Chapter reveal: Unexpected Prisoner, by Robert Wideman

coverTitle: UNEXPECTED PRISONER: Memoir of a Vietnam Prisoner of War

Genre: Memoir

Author: Robert Wideman

Website: www.robertwideman.com

Publisher: Graham Publishing Group

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About the Book:

When Unexpected Prisoner opens, it’s May 6, 1967 and 23-year-old Lieutenant Robert Wideman is flying a Navy A-4 Skyhawk over Vietnam.  At 23, Wideman had already served three and a half years in the Navy—and was only 27 combat days away from heading home to America. But on that cloudless day in May, on a routine bombing run, Wideman’s plane crashed and he fell into enemy hands. Captured and held for six years as a Prisoner of War in Vietnam, Wideman endured the kind of pain that makes people question humanity.  Physical torture, however, was not the biggest challenge he was forced to withstand.  In his candid memoir, Unexpected Prisoner, Wideman details the raw, unvarnished tale of how he came to understand the truth behind Jean-Paul Sartre’s words: “Hell is other people.”

A gripping, first-person account that chronicles the six-year period Wideman spent in captivity as a POW, Unexpected Prisoner plunges readers deep into the heart of one of the most protracted, deadliest conflicts in American history:  the Vietnam War. Wideman, along with acclaimed memoirist Cara Lopez Lee, has crafted a story that is exquisitely engaging, richly detailed, and wholly captivating. Unexpectedly candid and vibrantly vivid, this moving memoir chronicles a POW’s struggle with enemies and comrades, Vietnamese interrogators and American commanders, lost dreams, and ultimately, himself.

With its eye-opening look at a soldier’s life before, during and after captivity, Unexpected Prisoner presents a uniquely human perspective on war and on conflicts both external and internal. An exceptional story exceptionally well-told, Unexpected Prisoner is a powerful, poignant, often provocative tale about struggle, survival, hope, and redemption.

EXCERPT:

The POWs who landed in Hanoi’s prison camps can thank God

their treatment was as good as it was. I know some never saw it

that way. Only seven prisoners died in Hanoi: two stopped eating;

one died from a combination of ejection wounds, exposure,

and the Vietnamese rope treatment; one died during an escape

attempt; and one succumbed to typhoid. I’m not sure what happened

to the other two.

In America’s Civil War, thirteen thousand Union prisoners died

at the Confederacy’s infamous Camp Sumter near Andersonville,

Georgia. In World War Two, the Japanese chopped off two

American heads for every mile of the sixty-five-mile Bataan Death

March. Of the more than twenty-seven thousand American POWs

in Japan, between 27 and 40 percent died in captivity. In that

same war, Germany admitted that three million Russians died in

German prison camps. In turn, the Russians captured ninety-five

thousand Germans at Stalingrad and only four thousand returned

home.

With the exception of some of America’s prisoners in World

War Two, it may be that never in the history of warfare have POWs

been treated so well as we were in North Vietnam. Prisoners held

by the Viet Cong in South Vietnam were another story; I won’t

speak to that because I wasn’t there.

Although I suffered painful physical punishment, which some

call torture, I’ve always had a hard time calling what the North

Vietnamese did to me torture. It was a bad experience, but it could

have been much worse.

Although we successfully established communication at each

prison camp, it was not perfect or consistent. Many POWs later

talked about how we were always able to communicate despite the

North Vietnamese Army’s efforts to stop us, presumably because

of the “great leadership” we had. On the contrary. The NVA leadership

proved they could shut down our communications whenever

they wanted, which they did after the escape attempt. Some

key personnel did not communicate for two months.

It was clear to me that many Naval Academy graduates and

senior officers did whatever it took to please their bosses. Such

sycophants taught me one of the most important lessons I learned

from my Vietnam experience: there will always be people who

pursue power by ingratiating themselves to those in power without

pausing to assess the goals of those leaders. I came to understand

this as a POW, but I have witnessed it in all institutions

since: corporations, bureaucracies, schools, churches, you name it.

My sense is that most pilots had huge egos—me included—

which probably drove us to become fighter pilots in the first place.

The most hardline of the POWs had the most problems in prison.

The North Vietnamese forced them to make the most confessions

and visit the most delegations to feed the Vietnamese propaganda

machine.

