more human in nature, the second being more of a monster.  Children could imagine the figures changing form and could see these changes by altering the angle at which the holographic images were viewed.
     There were six large action figures produced representing the good and the evil Supernatural characters.  Each one had only four points of articulation but did come with removable glow-in-the-dark weapons, a chest plate, and some time of head attire.  The good guy assortment consisted of Lionheart, a knight or paladin with an inner lion,  ThunderBolt, a Viking with an inner Lightning Warrior, and Eagle Eye, A Native American warrior with an inner eagle.  The bad guy assortment was made up of Skull, a warrior with an inner Skeleton, Burnheart, a warrior with an inner fire, and Snakebite, evil warrior with an inner serpent.  Each action figure also had a holographic shield with a 3D attack.
     The toyline also included a ghostling line that had movable arms.  These were meant to be companions or minions for the various factions.  The faction was composed of eight individual characters each depicting a different inner monster.  There was Spooks, the court jester with an inner ghost.  Vamps, the vampire, with inner bat, Hooter, the wizard, with an inner owl.  Rags, the Egyptian, with an inner mummy.  See-Thru, the scientist, who becomes the invisible man.  Mr. Lucky, the magician who becomes a giant rabbit. Scary Cat, a witch, with an inner cat.  And Finally Weird Wolf, a punk with an inner werewolf.
     The line also had two larger, hard to find, animal companions.  The evil Dark Dragon and good Lionwings. In addition, there were two vehicles in the collection and a larger Tomb of Doom playset.
There was a Bat Bopper and the Ghost Finder both were vintage cars with a tow truck like feature.

Here are some pics from my personal collection.


