Excerpt Reveal: ‘A Measure of Murder’ by Leslie Karst

Measure CoverTitle: A Measure of Murder

Genre: Mystery

Author: Leslie Karst

Website: http://www.lesliekarstauthor.com/

Publisher: Crooked Lane

Find out more on Amazon

About the Book:

Sally Solari’s plate is beyond full between juggling work at her family’s Italian restaurant, Solari’s, and helping plan the autumn menu for Gauguin, the restaurant she’s just inherited. Complicating this already hectic schedule, Sally joins a chorus, which is performing a newly discovered version of her favorite composition, the Mozart Requiem. But at the first rehearsal, a tenor falls to his death on the church courtyard—and his soprano girlfriend is sure it wasn’t an accident. Now Sally’s back on another murder case seasoned with a dash of revenge, a pinch of peril, and a suspicious stack of sheet music. And while tensions in the chorus heat up, so does the kitchen at Gauguin—set aflame when Sally starts getting too close to the truth. Can Sally catch the killer before she’s burnt to a crisp, or will the case grow as cold as yesterday’s leftovers?  When this unseemly stew of greed, jealously, secrets and lies threatens to boil over, Sally had better watch her step—because someone could get badly burned.  If Sally isn’t careful, her sleuthing could be a real recipe for disaster.

Intelligent, engaging, and peppered with wit, humor, and tantalizing twists and turns, A Measure of Murder is mesmerizing.  Leslie Karst serves up an irresistible tale resplendent with charming characters, a to-die-for setting, and decadent recipes.  Readers will blissfully lose themselves in this smartly plotted, delightfully detailed and sumptuously suspenseful story.  A Measure of Murder is a story to be savored from beginning to end.

karst headshot

About the Author: The daughter of a law professor and a potter, Leslie Karst learned early, during family dinner conversations, the value of both careful analysis and the arts—ideal ingredients for a mystery story. An ex-lawyer like Sally Solari, her sleuth, Leslie also has degrees in English literature and the culinary arts. Leslie and her wife, Robin, divide their time between Santa Cruz, California and Hilo, Hawaii. Leslie Karst is also the author of Dying for a Taste, which was released to rave reviews in 2016.

Connect with Leslie Karst on the Web:

http://www.lesliekarstauthor.com/

https://www.facebook.com/lesliekarstauthor/

https://twitter.com/ljkarst

http://www.lesliekarstauthor.com/blog

 

EXCERPT

At around eight-thirty, we got a whole slew of orders all at once for our special, poussin à la Grecque, and Javier moved me over to the charbroiler. We now had close to a full house, unusual for a Tuesday, and everyone was feeling the pressure caused by having only the minimal weeknight staff, made all the worse by Kris’ absence.

I was happy for the move to the charbroiler, to return to a station I felt more confident at. And as I stood there at the grill, flipping eight orders of spatchcocked game hens slathered in garlic and oregano and then basting them with lemon juice and olive oil, I felt focused and calm, oblivious to the tempest awhirl about me.

“Fire the rib-eyes for twelve!” Brandon shouted, poking his head through the pick-up window.

“Got it,” I answered and, grabbing one of the two steaks I’d taken from the cooler on seeing the ticket come in, threw it onto the back of the grill behind the hens. It would be the medium-rare order; the rare steak would go on a minute later.

I started to step back to give myself a respite from the intense heat blasting from the grill, but jumped forward again on hearing Javier’s voice call out, “Behind you!” The head chef scuttled past me and made his way to the end of the line, where he stood conferring with Brian.

Time for that second steak. I laid it next to the first, and then inspected my Cornish game hens. The two nearest looked done, so I pulled out the insta-read thermometer I keep clipped inside the breast pocket of my chef’s jacket and inserted it into their thighs: 166 and 167 degrees—perfect. Snagging the pair, I set them on two warm plates and handed them over to Reuben, who finished the entrées off with a mushroom and basmati rice pilaf and a stack of thinly-sliced roasted zucchini and eggplant. He had just passed the plates through the pick-up window to Brandon when there was a shout from the other end of the kitchen.

“Fire!”

I turned toward the voice, wondering if the shouter was upset about an order of mine that hadn’t yet been fired, but then realized it was the prep-cook, Tomás, who was doing the yelling. “It’s on fire!” he shrieked again, gesturing with the stainless steel containers he held in each hand.

Before I could identify where exactly he was pointing, the ANSUL system was activated and its fire suppressant agent started spewing from the nozzles above the Wolf range, causing all of us to jump back out of the way. Within seconds the hot-line was enveloped in several inches of white foam.

The entire kitchen staff stood there, stunned.

“Damn,” Reuben finally said, breaking the silence. “It’s a freakin’ winter wonderland.”

I stared at the charbroiler and stove: at my beautiful game hens and rib-eye steaks, and all the sauté pans and sauce pots whose contents were now hidden under a blanket of who-knew-what noxious chemicals. What a nightmare.

Javier was standing next to me unmoving, his eyes wide and mouth slack. Once it was clear the nozzles had finished extruding their white goo, he shook his head as if to clear it, and then stepped forward to shut off all the burners on the Wolf range. “Go ahead and turn the charbroiler and salamander off, too,” he called out to me over his shoulder as he reached down to dial the oven knobs to their off position. “We don’t want to risk any gas leaks or electrical fires.”

I did as he instructed and then turned to Tomás. “You saw it,” I said. “Did one of the pans catch fire?”

“No,” he answered. “It was in the garbage can.” The prep cook indicated the waste bin at the far end of the Wolf range, now also covered in white foam. “There was smoke and flames coming out of it.”

“Really?” I said. “That’s weird.”

But then I remembered my dad telling a story about a fire starting in his garbage can after he’d thrown away some rags with paint thinner on them. It had been a hot day, and the rags had apparently spontaneously combusted. The fire could have caused a lot of damage to his house if a neighbor hadn’t seen smoke coming out of the can and rushed over to warn him.

It was certainly hot as blazes in the Gauguin kitchen right now, what with all the cooking elements having been on full blast. “Did anyone throw any grease or greasy paper into the trash?” I asked, raising my voice above the din that had erupted in the kitchen once the shock of the ANSUL system going off had passed. “Or see anyone who did?”

No one admitted doing such a thing, or to seeing anyone do so. But then again, all our staff had been trained never to place highly inflammable items into the kitchen garbage can.

So who could be lying? It had to have ignited for some reason.

I walked over to the waste bin; it was now a charred, foamy mess. So even if I wanted to sift through its no-doubt disgusting contents, I seriously doubted I’d be able identify the fire-starting agent.

Looking back up, I surveyed the people now crowding around the stove and realized I was standing next to Brian, who hadn’t moved from where he’d been immediately before the fire—right next to the waste bin. As I stared at the cook, apprehension growing in my chest, he turned to meet my gaze. I wasn’t positive, but I thought I detected the trace of a smile before he leaned over to murmur something to Javier.

Brian then strode out of the kitchen, and as he left, he pushed up the sleeves of his chef’s jacket, revealing the tattoo I’d noticed the first time we’d met: that bright orange and yellow flame running up the inside of his forearm.

 

 

 

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Excerpt reveal: Beautiful Mess, by John Herrick

Beautiful-Mess-Low-Resolution-Color-Book-CoverTitle: BEAUTIFUL MESS

Genre: Fiction

Author: John Herrick

Websitewww.johnherrick.net

Publisher: Segue Blue

Find out more on Amazon

About the Book:

Protagonist Del Corwyn is an aging relic—an actor who climbed from errand boy to Academy Award nominee; who kept company with Hollywood’s golden era elite; who even shared a close friendship with Marilyn Monroe. But now, Del Corwyn is facing bankruptcy. Humiliated and forced to downgrade his lifestyle and sell the home he’s long cherished, Del is destined to fade into a history of forgotten legends—unless he can revive his career. All he needs is one last chance. While searching through memorabilia from his beloved past, Del rediscovers a mysterious envelope, dated 1962, containing an original screenplay by Marilyn Monroe—and proof that she named him its legal guardian.  Seemingly overnight, Del goes from bankrupt, washed up has-been to the top of Hollywood’s A-list. But the opportunity to reclaim his fame and fortune brings a choice: Is Del willing to sacrifice newfound love, self-respect and his most cherished friendship to achieve his greatest dream?

Beautiful Mess follows one man’s journey towards finding love and relevance where he least expects it—and proves that coming-of-age isn’t just for the young.

About the Author: A graduate of the University of Missouri—Columbia, John Herrick explores themes of spiritual journeys and the human heart in his works. Herrick’s debut novel, From the Dead, hailed as “a solid debut novel” by the Akron Beacon Journal, achieved Amazon best-seller status, while Herrick’s second novel, The Landing, was named a semifinalist in the inaugural Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. Herrick’s nonfiction eBook, 8 Reasons Your Life Matters, received over 160,000 downloads and landed at #1 on Amazon’s Motivational Self-Help and Christian Inspiration bestseller lists.  His third novel, Between these Walls, garnered high critical acclaim, including Publishers Weekly’s prediction that “Herrick will make waves.” John Herrick is a native of St. Louis. Visit him online at: www.johnherrick.net

Connect with the Author on the Web:

www.johnherrick.net

https://www.facebook.com/johnherrickbooks

https://twitter.com/johnherrick

https://www.youtube.com/c/johnherrick

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2121201.John_Herrick

http://johnherrick.net/main-blog/

BEAUTIFUL MESS

JOHN HERRICK
EXCERPT

            Arnie’s cheeks turned rosy as he grinned at Del. A wide, toothy grin. The discoloration of enamel betrayed a long-entrenched penchant for red wine. He rolled the script and slapped it against his palm.

“Do you realize how many people would dry-hump a flagpole to get their hands on this?” exclaimed the agent. “We’re talking history here! Hollywood’s best-kept secret!”

Del felt a bittersweet quiver in his gut but suppressed it. His life was about to become interesting again.

Arnie paged through the screenplay further, scanning the dialogue. Several minutes ticked past. Del savored the silence which, in this case, was the sound of power.

“Have you read this, Del?”

“I have.”

“Pretty deep shit in here. Dark shit, the kind that scares the hell out of you.” Arnie skipped to the screenplay’s midpoint and read some more. “And talk about explicit. The profanity, the sexual content, everything.”

“She made herself vulnerable, no doubt.”

“Damn, Del. This woman must’ve been more fucked up than we thought.”

Del winced. “Arnie, cut it out.”

“Sorry, I forgot you two were pals.” The agent shook his head in an absentminded manner, his mouth hanging open as he read further. “No wonder she didn’t show this to anybody else. Can you imagine how people would have reacted to this in 1962? The film would’ve been X-rated—if ratings had existed back then—and gotten banned from theaters. People would’ve protested outside. This script would’ve ruined Marilyn Monroe’s career.”

“But today—”

“—it’ll resurrect it.”

The men stared at each other for a moment, sizing each other up.

“But why you?” Arnie asked at last. “You said you two were buddies, but she knew tons of people. For all intent and purposes, she bequeathed it to you without realizing it. One of her final acts before she died. Why did she put this into your hands?”

Del shrugged. “I never betrayed her.”

He made his way toward a mini-fridge Arnie kept behind a bureau door and helped himself to a bottled water. He took a swig and began to pace the room, piecing the puzzle together with each stride.

“Many people aren’t aware of this,” Del said, “but her emotional state took such a dive, she was forced into a mental institution against her will for a brief period. That event left a permanent scar. Toward the end of her life, she didn’t trust many people, especially since people she trusted betrayed her and sent her to that place. Once she escaped, she feared the day would come when they’d lock her up again.