It’s well documented that many American political and military

leaders knew we were fighting an unwinnable war but said nothing

because they feared jeopardizing their careers. Those same

leaders demeaned and discredited the courageous Americans

who publicly opposed the Vietnam War, especially big names like

Jane Fonda. When Fonda came to visit us in 1972, we were being

treated well, just like she said we were. We went outside several

hours a day, ate three meals a day, and received regular letters and

packages from home. The barrage of war protests put pressure on

the government to end the war. But for them, we would still be

over there.

When we came home, POWs who supported the war were encouraged

to speak out while those who did not were not encouraged

to speak out. That policy continues today, and is one reason

we have an inflated view of the importance of funding America’s

military might. We primarily receive the viewpoint of those invested

in maintaining power.

After the war, I talked to an Army colonel in Tampa, Florida

who helped plan the Son Tay Raid. He told me that the American

military knew the camp was empty thirty days before the raid, but

our leadership weighed the costs and benefits of going through

with it anyway, and the benefits won. They knew they would recover

no prisoners. Such was the American need to keep its own

propaganda machine running.

A Wartime Nation

Our armed services have not won a conflict since World War

Two, yet we keep waging war as if it were the national pastime.

One reason this happens is because so many of our military leaders

want to perpetuate their power.

Little has changed in the military since we lost in Vietnam.

We continue to pursue costly wars that yield questionable results.

The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, like Vietnam, were monumental

blunders motivated by American hubris. Once again, we

have preyed on countries that we view as weaker than ours and

have tried to impose our will on them, only to discover that the

will of other cultures to chart their own course is stronger than

we anticipated.

 

In Vietnam, we supported a Catholic puppet regime even

though 95 percent of the Vietnamese population was Buddhist.

What made us think they would welcome us as liberators? Once

again, we have installed puppet regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan,

only to see fringe groups like ISIS take advantage of the power

flux to inflame those disenfranchised by our interference. The

local populations of those countries now hate us just as the

Vietnamese did.

When I first returned from Vietnam, plenty in the military

refused to let go of the belief we had won, despite the facts.

They said things like: We stopped them…Our bombing campaign

brought them to the table…It was a victory for America. Many bureaucrats

and politicians do the same today, ignoring facts so they

can cling to claims of success in Afghanistan and Iraq.

What’s more, all of these wars have contributed to national

inflation and debt, as well as international economic instability.

President Johnson tried to initiate The Great Society and fight

the Vietnam War at the same time. He had enough money to

pursue one agenda, not both. President Nixon once admitted that

one reason the Vietnam conflict dragged on was because he didn’t

want to be the first American president to lose a war. The reason

we got out of that war wasn’t because the U.S. was ready to admit

defeat but because we couldn’t afford it anymore.

President Carter inherited the inflation caused by Vietnam.

Every economic crisis since has been aftermath. President Reagan

said he would increase employment and kill inflation, even though

economists said we couldn’t have it both ways. A lot of people

were impressed because he did it. How? He put everything on a

credit card. That’s when our debt started to skyrocket.

President Clinton made a dent in that debt, but President

George W. Bush went to war and ran it back up again, from five

trillion to ten trillion. Like the leaders who ignored the facts on

 

Vietnam, Bush ignored the facts on Iraq. Iraq did not perpetrate

the 9/11 attacks. There was no Al Qaeda in Iraq until after Bush

invaded. There was no evidence of weapons of mass destruction

in Iraq. Bush had an agenda to take on Saddam Hussein, so he

did, despite the facts.

Why would any thinking president take us into Afghanistan?

The British went there and got their butts kicked. The Russians

went there and got their butts kicked. Why did Bush ignore history?

Someone once said, “Afghanistan is a place where great powers

go to get humiliated.”

Some generals warned Bush he couldn’t win in Iraq with his

limited troops, so Bush sought other generals who toed the party

line and put them in charge. How else could General Casey have

become a four-star general with no combat experience?

Meanwhile, the housing bubble burst in 2008 and our debt

went up again. Today it has surpassed eighteen trillion dollars.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq contributed to this debt.

The United States spends more on military defense than the

top seven to nine nations combined, depending on which source

you consider. The problem is not Persian warships in Chesapeake

Bay. The problem is American warships in the Persian Gulf. We

just keep sticking our nose into other people’s business.

I’ve learned that almost every modern war is about lining pockets.

