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  • Written by Tamara Siler Jones
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List Price: $6.99


On Sale: October 25, 2005
Pages: 0 | ISBN: 978-0-553-90203-7
Published by : Spectra Ballantine Group
Threads of Malice Cover

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fantasy (37) mystery (22) fiction (18) ghosts (7) thriller (4)
fantasy (37) mystery (22) fiction (18) ghosts (7) thriller (4)


In this relentlessly gripping thriller, Compton Crook Award winner Tamara Siler Jones weaves together her unique blend of fantasy, forensics, and suspense to create a world terrorized by a killer out of our darkest nightmares. Now one man must follow a trail of savaged victims to save an innocent life hanging by the slimmest of hopes.…

One by one, young men in the kingdom’s outer reaches are vanishing into the dark. So far, two bodies have washed up on the local riverbank. But Dubric Byerly, head of security at Castle Faldorrah, soon realizes there are countless more victims…for it’s his curse to be forever haunted by the ghosts of those whose deaths demand justice.

The latest to vanish is Braoin, a seventeen-year-old painter whose mother came to Dubric’s aid when he most needed it. All Dubric knows is that the boy is still alive. But time is running out, and it isn’t only Braoin’s life hanging in the balance. If Dubric can’t untangle the twisted web of clues and lies and find his way to the killer, one of his own pages will be the next to die.…


Chapter 1

Braoin saw strings.

They streamed from somewhere above, dangling before his eyes. Black and shining in reflected firelight, they rustled in the slightest breeze and hung before him, just out of reach.

Not that he could move his hands to try to touch them. He felt like immovable sludge, thick and heavy and still. He lay on his belly, his head balanced upright on his chin, his muscles lax and uncooperative. He blinked and time strung away from him, fading to a dark river.

When he dragged his eyes open again the black strings had disappeared and his view had changed.

His head rested on its side and he stared at his right hand--at least it looked like his right hand, with paint on his knuckles as he remembered, but it lay slumped on a board like a dead slab of meat. Beyond it he saw only shifting darkness. He took a breath, determined to stay awake, and tried to move his fingers. One finger, the smallest, twitched, but the rest remained still.

Goddess, I've never been this drunk, he thought, letting his eyes fall closed again as he tried to think. He remembered eating supper with his aunt's family, but he'd had to leave before sunset, had to get home early because . . .

The dark! His eyes blinked open. His paint-stained right hand and his bare wrist and forearm lay still; there was no reaction when he tried again to move his fingers. He could not lift his head nor move his legs, which hung free beneath his hips. His nude upper body lay chest-down on a hard, scratchy surface, his arms were bare, and his back and shoulders felt cold. Braoin could tell from the breeze on his toes and testicles that he no longer wore his boots, or his pants.

No, no, no! Desperate to move, he forced a twitch through his dead fingers. A spasm gripped his hand, flipping it off the board like a fish out of a bucket.

"Waking, eh," a man's voice whispered from the dark. "Was afeared of that. Quit yer kicking if ye know what's good for ye."

"Let me go, please," Braoin said, his tongue thick. It sounded like "Eh ee ogh, eeh."

A sigh. "Talking ain't gonna make it no better." Fingers gripped Braoin's left ankle, then pain sliced around it, holding it fast, as the man tied him tight.

Braoin pleaded in nonsense syllables while the man moved on to fasten his right foot.

"Shh. He's coming."

Something moved far behind Braoin, something big and lumbering. "Don't talk to it," a second voice said with a low, threatening growl.

A mumbled apology, then Braoin heard steps hurry away.

He heard nothing for a long time, nothing but the rhythmic rush of blood in his ears. Try as he might, he could not move, and he saw only a long length of board leading into the dark.

A thick-bellied man in black robes walked into Braoin's line of sight. He reached down and lifted Braoin's escaped hand, slamming it on the board.

Braoin swallowed and tried to plead, but only terrified guttural whines escaped his throat.

Fat fingers wrapped black twine around the board and Braoin's wrist, holding his hand still and tying it tight. The man muttered a curse then walked toward Braoin's head.

Braoin cried out and tried to shake his head. Please, I'll do anything. I just want to go home.

The man grabbed Braoin's hair and yanked his head, wrenching it upright. "No, please." Braoin scrunched his eyes shut.