“This script exposed some of the inner workings and torments of her mind. What if authorities used it as evidence of a dangerous mental condition and sent her back to the one place she feared most? It was Joe DiMaggio, another ex-husband, who worked to get her out of there—and she barely made it out. If they had recommitted her, she would have lost her freedom forever.”

“But something must have prompted her to give this script to you, Del. If she was so paranoid, why did she risk giving the script to anyone? Why didn’t she keep it to herself?”

“She mentioned possible trouble ahead but didn’t go into detail.”

“You’re telling me Marilyn Monroe was a psychic?”

“Of course not. More like intuition. A sense that something was about to happen.” Del returned to his seat and crossed one leg over the other. He interlinked his fingers across his knee. “And she was right. A few months later, she died from a barbiturate overdose. Some speculated it was accidental, but the amount of drugs in her system were so high, it was hard to believe it was anything but suicide.”

Arnie tapped a pen against a legal pad. Del’s heart stirred. The memory of her death threatened to bring tears to the resilient man’s eyes.

Del leaned forward and locked eyes with his agent.

“For Marilyn, this script wasn’t about business. It wasn’t about fame.” Solemn, Del added, “This script is my chance to bring Marilyn Monroe back to life, one more time—on her own terms. To position her as a serious artist, the way she craved people to view her.”

“Your sentiment is honorable. That said, this revelation will set in motion a feeding frenzy.” Arnie paused, and Del caught a glint in his eye. “And I know you, Del. You like the cameras, the adoring fans. You want a career comeback—and this is the best ticket you’ll ever get.”

“Arnie—”

“All I’m saying is this: I don’t doubt your motive to honor Marilyn Monroe’s memory, but once we set this in motion, you’ll get caught up in the whirlwind. I’m warning you now because I don’t want to have to dig you out of a guilt complex later.”

“I’ll be fine, Arnie. Trust me.”

His agent regarded him for a moment, then nodded in resignation. “In that case, we need to set a plan in motion. How do we release the news of this discovery? How do we consider contenders? Where do we set the minimum bar for a deal? We get to call the shots here. They’ll need to play by our rules, and this script needs to be on strict lockdown.”

“Agreed.”

“In that case, the first thing we need to do is establish its authenticity. I’ll get the proof lined up and we’ll keep it in our back pockets. Next, we’ll hold a press conference to announce the existence of the screenplay—but let the press speculate about whether it’s authentic. We’ll hem and haw for a while, tease them a bit, make them think they have us cornered.”

Del didn’t want to look like a fool in public, regardless of how temporary or intentional, but he was willing to hear the rest of the idea. He stroked his chin and clasped his hands upon his chest. “And what happens next?”

“Then, when attention is at its peak, we release the evidence. It’ll be good for another round of marketing. So instead of releasing the evidence at the first news conference, we’ll get twice the bang for our buck.”

“Makes sense to me.” Del felt much more at ease. He exhaled and took a swig of water. The bottle’s thin plastic crackled in his grip.

“We’ll need some time to strategize this while the thumbprints are verified. I know a guy who can get it done under the radar. Meanwhile—and I’m sure you know this, but I’ll stress it anyway—don’t breathe a word of this until the day of our big announcement. Not to the media, the studio people, producers—not even to the chef at your sushi restaurant. The element of surprise will strengthen our bargaining position. Agreed?”

“Agreed.”

Arnie exhaled, as though in relief, and scratched his bald head. His fingers left behind red streaks. “This is big, Del.”

Del’s pulse increased with anticipation, yet he maintained his composure. He finished his water and crumpled the bottle.

‘Big’ didn’t do it justice.

This wasn’t just Marilyn’s final chance.

It was Del Corwyn’s, too.

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Chapter reveal: The Prom Dress Killer, by George A. Berstein

ThePromDressKillerprintcover5.5x8.5_BW_30018mar2017Title:  THE PROM DRESS KILLER

Genre: Mystery/Suspense

Author: George A Bernstein

Websitehttp://www.suspenseguy.com

Publisher: GnD Publishing

Find out more on Amazon

Beneath the blazing sun and sizzling streets of Miami, a cold-blooded killer is at work.  His victims?  Young, auburn-haired women—four, so far—kidnapped and murdered.  These victims show no signs of trauma, but all bear the distinct hallmarks of a serial killer.  And this serial killer leaves behind a sickening calling card:  each victim is found clad in a prom dress.

Homicide detective Al Warner is on the case but this killer has left shockingly few clues, leaving Warner with more questions than answers.  Why were these girls taken…and then killed?  Is this psychopath intent on killing redheads, and why?  What, if anything, connects the victims?  Why were the bodies arranged in peaceful repose, wearing prom dresses?  How does that square with his leaving these carefully-arranged bodies in dark alleyways, discarding them as if they’re trash? And how long until this killer strikes again?

Sadly, one question is answered quickly when promising young attorney Elke Sorenstan captures the killer’s deadly attention and becomes the fifth victim. All signs say the killer is escalating—and that can mean only one thing:  the killer is bound to strike again, and soon.  With the stakes mounting and every tick of the clock marking that fine line between life and death, Al Warner doggedly pursues the ruthless killer before another victim falls prey. Warner’s worst fears are realized when newly-minted Realtor Shelly Weitz finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Al Warner will have to act fast: the clock is ticking in this deadly game…and Shelly Weitz is dangerously close to dancing with the devil himself—a dance that will surely be her last.  But as Detective Warner gets closer to stopping the madman behind these murders, he’ll risk losing everything—including his life.

A mesmerizing Miami mystery that ratchets up the suspense from page one, The Prom Dress Killer will leave readers breathless. Resplendent with pulse-pounding action, nail-biting suspense and unexpected twists, turns and surprises, The Prom Dress Killer is an outstanding new mystery that takes readers on a high-octane quest to catch a killer.  George A Bernstein has crafted an eerily real, masterfully- plotted mystery that delivers thrills and chills from beginning to end.

George photo

About the Author: A native of Chicago, George A Bernstein is a retired president of a Chicago manufacturing company. After leaving Chicago for South Florida, George started a world-wide fishing and hunting tour service, Outdoor Safaris. He is a world class fly-fisherman who has held 13 IGFA World Records and authored the definitive book on fly-fishing for pike and musky, Toothy Critters Love Flies.  He and his wife of 57 years, Dolores, live in South Florida. George is also the author of two previous Detective Al Warner suspense novels, Death’s Angel and Born to Die. He is currently at work on the next Detective Al Warner novel, as yet unnamed.

 www.suspenseguy.com / http://facebook.com/georgeabernstein /                                    https://plus.google.com/114243818981488647845/ /                             http://twitter.com/georgebernstein

Chapter 2

“What d’ya got, Jack?” Al Warner asked, settling his lithe, hard muscled six-foot frame on the corner of his ex-partner’s desk.

“Not much, Al. The criminalists swept the entire area of the parking lot, but they didn’t come up with anything.” Jack Harris flipped through his notebook, shaking his head.

“We know for sure she was snatched in the lot?” Warner asked.

“Yeah. Security cameras picked her up, entering from the library. There’re two cams on every deck, but unfortunately, Miss Williamson was parked where there was no real coverage, and we never saw her leave.”

“Terrific!” Warner said, his fingers gently probing the spot at the back of his skull, more itchy than tender now, under the mat of thick curly black hair.

“That whack on the noggin still bothering you, Al?” Jack asked.

“Nah, not really. Just habit. Good thing I got a hard head.” Warner picked the crime scene report from Harris’ desk.

“Yeah, lucky for you. Not so lucky for the guy who beaned you … or his two nasty partners.” He grinned, delivering a little punch to Warner’s arm. Harris marveled at the steel hardness of his friend’s forty-year-old body.

“Easy, there, bud,” Warner said, his lips ticking upward. “So no video of the snatch …?”

“If it was one. I ain’t so sure.” Harris stood, coming around the desk.

“The third redheaded gal to go missin’ in the last three months? No longer a coincidence, Jack.” Warner self-consciously dropped his hand from another visit to his itchy scalp.

“If it’s the same perp,” Warner continued, “which now seems damned likely, we got five, maybe six days to find her alive. This guy’s got a timetable, and he sure doesn’t waste much time between vics. He drops one in an alley and has usually swiped the next within two weeks, max.

“Did the cameras at least pick up auto traffic in and out? We need something, Jack.”

“Sure, they got every vehicle coming and going. Problem is, we don’t have an exact timeline when she went missing. She left the library at about five p.m., and we got no shot of her leaving the garage.”

“Let’s review the tapes, startin’, say, at four-thirty, through about six. Look for the same vehicle comin’ and goin’ durin’ that time. He had to drive in and out. Maybe we’ll get lucky,” Warner said.

“Okay, boss, but he coulda followed her there and just waited for her to come back.”

“Good point. So look for her arrivin’ about three p.m. ID the next three or four vehicles behind her, and then look for one of them leavin’ right after we think she was snatched.”

“That’s kinda thin, boss … and it’s gonna give me a lot of sore eyes.”

“What else we got, Detective? Put one of the techs on it, if you’re gettin’ too old,” Warner said with a mischievous grin.

“Shit, you think I’d leave something like that to some nerd punk. I got a bottle of Murine.”

“Yeah, I figured. So get your lazy ass in gear. Let’s try to find this gal before the sands run out. I’m gonna zip by the parkin’ lot again, just in case we missed something. Her car been towed to the lab?”

“Yep. The Tech boys are about done.” Harris had returned to his desk, tilting his chair back. “I thought you might wanna take another peek at the scene. It’s still taped off, all the markers in place, and we got two full-time blues on the spot, so nothing gets disturbed.”

“Okay. Give me a copy of your interview notes of the lot’s attendants, and get on that film ASAP.” His voice raspy, he leaned forward, balancing on his arms, fingers spread like claws braced against the top of the desk.

“I don’t want a third pretty young corpse, all dolled up in a fancy prom dress, lyin’ in an ally somewhere. Not the goddamned Angel of Death, all over again.” Warner’s face contorted, as he slammed his fist down hard enough to spill the pencil container.

“Easy, boss.” Harris pushed away from his desk. “We’re doing the best we can, with what little we got.”

“Well it’s not fuckin’ good enough.” Warner straightened, catching himself from reaching for his last head wound again.

“I’m goddammed sick and tired of serial-killers around here. Three in the last three years is three fuckin’ too many! Let’s get this bastard before this last gal becomes his third vic, and before he takes a fourth.”

“We’re doing what we can, Al. He’s gotta make a mistake soon. I just hope we can do it this time without ya catching a bullet or rock off the noggin. Ya gotta stop playing those sympathy cards.”

Warner glared at the smaller man, but couldn’t contain his laughter, bubbling up, erupting like a ruptured dam … which in a sense, it was.

“Goddammed little shit! You always know how to cool my fuse when it gets too hot.”

Harris grinned. “Someone’s gotta chill ya out. You’re the best cop I know to solve these things, if ya don’t get too emotional about the vics. Never knew a detective who cared as much as you do, boss.”

“Thanks for the bucket of cold water, Jack. I get too wound up and I could miss something. Can’t afford to do that, ’cause this perp’s on a serious mission. I’m pretty sure bodies of pretty young redheads are gonna keep pilin’ up if we don’t nab ’im soon.

“Anyhow, get on that film, and get one of the techies to help. Two sets of eyes are always better. I’ll be back in a couple of hours. I‘ll wanna go over the patrol canvas reports, too.”

“Gottcha. Is Doc Guttenberg working on a profile?”