I’m all for capitalism, but I know who stands to benefit if we

convert the world to capitalism: big business. We had to kill the

commies because they were going to interfere with America making

money. Now we kill Muslims for the same reason. Nobody

talks about it because it’s not politically correct to ask people to

die for money. Instead, leaders put a spiritual spin on it and make

it a righteous cause.

 

In the military, the desire for money translates into the desire

for power. That thirst trickles down through the ranks. I saw this

firsthand in the POW camps.

It’s popular to talk about these wars as fights for freedom or

democracy, or as battles against political tyranny or religious fanaticism.

It really isn’t about religion or democracy. It’s about rich

versus poor. Of course, if we’re talking about the soldiers on the

front line, then it’s simply poor versus poor. Those are the people

fighting each other.

For Vietnam, we had a draft, but if a draftee’s family had money

he could get around that. We tried to stop that problem with

the volunteer army. But who volunteers? The poor, who have few

opportunities besides what the military promises. Different path,

same result. The poor are the people we fight, and the poor are

the people who fight for us.

Torture, American Style

We’re all aware of the Bush administration’s approval of the

CIA torturing suspected terrorists at black sites around the globe.

According to the Associated Press, the Congressional Record,

Human Rights Watch, and the U.S. military’s investigative documents,

as of 2006, at least 108 POWs from our wars with Iraq

and Afghanistan died in American custody. At least thirty-four

of those deaths were either suspected or confirmed homicides.

That’s more than four times the number of the American POWs

who died in Hanoi.

Bush’s attorneys lined up experts who said that the CIA’s “enhanced

interrogation techniques” were not torture. Those techniques

continued under President Barrack Obama. In 2015, the

Senate Intelligence Committee commissioned a report on the

CIA’s interrogations and concluded that much of what had been

approved does indeed constitute torture.

 

Here are just a few instances of torture that the report identified:

One prisoner froze to death after being left to sleep without

pants on a cold concrete floor. Another was forced to stand in a

“stress position” on broken bones. Others were placed in isolation

or were sleep-deprived until they suffered symptoms of psychosis

such as hallucinations, paranoia, and self-mutilation. Some prisoners

were forced to go through rectal hydration or rectal feeding,

in which water or food was forced into the anus, which can leave

the kind of damage associated with sexual assault. And of course,

we’ve all heard the debates over waterboarding.

I agree with Senator John McCain’s assessment of the report

on two counts: 1) those techniques are torture, and 2) those techniques

do not work. I have a problem with our country torturing

war prisoners, both because it is morally wrong and because it

creates more enemies for America. We call what our enemies do

to their prisoners torture while asserting that we’re a kind, just

people who don’t do that sort of thing. I find it offensive that

some POWs have supported the torture of prisoners in the Iraq

and Afghanistan Wars after whining about their own treatment

by the North Vietnamese.

In any case, there’s no need to go so far. The Vietnamese got all

the information they needed by bringing people to a certain point

of pain and holding them there. Beyond that point, people will

say or do anything. That’s when information becomes unreliable.

Our country has inflicted prisoners with torments well beyond

anything I suffered in Vietnam.

In my opinion, the people who order the sort of torture described

in that Senate Intelligence Committee report are war

criminals, Bush and Obama among them. I consider the subordinates

who carried out those orders guilty too. I believe we must

each take responsibility for the morality of our actions. We need

to try all of them for war crimes.

 

Divorce Epidemic

Not two years after the North Vietnam POWs returned, the divorce

rate among our ranks soared to 85 percent. This high number

was likely a result, at least in part, of post-traumatic stress and

the long separation of husbands and wives.

Pat was 19 and I was 22 when we married. We were just too

young. A few weeks after I returned home and we took our vows

again, we visited another couple. The wife pulled me aside to say,

“Don’t be so critical of Pat.” She was right. I was very impatient

with my wife.

Excessive arguing is a classic symptom of Post-Traumatic

Stress Disorder, which I didn’t know much about at the time, but

which soon became a household word surrounding the subject of

Vietnam War veterans. Pat and I argued so much that our seventy-

pound Doberman Pinscher hid behind the sofa. More importantly,

we had two sons: Eric, born in 1974, and Derek, born in

  1. What did those arguments do to the minds of a two-year-old

and a four-year-old?

In 1976, we left our home in the beachside town of Monterey,

California for Meridian, Mississippi, where I became a Navy

comptroller. The arguments escalated. Neither Pat nor I wanted

to hurt our boys. We soon separated, and in January of 1978 we

divorced.