Monday, September 16, 2019

"Society's Cesspool," Chapter 6 Book 3


                                                      Chapter 6

Vincent D’Alleva continued to spiral deeper and deeper into his depression.  The longer his relationship with the Headman existed, the more he felt sickened.  Vincent had developed severe indigestion and found himself ingesting at least a dozen antacids daily. He had almost hoped that the encounter reported at the Newark pier would list the narcissistic man among the casualties, but instead, the newspaper only named members of the Vargus Syndicate amongst the deceased.   He could not deny the fact that his business was once again prosperous.  Nor could he deny the fact that his company was being inventive and productive, but the fact that there was a known drug syndicate operating on his property continued to gnaw away at him. He tried to accept things as a mere business arrangement.  At the moment, no one had died, and the mysterious Headman had made good on each and every one of his promises. 
He had kept an extremely low profile and not even been seen on the property in the past week. The only thing he had insisted upon was testing out some of the larger pharmaceutical machinery in the main plant to process and purify his new, safer strain of fentanyl.  The opioid product, labeled as extremely hazardous to its handlers, was on the verge of becoming safe to the touch, but still as addictive as ever.  Vincent along with his best chemists had been invaluable at making the drug safer.  Their new benefactor was unlike a common drug dealer in the fact that he preferred his clients to stay alive and forever chasing their original high.  It had not been easy, but the chemists had been successful at taking apart the fentanyl molecules and reassembling them in a form that was not as easily absorbed through the body’s mucous membranes. This less dangerous form still provided the user with favorable therapeutic effects and was less likely to cause an overdose.
In addition, Vincent had had continuing success with the development of his new plant fertilizer, as wells as some other products previously in prototype form.  The company had applied for sixteen new patents since the start of their four-month relationship and ten more waited in the wings for submission.  Several international product developers had already expressed interest in three of them, and all that needed to be done was to discuss a profitable relationship between the new partners.  Everything was returning back to a state of financial profitability for Bacro Industries.  The name D’Alleva was on the road to becoming a household name associated with some of the newest and cutting-edge technology in the nation.  But none of this mattered to the CEO.  He could not allow himself to be happy knowing that his financial gain was backed by the blood money of a drug cartel.  He needed to break away from the Headman’s influence, but everything he had concocted to date had failed.  The first time he envisioned shooting the arrogant man, the experienced drug lord had seen the ruse for what it was and threatened the life of his children.  The Headman had forgiven the Vincent’s lapse in judgment and had remained cordial even attempting to develop a friendship with the CEO.  The work being performed on the once defunct shipping terminal had also benefited his bottom line, cutting the costs of paying outside companies to transport his products across the state and the country.
Just then the phone on his desk rang.  He lifted the receiver to his ear to hear the familiar sound of his secretary’s voice.  “Mr. D’Alleva, you have an important call on line two.”
“Patch it through Vivian.”  He muted the phone and sighed loudly before clearing his throat.  He had become familiar with the verbal clues provided by his personal secretary in regards to the identity of the caller.  The drug dealer had asked that he not be identified by name over the phone lines ever and the two had honored his request.  He unmuted the phone.  “Hello, Dr. Skee.”  The Headman had used the alias in the past, he had even earned a bachelor’s degree under the auspices of that name.  As far as the world knew, Doctor Charles Romley Skee was a fine and upstanding pharmacist who had worked with several world-renowned pharmaceutical companies.  The man had been quite successful at living a double life.
“Hello, Vincent.  So good to hear your voice again.  I was wondering if we could meet up for some lunch.  There are several things I would like to discuss face to face.  How’s your upcoming calendar?”
Vincent knew that the request was part truthful and part suggestive.  The drug lord was inquiring about his availability, but in reality, was telling him that he wanted to see him that day.
“I have some time this afternoon old friend. Does 2 o’clock work for you?”
“That would be divine.  I’ve got a hankering for Antonio’s fettucini alfredo. what do you say?”
“Sure.  Would you like me to have Vivian make the reservation?”
“No, that’s quite alright.  I’ll phone it in.  See you at two. Cheers!”
“Will do.”  He hung up the phone receiver and slumped back in his chair.  What could the drug dealer possibly want now that he didn’t already have access to?
What the current CEO was unaware of was that the Headhunter scientists had been working closely with Hotwire in order to utilize his recently-developed F.A.C.E technology.  The design was solid and the neural net was more than suitable for completing basic physical tasks.  Declan had envisioned the technology being incorporated into cyborg security guards and possible drug mules.  These androids could walk directly into rival gang regions in order to forcefully remove the lower-quality drug dealers.  They could also collect funds from potential buyers, or simply supervise product deliveries.  None of the Headman’s agents would ever need to fear an attack on their life with the indestructible android troopers, and if the language software improved, they could soon take on more sentient speaking roles as well.   At the moment, Hotwire’s best idea was using wifi and two embedded optical cameras in order to link the android’s surroundings with an actual person. The tech operated similarly to facetime and until the robot became more autonomous, it would allow the seller to communicate with the buyer face to face, instead of over a mobile phone line that could be hacked by the feds.
The artificially-created organic skin had also developed to a point where it could remain intact for over 150,000 repeated movements.  The skin from a distance of six or more feet looked realistic and oddly enough, human.  It was only upon closer inspection from several inches away that someone could ascertain its artificial construct.
If Vincent knew that Hotwire’s technology would soon be employed to increase drug sales in the smaller communities all along the east coast, it would surely push him over the edge.  He glanced over at the clock on the wall.  It was only eleven a.m. and he still had a lot of stops to make in the building before his impromptu lunch with Dr. Skee.  He scoffed at the man’s chosen alias.  Did he really think that everyone was oblivious to the fact that his name was a slang term for the smack he was peddling? Surely his name had to set off alerts somewhere on the government servers.  Was he truly that brazen?
Vincent shook the thoughts from his mind.  He hated and loved the Headman at the same time.  If it hadn’t been for the man’s intervention all those months ago, his body would be lying in the cold dark earth, and his children would be fatherless.  Now. his company was once again prosperous.  He was even expanding overseas and into India.  His stockholders were ecstatic and no one could rival his new innovations, but the stigma of it all being funded by the blood money of the opiate trade weighed heavily on his conscience.  He was tired of lying to everyone, but mostly to himself.  He would rid himself of this cancer soon...or die trying.
The phone rang a second time on his desk.  The extension lighting up reminded him that he needed to make his rounds and check progress on some of the newer projects.
“Yes, Hotwire. I’m actually on my way over now.”
“Oh, good pops. I thought you may have forgotten.  I know how absent-minded people your age can get.”  The CEO had grown accustomed to his inappropriate jokes.  Had even come to expect them, so he was ready this time.
“You keep missing deadlines and you’ll be lucky if you even make it to my age.  I’ll be down in ten minutes.”  Without waiting for a response he hung up the phone.  That should set him straight and keep him guessing. He laughed to himself, buttoned his upper jacket button and headed for the elevator.
“He hung up on me. He’s never done that to me.  To me of all people.  Does he know how important I am to this company’s success?”  The young scientist was beside himself.  Caught in between rage, disbelief, and doubt.
“I’m sure he’s just messing with you, Dr. Frankenstein.  What you said to him was a little rude.”  The scientist was far from being calm.
“Listen, Perez, I bust his balls all the time.  This was nothing out of the norm.  Gramps knows I’m kidding.”  He paused a second.  “You think he knows that I’m kidding right?  Right? I mean... he told me I missed my deadlines. He’s never cared about me being a day or two late before.”
“Maybe he’s having a bad day.”
“I don’t know something seems off about him lately.”
“Don’t overthink it Hotwire, I’m sure everything will be fine once he sees the progress that we made.”  The eccentric scientist found himself nodding in agreement.  He simply couldn’t disagree with the statement just made.  Not only had they been successful at improving the tensile strength of the Bio-skin, but they had also synthesized a new plant food that increased growth rates by six-fold and was safe to the groundwater and nearby lakes, rivers and streams.  There was no way the news could be ill-received as long as the FDA was quick to issue an approval.  Stock prices would certainly skyrocket.