“Not yet. I’ll see Eva tonight and see if she can come up with something that might help.”

“Right. That’s real tough duty!” Harris grinned. “At least you two getting together is one thing good coming outta the last caper.”

Warner smiled. “Always lookin’ for the silver lining, huh.”

“Gotta be some perks in this job. I’ll call ya if anything comes outta those videos.”

Warner nodded, scooping up the file from Jack’s desk and heading out of the Miami-Dade Homicide Department. Something had to break, but time wasn’t on his side.

It never was, with a nut out there, killing innocent victims. Three years ago, it was teenagers. A year later beautiful young women … almost including Sharon. Now this nut— just sixty days after he snagged the perps with all those SIDS infants dying … and him taking a small boulder on the noggin in the process.

It’s redheaded women this time, meticulously groomed and dressed to the nines. Each was smothered, dying peacefully while apparently in a chloroform daze. It looked like the Unsub didn’t want them to suffer, but that seemed at odds with him laying them out in dark alleys like so much trash.

He hoped Eva could come up with something other than the killer seemed conflicted over his vic’s care. If nothing else, the lovely doctor would at least manage to drain off his tension.

He grinned, in spite of his anger. How was he so lucky to have that beauty love him? He thought briefly of Sharon, fleeing to Buffalo after her near deadly encounter with the Angel of Death. And then the blonde angel, Casey, consumed by the SIDS deaths of all those baby boys. That case eventually brought him to lovely Dr. Eva Guttenberg … and how lucky was that!

Will love last this time? He didn’t give it freely, and was too hard-case to receive it back very often. He was using up a lifetime of opportunities, and he didn’t want to screw this one up.

Unlocking his gray Dodge Charger coupe, he slid in, tossing the file on the passenger seat. He lingered, eyes focused on some distant, invisible spot, fingers tap-dancing on the leather cover steering wheel, considering the current serial lunatic.

This psycho wants something specific from these girls, and when they can’t feed his need, he discards them, cleaving to some unique, personal ritual, and looks for another. The fact they are in their twenties and redheads of similar size and build has a special meaning, but so far nothing has conjoined these gals except age group and hair color.

He sighed, firing up the engine, enjoying the rumble of its power.

“Better figure it out soon,” he mumbled, “or more bodies are gonna start pilin’ up. We’re one or two redheads away from city-wide panic.” Shifting gears, he drove out of the police lot, shaking his head.

They needed a break … and soon.


 

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THE FIVE MANNERS OF DEATH, by Darden North

The5MannersOfDeath_coverfinalTitle:  THE FIVE MANNERS OF DEATH

Genre: Mystery

Author: Darden North

Websitehttp://www.dardennorth.com

Publisher: WordCrafts Press

Find out more on Amazon

About the Book: The Five Manners of Death is a taut, tense, and gripping tale about a long-buried secret that once unleashed will begin a countdown of the five ways to die.  For Mississippi surgeon Diana Bratton, the novel’s protagonist, pages torn from a 1960s college yearbook reveal that murder is a family affair…

About The Five Manners of Death:  When a construction worker unearths  a decades-old human skull on the campus of the University of Mississippi, he sets in motion an eerie chain of events that leaves one  woman desperate to rewrite history and another woman desperate to find the truth.

After the discovery of her Aunt Phoebe’s 50-year-old note detailing the five manners of death, surgeon Diana Bratton is surrounded by bodies.  Suicide, accident, natural cause, and one death classified undetermined are soon crossed off this grisly list—leaving Diana to believe that only homicide remains. But the police prove her wrong:  Phoebe is linked to murder—not only by those skeletal fragments uncovered on the University campus but also to the recent deaths of two local men. Diana is torn:  should she try to prove her aunt’s innocence or accept police theory that her beautiful, beloved aunt is a woman who harbors dark and deadly secrets?

Stealing precious time from her young daughter, her surgical practice, and her hopes for a renewed romance, Diana launches a pulse-quickening quest to clear Phoebe’s name.  However, as she searches for evidence, Diana finds that her desire to reach the truth may be eclipsed by Aunt Phoebe’s need to rebury the past. When reality finally emerges, Diana faces the cold fact that murder is a family affair.  After all, things aren’t always what they seem. And some things never die…

With the precision of a surgeon, Darden North has crafted a confident and chilling tale about lies, secrets, deception and the conflict that erupts when the past and present collide.  Meticulous plotting, richly-drawn, engaging characters and a shocking storyline combine to create an extraordinary thriller resplendent with twists, turns, and the unexpected.  A unique but realistic story teeming with the right mix of medical authenticity, The Five Manners of Death plunges readers deep into the minds of the novel’s characters as each learns that no one can be trusted—and that everyone has his own agenda. With this sensational, skillful and highly suspenseful tale, Darden North claims a solid spot among today’s finest thriller writers.

About the Author: A board-certified physician in obstetrics and gynecology, Darden North writes murder mysteries and medical thrillers. His novels have received national awards, most notably an IPPY in Southern Fiction for Points of Origin. A native of the Mississippi Delta, Darden lives with his wife Sally in Jackson, Mississippi, where he practices medicine

Connect with the author on the web:

www.dardennorth.com

Instagram and Twitter: @dardennorth

https://www.facebook.com/DardenNorthAuthor

https://www.linkedin.com/in/darden-north-9b71749

https://www.youtube.com/user/dardennorth

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/351136.Darden_North

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http://blog.dardennorth.com/

CHAPTER 1

     Phoebe struggled against the sheets, pushing up with her arms. The glass of water on the silver tray rocked back and forth on the bed.

“Is the funeral home here?” she asked and settled against the pillow.

“No, because you’re not dead,” Diana said. “At least not yet.”

Diana blotted the sweat from her aunt’s forehead—skin hot enough to singe fingertips. She jerked away from the rattling cough that followed. Diana could not be sick too.

Phoebe managed to cling to the bed sheets instead of rolling to the floor. She shook her head when the hacking passed. “I told you to use one of the linen handkerchiefs, the ones with my initials.”

“Forget the Emily Post,” Diana said. “Here, take a sip of this.” She put the fresh Waterford tumbler from the nightstand to Phoebe’s lips. The red mane swung free of the pillow, strands of hair matted on Phoebe’s forehead. Diana bent and tried to fluff the pillow back into shape. The satin felt moist, almost gummy. She gave up and flipped the pillow over to the unused side.

“For heaven’s sake, please fill that glass with something besides water,” Phoebe said, swallowing hard. She almost floated back against the padding. Despite the cigarettes abandoned a few years ago, cocktails every afternoon, and a two-day fever racking her delicate frame, Diana Bratton’s aunt remained beautiful. No one judged her a day over 40, much less over sixty.

“Vodka and soda is in the rosewood cabinet inside my dressing room,” she said, handing the glass of water back to Diana. “Get it, please, and refresh the philodendron in the corner with this.”

“You should have listened to me about that flu shot,” Diana said.

Phoebe took the monogrammed linen handkerchief from her. “This is a family heirloom—my family. It belonged to my mother.” She blotted her forehead, then tossed the handkerchief atop the used pile near the lamp.

 

“I’ve never been much for free advice, even from you, Dr. Bratton,” Phoebe said. She reached for a fresh piece of linen from the Chinese porcelain tray near the bedside table, one of the pieces of china left uncrated for the move.

“I should have sneaked that syringe of flu vaccine out of the office and popped you with it myself—a real freebie.” Diana shielded her face just as more coughing and hacking racked Phoebe’s body. “It’s never too late for the pneumonia vaccine, but I give up.”

Diana opened the drawer in the bedside table and unwrapped the small package underneath the magazines, ink pens, and note pads. “Will you at least take a breathing treatment?”

Phoebe grabbed the nebulizer, inhaled twice and sputtered. “You mentioned your office—makes me think of your surgery partner. A woman I play bridge with calls men like that arm candy.”

“Brad’s been real busy. We just had our seven-year anniversary.”

“Should have been a wedding anniversary, my dear.” She grabbed an extra puff on the nebulizer. “Not long ago, you and your Doctor Brad Cummins were all but married—except for the ring.”

“I’ll ignore that,” Diana said. “Here’s a fresh handkerchief.” She dodged the path of the next coughing spell.

Arm candy,” Phoebe gasped. “Just thinking about that Dr. Brad Cummins makes an old lady feel better.”

“This thing isn’t doing you much good, even if overused,” Diana said. She tossed the nebulizer at the oxygen tank. It landed near the head of Phoebe’s four-poster mahogany bed and slid along the floor to behind the drapes.

“You sound worse.” She dug a digital thermometer and stethoscope out of her purse. “Inhale and exhale, deep,” she ordered.

Phoebe obeyed with deep breaths and release. “Where’s that other thing going?”

“In that know-it-all mouth of yours,” Diana answered. She put the stethoscope aside and placed the thermometer under Phoebe’s tongue. “Your lungs sound horrible—like a tornado—not to mention that your temp is still up.”

“I probably have pneumonia.”

“That’s another vote for the vaccine; and instead of a hearse, I’m calling Metropolitan for an ambulance.”

“Please, please, Diana, don’t. This is such a close-knit neighborhood, lots of busy-bodies. Sirens will cause such a stir.”

“You’re moving out of this place. You don’t care what the old neighbors say,” Diana said.

“Thank goodness we closed on the new house before I got sick, and I’m glad that I bought a place in town.”

“Regardless, I should have insisted you go to the hospital sooner,” Diana said. “Except for Kelsey, you’re the closest thing I have to blood kin.”

“I give up. Maybe you’re right.” Phoebe reached for the thick white cotton robe at the foot of the bed. The new silk one from Neiman Marcus remained boxed in her closet. “Here, help me with this thing and then get me to your car. Seeing your beautiful daughter once I’m settled into my room would really cheer me up.”

Diana wrapped the robe around the sheer pajamas, moist from sweat. Phoebe’s skin felt clammy. “Covering up is probably wise. This slinky outfit may get you arrested when we roll through admissions,” Diana said. She eased Phoebe into the silk slippers waiting on the Oriental rug. “Better yet, maybe we should change you into something less provocative. I’ll check your closet.”

A long row of cocktail dresses and tailored suits on hangers lined the walls to the left and right of the master bedroom closet. A built-in bank of drawers was located at the end of the space. Diana searched and found a pink fleece set neatly folded in the bottom drawer.

“I’m glad everything is not already boxed up,” Diana said. “Let’s slip you into this.”

“No, no. I’m much too weak to change clothes.” Phoebe stood, unsteady at first, then grabbed her purse from the dresser, clutching it to her chest. She coughed and sputtered as they moved down the hall toward the living room. “Doctors and nurses make note of expensive pajamas. I won’t part with these,” she said.

Diana caught Phoebe before she stumbled over the stuffed boxes and cartons piled in the entrance hall. “OK, you win. We’ll go as you are, but once I turn you over to the hospitalist, I’ll come back and pack a bag for you,” Diana said. “You won’t need much. The gift shop will have toiletries.”

She took Phoebe by the elbow and guided her out through the front door, past the white columns that anchored a wraparound porch extending across the front and along the sides of the house. Down the steps, at the foot of the narrow driveway, a dumpy, red-faced man in his sixties stopped to fumble with a plastic Wal-Mart shopping bag.

“Wouldn’t you know it,” Phoebe whispered under her handkerchief, “that fool, Carvel Eaves.”

“Afternoon, ladies. Lots of tidbits on my afternoon stroll,” he said. Like a pendulum, he swung the bag stuffed with empty soft drink and beer cans, crumpled fast food bags, and gum wrappers in Phoebe’s direction.