On My Knees

From long before Vietnam until long after, I didn’t believe in

God. I considered God an imaginary crutch for people too weak to

handle their problems. I realize now that toughing out imprisonment

without any spiritual support inflated my ego.

After I separated from my wife, I knew I needed to talk to

somebody. I thought I had two choices: a minister or a shrink. I

remembered that Thomas Eagleton underwent psychiatric treatment

before he ran for Vice President as McGovern’s running

mate in 1972. The media got wind of that and crucified him as if it

meant he were crazy. That stigma convinced me to avoid psychiatrists

and psychologists. I didn’t want any chance of this difficult

period coming back to bite me. I talked to the base chaplain.

I told the chaplain that I had long ago given up on the idea of

God. He recommended I try a few different Protestant churches

and advised me to read The Gospel of John, a gentle introduction to

the Lord after being away from Him for some twenty years.

I read John, but he made no sense to me, not then. On the advice

of a friend, I added the writings of Carlos Castaneda to my

reading list. Castaneda made me aware of how much the ego is

in charge of our lives, via the constant refrain: “I want.” I not only

studied the Bible, but also read about Buddhism, Judaism, and

philosophy. I saw that everything came down to ego. I noticed

the word “I” rarely appeared in the Jewish teachings of the Pirkei

Avot, or Ethics of the Fathers, one of the texts in the compilation

of rabbinical wisdom called the Mishnah. This brought to my attention

that the Jewish people I knew did not use the word “I”

very much. I sought to reduce the use of the word “I,” and found

that my boss and others listened. It was a transformation.

I ultimately landed in a Southern Baptist Church. I knew I

could never toe the entire party line of any organization, but the

Southern Baptists and I were on the same page about focusing

less on “self” and more on “we”—on community.

One day in 1991, I had an epiphany about The Gospel of John: I

could forgive other people’s sins but I did not have the power to

forgive my own. I realized only Jesus Christ had that power. The

day I understood that, I dropped to my knees and forgave everyone

I could think of who I felt had ever wronged me. That had a

huge impact on me.

Among the people I had the biggest beef with were a few of my

fellow prisoners from Vietnam, particularly our leadership. In my

prayers, I forgave all of them, even the ones who wrongly accused

me or humiliated me. Forgiving the North Vietnamese was never

an issue because I always thought they could have treated us so

much worse.

My trials as a POW did not bring me to God. Getting divorced

did. It surprises some people when I tell them getting divorced

was more stressful for me than being a POW.

A Bad Reputation

I first attempted to write a book about my war experience in

the mid-1970s, but I fictionalized it as a novel. I sent a manuscript

to the Naval Investigative Service, because the Navy required me

to get their approval. It turned out that the mere act of seeking

approval was enough to get me in trouble.

Several months later, the Naval Investigative Service sent the

book back, not to me but to the superintendent at the Naval

Postgraduate School. The cover letter called my book inaccurate,

immature, and demeaning to fellow POWs who deserved to be

lifted up. I had done nothing worse than paint all of us POWs as

people instead of saints. What upset me more was that my pages

came back in complete disarray. I had accorded the Navy the respect

of requesting approval, and in return I had received a slap

in the face.

I called the Naval Investigative Service to ask what the letter

meant. The person I spoke to informed me that if I published the

manuscript it would only serve to publicly discredit me.

“According to whom?” I asked.

He said, “We didn’t know what to do with your manuscript, so

we sent it to your roommates and to Stockdale.”

“You did what?!” I had sent my manuscript to the Navy in confidence,

and someone had published it to other people without

my consent.

A few years later, I was passed over for promotion to commander.

When I inquired to learn why, my detailer in Washington

said, “You need to call Stockdale. He told the board you had a bad

reputation.” Stockdale was the head of the promotion board.

“A bad reputation for what?” I asked.

He said Stockdale gave no specifics. I was stunned at the abuse

of power this implied: that the board listened to him despite not

having evidence against me. This was all the more suspicious because

shortly after I had returned from Vietnam, Stockdale had

submitted a fitness report in which he recommended me for promotion.

His change of heart came after I submitted my manuscript

to the Navy.

Years later, in 1996, I called Stockdale and asked if there was

something I should know. He told me that the promotion board

was just a “paper push” and that he said nothing detrimental

about me. He claimed he had never seen my manuscript.