"Quiet! We're not allowed to play here." The man moved to the left, tying that hand as well, then he leaned close and whispered, dragging a finger up Braoin's bare arm, "Soon, though. I do so love to play, especially with lads like you. And I have the perfect place. Quiet and . . ." the fingertip moved across his bare shoulders and gouged into his spine as it scratched down toward his buttocks, ". . . private. Just you and me and the dark."

Held tight, Braoin prayed. He looked at the curtain of shining black strings hanging over the dais before him, and noticed slippered feet poking through. "Please," he said in his garbled, dead-tongue voice, raising his eyes and struggling to see the observer sitting above him. "Please let me go. I don't want to die. For Goddess' sake, I'm only seventee--"

The man slipped black twine around Braoin's neck and pulled, wrenching Braoin's head up and back. "Behold the master," he said, tightening the vise around Braoin's throat. "May he judge you worthy."

Braoin saw above the strings, above the slippered feet, until he could see his silent observer: a desiccated, nearly skeletal corpse holding a whip. Its long, dead teeth were gleaming and yellow and it grinned at Braoin while he was dragged into unconsciousness.

Dubric Byerly sat at his desk, his thoughts churning. An open letter lay before him from the mother of a member of the castle staff. After the murders the previous moon, her distraught daughter, the castle's morning cook, had journeyed home to fetch her family. Once there, in the dead of night, she had killed her children, then herself. The grieving grandmother wanted to know what had happened. What had drawn her beloved daughter to such despair. Why her daughter had killed herself. Why her son-in-law had done such terrible things.

These were not questions Dubric could answer.

He settled his mind and wrote a letter of condolence, expressing deep and heartfelt regret for the loss and offering to pay a stipend to ease the financial burden it wrought.

That done, he sealed the letter, set it aside for delivery, then sipped his tea.

The door burst open and Dubric started as Lars ran into the office. Gawky and tall as any lad on the cusp of manhood, Lars had cheeks that were flushed an urgent purple and his straw-colored hair was unkempt and windblown like a tousled halo. He smelled of mud and horse manure.

"Sir! We've received a messenger from the northern reach."

"What is it?" Dubric asked, standing.

Lars held Dubric's gaze. "A murder, sir, at least I believe that's what he's saying. He rode all night and he's terrified."

Not again, Dubric thought, groaning. Gathering his cloak, he followed Lars from the office.

By the time they reached the stables, Dubric had slopped a fair share of mud upon his boots and trousers. Flavin, the stable master, waited outside the door, crushing his hat in his hands. "The lad's nigh about spent," he said. "And his mule . . . I'll do what I can, but I ain't holding out hope, sir. Mules ain't meant to run like that. I've got Goudin walking her, but I can't tend her further 'til she cools."

Dubric nodded grimly and Lars opened the stable door for him.

Dubric's squire, Dien, knelt near an open stall door, holding a filthy, bleeding boy as the lad splattered Dien's boots and the straw on the ground with tendrils of vomit. Dien cradled the boy as if he could protect the lad from the horrors he had come to tell.

Dubric hurried toward them with Lars close behind. "What happened?"

"Not sure yet, sir," Dien said, patting the boy gently on the back as the retching eased. "Eachann hit his head and he's not making much sense. Someone killed, best as I can tell, from the northern reach. Beyond that, your guess is as good as mine. He's insisting he talk to you."

The stable door opened again and Otlee, Dubric's youngest page, ran through with physician Rolle behind him.

"Fetch him some water," Dubric said to Otlee.

"Yessir!" Otlee bobbed a quick bow and ran out of the stable.

Dubric approached the boy slowly, leaving Rolle plenty of room to work. "How old are you, son?"

The boy winced at the physician's touch. "Thirteen summers, m'lord, give er take. Never paid much 'tention."

"And your name is Eachann?"

"Yessir, I--" He grimaced, lurching away from the physician. "Cripes! Ye ain't gotta kill me, I'm a'ready half there!"

Dubric offered a consoling smile. "You were saying?"

"Geese, m'lord. I tends 'em." The physician touched Eachann's bleeding shoulder and the boy yelped again.