Thursday, August 29, 2019

"Society's Cesspool" Chapter 5 Book 3

                                                                   Chapter 5
The Cobra agent known as Ghost Bear had successfully infiltrated the terrorist cell known as the Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia.  They were a smaller and lesser-known group but no less radical or dangerous.  They had allies in Mauritania, Mali, and Libya and were active sellers in the arms trade.  Cobra Commander wanted to keep the more radical Islamic groups on a short rope as he did not agree with the ways in which they chose to deal with their opponents.  The emerging terrorist leader was ruthless, but he did not condone the killing of women and children.  He did, however, recognize a potential scapegoat when they presented themselves.  By having Ghost Bear gain the confidence of the al-Sharia, he, in turn, gained an ally in the Middle East without direct ties to the Cobra Organization.  If things went south for some reason he could sever ties and deny any association with the group. Add in the Kenyans and the recent deals struck with the Aum Shirykiro and the Chechnya, his political power was growing worldwide.  Soon Cobra would be in a position where they could strike out at the Americans, the British, and the Russians in one unexpected precise and crippling strike.  The rulers of these superpowers would be forced to yield to his demands and pay their fealty to him.
The video-conferencing device alert vibrated slightly on the agent’s wrist-link.  Ghost Bear excused himself and moved to his private quarters using personal prayer time as his reason. The monitor came to life as the chromed face-plate of the Cobra leader appeared before him.
“Yes, supreme leader.”
“Ah, Ghossst Bear.  It isss so nice to see you again.  How go thingsss with the Tunisiansss?  Are they ready to sssign our agreement?”
“Things have been going very well, and I am close to brokering an alliance that will be favorable and profitable to both parties.”
“Ex-sssellent.  Perhaps they are smarter than I gave them credit for.  Seal up the deal as soon as possssible.  I will be requiring your services elsewhere.  You have three daysss.”
“I will not let you down.”
“I would hope not.”  The screen went dark and Ghost Bear turned his attention back to the situation at hand.  His timeline and his mission had changed, but he was up for the challenge.  He would close the deal ahead of time and move on to where his services were needed.  It really didn’t bother him too much. He only hoped that his next assignment would be someplace cooler and with better cuisine.
                                                                       *     *     *     *  
Gristle parked the car in an obscure corner. After exiting the vehicle, he opened the door for the well-dressed man and accompanied him around the back of the car.  Their precious cargo should be awake by now and after the last shock treatment, they would be more cooperative.
“Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakie.” As the trunk rose, the two passengers rubbed their eyes in order to see their captors.  “How was the ride?”
“Terrible, not like you care!” Lolita was quick to respond, her voice dripping with venom.
“Now, now.  No need to be so excited.  Let me help you out of there.”  He reached out his hand in order to grab the woman’s bound wrists as she scooted her legs into a hanging position outside of the trunk. Gristle assisted her brother, Carlos, from the confines of the trunk, but he decided to stay tight-lipped. The Headman produced a pair of cutting pliers from his coat pocket and cut the binds on both individual’s wrists.
“Alright.  So, can we start over?  I’m the Headman and your new business partner.”  The woman looked at his outstretched hand then over to her right and left where two heavily-armed Headhunters stood. Their guns were at their sides, but she knew in a seconds notice that each man could easily put a bullet in her skull.  She didn’t like the current arrangement, but she had worked for worse people in her past twenty-two years of life.  She looked to her brother then back to the Headman’s hand.  She clenched his hand firmly in her own.
“Nice to meet you, partner.  I’m Lolita and this is my brother Carlito.”
“Excellent!  Welcome aboard.  Now that that’s all taken care of, we have a train to catch.  Follow me.”  The dapper don led them along the back wall until he came across a fire extinguisher cabinet.  He opened the front door and pulled down on the extinguisher which caused a hidden passageway to appear as a section of the wall moved back and to the left.  “This will get us into the subway system without having to pass through the various video camera checkpoints.  Once we catch the C train, we’ll be in the clear.”
Lolita pondered the situation.  It didn’t make much sense.  Where exactly was he taking them?  It didn’t line up with any known bases of operations for the Headhunters that she was aware of.  The subway doors closed and the four individuals rode on through the next three stops then exited and took the L Train for another five stops.  The subway platform where they exited the train car was abandoned, and the Headman led them all into the men’s bathroom.
“I’m not going in there, you pig.”
“Calm yourself, my dear.  It’s simply a means to an end.  The drug lord moved a sign on the wall which opened another secret passageway to a hidden tunnel. “Follow me please.”  He tipped his fedora at the woman then bowed as she walked past him.  The tunnel was dimly-lit but easy to navigate.  It ended at a dead end, but Lolita knew it was merely another concealed doorway.  Gristle undid the lock this time and the group exited into an underground garage.
“Welcome to my home away from home.  He led the three to a construction elevator that took them down to a subterranean level.  It had been nearly two months since he had come to the Irvington base, but he wasn’t yet ready to trust his new partners with the Connecticut branch.  He would set the two of them up here in his wake and have the Headhunters keep tabs on their activities.  If they cooperated and proved their loyalty, all would be forgiven in due time. If anything seemed questionable or out of line...he’d simply end them.  He didn’t come into the power that he had by being a patsy.  The Headman was no one’s floor mat.  Things may have been a little shaky in the beginning, but he had learned from some of the best in the business.  He had continued to grow his influence right under the noses of the very individuals who had mentored him and he had expected the recent turn of events to occur sooner or later.
“So what?  You expect my sister and me to just join your little organization? Are we just supposed to act like the massacre at the pier just never happened?”   
The well-dressed man did little more than shrug.  “That my dear Carlito is up to you and Lolita.  I will benefit one way or the other.  If you join me, then I will gain your connections and network of buyers and sellers.  If you should choose not to entertain my offer, that’s just as good.  I’ll still assimilate your territory and your connections.  The two of you on the other hand…”  He paused dramatically and grinned widely. “Won’t be as fortunate.  If you catch my drift.”  He ended his statement with a wink. Lolita was the next to speak cutting off her brother before he could offer a rebuttal.
“So, should we join the Headhunters, what’s in it for us?”
“Well, for one thing, you and your brother get to live, but that’s not the only perk I offer.  You will simply work for me, but out of this location.  I will provide you with a base of operations and products.  I will also supply you with a security task force. I am even willing to offer you and your brother twenty-five percent of the profit.  But...I have rules.”
The woman did her best to conceal her disapproval but entertained his last proclamation.  “What do you mean rules?”
“It’s very simple.  We only sell to adults.  You avoid the grammar schools.  And, you don’t sell anything except what I provide. Steal from me or sell your own product and our agreement is over!”  Lolita eyed him oddly as he continued outlining his rules.  “And one more thing.  From here on, none of our clients die. Got it?” 
“What do you mean? No one dies?  We sell drugs.  People die.”
“Not anymore.  The only good drug addict is one that stays alive and continues to buy from us.”
“Now you have my attention.”  The Headman smiled.
“So, do we have an agreement?”