Stockdale and other POWs wrote books about their prison experiences,

but their books painted the military in a more glowing

light. The Navy never sent their manuscripts to me for my

response even though someone sent my manuscript to Stockdale

and my roommates for their comments and approval. The double

standards of my POW days continued.

About three or four years ago, when I was in Pensacola, Florida,

I told the head of the Robert E. Mitchell Center for Prisoner of

War Studies, “I got passed over for commander because Stockdale

told the board I had a bad reputation.”

He looked me in the eye and said, “I can promise you, you don’t

have a bad reputation among the five or six hundred prisoners

from North Vietnam.”

Years later, I talked to a doctor from the Mitchell Center who

was a friend of Stockdale’s and who made it clear he truly liked

the man, and he told me, “Stockdale would do something like

that.” To this day, many senior leaders are big on protecting their

turf and their reputations and not averse to tearing other people’s

reputations apart to achieve that.

When I talked to the base chaplain about my divorce, we also

talked about the war, and he called me a conscientious objector. I

had never thought of myself that way, but he had a point: I didn’t

believe in the war anymore. I had heard our leaders distort facts to

make themselves look good. I never publicly protested—it was too

late for that—but I got demerits for not agreeing that we achieved

“a fabulous victory against communism.”

In the end, Stockdale’s pursuit of power took him all the way

to vice admiral. Meanwhile, he claimed I had a bad reputation. All

he had to do was say the words, and because he was one of the

highest-ranking officers in the military, people on the promotion

board believed him.

A Changed American Dream

The Navy sent me to the Naval Postgraduate School to get an

undergraduate degree in International Relations. After that, my

superiors urged me to get back in a cockpit, saying that was the

route to make command. The military had not been my dream, so

I pursued a master’s degree in finance. With that, the Navy wanted

to send me to Washington as an auditor. I didn’t want that.

Instead, I went to the Naval Air Station in Meridian, Mississippi

to become a comptroller for seven years.

I retired from the U.S. Navy in 1983 and went to Florida to

work as a stockbroker. I never got over the feeling that prison had

cost me years of time and opportunity, so I went on to earn a law

degree at the University of Florida. I became a prosecutor in 1991,

and a few years later went into private practice. However, the sedentary

nature of that career sent my blood pressure up. Then, in

1996, the Navy made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: I moved back

to Mississippi to become a flight simulator instructor. Flying for

 the Navy had landed me in prison and stolen years of my life, but

training other pilots turned out to be one of the best jobs I ever

had. I worked as an instructor until I retired in 2012. I was 68.

Perhaps one attraction of training pilots was that I never completely

got over my frustration at not becoming an airline pilot,

the dream I had held onto during my six years as a prisoner of

war. Being rejected by Eastern Airlines was more devastating than

anything the North Vietnamese could have done to me.

The Test of a Man

When I consider how capable we all are of perverting the truth,

and when I remind myself that I was a voluntary participant in the

Vietnam debacle, I can only ask: what does it take to be a man?

I submit that a real man is not a sycophant, but is someone who

pursues the truth in service to his values. It’s easy to support the

status quo when self-interest is at stake. It takes character to stand

up for the truth when it’s not in your self-interest—such as opposing

war in the face of threats to destroy your reputation.

It also takes character to apologize when we’re wrong, which is

something the U.S. has yet to do for Vietnam. We invaded their

country and killed more than two million Vietnamese because a

majority of them did not want us to tell them what kind of government

to support.

Best I can figure, humans point their fingers at others when

they need a scapegoat. Usually they point at someone with less

power because that’s easiest, to draw attention away from their

own shortcomings. Once the finger pointing starts, honesty is the

first casualty. When honesty goes, everything goes. To me, this

was not only the dynamic between the leadership and the subordinates

among the POWs, but also the dynamic between the U.S.

and Vietnam. We saw them as less powerful, so we thought they

were an easy target. We were wrong.

 

Despite the pitfalls of ego I saw many military leaders display

in Vietnam, I find it important to remember the exceptions, men

who provided a standard for honest reflection on right and wrong

action, and who were not afraid to engage in criticism—of authority

or of themselves—when honesty called for it. I have tried

to introduce some of those men to you in these pages. Perhaps

some in our POW leadership felt justified in attacking men who

believed in following conscience first and orders second, but what

really made such men targets was that they had no rank and no

power and seemed easy to suppress.