The physician grasped the boy's chin, holding him still while moving a finger in front of the boy's eyes. "As well as a variety of contusions, he has a dislocated shoulder, a broken ulna . . ." the finger dropped and Rolle leaned close to look into his patient's eyes, "and a concussion, apparently." He stood, sighing. "I do believe he will survive questioning, but please, get him bathed and into a warm bed as soon as possible. You have no business keeping him here in a stable."

Rolle gathered his things. "Send a runner to inform me when he's settled so I can set the arm and give him something for the pain. Until then, I leave him to your care."

"Thank you," Dubric said as Rolle walked past.

Wincing, Eachann cradled his broken arm and looked at Dubric. "Yer him, ain't ye? Lord Dubric hisself."

"Yes. What brings a battered goose farmer to my castle?"

Eachann looked up at Dien before returning his pained gaze to Dubric. "The dark, m'lord. T'was the dark."

"That's the same thing he's been telling me," Dien said, drawing his cloak higher over the boy's shoulders. "The fall rattled his brain."

Dubric knelt stiffly before them, his knee resting beside steaming vomit. "Why the dark, Eachann? What happened in the dark?"

"The dark, it took another one," Eachann said. "This time it was one I knew."

Dubric watched the boy's fingers clench into the fine wool of Dien's cloak, crushing it. "What do you mean the dark took another one? Who? Why did you come for me, and not an official messenger?"

"There's another gone, and yesterday they found someone, dead, spit up'n the river near Barrorise. My pa said someone hadta ride, I hadta ride, hadta get to the castle, to tell Lord Dubric about the dark. No matter how scared I was, I hadta tell. We ain't go no one else."

"You said another. How many have been taken by the dark?"

Eachann shuddered. "I dunno. Some. Lots. I hear stories 'bout the dark, how it's taking us, but it ain't never took no one I knew, nor spit one back b'fore."

Dubric rocked back, resting his weight on his heels. "Who was the latest taken?"

"Neighbor. Missus Maeve's boy. Name's Braoin."

Dien paled, holding Eachann closer. "No. Oh, Goddess, no."

Dubric looked at Dien. "You know this Braoin?"

Dien smoothed the boy's blood-stiffened hair. "Yes, sir. He's my wife's cousin, her aunt's son. Good lad, never one to cause trouble. Sarea and the girls have been there a phase helping her folks get ready for the planting festival. I never should have sent them alone."

Dubric stood, gently taking Eachann from Dien. "Lars, gather my things, find Otlee, and get ready to ride. Dien, tell Rolle I am taking Eachann to my suite. Meet me here in half a bell."

His two most trusted men nodded their acceptance and followed Dubric from the stable. As he helped the boy to the castle, the wind picked up. The air smelled like rain.

The gray sky had darkened when four grim riders crossed into the Reach. Spattered with mud and drenched from incessant drizzle, they rode into the village of Stemlow and drew their mounts to the golden warmth of a tavern.

"Otlee, bring the map," Dubric said as he tied his horse.

He entered the tavern first, his nose wrinkling at the stench of cheap tobacco. Farmers and laborers looked up, their suspicious glances taking in his official garments and ready sword. The lone barmaid, a scrawny woman with a pox-scarred face, slopped a drink over her hand as she stared at him, and the barkeep paled before returning to his duties.

Many patrons turned away when Dien's dark bulk filled the doorway. "Guess they don't get many travelers," he muttered.

Dubric pulled back the hood of his cloak. "Likely not. If memory serves, this village is little more than a mark on the map." He led his men to an empty table far from the welcome heat of the fire, maneuvering between groups of grumbling men.

The barmaid followed them with a pitcher of ale and four tankards.

"Tea for the boy, and four bowls of whatever is hot," Dubric said.

"Rabbit an' dumplin's, m'lord," she replied. He nodded and she hurried off, leaving them in peace.

"Let us see where we are." Dubric spread Otlee's map on the table. He looked to Dien. "Your family is in Tormod?"

"A couple of miles north, sir," Dien said. "At Sarea's parents' farm. But her aunt Maeve lives in Falliet."

Dubric tapped both points on the map, Tormod almost due north along a road curving slightly to the northeast, Falliet closer but northwest. "We cannot reach both tonight. The road through Falliet pulls too far west, surely two bells' extra ride."

"Yes, sir." Dien frowned at the map. "Nearly three bells more with two rivers forded along that route. The road through Barrorise and its bridge give a far quicker ride. To Tormod, at least."

