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Friday, February 22, 2013



The young engineer, who eventually became known to us as the Mad Bomber, didn’t immediately announce his presence.

He and his wife moved in while we were taking a three-day vacation in Mexico so we never actually set eyes on them. Rent checks were shoved under the door in the dark of night. Or at least they were there when I got up in the morning, which was pretty early since I had to be at work at six. The windows to the engineer’s ground-floor apartment were always covered – not with flags, thank God, but with madras bedspreads from Pier One Imports, which was just starting out in those days and their stuff was relatively cheap.

I wasn’t concerned at first, because as it turned out my new tenant was not only an aerospace engineer, he was also a super specialist in rare and exotic metals, including theoretical space metals. There were maybe twenty, thirty people in the whole damned world who knew what the guy knew about rare metals – titanium being the most common of those exotics. He also could work them, cut them, bore, or drill them with a precision few people on the planet could match.

He made a helluva good living, but he and his wife had some unfortunate habits that tended to keep them short of dough.

For a time there were no problems to speak of. The rent was paid semi on time and the couple, who eventually became known to me as Mr. and Mrs. Mad Bomber, kept to themselves. I never saw them outdoors, day or night. As time went by, however, I occasionally heard loud bangs in the alley that concerned me, but not so much as to go out to investigate.

In those days it wasn’t that uncommon for Venice people to engage in activities that might cause inappropriate bangs. They also painted dirty words and rebellious comments on walls and when they got behind the wheels of their cars, or sat on their motorcycles, they tended to burn rubber without apparent rhyme or reason.

If a cop tried to stop them they just scooted for the Venice Canal zone where it was unsafe for police officers to be in squad car groups of less than three.

Bottom line: there was a lot of built up tension that had everything to do with the war, which, as I said before, was now the longest in U.S. history. The death toll was rising, as was the draft toll. Every other day or so it was my job to call people’s parents and ask them how they felt about their kid being killed in Vietnam.

 I also wrote a regular monthly article detailing the draft call-up in my newspaper’s circulation area – which ran from LA Airport to the Malibu/Ventura line and from Santa Monica to Beverly Hills. You won’t be surprised if I tell you that not too many kids were drafted out of the Beverly Hills or Malibu postal zones, but a whole lot of them got the call in Culver City, Mar Vista, Venice, etc. Poor men’s sons were first. Middle class next.

If you were male and had money to go to college you stayed there as long as you could, switching majors at the drop of a hat, but keeping the workload over 13½ units and your grades “C” or better, because otherwise they’d draft your butt and send it off for the Viet Cong to shoot at. For medical reasons involving being shot in the line of CIA brat duty, as well as for the fact that I was responsible for a wife, an infant child and a teenage boy, I was relatively draft-proof.

So, I had good reason to ignore the occasional bang, shout or squeal of tires. Then one Monday (I was generally off Sundays and Mondays) there was a yee-hola explosion that rattled the windows, shook the doors and knocked loose plaster from the ceiling.

Tasha raced to the front door, barking at whatever might be outside. Carol ran down the stairs, Jason in her arms, and got in the kitchen doorway thinking it was an earthquake. It was a school day, so Charlie wasn’t there.

I knew it was no earthquake and I glanced out the window to see Roger and Jack racing for our front door. They knocked. Tasha roared. And I got hold of her and pulled her back to let them in.

“It was the Mad Bomber,” Roger panted, slamming the door behind him.

I’m sure my jaw dropped, because I found myself wishing I possessed a hydraulic device to lift it from the floor.

“The Mad Who?” I demanded.

Jack rolled his eyes. “Jesus, Rog,” he said, “didn’t you tell him about the Mad Bomber?”

Roger took to slapping his pockets, looking for cigarettes, studiously avoiding my eyes.

“Apparently not, Jack,” I said, turning to him. “For some reason, neither did you.”

Jack shrugged. “We flipped for it,” he said. “Rog lost.”

I took a deep breath. “Okay, then,” I said. “Who is the Bomber and why is he mad?”

Roger said, “He’s the guy in the Nip kids’ apartment and he’s not pissed at anybody so much as he is… well… some of his head bolts aren’t on but finger tight, you know?”

I shook my head. “No, I don’t know,” I said. “Explain, please.”

Jack said, “He likes to experiment with homemade explosives and timing devices. So, in his spare time he builds them in his apartment then tests them in the alley -  or at the beach, if he isn’t sure how big the boom will be.”