She frowned and opened the door to Diana’s car. “Interesting hobby you have, Carvel—keeping our Belhaven neighborhood free of litter during your walks. But I don’t have time for …” (The comment was stalled by another round of coughing, topped off with a protracted wheeze.) “… time for your nonsense today.” She slid inside the car into the passenger seat.

Carvel Eaves leaned toward Phoebe. “Never know what people will toss out into the streets,” he said. “Most of the time it’s teenagers throwing beer cans out the window before mom and dad see or discards flying out the back of their pickups. Sometimes it’s just careless trash collectors.” Carvel took a second look at Phoebe. “Looks like you’re a little under the weather, Miss Phoebe.”

“You’re not listening, Carvel,” she said. “My niece and I are in a terrible rush.”

“A rush? Just like during last Saturday’s bridge tournament?”

“That wasn’t me with the mistakes. Your game was off,” she answered. “When I trumped you and closed you out, I was just trying to end the misery for us all.” Phoebe tilted her head past him through the window for an even longer, deeper coughing episode—this time punctuated with two wheezes.

Diana opened the driver’s door and tossed her white jacket out of the way to the back seat. She patted Phoebe on the back until the coughing and wheezing ceased. “Tell Mr. Eaves goodbye. We need to get to the hospital,” Diana said.

“You do sound rough, Phoebe,” Carvel said. “Guess you’ll miss this weekend’s bridge tournament and your master points?”

“Seems I will. My niece thinks I’m on death’s door and insists on the hospital. She’s a doctor, you know … a surgeon.”

“Everybody knows that, Phoebe. She fixed my golf buddy’s hernia.” Eaves reached low for the plastic cup lid and drinking straw spotted near the curb and stuffed his bag. He smiled. “No complaints since.”

“Carvel, we have to go. Start the car, Diana.”

Diana pushed the ignition switch.

“Funny you said something about death’s door,” he said. Carvel leaned closer, then seemed to think better of it. He smoothed the piece of paper. “Let’s see … The paper is old. It’s some type of list … The printing is a little smeared and definitely faded, but at the top it says The Five Manners of Death.” Carvel tipped his Ole Miss baseball cap. “Better be careful at that hospital, Phoebe. Seems there are several ways to go.”

“My God, Carvel. Those were notes from a college English composition class, creative writing. I found that when packing for the move and threw that ancient garbage away,” Phoebe said. “Even now, I can’t seem to get rid of those papers—thanks to busybodies like you.”

He spotted a weathered, rolled-up newspaper flattened against the curb across the street. “I better get that. Newspaper decomposes quick.” Carvel stuffed the sheet of paper back into his makeshift trash bag and headed across the street.

“Unique little man, that Mr. Eaves,” Diana said and closed her door. Forgetting the car was already running, she again pushed the ignition, then placed her cell in a compartment on the console.

“Never mind that old fool. He tried to convince my bridge partner to go to the golf party at the country club last Christmas, practically begged her to date him.” Phoebe fished a fresh disposable tissue from her purse, which nearly disintegrated under more coughing and hacking. Then there were sneezes. “Her husband hadn’t been dead a month.”

“Maybe you should just rest quietly,” Diana said. “Let your seat back with that button between the seat and the door.”

Diana reached for her cell but remembered the Bluetooth. “I better give a heads-up to the hospitalist at Metropolitan,” she said. “He won’t mind; he gets paid per admission.” Diana pushed CALL on the steering wheel and spoke the name.

A voice blared from the stereo speakers. “Dr. Bahrain here.” Startled, Diana swerved to miss the edge of a brick pillar marking the entrance to a driveway.

“Diana!” Phoebe screamed. “Is it too late for that ambulance?”

Diana straightened the vehicle and slowed at the four-way stop to turn the corner. She took a deep breath and answered the hospitalist. “Ahmed, this is Diana Bratton. Can you take a look at my aunt? She’s not any better. I think pneumonia has complicated her asthma.”

“Sure, Dr. Bratton. Bring her on in. I’ll expedite the admission and fix her up in no time.”

“Thank you. We’re 15 minutes away.” They ended the call just before Phoebe started to wheeze and cough. Diana reached behind to rummage through the pockets of her lab coat in the back seat. “I think there might be an extra inhaler in here,” she said, “a sample from the office medicine closet.”

“Diana!” Phoebe grabbed Diana’s shoulder. “Something’s ahead in the street.”

Diana dropped her lab coat and swerved to miss the crumpled mound lying on the pavement. She slammed the brakes, the shoulder straps jerking them against their seats. Diana checked the rearview mirror, unbuckled her seatbelt, and sprang from the car.

Several aluminum cans, a rolled newspaper, and a plastic sack were nearby. It was Carvel Eaves. The note in Phoebe’s handwriting lay next to him.

 

 

 

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Little Girl Gone, by Margaret Fenton

LGGcoverTitle: Little Girl Gone

Genre: Mystery

Author: Margaret Fenton

Websitewww.margaretfenton.com

Find out more on Amazon

About the Book:

When Little Girl Gone opens, it’s September in Birmingham, Alabama, and Claire Conover is steeling herself. September—with its oppressive, unwelcome heat, back-to-school newness worn off, and skyrocketing reports of abuse and neglect—is a time of year Claire has come to dread.  As the crime rate increases, so increases the work load for Claire and the Jefferson County Department of Human Services Child Welfare Division. Seems this year is no exception.

When she takes into custody a 13-year-old girl found sleeping behind a grocery store, Claire is swept up in a case that turns out to be far more complicated, and far more dangerous, than initially meets the eye. Struggling to piece together the young girl’s identity, Claire finds herself with few answers and no shortage of questions.  Is the young girl a runaway?  An abuse victim?  Or something else?   But things go from bad to worse when the young girl’s mother is found murdered—and then the girl disappears.  Claire soon discovers that the mother was involved in an illegal gambling industry in Birmingham.  But even with this clue, the case becomes more complicated.  Could the young girl have pulled the trigger?  Is that even possible?  And where could she have run?  Did she run at all? In the midst of all the questions, only one thing is certain: Claire has to find the answers, and the girl, fast.

A swiftly paced, suspenseful, and shocking story, Little Girl Gone earns Margaret Fenton a solid spot among today’s best mystery writers.  Masterful plotting, extraordinary character development, and a pulse racer of a plot combine to create an extraordinary mystery resplendent with twists, turns, and surprises.  An unforgettable story informed by Fenton’s near decade of experience as a social worker, Little Girl Gone also shines a light on the plight of at risk children and the dedication of those tireless and compassionate workers who serve them.  A stellar entry into what Booklisthailed “a promising new series,” Little Girl Gone is mesmerizing.

About the Author:

Margaret Fenton grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and moved to Birmingham in 1996. She received her B.A. in English from the Newcomb College of Tulane University, and her Master of Social Work from Tulane. Fenton spent nearly ten years as a child and family therapist before taking a break to focus on her writing. Her work tends to reflect her interest in social causes and mental health, especially where kids are concerned. She serves as planning coordinator of Murder in the Magic City, a one-day, one-track annual mystery fan conference in Homewood, Alabama. She is President of the Birmingham Chapter of Sisters in Crime and a member of the Mystery Writers of America. Margaret lives in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover with her husband, a software developer.

Connect with the author on the web:

https://www.margaretfenton.com/

https://www.facebook.com/margaret.fenton

Chapter One

            I dread September every year.  The summer heat lingers, oppressive and unwelcome.  The kids in Birmingham have been back in school for two weeks, long enough for the excitement of new teachers, clothes, and school supplies to wear off.  Classes and homework have become things to be endured.  The lush green hills surrounding the city begin to fade to an unappealing dull brown, and it seems the crisp cool nights and the red and gold foliage of fall will never arrive.

Other typical late summer colors emerge, too.  Like the black and blue of bruises on a child’s legs, peeking out from under a pair of shorts at recess.  There’s the chalky complexion of the child who never gets enough to eat in the cafeteria, or the rusty skin of the one who never gets a bath.  Reports of abuse and neglect made by teachers skyrocket in September, swamping the Jefferson County Department of Human Services, Child Welfare Division, where I work.

To no one’s surprise the murder rate also spikes. The woman found in the ravine was the area’s forty-fifth homicide of the year.  I’d like to say the news of the poor woman’s death was more than mere background noise read by the perky morning anchor while I half-dried my hair in my usual scramble to get to work.  I’d like to say I paid attention.  Paused for reflection, a moment of silence, a prayer, anything.  But I didn’t.  It was Tuesday, the first of September, and another school year was well underway.  It was the busiest time of the year for me, and I was struggling every day just to keep my head above the flood of new investigations and everything that went with them.

I parked in the lot behind our downtown office at five to seven.  Russell, my cubicle-mate, trudged in ten minutes later.  As usual, his highlighted blond hair was still wet from the shower, his newspaper was tucked under his arm, and he clutched a cup of to-go coffee.

Russell and I are not morning people.  Both of us usually start out in a bad mood, but lately his had stretched into a day-long thing.  His boyfriend of nearly a year, Heinrich, moved back to Germany recently to be with his family.  They were trying to decide whether to maintain a long-distance relationship and Russell was miserable.  I was on the verge of placing a call to Munich and begging Heinrich to get on a plane back to Alabama.

I updated my To Do list for the day as Russell settled himself at his desk.  Every day he sipped his coffee, perused the paper, and read me little bits of news before he checked his voice and e-mail messages.

“You hear about the body they found?” he asked, skimming the front page.

“There was something about it on TV.  She was found in a drainage ditch or something?”

“Uh-huh.  Behind that fancy new golf resort they’re building in Homewood.”

“Russet Ridge?  Strange place for a body.”  The half-completed complex would feature a world-class golf course, five-star restaurants, and a hotel with a shopping area and a spa.  It was going up in one of Birmingham’s more affluent suburbs where murders weren’t supposed to happen.

“Yeah, it doesn’t sound like the usual stuff.”

The “usual stuff” was drugs and domestic violence.  They were two of the most common causes of death in Jefferson County.  And two of the most prevalent reasons why caseworkers like me and Russell took children into the State’s custody.

Russell continued reading.  “It says here she was shot in the head at close range.  Found by some kids out playing over the weekend.  Poor things.  If she was in the water in this heat for more than a day, even it was shallow–”

The bagel with cream cheese I’d wolfed down for breakfast suddenly lurched in my stomach.  “Russell, please.”

“What?”

“I don’t really want to hear the details.”

“I didn’t know you were squeamish.”

“Can I at least finish my first cup of coffee before we discuss decomposing bodies?”

“Sorry.  Anyway, your boy Kirk Mahoney wrote this story.”

At the mention of Kirk’s name, an uninvited image of his spiky black hair and blue eyes flashed into my mind.  I felt a strange tightening in my chest and a tingling sensation just in front of my left ear where he’d kissed me last.  I rubbed the spot, then tucked a strand of blonde shoulder length hair behind my ear.  “He’s not my boy.”

Kirk was anything but my boy.  More like my nemesis.  One who had dogged me relentlessly after the tragic death of one of my young clients this summer.  He’d turned out to be quite an ally, though, when it came to putting the pieces of that case together.  I hadn’t seen him in over a month.  “Besides, I have a boy, remember?  Grant.”

“Oh, right.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing.”

Grant was my boyfriend.  As much as he could be.  We hadn’t seen much of each other lately due to my thirteen hour days and his computer firm being awarded a contract to outfit an entire new medical clinic.  Grant owned a company called High Tech, and they were installing all of the facility’s new PCs and other equipment.  We’d squeezed in a handful of dates in August before the days got so crowded.  Our relationship now consisted of a lot of sleepy late-night phone conversations.

