Yeah, I've been scarce of late. But I've got a good excuse. See, I've been writing. A lot. It all started about a month ago. I got an e-mail from a friend of mine. He said he wanted a story for his new magazine—something hardboiled, noir—and he wanted it to be a long one. And okay, I'd never written a short longer than 6,500 words, but I'm not one to turn down a writing gig. Three weeks later, I crossed the finish line on "The Hitter," a big, sprawling, man-I-hope-epic tale of violence, loss, and redemption. How big, you ask? (Yes, I know you didn't ask. It's a rhetorical device; roll with it.) Just a hair over 11,000 words. It turns out, I kinda dug sinking my teeth into such a long story. It felt more novelistic in its construction, in its characterization, in its scope, than any of my other shorts. But it was still leaner and more economical than a novel. Fingers crossed "The Hitter" is as fun to read as it was to write, because it'