Friday, June 14, 2019

New Book Available on Amazon Today!!!!!

Hello everyone.
I am ecstatic to share with you that my new book, "The End of Realms," Book 1 of the Lancer Revival series, is available for purchase on Amazon.  If you like fantasy, Dragons, zombies, mythological creatures, all with a modern-day flare. 

You should check it out!

As always thank you for your continued support!



The End of Realms

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Fantasy Novel "The End of Realms" Book 1 in The Lancer Revival

"The End of Realms" Book 1 in The Lancer Revival will be available soon. 
Final revisions are being made on the server and the eBook will be ready for purchase by the end of the week.  More information available soon!

Monday, June 3, 2019

"Society's Cesspool" Chapter 4 Book 3

Chapter 4

Stalker and the other Joe recruitment officers had taken a liking to Lieutenant Alkeenen. He was a promising young officer with an outstanding dossier. He came from a military family extending back for the last four generations and his commendations were numerous for someone so new to the service. He was almost too perfect. How had he missed garnishing the attention of the Joe team sooner? The army ranger was starting to have some reservations.

“Alkeenen, gear up I’ve got an interesting little adventure set up for you today.”

“Sir, yes sir!” The lieutenant hustled over so that he was standing in attention before his Joe mentor.

“Today’s training mission is based upon a recent event overseas. You’re going to need to infiltrate a Tunisian crime family without weapons, a lift a laptop from the oldest son’s personal safe house replacing it with a dummy unit. Are you up for it?”

The undercover master of disguise scoffed to himself. Was he up for it? Really? Is this what America’s highly-trained special missions force did on a daily basis? This would be child's play for him. He tried feigning nervousness and excitement as he saluted the ranger.

“Absolutely sir. When do I roll out?”

“Bus leaves at 1300 hours. Be back here and ready to go.”

“Sir, yes sir!” Zartan had been deep undercover for nearly a year trying to gain access to the G.I.Joe's inner circle, but despite his hard labors, he had not granted anything more than probationary status on the team. There had been little chatter on the Cobra front and he began to wonder if he had been wrong concerning the threat that the terrorist group presented. It might be high time to plan his egress and take back control of the Dreadnoks back home. Perhaps, he would see to it that this latest training mission would be Lieutenant Alkeenen’s last.