I focused again on the list of tasks in front of me.  I prioritized it into things I had to get done today, things for tomorrow, and stuff I’d get to when I could.  Russell logged on to his computer, and I picked up the phone to arrange some IM’s with clients.  IM’s were intervention meetings, during which the caseworker and the clients worked toward addressing the problems that had led to the department’s involvement.  Strict guidelines dictated when they had to be done, and I was falling behind in scheduling them.

I was on my third phone call when Jessica, our unit secretary, appeared in the doorway of the cubicle.  In her hand was a thin brown folder.

“Claire.”

“Oh, no.  Come on.  You’re kidding, right?”

“Sorry.  You’re next on the assignment rotation.”  She said it with a smarmy smile.  Jessica was the type of person who enjoyed giving people bad news.  “Mac says tag, you’re it.”

Mac McAlister was my boss, the Unit Supervisor.  He and I have kind of a love-hate relationship.  Okay, maybe not that strong.  More of a like-dislike relationship.  His somewhat tepid support of me after my client’s death in June still rankled.  I had no doubt that if that case had gotten any uglier, he would have thrown me under the bus.

“Damn,” I muttered, and held out my hand for the file.

“He’ll be by in a minute to give you the rundown.”

“Thanks so much.”

“No problem,” she called as she walked back to her desk.

I could feel stress tightening my shoulders.  Mac entered the cubicle and leaned his own beefy shoulder on the filing cabinet.  His ring of white hair needed a trim, and his out-of-style tie hung inches too short.  He fingered the cigar in his pocket, no doubt longing for the good old days when he could light up at his desk.  I picked up the folder Jessica had brought me and read the highlights while he talked.

“One of the Homewood police officers found her sleeping under a cardboard box behind the Piggly Wiggly on Highway 31.  They thought for a second they had another body on their hands. The reporting officer, Mary Nobles, thinks she’s about thirteen.  The girl won’t give her name or address.”

“Runaway?”

“That’d be my guess.  Or a throwaway.  That’s all I know for now.  Go over to Homewood and pick her up, get her something to eat and see what you can do with her.”

“Wonderful.  I suppose HPD can’t be bothered to bring her here?”

“I didn’t feel like arguing about it.  They said they were busy.”

“Like I’m not?”

“Touch base with me after you get her some breakfast.”

“Okay.”

I kissed my plans for the day goodbye and gathered my purse and briefcase.  I drove my aging white Honda Civic to Third Avenue North and made my way to the Red Mountain Expressway.  The morning commute traffic was at its peak, but I was headed south out of the city so it didn’t slow me down.  I took the expressway and within ten minutes pulled up to the square, beige-bricked police department headquarters.

I checked in with the officer at the desk, and as I was signing in I heard a familiar voice.

“Well, hey there, Miss Conover.”

I looked up from the sheet to see an officer enter from the back of the station.  He was in uniform, his gun dangling from his right hip.

“Oh, hi, Officer Ford.”

“Chip, please.”

“Chip,” I repeated with a nod.  Chip and I had worked together on a couple of pickup orders, taking kids into custody.  He loved his job as a cop, worshiped his badge, and probably slept with a loaded gun under his pillow.  He was a big ball of us-against-the-scum-the-earth, Dirty-Harry-movie fueled testosterone.  I couldn’t stand him.

Chip ran a hand over his dark blond high-and-tight.  “You here for the girl?”

“Yeah.”

“She’s in the break room.  I’ll take you back.”

I clipped a temporary pass to the pink and white lanyard around my neck that held my DHS ID and entered the back of the station with Chip leading the way.  “She’s not real talkative,” he said.

“So I hear.”

“Mary’s one of our best officers and she hasn’t been able to get jack out of her.  I told the girl that if somebody had messed with her, all she had to do was tell me and I’d take care of him. Put him under the goddamn jail, you know what I mean?”

I winced in frustration.  Chip had just made my job a hell of a lot harder.  If this girl was a victim of sexual abuse, the last thing in the world I wanted him to talk about was what could happen to the perpetrator.  First, prosecution in most cases was unlikely, and second, most kids didn’t want the abuser to go jail, especially if it was a loved one.  For many kids the thought of putting daddy or uncle in prison was too much to bear, no matter what he’d done.  I needed to figure out what had happened first, make sure she was safe, and let justice sort itself out later.

A small room off the narrow hallway held two tables and a couple of vending machines. An old color TV was perched on top of a humming refrigerator.  A fluffy morning talk show played with the volume muted.

A uniformed black policewoman sat in silence at one of the tables, writing on a thick clipboard, next to a teenaged girl.  The girl had an open can of Diet Coke in front of her.  Standing in the doorway of the break room, I got my first look at my new charge.

Categories: Mystery, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

‘The Bronx Kill’ by Philip Cioffari

CioffariCoverColorTitle: THE BRONX KILL

Genre:  Suspense/Literary

Author: Philip Cioffari

Websitewww.philipcioffari.com

Publisher: Livingston Press

Find out more on Amazon

When Danny Baker returns home after a self-imposed exile, he finds himself face to face with what he’d run away from. On a hot August night five years earlier, a teenage brotherhood called the Renegades—Danny, Charlie Romano, Johnny Whalen, Tim Mooney and Julianne Regan, the lone female of the group with whom they were all in love—set out on a misguided and ill-fated effort to swim the East River from the Bronx to Queens. Under questionable circumstances, Tim Mooney, known affectionately as Timmy Moon, and Julianne both disappear in the failed attempt. Timmy washes up the next day, but Julianne’s body is never found. In the initial police investigation, the apparent drownings were ruled “accidental.” But Timmy’s older brother, Tom, has recently been promoted to the rank of detective in the NYPD—and he’s decided to re-open the case. Convinced that the death of his brother was anything but an accident, he’s determined to bring the surviving Renegades to justice by any means possible.  Now Danny must fight not only to preserve his childhood friendships but also to save himself and his friends from the detective’s vigilante brand of justice.  And that will mean having to confront the truth about what really happened on that hot August night…

With its richly-developed characters and seductive, suspenseful storyline, The Bronx Kill is a thoughtful, thought-provoking, exquisitely crafted tale.  Gritty, dark, and ominous, The Bronx Kill is an intense character-driven thriller that plunges readers headfirst into the mean streets of the Bronx. With characters that come alive within the novel’s pages, a plot that draws readers in from page one, and its poignant exploration of such universal themes of friendship, loyalty, loss, and redemption, The Bronx Kill is destined to stay with readers long after the final page is turned.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR 

phil in b&W

Philip Cioffari is the author of the novels: DARK ROAD, DEAD END; JESUSVILLE;  CATHOLIC BOYS; and the short story collection, A HISTORY OF THINGS LOST OR BROKEN, which won the Tartt Fiction Prize, and the D. H. Lawrence award for fiction. His latest novel is THE BRONX KILL (Livingston Press, 2017). His short stories have been published widely in commercial and literary magazines and anthologies, including North American Review, Playboy, Michigan Quarterly Review, Northwest Review, Florida Fiction, and Southern Humanities Review. He has written and directed for Off and Off-Off Broadway. His Indie feature film, which he wrote and directed, LOVE IN THE AGE OF DION, has won numerous awards, including Best Feature Film at the Long Island Int’l Film Expo, and Best Director at the NY Independent Film & Video Festival. He is a Professor of English, and director of the Performing and Literary Arts Honors Program, at William Paterson University. www.philipcioffari.com

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Categories: literary fiction, Suspense, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Chapter Reveal: Echoes of Terror, by Maris Soule

EchoesOfTerrorFrontTitle: Echoes of Terror

Author: Maris Soule

Genre: Mystery

Publisher: Five Star

Websitehttp://marissoule.com 

Find out more on Amazon

The latest release by award-winning novelist Maris Soule, Echoes of Terror is a taut, tense tale about secrets, deadly intentions, and what happens when murder hits way too close to home.   Set against the backdrop of Skagway, Alaska,Echoes of Terror introduces protagonist Katherine Ward, a Skagway police officer who finds herself thrust in extraordinary—and extraordinarily frightening–circumstances when her past, present and future threaten to collide in a most dangerous way.

About Echoes of Terror:  Rural Skagway, Alaska’s small police force is accustomed to an occasional crime–a stolen bike here, a DUI there.  But when a teenager goes missing, the Skagway Police force is hardly prepared, especially with its Police Chief  in the hospital and an officer missing. Officer Katherine Ward is assigned the case, never expecting it to parallel her own kidnapping experience seventeen years earlier.  Soon, Katherine realizes what originally appeared to be the case of a rebellious teen runaway is anything but.  There’s something—or someone—sinister at work in this usually quiet town and a teenager’s life is in danger.

But missing teen Misty Morgan isn’t your average teenage girl:  she’s the daughter of a billionaire.  Misty thought running off with a college boy would get her father’s attention, but now she and another kidnapped teen are praying for their lives at the hands of a ruthless kidnapper. Stuck in China on a business trip, Misty’s father suspected his daughter was up to something and asked his longtime friend, Marine veteran Vince Nanini, to fly to Alaska and stop Misty. Problem is, Vince arrives too late to stop the kidnapping, and the police aren’t eager to let him help find the missing teen.

When Katherine realizes the same man who kidnapped and raped her years ago is the one holding Misty and the other teenager, the terror of those months in captivity resurfaces.  Together, Katherine and Vince must figure out where the kidnapper has taken two teenagers, and fast.  But nothing is at it seems in this race to stop a madman before he kills again. The clock is ticking—and this time, the past is close behind. Dangerously close behind…

Brimming with tension, filled with twists and turns, and resplendent with pulse-quickening suspense that reaches a dramatic and shocking crescendo, Echoes of Terror is a bone-chilling tale that grabs readers and doesn’t let go. Award-winning novelist Maris Soule delivers a briskly paced, masterfully plotted, spine-tinglingly realistic thriller that will leave readers gasping for breath.

According to bestselling novelist Libby Fischer Hellmann, author of the Ellie Foreman mystery series, “The pace and writing will keep you turning pages. And the twist at the end?  I didn’t see if coming. Do yourself a favor and read this thriller now.”

CHAPTER ONE

7:25 a.m. Thursday

“That guy is a frickin’ idiot.”

“Who’s an idiot?”

Brian Bane glanced at the girl sitting next to him before again splitting his attention between the twisting road in front of his Chevy Blazer and the tailgating Ford Explorer. On their right the roadway dropped over a thousand feet. As much as he liked excitement, this Internet-born adventure was not starting out as he’d imagined.

“The guy behind us,” he said, keeping a tight hold on the steering wheel. “He came up out of nowhere. Now he’s all over my ass. Like there’s any way for me to go faster up this grade.”

Misty—or Miss T as she was known on ChatPlace—twisted in her seat to look behind them. Her wild, blonde curls brushed her shoulders, and her mini-skirt showed a teasing view of her inner thigh. “Shit,” she hissed through her teeth.

“What?” Brian said.

“He sent Vince.”

“Who sent Vince?”

“My dad.”

“Your dad?” Brain didn’t like the sound of that. “So who’s Vince?”

“He’s a guy Dad knew in the Marines. He’s supposed to do computer security for my dad’s business, but he keeps acting like he’s my bodyguard. I can’t do a frickin’ thing without him showing up.”

She flopped back against the seat, and crossed her arms over her chest. The fact that her old man had sent someone after her, and the way she was pouting, didn’t bode well. For the first time since he’d picked Misty up in Skagway, Brian wasn’t so certain she was the eighteen years she’d advertised.