Lars wiped ale foam from his lips. "So what do we do?"

"We separate." Dubric returned the map to Otlee. "Dien must see to his family, whereas I must investigate the death without delay."

The barmaid brought Otlee his tea. "Beggin' yer pardon, m'lord, but I overheard ye talkin'. The boys maybe oughta stay here if they can. 'Tis not safe up north."

Dubric noted her thin, worn hands, ragged apron, and earnest worry. "You have heard of the death in Falliet?"

"Pah," she said, rocking back and rubbing her arms as if she felt a sudden chill. " 'Tain't just Falliet, but most all the Reach. Us'n Bendas are the only ones to not lose younguns, far as I know. We hear the stories, m'lord, and keep 'em dear."

Dubric sipped his ale, grateful for the warmth filling his belly. "What stories?"

" 'Tis the towns along the rivers sufferin' so, m'lord. Somethin's happenin' with the dark an' the water. Kiddies disappear in the rain er headin' to the well, an' Goddess knows ain't no child allowed to go fishin' no more, even in broad daylight. Atro the peddler done come through here a phase er two back. He said he saw the dark reach out an' take a boy, an' the boy never even screamed. Was there, then he was gone. 'Tain't safe fer yer boys, m'lord. Not on a rainy night like this."

Lars regarded her over his mug of ale and said nothing. Otlee held the map case in his thin, ink-stained hands and sat a little taller. "I'm not afraid."

"Mayhap ye oughta be." The barmaid glanced over her shoulder to the bar. Waving an affirmation, she turned back to Dubric. "We don't let rooms, m'lord, but I can tell Earl to give ye one, if'n ye want. His daughter got hitched last moon an' her room's still empty. Be tight sleepin', but the boys'd be safe."
Tamara Siler Jones|Author Q&A

About Tamara Siler Jones

Tamara Siler Jones - Threads of Malice
Tamara Siler Jones lives in Iowa with her family. An avid mystery reader, this is her third novel, continuing the series that began with Ghosts in the Snow, and its main sleuth Dubric Byerly.

Author Q&A

Interview Between Marc Giller and Tamara Siler Jones

SPECTRA PULSE asked newcomers Tamara Siler Jones (THREADS OF MALICE) and Marc Giller (HAMMERJACK) to interview each other, in their own words.

Tamara Siler Jones: I've noticed that your writing is very visual yet not description-heavy. Did your experience writing screenplays help with that? Do you see your stories like movies in your head?

Marc Giller: Screenplays are a really different animal, because–unlike novels–the story is carried entirely by dialogue and action.  This forces you, as a writer, to be more economical and distill the story down to its basic elements.  I think that influence shows in my novels, which tend to be quite visual and follow the same three-act structure of a screenplay–but novels are a lot more fun, because you have a bigger playground to run around in.  It’s easier to get inside your characters’ thoughts and emotions, and the vision is uniquely your own.

I’ve always pictured my stuff on a big silver screen in my imagination–but as an author, you get to be writer, producer, director and production designer all rolled into one.  Not a bad job, really.

TSJ: In HAMMERJACK you mention the evolution of man and machine and natural selection. Why did you choose to explore this scientific premise along with the religious themes of ascension? What sorts of catalysts brought you to this type of story?

MG: I’ve always been fascinated by the line between science and religion, and how much that line has blurred in a modern age.  People usually think of religion in terms of some unseen deity–but these days, religion can be based on just about anything:  political affiliation, environmentalism, economics, you name it.  All have their own initiation, dogma and sacred rites–and many have their own forms of extremism as well.  HAMMERJACK takes that to the next logical extent, where technology becomes the focus of a new religion and mankind its own messiah.

TSJ: You have two small children (and a wife and a dog).  How do you juggle writing time with family responsibilities?

MG: Nothing happens until the kids are in bed!  That’s really the only way I can work, because everything is just so crazy the rest of the time.  My wife is a dedicated mom, and her commitment is what makes everything possible.  Without her, I’d be tapping out stream-of-consciousness books in a padded room somewhere.

TSJ: Tell us about your fans - the best part and the drawbacks.