It had bothered the undercover mercenary that his exemplary efforts had been ignored while the upstart Armed and Dangerous had been made a full-fledged member of G.I.Joe. He didn’t understand how this was possible. Could someone be on to him? He had been careful to tie up any and all loose ends. He had even held back from being too good at what they asked him to do. Was he now being paranoid? He pushed the thoughts from his mind and began to focus on the importance of the laptop he was being asked to obtain, in Tunisia no less. If he died in Tunisia, he would be considerably closer to his home in Australia. But why Tunisia?

Stalker had a final meeting with Duke and Hawk concerning the mission. He had voiced his opinions both positive and negative about the probationary recruit before. The two ranking officers had agreed that it would be prudent to keep the unusually-talented lieutenant on restricted clearance until they could be sure that he was for real. Something smelled suspicious to the veteran ranger, but it could simply be the result of recent ongoings around the globe concerning terrorist attacks. If Alkeenen could successfully carry out this newest mission, the team would be resigned to reevaluate his abilities and possibly recommend full membership. Stalker had been played out before. Several times in his past, there were outstanding soldiers who ended up being nothing more than elaborate spies or turncoats. He had fought both against and on the side of the Oktober Guard. Tommy Arashikage had once been a trusted member of his platoon overseas before his reinvention as the ninja Storm Shadow. Another time, the Baroness had posed as a high-level army operative and stolen top-secret plans from G.I.Joe headquarters. Each time he had had a gut feeling about the person in question, but Alkeenen was different. The ranger felt like the man was holding back purposefully at times and couldn’t understand why. The other thing that bothered him was the fact that he associated with no one, ever. While the other recruits were using their free time to call home or hang out in the mess hall, Alkeenen was nowhere to be seen. What was he hiding?

The bus pulled up at 1230 hours. It was driven by a seldom-seen G.I.Joe by the name of Skidmark. Stalker was nearby watching as Alkeenen and two other recruits walked up.

“So Alkeenen, are you ready to do this?” The man’s face was stoic as he turned to regard the ranger.

“I’ve never been more ready, Sir. So, who will I be meeting up with once I get to Tunisia?” Stalker handed the man a sealed manila envelope and a small briefcase.

“Everything that you need to know is in that envelope. It will need to be decoded using Epsilon-Zeta protocol, and once you’ve deciphered it, it must be destroyed. I suggest reviewing the material during your flight. When you touch down, you will be a civilian tourist. The dossier contains recent photos of known Tunisian radicals and their aliases.”

“Got it. So, I’ll be on my own?”

“Not exactly. We have an internal asset, but it’s above my clearance level. That info is also in the paperwork. Good luck soldier. Make your nation proud.” The ranger saluted and the lieutenant was more than happy to oblige before tossing his bag in the rear of the humvee and climbing on board.

“Welcome aboard soldier.” Alkeenen gave a half-smile then moved back a row in the vehicle. The other two operatives jumped on board a few minutes later. He didn’t know either of them but studied their faces nonetheless. The master of disguise couldn’t help himself. He was a constant thespian, always searching for his next mark. He would make small talk on the way to the airstrip, find out the nature of their missions, and tuck that information away into his mind’s Rolodex for the future.

Skidmark started the engine and put the truck into drive. “Alrighty, everyone. We’re off. If you look out the window to your right you can wave to all your friends as we ride off into the mountains up ahead. To your left, as the crow flies, you can see the scenic Cascade Mountains. They are home to Bufo boreas and Taricha granulosa. For those of you not fluent in herpetology, those are the scientific names of the western toad and rough-skinned salamander. Believe it or not both species are known for their ability to secrete toxins through their skin so that predators leave them alone.”

Zartan mumbled under his breath. “No one cares about your lizard fetish.”

“Well, just to be clear here, son. They’re not lizards. Each one is an amphibian. Reptiles like lizards have scaly-skin and claws. Amphibians don’t. Listen up. You might actually learn something.”

I can’t believe this lamebrain heard me. I know what he’s trying to do. He’s keeping us from talking to each other about our missions. The Joes are craftier than I thought.