“How old are you, Misty? Your real age, I mean.”

She glared at him, and then looked away. “Age is meaningless.”

Meaningless, my ass, he thought. Damn, I’m so screwed. He was about to take an under-aged girl into Canada. No wonder some steroid filled ex-Marine with an over attachment to the boss’s daughter was after him. He’d be lucky if he wasn’t arrested as an International felon.

“Do you think—?”

A thump to the back corner bumper sent the Blazer into a fishtail, and Brian gasped, clinging to the steering wheel as he fought to bring the car back under control. “Jeez, Misty, your dad’s buddy just rammed us.”

“Then step on the gas,” Misty ordered, giving a quick glance behind them. “Outrun him.”

“In this thing?” The old Blazer was tired iron. The first part of the Klondike Highway, from Skagway to White Pass and the Canadian line, was a twisting, turning two-laner that rose from sea level to over three thousand feet. The steep incline was already taxing the engine. They’d be lucky to outrun a snowplow through this stretch.

Again the Explorer rammed into them, this time lurching them straight toward the guardrail as the road turned. Misty yelped and grabbed at the door. Brian swung the wheel. The sensation of the front right fender grating on metal vibrated through the steering column. When they came out of the turn, the Explorer was nearly side by side.

“Your dad’s buddy is nuts! He’s going to kill us.”

“Just go faster!”

“I’m going as fast as I can.”

The powerful Explorer began squeezing them closer to the guardrail. Jaw clenched and muscles taut, Brian struggled to keep his SUV on the pavement. Adrenalin pumped through his body, a bitter taste rising to his throat.

And then his heart nearly stopped.

Just a few hundred feet ahead, the guardrail turned into a twisted, jagged strip of metal that hung limply to the ground. Open air replaced protection. One bump from the Explorer as they passed that broken section of guardrail, and they’d definitely be going over the edge, tumbling down the mountainside.

“That’s it, Babe.”

Brian pulled his foot from the gas and began to brake.

“What are you doing? Don’t slow down!”

“Forget it,” he said in disgust. Man, his friends had been right about this whole hooking up online thing. They’d tried to talk him out of it, but all Brian had been seeing was a summer traveling through Canada with a hot chick. Instead of lots of sex and partying, after this ex-Marine got through with him, he’d be lucky if all of his body parts were intact.

Brian brought the Blazer to a complete stop, his entire body shaking. The Explorer angled in front of him, preventing a forward escape. With a sigh, Brian shifted into park, and then turned toward Misty—the beautiful, sexy Miss T.

The beautiful, sexy, under-aged, Miss T, he mentally corrected. “Wouldn’t you know I’d hook up with jailbait.”

She glared at him. “So it didn’t work out. Stop whining. Vince isn’t going to do anything to you.”

“Oh yeah?” Brian sure hoped that was true. “So, what was this, just a little joy ride for you?”

“What it was is none of your business.” Once again she looked away, out the side window.

Brian stared at her for a second, kicking himself for being such an idiot, then he stepped out of the car. As he looked toward the Explorer, he wondered if he should act angry—after all, Misty had duped him. Or guilty—because he should have known she was under-age.

The other car door began to open, and Brian called out, “Listen, man, I had no idea she was—” He broke off as the man straightened and faced him. He almost laughed when he saw the bear mask . . .

Then he saw the gun.

////////////////////////////////

MarisSoule2015

Acclaimed novelist Maris Soule is a two time RITA finalist who has won numerous awards for her novels over the last three decades. Born and raised in California, Maris majored in art at U.C. Davis and taught art for 8 years before retiring to raise a family. Maris and her husband divide their time between Michigan and Florida. Echoes of Terror is her 30th book.  Visit Maris Soule online at: www.marissoule.com

Categories: Mystery, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

All That Glitters, by Liza Treviño

Title: All That Glitters – A
Tale of Sex, Drugs and Hollywood Dreams
Author: Liza Treviño
Genre: Women’s Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Koehler Books
Published Date: March 1, 2017
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1633933083
ISBN-13: 978-1633933088

Book Links:

Synopsis:
Alexandria Moreno—clever, sexy, ambitious and, at times, self-destructive. She blazes a path from Texas to Los Angeles at the dawn of the 1980s to make her dreams of becoming an A-list Hollywood film director come true. She and her best friend arrive in Los Angeles with little more than hope and the determination to make it big. Alex, a beauty as dark and mysterious as her scarred heart, stands at the bottom of the Hollywood mountain looking up, fighting for her chance to climb to the top. Will her quest to live fast and take no prisoners on her way to success destroy her in the end?

All That Glitters is a women’s fiction Jackie Collins-type saga that introduces a strong, driven Latina heroine at the center of a rags-to-riches story spanning a decade of action. Along the way, Alexandria walks the fine line separating ambition and self-destruction, and discovers that some sacrifices will cost her everything.

What early readers are saying:

“Treviño tells her story with wit, intelligence, and an undercurrent of sadness at the plight women face to make a name for themselves as human beings instead of strictly as women. Treviño may have cloaked her ideas in entertaining vignettes and snappy dialogue, but underneath is a bite that stays with you.”
— Jonathan Marcantoni, author and publisher of La Casita Grande Press.

“Liza has a way of taking you with her as she tells this very compelling story. She draws readers in with her as she describes scenes and characters with colorful detail and vivid imagination. This story is a testament to it’s title: it really glitters!”
—Reesha Goral, author, The Servant Boy

“With distant echoes of Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls in the background, Alexandria Moreno, the protagonist of All that Glitters, chases after the allure of Hollywood, all the time substituting pills, booze and sex for genuine happiness. It is only after she reaches success that she has an awakening leading her to realize the emptiness of her aspiration, and finally accepting true love. Kudos to Liza Treviño for giving us this unique image of the New Latina! I urge reading All that Glitters. You won’t regret it.”

—Graciela Limón, author

Read an Excerpt:

Los Angeles
Oscar Night, 1990

When did things start going wrong?
Alexandria Moreno gulped another swig of champagne from the bottle. She picked at its broken gold foil. It was the same stuff she used to buy back in the days when spending more than ten dollars on bubbly was an extravagance. Now she sat in the best limo money could buy, inching along the craggy hillside road waiting for her turn to put in an appearance at the first of many scheduled post-Oscar parties. She was obligated to dole out heartfelt hugs and kisses to any of the beautiful people who might want one. Tonight, everyone was going to want a piece of her. She was the girl of the hour.
Until recently, Moreno had been an unknown writer-producer. She rocked Hollywood, winning Academy Awards for Best Director and Original Screenplay for the lushly violent, low-budget film, Win or Lose. Moreno, widely considered a dark horse contestant in the Oscar race, was the first Hispanic woman to be nominated, and win.
Two golden statues for writing and directing lay on the limo’s floor and the vehicle glided to the top of Hollywood’s heights. Beyond the winding canyon road, the Los Angeles electrified grid shimmered like Moreno’s own personal cauldron of gold. She understood that more than just a movie had won tonight.
She had won.
So why doesn’t it feel better?
Why don’t I feel better?
Despite everything she’d done to reach this moment of glory, Alex understood that none of it mattered. Not one bit. No matter what happened to her, she was still alone and drinking the same convenience-store champagne.
“Want some of this blow, babe?” Nick sniffed and dropped his head back with a slight shake, giving the chemicals a little jumpstart in the brain he liked to say.
“No thanks,” she said, “I don’t want to mix tonight.” Alex turned her attention from the scrubby hillside to handsome Nick Sirianni sitting across from her, casually relaxed in his Armani tuxedo. Though he favored stiff Wall Street suits, Nick was always casually relaxed due to the fact that he was worth millions from a Hollywood Midas touch.
Alex heard Leonard Cohen’s gravel-rubbed, breathless voice floating faintly through the air, crooning his patented melancholy love proclamations, and she couldn’t help but let her eyes wander along Nick’s impeccably tailored suit. Her hands absently grazed the familiar bluish-purple marks on her wrists currently hidden under make-up.
Nick’s thin lips curled into a slow, understanding grin. “Fine, but I have some X for later, and I don’t care what you’ve taken already,” he said in a tone Alex had learned not to question. “I’ve got plans for you, babe.”
“I guess it’s gonna be a long night.”
“The longest ever.”
Alex could tell he had taken off. She absently twirled a lock of her black, shoulder-length hair.
“Hey,” Nick nudged her leg with his polished leather dress shoe, “let me see.”
“Not right now.”
“I’m not asking, Alley Cat. Let me see. And do it right.”
Alex locked eyes with him, but she relented.
She found the fold of her straight wraparound skirt of crepe and beading that draped to the floor. She peeled it back and uncrossed her legs beneath the gown, giving Nick a peek-a-boo of her
narrow ankle and high-heeled foot. She loosened her knees, proving to Nick she’d followed his instructions.
Nick looked her over and loosened his collar.
“Good girl,” Nick said and shifted toward her, the leather seat creaking beneath him. He knelt between her legs and softly traced the length of her pale grey stocking from her shoe, along her leg, up to the matching garter, and over her supple brown thigh exposed between the garter and its straps. Nick kissed her just above where the stockings ended. He breathed in deeply and peered up to her.
“I gotta have a taste, baby,” he said and dipped his handsome face between her thighs.
Alex sighed and sank back into her seat.
How did things get so out of control? Isn’t tonight supposed to be everything I’ve worked for? Everything I’ve sacrificed for? Or, what I’ve sacrificed everyone for?
Alex knew she had purposely cut off anyone who had the misfortune of ever giving a damn about her. And there were such people.
It certainly wasn’t Nick. She’d made her deal with this particular devil nearly a year ago. Things between them were comfortably tawdry. Nick owned her. She knew it. He knew it. They had an understanding.
A flicker nudged her: so many things that could have been. She took another swig of champagne, letting the alcohol’s fizz and burn push everything back into the darkness.
Alex registered Nick’s velvet tongue expertly stroking her crevices, and she couldn’t help but give him all the access he wanted. She felt him smile when she dropped her head back and settled deeper into the limo’s bench. The car halted forward and the lazy, swaying sax turned up the tension in Cohen’s sonic plea for love.
Alex peered beyond the cracked sunroof, searching the starless LA sky for some answers. A corner of the tinted sunroof caught her faint reflection and she saw a vacant-eyed, thirty two-year-old wasted stranger. She’d never known herself less than at this moment. Her passion for work was burned out and, even tonight, she couldn’t muster excitement. Now, everything was just a game requiring too much effort.
She shut her eyes tight and sucked in air sharply, breathing in the car’s mixture of broken-in leather and artificial lemon scents. She clasped at Nick’s broad shoulder, wringing the expensive jacket sleeve as if it were nothing more than a cheap cocktail napkin. After a moment, she relaxed.
Nick brushed a sweet kiss on her inner thigh before he returned the thin black crepe material of her skirt to its full length. He slid back to his seat across from her and smoothed his hair back.
“Damn, you taste good, honey.” He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“We’re next in line, ma’am,” the chauffeur’s voice crackled through the intercom. The limo moved into place with a definite stop.
Nick grinned. “It’s show time, Alley Cat.”
The cool night air took Alex by surprise as she waded into the sea of people and flashing cameras. She staggered, unsure she could move.
“One foot in front of the other,” Nick said in his soft voice through her hair. “I’ll get you a drink once we get inside.”
Alex smiled serenely and nodded. She focused on the live band somewhere in the distance belting out a Sinatra standard. Her eyes found the majestic Griffith Observatory looming in the distance, hovering above the white party tents.
Inside, the camera flashes kept coming.
“And here we are,” Nick offered as he swiped a couple of champagne flutes from a roving waiter’s tray. “This should get ya right, babe.”
Alex took the glass automatically. Another bulb flashed near her and she saw blue sprinkles. She regained focus quickly, but then her stomach dropped. Across the room was the last person she wanted to see.