MG: I’ve been lucky enough to hear from several people who have read and enjoyed HAMMERJACK.  They’ve just been fabulous, along with the rest of the science-fiction community.  A writer couldn’t ask for a more passionate group of readers, or a smarter one for that matter.  As for drawbacks–well, nobody’s offered to buy me a beer yet.  Maybe at the next Worldcon…

TSJ: You work in IT, and you write at home. How do you manage all that computer time?

MG: A RAM upgrade might help.  Or a faster hard drive.  The real problem is parsing out network bandwidth to relieve the bottlenecks from all those requests to the SQL server.

Ummm. . .what was the question again?

TSJ: What does your wife think of this writing job?  Your extended family?

MG: Everybody in the family is really jazzed about it.  Since I’ve been trying to get published for so long, I imagine one or two might have thought, “Well, it’s about time!

Seriously, though–unless you’re a hermit, you’re not going to succeed in this business without support on the home front.  My wife, my in-laws and especially my parents have shown unwavering faith over the years–and that makes all the difference in the world.

TSJ: What draws you to modern Science Fiction? What facets do you think it's lacking?

MG: I enjoy technology–but I’m also concerned that technology is developing faster than our culture’s ability to handle the implications.  Science-fiction is a perfect medium to ask some of those tough questions, not to mention work out vicarious fears about the uncertainties we face today.  The “modern” mold was a good fit, because it gave me the dark and gritty setting I needed to convey my story–not a dystopian world, but rather one that straddled the line between order and chaos.

Since I’m the new guy on the block, though, I won’t presume to criticize other authors.

TSJ: Who is your favorite author and why?

MG: I can’t really pin that down, because it all depends on what I’m in the mood to read.  A few of the names that come to mind, for various different reasons:  Stephen King, Michael Crichton, Tom Wolfe, Mark Bowen, Richard Morgan, Carl Hiaasen–the list goes on and on.

All have influenced me in one way or the other.  That’s the magic of reading! 

TSJ: What came as the biggest surprise when you became published?

MG: Getting the phone call that my book sold.  And pretty much everything since.

TSJ: All published writers have a writing horror story. What's yours?

MG: Sitting in a room full of producers trying to pitch ideas for Star Trek:  The Next Generation without having a heart attack.  I brought five different stories with me, and when it became clear they weren’t buying any of those I just started blurting out whatever popped into my head.

Funny aside:  One of those stories was about a society that cloned people for body parts, which ended up being the premise for that Michael Bay flick The Island.  Maybe I was on to something. . .or not.

What are your long term plans as a writer?

MG: To write full-time one of these days.

TSJ: What do you do in your spare time?

MG: Spare time?  What’s that?

TSJ: When at an ice cream shop, and no one's there to roll their eyes or remind you of your diet, what do you order?

MG: Whatever I want.  When you’re in the ice cream shop, all bets are off.

That said, I love the chocolate peanut-butter waffle cone.


Marc Giller: A lot of people imagine writers of dark fiction as tormented, possessed figures trying to exorcise their inner demons.  How do your readers react when they find out that you’re a happily married wife and mother with a cheerful Midwestern charm?

Tamara Siler Jones: Some react well. Others… not so well, but I enjoy playing with the dichotomy. In fact, I encourage it. For example, there are a group of folks dissecting my work who think I’m an atheist. I’m not, far from it, but if writing about a religion hating old man encourages that belief, that’s great! I do write to exorcise my demons. I also make these amazing chocolate chip caramel cookie bars. It’s an incredible thing to see the look on people’s faces when I talk about the art of decapitation then give away a quilt.  I love dichotomy. It’s just too cool!
MG: Have you ever written something so horrifying that you scared yourself?  Or something so twisted that you couldn’t bring yourself to let anyone read it?

TSJ: Nope, never scared myself. What I write barely scratches the dark rancid meat beneath the chipper surface. I do, however, forbid my daughter to read my work. I don’t think she needs to see such graphic depravity written by her own mother. Otherwise, I’ve never had a problem with people reading anything I’ve written.
MG: What draws you to mystery/mayhem in the stories you write?  And why do you think readers are fascinated with such subjects?

TSJ: I write them because that’s how I’m wired, but I think people are fascinated with the darker tales because of our primitive lizard brains, that little instinctual piece that remains. It’s the same reason people rubberneck at car accidents and are riveted to horrifying news stories. There’s something visceral and compelling about horrific images and situations — especially if they’re happening to someone else. And to then figure out how and why? That taps into our innate curiosity as well.