I said, “From what just happened in the alley, he’s not always that right on when it comes to boom size.”

Roger giggled. He was starting to enjoy this. “No, he’s not,” he said. “I keep him company sometimes. Shit, Al, the more you learn about explosives, the more interesting it gets. I mean, fuck, you don’t ever really know what’s gonna happen. I mean, he hits the switch and it’s fuckin’ ‘bombs away,’ man.”

A small voice echoed, “Fuckin’ bombs away, man.” It was my six-month old son, who thought Roger was the greatest thing since well-gnawed zwieback.

Carol, who was not that fond of Roger but had soft spot for Jack, said, “It’s all your fault, Rog.”

Nonplussed, Rog giggled. Jack blushed and said in a low voice, “Sorry, Carol. I should have mentioned something.”

Never mind that shit, the full knowledge of what had happened on my watch was sinking in.

“You mean, he’s got explosives in his apartment?” I asked, voice trembling. “And he’s… he’s… experimenting with them?”

“Yeah,” Rog said. “He’s pretty careful, though. Does everything just so. Even when he’s been on meth for a few days, his hands barely shake.”

If there are any words to express just how aghast I was, they were lost in prehistoric times when saber-toothed beasts hunted my small furry ancestors. “He’s a meth freak?” I gobbled, levels of anxiety bursting every emotional barometer in existence. “He’s got fucking bombs – bombs that he’s playing with - and he’s a fucking meth freak?”

“Fucking meth freak,” little Jason chortled. “Fuck, fuck, fucking meth freak.”

Carol, pale as a ghost, only rocked him back and forth. “Don’t say, fuck, Jason,” she said absently. “It’s not nice.”

Roger said, “It’s not all that bad, Al. He’s mostly under control.”

“Roger’s right,” Jack said. “After he goes missing from work for a few days they send somebody down to straighten him out. A company doctor. They give him shots, take him to a Russian bathhouse and steam him out. Then he’s good as new.”

“And the explosives in his apartment?” I asked.

Jack shrugged. “Well, there’s that,” he admitted. “But I’ve been talking to him about improved safety procedures and he’s really interested.”

“Yeah,” Rog said. “We could safety-proof him in no time.”

“Why are you guys on his side?” I wanted to know.

Jack and Roger looked at each other.

Rog shrugged, then grinned, saying, “Fuck, Al, he’s fun.”

Jack said, “He offered to rebuild the engine of my hearse.” Then he shrugged, “Besides, if anybody messes with him, he might get really pissed and blow up the whole block.”

Roger grimaced. “There is that,” he said.

I took many deep breaths, calming myself. The effort was helped along by Roger who quickly lit a chubby and let me Bogart way more than my share.

Finally, I said, “Let’s think this through. First, does he really in fact have enough explosives to blow up the whole block?”

Roger and Jack looked at each other. Roger nodded at Jack - the science guy - to take point. “Technically, no. He’s usually pretty careful about staying more or less within the certain boundaries about the amount of explosives he has on hand.

"When he gets real stoned, of course, that can change. And then there’s the fact that he can turn anything you have under your kitchen sink or garden shed into an explosive, so…. Non-technically… yes.”

Roger said, “Course, his old lady likes to load her own ammunition, so you also got all that gunpowder around.”

He saw the look of horror on my face and quickly added, “Don’t worry, Al. She can’t shoot worth shit. She just likes to go bang at things when she’s comin’ down from the meth.”

“Look at it this way, Al,” Jack said. “The aerospace industry says these people are perfectly respectable. The Mad Bomber is a super engineer, but a little crazy. You know, funny in the head, as they said in Dr. Strangelove. But he’s our kind of funny in the head. He’s on our side. Against the bad guys. Against the fascist pigs and the draft boards and, and, well all those shit heads.’

Roger took one look at me and said, “Shut the fuck up, Jack. You’re not making Al feel any better.” Then, turning to me, he said, “The main thing is, Al, when you’re around him don’t make sudden moves. He’s into meth, and reds when he needs to come down, and he’s paranoid as shit. If you call the pigs they’ll come creepin’ around like before with the Nip kids and he’ll fuckin’ freak. We don’t want that, do we?”

Carol broke in, saying, “I don’t want a crazy man with bombs living next door to my child, and that’s that.”