“Now, if you want to know about some reptile species, here’s a fun fact. The Cascades are home to both the Northern and the Southern Alligator Lizards as well as the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake. Their genus and species names….” Skidmark continued to drone on and on. It was going to be a long trip.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

"Society's Cesspool," Chapter 3 Book 3

Chapter 3

Lolita and Carlos completed their car ride with the Headman in silence while tied-up and locked in the trunk of a Lincoln Town Car.  The Headman needed time to think about his next move and also wanted to be sure that his Headhunters had cleared the basement of the Vargus Syndicate’s apartment building before doing anything else.  He had become paranoid about a possible hit on his life ever since the sniper attack at the loading dock.  The Vargus’ are dead.  Gristle and I killed them ourselves.  But who else were they working with?
He had more questions than answers at this point in time and wasn’t sure where he should go with his soon-to-be new business partners.  He knew that the feds were probably checking traffic camera footage as he drove and he needed to find a secure location in which to lose their surveillance. Then he remembered the tunnels.  He knocked on the glass partitioning between the front and back of the limousine.  His second in command promptly lowered it.
“Yes, boss?”
“Take me to the place Danimal.”  His chauffeur knew the code to be for the network of tunnels connecting his old neighborhood to the subway system.  The place also had an underground garage to ditch their car and egress to safety away from the prying eyes of the feds.
“Right away maan.  Shall I call ahead for an escort?”  The Headman chuckled every time he heard the word “escort” as it elicited memories of many of the trashy girls he had been with over the years.  Then he refocused on the real meaning.
“Just request Alpha and Epsilon in plain clothes for our rendezvous.”
“Will do boss.”  The silence was broken suddenly by the sound of pounding in the trunk.
“And would you do something about the rats in the trunk?”  Gristle nodded and pressed a red button on the center console. The Headman heard a groan come from his passengers hidden behind his seat and then silence.
*     *     *     *
It had taken Burnout several days to weed through his contacts and gather some useable intel of the Headhunters organization.  His latest bit of information led him to the parking lot of Bacro Industries in a small suburb of Hartford, Connecticut.  It seemed like an odd place for the Headman and his cronies to set up shop, but it had been his most promising lead to date. He parked his Harley in a numbered spot and proceeded to enter the building through its main entrance.  He was greeted by an upbeat and mildly attractive receptionist seated behind a higher-than-average hardwood desk.
“Welcome to Bacro Industries sir.  How can I assist you today?”
The Dreadnok spy had taken measures to blend in with the area trading in his gang attire for a two-piece suit and designer sunglasses.  He flashed a charming smile at the young woman before introducing himself.
“Good afternoon to you as well.  I am here in reference to the advertisement placed on your webpage regarding a ceramic engineer.  Am I in the right place?”
“Let me check into that for you Mr..?”
The name is Jones.  Doctor Walter Jones.”  The secretary took down his name and searched through her database to locate the correct contact liaison.
“OK, thanks.  You’ll be meeting with Doctor Randolph Frankenstein.”  The twisted look on the man’s face spoke volumes.  “Oh don’t be concerned.  That’s the normal response to his name.  And yes, we do actually have our own resident Doctor Frankenstein, but he prefers to be addressed as Hotwire.”
“Got it.”
“Have a seat and I’ll let him know that you’re here.  Can I get you something to drink while you wait?”  The well-dressed man waved her off with a smile and sat down to peruse the latest issue of Motorsport.  A short time later a buzzer went off at the secretary’s desk.  “Yes, doctor.  I’ll escort him in to see you.  Follow me, Dr. Jones.”
The pair passed through the security door and down the hallway to a door labeled Conference Room.  Upon entering, Dr. Jones was greeted by a younger man with wild hair wearing a white lab coat.  “Welcome, Doctor Jones. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. I am quite familiar with your work on the thermodynamics of organic ceramics.  Please have a seat.”
*     *     *     *
The mechanic looked around the newly retrofitted assembly line.  His expertise combined with the funding of the Headman had accomplished a somewhat impossible task in record time. The next stop on his checklist was to check the manufacturing machinery for the purification and refinement of the street drugs that the Headhunters were pedaling. His employer wanted to be able to synthesize his product as soon as possible since the costs of importing the raw materials or finished products from foreign countries were not only expensive but deadly to the overall life span us their potential clientele. As he passed through the doorway of the main processing room he was greeted by another familiar face.