MG: Forensic fantasy is an incredibly unique concept.  When you started writing GHOSTS IN THE SNOW, was that what you set out to create–or did the story kind of lead you in the direction it wanted to go?

TSJ: Actually, I didn’t set out to do anything other than tell a good story. GHOSTS happened all on its own and I just sort of fell into this forensic fantasy niche afterwards. It’s my editor’s fault, actually. GHOSTS started as the beginning of an epic fantasy with mystery undertones. She read the manuscript, saw that shining nugget, and had me re-write nearly the whole thing. She’s great!
MG: How do you view the role of violence in a book, particularly of the graphic variety?

TSJ: Oh boy. It depends. Sometimes it’s appropriate, sometimes it’s gratuitous. I am not a good judge of where that line is. Really. I’m delighted to have lots of Texas Chainsaw Massacre moments in my narrative and I’m very thankful that smarter, calmer people can confidently tell me when I’ve gone too far. Personally, I have yet to read anything that was too much for me and I have some pretty gruesome reading material. It’s all a matter of context. Thomas Harris is a master of gore and Lecter wouldn’t be the same without the viciousness, but to have Miss Marple stare down an axe-wielding psycho is just wrong. Cool, but wrong.
MG: Have you ever imagined yourself as any one of your characters?  How would you feel about living (or vacationing) in the world you’ve created?

TSJ: Heh. I might be crazy, but I’m not that crazy.  No, I’ve never imagined I was a character. I do dream about them, yes, but always watching them. As for vacationing there… I’m not that crazy either.
MG: How does your writing routine work?  And how do you handle the temptation to procrastinate?

TSJ: I’m a stay-at-home wife and mom, so my days are spent doing wife/mom stuff along with research, internet socializing, story planning, marketing, coming up with something for the blog… things like that. Supper’s ready when the hubby gets home. After supper we run errands, handle homework… whatever. Then, after things settle down, I write. I write almost entirely at night, from about 8:00 pm until I get the quota, usually somewhere between midnight and 3:00 am. I’m generally up around 7:30 am. Who needs sleep?

Procrastination is a constant battle for me. Especially chatting. I know it’s trouble, but I love it so.
MG: Writing a novel is often a solitary experience, but publishing a novel involves some heavy collaboration.  What are your thoughts on the editor-author relationship, and how do they compare to your expectations before your first book sold?

TSJ: Pre Publication: I heard zillions of horror stories about those nasty people known as editors. They’re mean! They rip you to shreds! They shove storylines down your throat and take away your good bits and won’t let you use your own titles! Fear the Red Pen of Death!! Editors are eeeeevil!!
Post Sale:  Wow! This is pretty cool! She cuts right to the heart of it and… wow!

Post Publication: Thank God for my editor!

I can’t say enough great things about my editor. All my writer buddies are insanely jealous at how happy I am. I think, though, that a lot of the relationship is what you bring to it. I’m trying to craft the best book I can. She is too. She’s not my enemy, she’s my ally, and she knows what’s selling, what works, and what’s not. I think authors often get too wrapped into the “It’s my baby! How dare you say it has ugly hair!” syndrome. To me, it’s a story, a product, and she can see its failings much better than I can. So far, with two books under our belts, it’s been a blast.

MG: Notice any difference in the way people see you now that you’re a published author?  Have you had a “celebrity moment”?

TSJ: Yeah. First and foremost, people equate published author with incredibly rich.  Um, no. We actually have less money now since I quit work to do this full time. There have been several people who never used to give me the time of day but now hang on every word. That bothers me. A lot.

The strangest celebrity moment was this past summer at the grocery store. I live in a fairly rural area near a smallish town and one day, while the bagger kid is tossing sacks in the truck, he asked me what I did for a living.

“I’m a writer,” I said as I grab the next thing in the cart.

He stops, stares, and says, “Oh my God. That’s you?!? Science fiction, right? I heard we had a sci-fi writer out here.”

“Um, actually it’s fantasy mysteries.”

“Oh. My. God.”

I thought he was gonna faint.  He took 5 bookmarks, though.
MG: What’s the best date movie–a horror flick or a romantic comedy?

TSJ: Neither, because my date won’t go to them. Action flicks and Jackie Chan are the top picks.



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