Roger sighed and patted Jason on the head. “I thought about the rug rat,” he said. “That’d be fucked… messin’ up my little buddy, you know?” He made motions with his fists at Jason, who beamed, making tiny fists and swinging them in Roger’s direction.

Roger went on, “I looked at your back wall, and with the other apartment building in between, I don’t think you’d be hit much.” He frowned as if thinking over calculations. “Just keep the little ankle biter’s crib away from the windows,” he said.

When he saw the look of alarm on Carol’s face, he raised his hands. “Not that anything’s gonna happen. That’s good advice for earthquakes, too. Never put a rug rat under a window, unless you want to cut down on the population.”

Carol said something unladylike, then stomped past us and ran up stairs. Roger looked after her, amused. “Guess you ain’t getting’ laid tonight, Al,” he said.

Jack snorted. “That’s not fair, Roger,” he said. “Carol has every reason to be concerned about her child.”

Roger shrugged, then said, “What’re you gonna do, Al?”

I said, “What can I do except leave it alone for now? Wait and see what develops.”

Jack said, “A wise decision.” But I noticed him looking wistfully up the stairs.

After that I got out a cigar box of the Korean dope, handed around some pipes and we smoked a few bowls while listening to the new Rolling Stones album, “Let It Bleed.”

Just to bug Jack for not clueing me in about the Mad Bomber, I played, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

But this was small satisfaction, indeed. I still had to deal with the Mad Bomber. But when? And how? I mean, I didn’t want him blow up the whole block. I had all my friends there, you know?

Once again I decided that there was nothing to do but let it sit for a time.

Into this mix arrived two topless dancers and Country Joe and the Fish.



COMING MARCH 15-17: THE SECOND ANNUAL EMPIRE DAY Celebration! Fan Fiction Invited. Kilgour Jokes, New Recipes From The Emp, Commando Tips From Sten. Plus Prizes Galore! Click Here For Details

During the Vietnam war, GIs who managed to survive their tour of duty were flown home in chartered airliners, which they called “Freedom Birds.” This is the story of three young men – from  wildly different backgrounds – who meet on such a plane and make a pact to spend three days together in San Francisco. Their goal: to spend every cent of  their mustering out money in a party of  a lifetime. And they’ll get more than they bargained for: because when they land, it is July 1967 – in a time that would come to be known as “The Summer Of Love.” A place and time where each young man will have to confront the ghosts who followed them home from the jungles of Vietnam and contemplate a future none of them had imagined. 


The entire 8-novel landmark science fiction series is now being presented in three three giant omnibus editions from Orbit Books.  The First - BATTLECRY - features the first three books in the series: Sten #1; Sten #2 -The Wolf Worlds; and Sten #3, The Court Of A Thousand Suns. Next: JUGGERNAUT, which features Sten #4, Fleet Of The Damned; Sten #5, Revenge Of The Damned; and Sten #6, The Return Of The Emperor. Finally, there's DEATHMATCH, which contains Sten #6, Vortex; and Sten #7, End Of Empire. Click on the highlighted titles to buy the books. Plus, if you are a resident of The United Kingdom, you can download Kindle versions of the Omnibus editions. Which is one clot of a deal!
Here's the Kindle link for BATTLECRY
Here's the Kindle link for JUGGERNAUT
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Two new companion editions to the international best-selling Sten series. In the first, learn the Emperor's most closely held  cooking secrets. In the other, Sten unleashes his shaggy-dog joke cracking sidekick, Alex Kilgour. Both available as trade paperbacks or in all major e-book flavors. Click here to tickle your funny bone or sizzle your palate.  



Venice Boardwalk Circa 1969
In the depths of the Sixties and The Days Of Rage, a young newsman, accompanied by his pregnant wife and orphaned teenage brother, creates a Paradise of sorts in a sprawling Venice Beach community of apartments, populated by students, artists, budding scientists and engineers lifeguards, poets, bikers with  a few junkies thrown in for good measure. The inhabitants come to call the place “Pepperland,” after the Beatles movie, “Yellow Submarine.” Threatening this paradise is  "The Blue Meanie,"  a crazy giant of a man so frightening that he eventually even scares himself. Here's where to buy the book. 


Diaspar Magazine - the best SF magazine in South America - is publishing the first novel in the Sten series in four 
episodes. Part One and Part Two appeared in back-to-back issues. And now Part Three has hit the virtual book stands.  Stay tuned, for the grand conclusion. Meanwhile, here are the links to the first three parts. Remember, it's free!

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