◊◊◊

Jamie Douglas stood out in any crowd. Angular looks punctuated by oceanic blue eyes, a naturally lean athleticism, and down-to-earth boyishness had made him a reigning movie star around the world for almost twenty years. And right now, Alex saw Jamie’s eyes find hers through the crowd. When they caught each other, a flash sparked between them like one of those popping camera bulbs. Jamie’s surprised look gave way to a lopsided grin; it was a look so familiar to her.
Alex registered Nick snake his arm around her thin waist and she broke her gaze from Jamie.
“Okay, Alley Cat, time for our victory lap.”
“Perfect timing,” she said.
Timing—everything always came down to timing. It seemed to her that her timing had always been off. Not crazy off, just that extra millisecond that pushed everything either too early or too late. And now, she understood that it was too late.
Suddenly, she couldn’t bear to go through with the whole charade of tonight. Maybe, she couldn’t even bear to go through with the whole charade of her life any longer. Just leave, a soft voice whispered inside her head. There’s nothing written you have to stick around. It’s practically programmed into your DNA that you’ll be checking out of this world early.
All at once, Alex understood that simple fact. She, Alex Moreno, would leave Los Angeles tonight as anonymously as she had arrived nearly a decade earlier. She knew that wasn’t an entirely accurate account of how she’d started.
Now I’m alone, and that’s just how I knew things would always turn out.

Author Bio:

Liza Treviño hails from Texas, spending many of her formative years on the I-35 corridor of San Antonio, Austin and Dallas.  In pursuit of adventure and a Ph.D., Liza moved to Los Angeles where she compiled a collection of short-term, low-level Hollywood jobs like script girl, producer assistant and production assistant.  Her time as a Hollywood Jane-of-all-trades gave her an insider’s view to a world most only see from the outside, providing the inspiration for creating a new breed of Latina heroine.

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Chapter reveal: WHITE WITH FISH, RED WITH MURDER, by Harley Mazuk

WhiteFish_RedMurder Final.jpgTitle: WHITE WITH FISH, RED WITH MURDER

Genre: Mystery

Author: Harley Mazuk

Website: www.harleymazuk.com

Publisher: Driven Press

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book:

P.I. Frank Swiver accepts an invitation from a wealthy connoisseur to attend a wine tasting on a private rail car. The host, General Lloyd Thursby, entices Frank with an offer of much-needed work, and the other guests with the promise of a pour of a rare California wine, Ravensridge Blackbird Noir.  On board, Frank, accompanied by his secretary and lover Vera Peregrino, finds an old flame, the recently widowed Cicilia O’Callaghan, among the guests.  It turns out that Thursby wants Frank to investigate the murder of his good friend, Rusty O’Callaghan, Cicilia’s late husband.  But all does not go as planned:  General Thursby is murdered before the wine tasting has even begun. Locked into the private carriage and steaming north from San Francisco, the guests proceed to pull some corks and theorize who among them could be the killer. The cops arrest Vera for Thursby’s murder and while she languishes in her cell, Frank’s renewed affair with Cici heats up.  But another murder follows and Frank realizes that his romance with Cici is poisonous.  He’ll have to change his perceptions and find the real killer—or lose both Cici and Vera…and maybe even his life.

 

EXCERPT:

A few lights were on in the lounge; I could see burgundy wallpaper with dark wood trim. To my right were two dining tables, each with four seats, and on the left an upright piano with a light oak finish. Beyond that, a group of folks sat in the far end of the car. I led Vera partway down, until the man facing us spoke.

“Ah, you must be Frank Swiver,” he said.

“I am, and this is Vera Peregrino.” There were nods and greetings, and the man who had spoken rose. I strode across to shake his hand.

“Lloyd Thursby,” he said. He was an older gent with gray hair and clear, alert blue eyes. He wore a camel hair topcoat draped on his shoulders like a cape, over a dark brown, well-cut suit. He stood a couple of inches taller than me, maybe six foot two, and he carried himself ramrod straight, so he appeared even taller. I had the idea he was fit and powerful for his age. “This is my majordomo,” he gestured at a man standing near the rear corridor of the train car, “Fenwick.” He was younger and three or four inches shorter than Thursby.

Fenwick stepped forward. “I’ll take your bags, sir.”

I gave him my duffel and Vera’s suitcase, and when he reached out his arms to take them, his sleeves slid up, revealing thick, dark hair on the backs of his wrists and hands. He carried the luggage into the corridor, and his wrists stayed down out of his sleeves making his arms appear long and apelike.

General Thursby held out his left hand toward a dame in a chair on my right. “This is Sally DeBains.” She was well dressed and well coiffed, fiftyish, and blond—though I suspected the hair color came out of a bottle.

“How do you do?” she said. She had plenty of ice on her fingers, and I clasped the hand she extended and gave it a light kiss. I thought about biting one of the rings, but she didn’t strike me as a big Three Stooges fan.

“I’m well, thanks,” I replied. “How do you do?” More jewelry drooped around her neck, and she obviously had gained a couple of pounds as she aged. She may have been shaking her maracas a bit lower than she used to, but she had probably been a hot number twenty years ago. For my money, she was still hot enough.

Thursby stepped back toward his chair and extended his right hand. “Over here, allow me to present Marcus Aurelius Wolff, our philosopher, and a fellow collector.”

Wolff was a huge, fat man, whose bulk blocked much of the light from the window behind him. His three-piece charcoal  pinstriped suit oozed polish and quality, and he held a pearl-gray hat in his lap. Although it was cool, and I still had my trench coat on, the fat man was perspiring. He beamed and drew a silk hanky out of his breast pocket, then wiped his bald head.

“An honor, sir, an honor to meet you,” said Wolff.

I assured him the honor was all mine. “A collector of what?” I asked.

“Why wine, Swiver, wine, of course.” Thursby laughed. “That’s what brings our little group together, you know. We taste wine, we savor it, we debate about it.”

“And what do you do, sir?” Wolff asked me.

“I drink it.” I gave him a grin.

Thursby stepped in. “Frank is a writer working on my biography.” Writer was as good as anything. General Thursby had enclosed a hand-written note with his invitation:

 

Swiver,

 

I hear you know a little about wine, but that’s not the only reason I’m inviting you to my tasting. I’d like to hire you. I’ll brief you about the job on the train. You can bring another operative if you like. Make it look as if you’re along for the party—I don’t want to tip my hand. Whether you take the case or not, I’ll pay you for your time and you’ll get to taste some good wines.

 

Thursby

 

That was all I knew; it wasn’t much, but it was enough to get me there. I hadn’t had a case for weeks, other than the contract work at the hotel, and I needed the money. He didn’t want to tip his hand. I would play along.

“Miss Peregrino is my research assistant,” I said. Vera smiled.

And so we circulated around the room and met the guests, and Vera and I shook hands like a couple of politicians at the Orange County Fair.

And then as the introductions were coming to an end, I saw her, to my left, by the piano. A short black dress, low cut, raven-dark hair, emerald eyes that almost glowed, over robust cheekbones—it was Cicilia Ricci, girl of my dreams.

“And last, this is Cicilia O’Callaghan,” the general went on. “Cicilia—”

“We’ve met.” A chill ran up my spine.

“Hello, Frank. It’s been a while.”

“Fourteen years. You look good, Cicilia.” The widow O’Callaghan, formerly Cicilia Ricci. Her hair was cut a little shorter than when I knew her—wavy on top, parted in the middle, and falling down to her shoulder blades in curls. Her dark eyebrows curved high over her big eyes in graceful roman arches. She’d been seventeen when I met her; she’d be thirty-two now. No longer a budding teenager but a woman in her prime, and more ravishing than ever, if that was possible.

“You look well too, Frank.” Her voice was deep, smoky, seductive. It was Cici’s normal voice.

I shook another Pall Mall out of the pack and fumbled with a box of wooden matches like a nine-year-old trying to light up in the schoolyard. “Having a little trouble, Frank?” Vera noticed. She tilted her head down and to her right, and angled an eye up at me, amused. She relieved me of the matches, struck one and held it out, steadying my hand as I lit up.

C’mon, Swiver, get a grip on yourself. You’re on a case. I clenched and unclenched my fists, and turned away from Cicilia to face the general.

 

 

 

WhiteFish_RedMurder Final.jpg

Categories: Mystery, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Chapter reveal: Changing Faces, by Barb Caffrey

portrait in gardenTitle: CHANGING FACES

Genre: transgender fantasy-romance (contemporary)

Author: Barb Caffrey

Website: http://elfyverse.wordpress.com

Publisher: Twilight Times Books

Purchase links: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N3CQKWJ/

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/changing-faces-barb-caffrey/1125707044

Allen and Elaine are graduate students in Nebraska, and love each other very much. Their life should be idyllic, but Elaine’s past includes rape, neglect, and abuse from those who should’ve loved her—but didn’t, because from childhood, Elaine identified as transgender.

When Elaine tells Allen right before Christmas, he doesn’t know what to do. He loves Elaine, loves her soul, has heard about transgender people before, but didn’t think Elaine was one of them—she looks and acts like anyone else. Now, she wants to become a man and is going to leave.

He prays for divine intervention, and says he’ll do anything, just please don’t separate him from Elaine…and gets it.

Now, he’s in Elaine’s body. And she’s in his. They’ll get a second chance at love.

Why? Because once you find your soulmate, the universe will do almost anything to keep you together—even change your faces.

////////////////////////////

Chapter 1

Picture this:

It was the middle of July in Nebraska. Sweat started dripping down my back even before I’d stepped foot outside my apartment. My hair was already sticking to my neck, and I didn’t know how I was going to play my clarinet. And I had to do that, because my best friend Jolene Harris was marrying her long-time partner Paula Adelson today.

You see, this wasn’t just a wedding. Paula and Jolene had waited for years to get married, and until recently, they couldn’t. But the Supreme Court of the United States made up their mind a short time ago that same-sex couples are like anyone else—if they want to marry, legally, they should be able to do so. Of course I agreed with this. Anyone who ever saw Jolene with Paula and their son, Adam, for longer than two minutes would agree, if they had any sense at all.

Fortunately for me, my boyfriend, Allen, completely understands. He’s coming with—and he’ll be playing his clarinet, too. (He’s going to play Ave Maria at Jolene’s request.) Allen, unlike me, identifies as straight, but he’s no bluenose—he’s even walked with me in Lincoln’s Gay Pride parade.

Yes, I know I need to tell him…everything. But must it be today?

The sun was shining. The birds were chirping. We’d even seen a rare double rainbow last night, after a brief but intense thundershower. Most people probably would’ve thought that today was absolutely perfect for a wedding, if they didn’t mind having to stand outside in 90-plus degree weather.

Allen and I made it to the car, we stored away our clarinets and music stands, and started driving. Considerate as always, he turned the air conditioning on and let me bask in it a few minutes before he spoke.

“I wish it were our wedding,” he said wistfully.

Oh, no, not that again, I couldn’t help but think. I loved Allen—truly, I did—and I wanted no one but him. But…

“I’d rather get married in the winter than the summer,” I told him, trying to keep it light. “It’s way too warm right now for my liking.”