Studying the teachings of Jesus has taught me the importance

of placing truth above pride. Wars go on, but I have found peace

in this: “Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and love

your neighbor as yourself.” This has been and continues to be

my journey, and it is one reason I’ve chosen to share with you

the sometimes-painful story of my experience as a prisoner in

Vietnam. I hope my story helps open your heart to the challenge

of getting to know yourself, your fellow humans, and the people

who share your world.

Soldiering On

I still think about war and imprisonment, their causes and consequences.

It’s part of being an informed person, and my experiences

have helped to make me an informed person. But my life

has also been filled with blessings: two children, six grandchildren,

true friends, education and the opportunity to pass it on,

fruitful labors, the freedom and means to travel, good health, and

a relationship with the Lord.

Sometimes it’s painful to remember my six years of lost freedom,

being isolated from loved ones while at the same time discovering

the truth behind Jean Paul Sartre’s words: “Hell is other

people.” Most of the time, those memories remind me to be grateful

for my life now.

 

Categories: Memoir, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Chapter reveal: Naked Alliances, by S.K. Nicholls

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Title: NAKED ALLIANCES

Genre: Mystery

Author: S.K. Nicholls

Website:  www.sknicholls.com

Publisher: Brave Blue Heron Books

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book: In Naked Alliances, novelist S.K. Nicholls takes readers on a witty, wild, wickedly fun romp that exposes a side of Orlando tourists rarely see. The debut release in The Naked Eye Private Investigator Series, Naked Alliances introduces lone wolf P.I. Richard Noggin.

 When a young immigrant woman and an exotic dancer are forced to flee men with guns and have no place to hide, Richard Noggin, P.I., can’t turn his back—even if helping out makes him a target. Richard plans to impress an aspiring politician by taking on a big white-collar case that could take him from the streets to an air-conditioned office. Instead, he’s handed a cold case and quickly finds himself sucked into a shadowy world of sex, secrets and…murder. Marked for a bullet and stretched thin by his investigations, Richard reluctantly teams up with the unlikely, brassy custodian of the young woman on the run. With bodies piling up, Richard and his companion are forced to go undercover in a most unlikely locale: the Leisure Lagoon, a nudist resort.  Going undercover in this instance will mean going uncovered…but lives are at stake—and this Naked Eye will have to juggle to keep his balls in the air and connect the dots before anyone else is murdered. As his pulse-quickening quest for answers leads from the dark corners of Orlando’s Little Saigon to the sunny exposure of the Leisure Lagoon, Richard will be put to the test. Just how much will this Naked Eye have to bear…or bare? The heat is on in this quirky Sunshine State crime thriller.

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About the Author: S.K. Nicholls’ family owns and operates one of the oldest and largest nudist resorts in the nation located in Central Florida, Cypress Cove. Her experience gives her a deep understanding of the lifestyle choice and how it is extremely different from the sex industry, yet harbors clandestine elements of intrigue and fascination. Social issues are at the forefront of her writing. A former sexual assault nurse examiner, she has a special interest in the subject matter of sex-trafficking. A native of Georgia, she lives in Orlando, Florida with her husband, Greg.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sknicholls/

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CHAPTER ONE

There was only one thing worse for business than not solving cases and that was keeping a new client waiting. Already running late for a meeting, Richard Noggin drove north on Orange Avenue through moderate nighttime traffic in his silver, two-seater Mercedes convertible, the top down and the air-conditioner blowing high cool. As he approached Michigan Avenue, coming into downtown Orlando, two figures darted onto the road from his left.

Swerving and slamming on the brakes, tires squealed as he screeched to a halt. They stood in the light of the headlamps, transfixed, a tall woman and a young girl. An eighteen-wheeler thundered by, its horn blasting him senseless. The woman whacked the car’s hood with a pair of stilettos and jumped, grabbing the girl close.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Richard yelled as cars whizzed past. The woman marched the girl by the shoulders around to the passenger’s side. “Hurry. Let us in!” Releasing the girl, she tried the locked door, then grabbed the window ledge with both hands, shoes dangling.

He eased off the brakes, starting to roll, and looked across the car. Standing in the street in her sequined white halter and miniskirt, the woman looked terrified, panting and wiping her windswept, auburn locks back from her face. The almond-eyed girl even more so, with facial bruises and a busted lip. He took his foot off the gas. Dammit, he couldn’t drive off and leave them there in the middle of the road. Before he could let them in, the woman tossed the high heels and her oversized shoulder bag inside, threw her long, lean leg over the door, and plopped herself into the passenger’s seat. She yanked the young girl over onto her lap.