“Oh, good afternoon.  You’re the Chemist...correct?”  The man dressed in a white lab coat and donning a surgical mask pulled it down from his mouth to address the other man.
“Yeah, that’s me.  It’s been a while, Mechanic.  Who would have thought ten years ago that we would still be working for Declan?  I was confident that he would have caught a bullet by now.”  The burlier rugged-looking man shrugged with indifference.
“Honestly, it makes little difference to me.  In this profession, you don’t get too attached to people and there will always be someone else willing to profit at the misfortune of another.  So, what’s your assessment of the machinery?  Does it meet your specifications?”
“I’ve only just started to look them over, but this is leaps and bounds above anything I’ve observed with the competition.  This is some high-end hardware.”
“Well, the boss did say to spare no expense.  So, can I assume at the moment that everything is status quo in the department?”  The chemist picked up a clipboard from a nearby counter and glanced over it quickly before replying.
“Do we have an ETA on the centrifuge and crystallization extractors? Without them, I can’t fully evaluate the workings.”  The Mechanic nodded and checked the screen of his cellular device.  After several moments of scrolling, he too replied.
“DHL shipping report says they’re in transit with a delivery time between two and six this afternoon.”
“Alright, I’ll send someone up with the equipment to find you once they have arrived.  So, if you would excuse me I need to see to some other things.  Good seeing you.”  The mechanic offered his hand to shake, but the chemist politely declined.
“No offense buddy, but I don’t do handshakes.  It’s a lab thing.” Once again the mechanic shrugged and exited the room.  His checklist listed the lower levels, the wi-fi access, and the fueling station outside.  It was going to be another long day.  He closed his eyes envisioning how nice it was going to be once this project was complete and he was relaxing with a cold alcoholic beverage in hand on a beach in Bora Bora for the next three months.  He loved his job.
*     *     *     *
“So Doctor Jones, I am interested in hearing your thoughts on using industrial strength ceramics in an organic capacity.  The job focuses on and around the development of biodegradable containers to store and deliver fertilizers and insecticides gradually over a typical growing season.  We hope to be the first company to do this in an ecologically-friendly and conservative way.  The idea is to make something that will leave behind no harmful contaminants.”
Burnout tried to convey as much interest in the project as possible.  The job sounded dreadful compared to the work he regularly did.  The speed junky preferred automobiles and motorcycles and had dabbled in ceramic engineering to produce parts for weight reduction, but never in this capacity.  He began to wonder if he would be able to feign his skills and actually land the job, but Zandar had successfully created a fully-searchable online persona just in case this opportunity ever arose.  The Dreadnok nation was always planning ahead.
“That is a truly ambitious undertaking on the part of Bacro Industries and something that I would be excited to partake in.  I have done some research using chitin-based sealers that breakdown in the presence of 45% or more humidity.  I could envision one of these substances being used to contain the substance.  The challenge will come from the proper pairing of the container and the delivery system so that they don’t contaminate or deactivate each other.”
“Interesting idea, but don’t worry Doctor Jones.  Man, this is really weird.  Do you mind if I call you Indiana?” The undercover Dreadnok infiltrator smirked...he almost expected the comment at some time from the overly eccentric interviewer.
“Whatever, but if you start throwing a ball and asking me to fetch it, we’re going to have a problem.”
“Fair enough.  So when can you start? Is tomorrow too soon?”  Burnout was partially surprised and it showed on his face. “I’m kidding, of course, I still have to run your credentials passed the big guy.  He has the final say on all things hiring.”  Burnout nodded his understanding while regaining his composure.  “Give me a day or two and I’ll be in touch.  I have a good feeling about you Indy.”
The make-believe Doctor Jones extended his hand to his host. “I look forward to hearing from you.”  The interview ended with the two men shaking hands and Hotwire showing him to the door.  Chitin-based water-soluble sealants.  That’s ingenious!  Why hadn’t I thought of that? The biochemist was truly intrigued by the prospects.  If this was his idea for the proposed agricultural project, what other ideas might he have in regards to the F.A.C.E. program?