“Are you sure you’re from Florida?” he half-joked back.

“Hey, it’s humid there, but it rarely hits the triple digits.” At his cocked eyebrow, I added, “That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.”

He laughed, as I’d intended, and the subject was defused. For now.

Somehow, I had to tell him what I really was. But I didn’t have the words just yet.

* * *

I snuck a peek at Elaine as we set up our music stands. She looked gorgeous, as usual, though by her standards she was a bit dressed-down for such festivities in a burnt orange blouse, dark slacks and low heels, with an orange flower in her hair for the sake of whimsy. Chestnut brown hair cut short for the summer, bright brown eyes with flecks of gold only I could see, when she was particularly happy, high cheekbones…a beautiful woman, inside and out.

Who cared that she, like me, had been known to look at women from time to time before we met? Not I. (And no, I’ve never had that whole threesome fetish thing going on, thank you. I’ve always refused to share.)

Because it was hot, I’d worn dark slacks, a long-sleeved white dress shirt, and a tie with musical notes on it. (Jolene had told Elaine it was to be a less formal wedding, so what I was wearing should be more than good enough.) My glasses were starting to slide down my nose—occupational hazard, on a day as hot as this—but I knew the music well. Even if my glasses fell off, I’d be able to play and no one but Elaine should notice.

The caterers were still fussing with the food, and neither Jolene nor Paula was anywhere to be seen. It was an hour and a half until the ceremony, so this wasn’t entirely a surprise. Elaine and I liked to be early, to get ourselves acclimated, whenever we played a gig—not that we’d played a ton of weddings, but we’d certainly played at enough other places that this should not be much of a stretch.

We started with the Telemann Canonic Sonatas, easy enough pieces to play as they hadn’t been designed for the clarinet’s three-octave range. They were fun, though, and suited the day well…after a while, I noticed Adam, Jolene’s son and a burgeoning clarinetist, watching us avidly. His two-toned blond head bobbed to the music, and he seemed to be enjoying himself immensely. But he wasn’t dressed for a wedding; instead, he wore a t-shirt and ratty old jeans with shoes that looked two sizes two big.

When we took a break, I nodded toward him and asked Elaine, “He seems happy, don’t you think?” Of course, I wanted to say, What on Earth is he wearing? But I was far too polite.

“He’s probably glad I didn’t assign him to play these pieces,” she said with an arched eyebrow.

I stifled a laugh. “He’s still a beginner, so he doesn’t need to worry about that yet.”

“Ah, but does he know that?”

After we put our clarinets down, Adam came over and handed us each an ice-cold bottle of water. “You two sound great!”

“Thanks, kiddo.” I resisted the urge to ruffle his hair, taking a sip of water instead. “Are you wearing that to your mothers’ wedding?”

Adam shrugged. “They’re worried about what they’re wearing. I didn’t think they’d care what I wore…”

“Try again,” I said kindly. “I’m sure they’ll have someone taking pictures, as they’ve waited a long time to get married.”

“I don’t see what the big deal is. They’ve been together since I was a baby. Do they really need a piece of paper after all that?”

Before I could say anything, Elaine jumped in. “Yes, having the relationship matters more than the piece of paper. But they want that piece of paper. They’ve dreamed about having that piece of paper. And you, Adam, are going to go in the house and find yourself something to wear that shows you made an effort, or I’ll give you five extra scales next week.”

“And if you don’t find something better than that,” I added, “I’ll have to come in and help you.”

Adam shuddered dramatically. “Okay, okay already.” He went into the house.

The minister had arrived, a cheerful, fortyish woman. The food had all been brought out. The guests were starting to assemble, so Elaine and I played some more duets. The music flowed out of me, and I became so caught up in that that I didn’t care how hot it was. It was just me, Elaine, and the music.

Life was good.

By the time I looked up again, it was fifteen minutes until the ceremony. Jolene, tall and resplendent in a bright blue satiny long dress, was chatting with the minister, but Paula was nowhere to be seen. Then Jolene came over to us, murmuring, “Paula’s nervous. Says she can’t find anything to wear. And we went over this yesterday—I can’t believe this is happening.” She bit her lip, adding, “Maybe she wants to back out.”

“I’m sure it’s not that,” I put in, trying to settle her down. “She loves you to distraction.” My words were absolutely true. I’d never seen a more devoted couple.

Elaine sighed. “Let me guess. She won’t let you see her, because of that old superstition about brides—even though I’m sure you don’t care—”

“Got it in one,” Jolene said, nodding.

“And I can’t go to her,” I put in.

Both women looked at me like I’d grown a second head. “Of course you can’t,” Elaine snapped. Then, her eyes silently apologized…she must’ve realized I’d been joking. “I’ll go.”

“Would you?” The look Jolene gave her would’ve melted an iceberg—that is, if it hadn’t already melted due to the heat.

Elaine touched my hand, and was gone.

I turned back to my clarinet, and started playing the Miklos Rosza Sonatina, ideal for today as it required no accompaniment. Before I immersed myself fully in the music, I prayed that Elaine’s errand would not take too much time.

I didn’t get nearly enough time with Elaine as it was.

* * *

I went down the hall to Paula and Jolene’s bedroom, and knocked.

Paula let me in without saying a word. She wore a bra and a half-slip, but nothing else. The last time I’d been here, the bedroom had been painfully neat but a bit cluttered; now, though, it was as if a tornado had hit the place. Black pants were draped over the wooden headboard along with a shiny silver bolero; a red dress was covered by a bright yellow swath of something in the middle of the carpet—had I ever seen either Jolene or Paula wear yellow? I didn’t think so—while I saw green, brown, white, and checkered blazers, pants and skirts all over the place.

And a lonely light blue dress sat in the middle of the bed, crumpled as if Paula had thrown it.

Before I could say anything, Paula beat me to it. “Feeling femme today, Elaine?”

I blushed. “You two are marrying. It doesn’t matter what I feel like.”

“Then why the flower in your hair?”

Paula was the only person who’d guessed that I wasn’t simply bisexual, though I was certain Jolene knew something was off, too. Paula knew what I was in its entirety—I’m a gender-fluid person, and some days I feel female, others male. But I’ve never felt fully comfortable giving in to my impulses, not the way I was raised…

I realized I was woolgathering. “Who cares why? I’m here to help you. Jolene’s a mess. I think she’s afraid you’re going to call off the wedding.”

“No, never,” Paula said with a faraway smile. “But I have to have something to wear. And the blue dress that I was going to wear must’ve shrunk at the cleaners.”

“Are you sure this isn’t just bridal jitters?”

“Jitter me this,” Paula snarled, and put on the blue dress. Despite Paula’s tiny frame, the dress didn’t fit over her slender hips, much less meet in the middle of her back. “Could anyone wear this?”

“Maybe a dwarf could, but certainly not you.” I shook my head, and sighed. “You didn’t want to try it on yesterday, why again?”

“It’s a tradition in my family that we don’t wear our wedding dresses between the time we try them on and actually are about to get married. My parents are out there, and I figured they’d know—” She looked like she was about ready to cry.

“I understand that you want to be as traditional as possible,” I said gently. “But isn’t it more important that you wear something that you might actually feel good in on a day like today?”

“Point.” Paula smiled ruefully. “I certainly can’t wear this. And everything else, except for one outfit, I’ve already worn…and that isn’t very festive.”

“Show me the outfit,” I told her.

Paula pulled a charcoal grey sleeveless top with a bit of shininess to it out from under the pile of clothes on the floor, and grabbed a grey pair of pants. “I’d intended to wear this to dance with Jolene later. But it’s not good enough to wear now!”

“Put it on, and let’s see.”

After shrugging off her slip, Paula got into the outfit. The top fit well, but wasn’t too snug; considering it was at least ninety-five degrees in the shade, I didn’t see a problem with it. And the grey pair of pants looked comfortable and easy to move around in.

“To my mind,” I said, “this is the right outfit. Wear your best black shoes, and maybe add a black or white scarf? Or do you have a statement necklace, something that will visually draw the eye?”

“Who knew you knew this much about fashion?” Paula teased, as she got out her shoes and a white, fringy scarf. Once the scarf was draped, she added a chunky pearl-and-onyx brooch that went perfectly with the outfit, almost as if it had been designed for the thing.

“Don’t tell anyone,” I advised her. “It might ruin my reputation.”

As we laughed, I took her arm, and escorted her outside to her waiting father.

“Dad, this is Elaine,” Paula told him.

“I saw you playing the clarinet before, didn’t I?” But before I could answer, he added, “Thanks for your help.” He took my place at Paula’s side, and walked her down the flower-strewn path toward Jolene and the minister.

Allen started to play Ave Maria. Before he got four measures in, I saw people dabbing at their eyes.

Of course, Jolene and Paula both looked beautiful, Jolene tall and buxom in blue, Paula petite and dainty in grey and white. So that might’ve been it…but I still think Allen’s playing had a great deal to do with it, too.

I went to Allen, unnoticed in the crowd, and squeezed his shoulder. He put his clarinet down, and grabbed my hand; as I had been about to hold his hand, I had no problem with that at all.

We could barely see Paula’s blonde head back here, due to the crowd, but it didn’t matter. We were ready to play again long before Paula and Jolene shared their first kiss as a married couple, and before the audience had finished applauding, we were playing recessional music—Mendelssohn, I thought—that Allen had arranged for two clarinets.

After a while, everyone had gone toward the refreshment table but us. But before we could go get something, Jolene came up to us and insisted that we get our pictures taken. I hate having my picture taken, as my outer self doesn’t always match my inner self…and even on a day like today, where I felt more feminine than not, I still hated having the flower in my hair memorialized for all time.

Still, Allen’s kiss on the cheek was nice, and my smile at him was genuine. He was truly a good man, the best person I’ve ever known…someday soon, I’d have to tell him the truth about me.

And if he still wanted to marry me then, I’d let him.

* * *

Later on, after we’d stored our clarinets away and the food had been cleared out, I took Elaine back out to the yard again. Toward the back, there was a patch of green grass near the fence that I didn’t think anyone had stood on today; an untrammeled bit of grass, if you will. The sky was breathtaking, all bronzy red and pinkish orange, fading into the deep twilight blue I’d only ever seen in a Nebraska summer sky. It was a sky Maxfield Parrish might’ve painted, had he the chance.

“Such beauty,” Elaine breathed.

“What better omen for a wedding,” I added.

For once, Elaine didn’t give me a reproving look. Instead, she looked soft, touchable, feminine in a way I rarely saw…I knew I couldn’t waste this moment.

As Jolene and Paula were saying goodbye to their guests, we were quite alone. Our temporary solitude suited me well.

I went down to one knee on the grass, and said, “Elaine Foster, will you marry me?”

Elaine bit her lip, which wasn’t the response I wanted.

So before she spoke, I tried again. “Look, Elaine. We are meant for one another. I love you to distraction. I want you to become everything you have always wanted—a great writer, a great educator. You’re already a great person, and the only woman I want to be with. Will you please put me out of my misery and say yes?”

At that, Elaine laughed, pulled me up, and kissed me. When I broke away again, I looked down at her shining eyes and said, “So, is that a yes?”

“It’s a yes,” she murmured. “But…”

Before she could say anything more, Adam came barreling out into the yard. “My mothers told me to come and find you.”

As we went inside, I thought, This is the happiest day of my life.

* * *

I loved Allen. So I said yes, when he asked me this time—hoping I’d be able to explain just who and what I really was, after. And it made Allen so happy, for a time, I basked in his reflected happiness, and felt transformed.

If only we could’ve stayed in that moment forever.

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