“Drive,” she screamed. “Drive!”

Richard raced to the intersection.

“Turn left here!” she ordered.

“Isn’t this the direction you came from?”

“Just do it!”

He had a green light and took a hard, fast left in front of oncoming traffic, heading for Orange Blossom Trail, a highway known locally as O.B.T. Then it hit him – these two had come off the hooker trail in the red-light district. This was asking for trouble, but his investigative curiosity took over. “Why are you running?”

“Because standing on the curb waiting on a bus wasn’t an option.” A black car raced past in the opposite direction. She crouched down in her seat, forcing the girl forward. “I don’t think they saw us.”

“How could they have missed you? She’s sitting with her face pressed against the windshield.”

“You’re exaggerating.” The woman sat upright, shifted the girl in her lap to one side, and stroked the dash of the car. “Damn, your payments on this pretty girl must be more than Donald Trump’s monthly tab for hair spray.”

“She’s paid for.” He rolled his eyes and shot her a quick look. “Who are you hiding from?”

“Men with guns. Damn, I hate guns.”

“What men?”

“All I know is I was coming out of the Brown Pelican Lounge on south O.B.T. when this girl came charging across the parking lot next door in front of the Shady Breeze Motel, screaming, ‘Help, men with guns!’ I looked at her and her bloodied lip, and hearing ‘Guns!’ figured we ought to run. I snatched off my shoes and did just that.”

“Why didn’t you take her inside and call the police?”

“Let’s just say there were a few gentlemen inside whose company I didn’t care to keep.”

“So, you ran with her?”

“You catch on real quick. Two guys chased us on foot and two ran for their car.”

“Now what am I supposed to do?”

“Turn right at the light and take me home.”

“You live on the Trail?” he asked, only half-joking. He slowed for traffic at the intersection. Her scent caught him. The voice was mellow and raspy, like a smoker, but her fragrance was cinnamon and oranges, her skin, the color of fine café latte. Arms wrapped around the young girl made her cleavage deepen. She turned to him with emerald eyes sparkling.

“I’m staying at the Parliament House.”

“The gay club?”

“Resort. The Parliament House Resort. I’m a showgirl. Name’s Brandi, formerly Brandon.”

Richard did a double take, swallowed hard, and took a right turn, proceeding north. “Where were you taking her?”

“The twenty-four hour pharmacy on Michigan, to get something for her lip, and let them figure out what to do with her. I dunno. What would you do?”

“I’d probably call the police.” He sped up and passed a few cars ahead.

“I’m sure those guys with the guns would’ve waited for us to do that.” Her sarcasm as strong as her perfume. “I used to be a cop and I know they’re not gonna do a damn thing for her. As far as they’re concerned, she’s just another poor girl walkin’ the streets.”

“Somehow, you don’t strike me as a cop.”

“It was a brief stint.”

He ran through the caution light at Kaley Avenue. “Call the police and have them meet us at the Parliament House. I have an important dinner appointment in Winter Park and I’m already late.”

“And I have a show to do tonight,” Brandi fired back.

“Well, I can’t keep her.” He glanced at the silent girl. “What’s your name?”

“Cara Kieu.”

“Where do you live?”

“I not know much English. Cara Kieu scared.”

Richard gave Brandi a hard look. “Listen, I can’t manage her. You’re going to have to figure this out.” He reached into the pocket of his sport coat. “Here’s my card. Call me later if you can’t deal with her, and I’ll see what I can do.”

She took the card. “Richard Noggin, P.I. Just my luck, I get picked up by Dick Head, P.I.” She tucked the card into her purse at her feet.

“Yeah, I get that a lot.”

He felt her soft touch on his shoulder and cringed, her hand caressing as it moved up his neck. What the hell was he getting himself into?

She nudged him and smiled. “Has anyone ever told you that you have the most striking crystal-blue eyes? They’re really set off by your thick, dark hair.”

“Yeah, I get that a lot, too.”

“I notice things about men.”

“I’m sure you do.” He leaned away, hoping she’d get the message that he wasn’t interested.

They crossed the intersection at West Church Street. A black Nissan pulled out behind them. Brandi jerked back her hand and ducked, pulling Cara down with her. “Holy shit, it’s them!”

“Hold on.”