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Current works

Good day fellow readers,

      I am writing to you all today to provide you with some insight as to my current projects.  My novel (working title) "the End of Realms, is still being reviewed by a potential publishing company.  In the meantime, I have been working tediously on four additional manuscripts.
     Book Three of the Armed and Dangerous series in coming along nicely.  I am trying to tie up all the loose ends that the previous two books have created.  PFC Kordos is back, this time as an active member of the DEF, a division of the G.I.Joe team created to tackle the threat of the various drug cartels stationed around the world.  The main threat is that of the Headhunters, led by the infamous Headman.  Expect cameo appearances from Cobra Commander, the Dreadnoks, and even the Eco-Warriors.  This will be the final chapter in the story arc and hopefully, leave room for future stand-alone stories.
      In addition to G.I.Joe fan fiction, I have also been working on a second book to continue the adventures of Jeff Larson, the last Golden Lancer, and the hero featured in my fantasy novel.  My opinion is this: Once you finish one story, the next one is simply waiting to be written.  With just over six chapters written, it is shaping up nicely.
      I have also been toying around with a Christmas Carol type tale as well as a new children's story about a pet tarantula.
     Well enough about me for now.


Monday, May 13, 2019

Society's Cesspool Chapter 2 Book 3

                                                                        Chapter 2

The hit had been thorough and after several hours of investigation, fifteen bodies were recovered from on or around the pier.  Three additional bodies had been dredged out of the bay. Many of the victim’s remains showed fewer than two bullet wounds, and two of the cadavers had their brains splattered by what was most likely a sniper rifle.
“This was a planned assault and ambush. Body armor or not, these men never stood a chance.”  Bulletproof placed a laser-emitting device on the ground and adjusted its trajectory to match the suspected flight plan of the headshot that had dropped the body laying before him.  “There were two well-concealed sniper nests. One there, the other one there.” He swung the laser beam and allowed it to land on the two sights while instructing Shockwave and Claymore to inspect the areas for any other clues as to the identities of the shooters.  “They planned for every possible scenario. Including their enemy's possible escape plan.”  He then pointed to a dead body slumped over the steering wheel of the speedboat still fastened to the lower pier.  
A few minutes later, Shockwave returned with several spent bullet casings in his hands. “I found several more of those distinct bullet casings up there. Each has the engraving HH on it.”
HH? I’ll eat my flack vest if that doesn’t stand for the Headhunters. Are they really that arrogant?”  Mayday inquired.  
“You’ve seen the footage pulled by Bombstrike.  Do you need any other affirmation?  The Headman is a pompous and arrogant individual.  He would want everyone to know that his organization had taken out the Vargus Syndicate.  He’s sending them all a clear message.”
“What’s that?  That he’s a fashion disaster?”  Muskrat’s joke elicited a slight chuckle from those in attendance, but little more.
“Be that as it may.  He clearly isn’t hiding this hit and truth be told, if this is his level of accuracy, then he’s more dangerous than ever.”  The Major’s solemn response was supported by sheer body count alone.
Bulletproof, I found some more of those DHM bullet casings behind these crates.”  The team went over to investigate “This appears to be the escape route used by the Headman and Gristle.  The trail of spent casings continues off to the left and then back into the center of the road.  Tire marks match that of a Lincoln Navigator with twenty-two-inch tires. Luxurious, but still able to blend in easily with the neighborhood. The other vehicle as you can see, a top-of-the-line Cadillac Escalade, never left the meeting zone.” Cutter’s assessment made sense.
“If you ask me, it looks more like swiss cheese.”
“Again with the jokes Muskrat?  Did anyone find any identification on any of these other goons?”
“What can I say, Major?  It’s just who I am.”
“Anyone else?”
“Negative Major.  The last guy didn’t even have fingerprints.”  Longarm’s response unnerved the veteran soldier.
“Well, we know that these two unfortunate souls are Manual Vargus and his little brother, Victor.  These guys have been on the DEA’s radar for nearly a decade, but we have no record of the rest of these guys.”
“They’re probably just hired muscle.  Come on Bulletproof, it’s not all bad.  Maybe the Headhunters did us all a favor by taking these guys out.”
“I’d like to agree with you, Muskrat, but this isn’t good.  With the Vargus Syndicate out of the picture, the stage is now set for a turf war involving rival drug factions for control of their area.  We also don’t know who, if anyone from the Vargus Syndicate, survived this bloodbath. Any survivors will most likely regroup and seek revenge.
I would wager that the Headman is far from done here and will be making another play for dominance over the region if he isn’t already orchestrating another hit as we speak.  Bombstrike, where are we with the satellite tracking?”
The attractive blonde-haired, forward observer looked up briefly from her computer screen to address the Major’s question.  “Give me another couple of minutes to splice all of this together for you, sir.” She went back to clicking away on her keyboard.  “Laserbeams! I got it! Take a look at this. By triangulating the signal of the twelve tactical and government satellites in the area, and downloading their content which I ran through using a face and vehicle-recognition algorithm.”
“Layman's terms Bombstrike, please.”
“Alright, alright. I forgot that you guys don’t speak my lingo.  I was able to piece together a time-lapse video of the Lincoln Navigator’s route after it left the gunfight.”
“Well, let’s see it.  Where did our suspects end up?”  
“The last piece of footage I was able to retrieve put the vehicle heading east on Route 80, crossing the GWB and heading into Connecticut.  But, that wasn’t before they made a pit stop about eight blocks from here.”
“Excellent work, Bombstrike!  Do you have a twenty?”
“No, but what I do have is a satellite image of the building they entered and when they came back out.”  The technical prowess of the computer hacker had given the team a clear view of the last place the Headman and his cronies had been.  “Upon cross-referencing the image with real estate information and known databases of property sales, I was able to determine that the building landlord was none other than our dearly-departed dastardly drug demon, Manual Vargas.  I love alliteration!”
Many in close proximity to the final comment rolled their eyes.
“The address please?”
“Oh yeah, 248 Port Street.”
“Well, that means one of two things.”  Bulletproof’s glance was enough to refocus the team and was stern in his delivery.
“Yeah, that’s either the location of our next crime scene or where we’ll find Headman’s newest allies.”  I was quick in my assessment of the situation and the other members of the D.E.F. nodded in agreement.  
“We’ll need to get a tactical team over to that address pronto.  If there’s anyone there that’s still alive, they might be able to help us piece together the next steps in the Headhunter’s plan.