He took a fast right onto West Central and another onto Parramore. The Nissan followed. He sped through the stop sign at Jackson and turned left into oncoming traffic on South Street, a busy, three-lane, one-way road. Cara screamed and clung to Brandi.

“You’re going to get us killed!”

“Wasn’t that your problem in the first place?” In his rearview, he noted the Nissan cross South Street behind them.

Horns blared as cars roared by left and right. He saw a black Nissan speeding along on the next street over. Dodging angry traffic, he careened past the Amway Center, turning onto yet another one-way at Hughy. With no sign of their pursuers behind them, he plowed through.

Cara Kieu screamed again as he swerved to avoid a head-on collision with a city bus. After a couple of blocks and a quick left, he drove around the State Marshall’s Building, then made several fast turns through the downtown neighborhood streets.

With tousled passengers shrieking, he’d made a complete, albeit dangerous, wide circle. Relieved when they reached Orange Blossom Trail in front of the Parliament House, he parked on the corner. “Get out.”

Brandi looked at him in disgust. “You can’t just leave us here.”

“You need to get out and run. I don’t know how long we’ve got before these guys are back on our tail.”

“Okay, we’re outta here.” She opened the door, pushed Cara from her lap, grabbed her shoes and bag, then jumped from the vehicle and slammed the door. “Thanks for the ride, dude.”

Richard watched as they crossed the busy highway. RuPaul’s Raja: Heaven Scent gleamed on the billboard. Beneath all the neon multicolor, Brandi dazzled, looking like she was right where she belonged.

He sped away north up the Trail, and east onto Colonial through Little Saigon, then headed north on Mills Ave, with no sign of the black Nissan all the way to Winter Park.

 

 

Categories: Mystery, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Chapter reveal: Bullet in the Chamber, by John DeDakis

Cover art Bullet.jpgTitle:  BULLET IN THE CHAMBER

Genre:  Mystery

Author: John DeDakis

Website: http://johndedakis.com

Publisher: Strategic Media

Find out more on Amazon

Gutsy White House Correspondent Lark Chadwick is front-row center when the executive mansion is suddenly attacked.  The president is missing, the first lady’s life is at risk, and Lark is forced to hit the ground running in her new job as White House correspondent for the Associated Press. Her career may be in high gear, but when the man she loves disappears, Lark’s personal life starts to fall apart.  Swiftly swept up in a perilous web of deceit, murder, and intrigue, Lark relentlessly seeks answers.  But her dogged quest for the truth puts her on a dangerous and deadly path. Just how far is Lark willing to go to get the whole story?  And how far is too far?

About the Author:

Award-winning journalist John DeDakis is a former CNN Senior Copy Editor for the Emmy and Peabody-Award winning news program “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.” DeDakis, whose journalism career spans nearly four and a half decades, is a former White House correspondent and interviewed such luminaries as Alfred Hitchcock, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. DeDakis is a writing coach and taught journalism at The University of Maryland -College Park. DeDakis lives in the Washington, D.C. area.

Connect with the author on the web:

www.johndedakis.com

http://www.johndedakis.com/blog/

https://www.facebook.com/John-DeDakis-and-Friends-152278571506758/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/john.dedakis?fref=ts

Twitter: https://twitter.com/johnDeDakis

BULLET IN THE CHAMBER

By

John DeDakis

 CHAPTER

1

         Have you ever tried to fake confidence?  That’s what I was doing as I stood in Lafayette Square looking at the White House.  It was my first day on the job as the newest White House Correspondent for The Associated Press, the nation’s leading wire service.

Up close, the White House seemed smaller than I expected, but no less magnificent.  Perhaps it’s a subtle magnificence. Elegant.

Intimidating.

I was about to go inside for the first time.  And I felt like I didn’t belong.  Felt like I was an imposter.  Just three years earlier I was a college dropout trying to find out what caused the car accident that orphaned me as an infant.  I could’ve cared less about politics.  But that was then.

You have to be smart to cover the president, but smart is not the way I felt on this Monday morning — Valentine’s Day.  Nor did I feel particularly loved.  The guy I’d been “dating” hadn’t answered my last text in more than forty-eight hours – the entire freaking weekend.

The eleven o’clock briefing was going to start in twenty minutes, and I was running late. I revved up Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” in my head to give myself the psychological boost I needed to cross the Pennsylvania Avenue pedestrian mall and approach the Northwest gate.

By the time I got to the formidable black-barred fence blocking the way to the guard shack, my knees were weak and wobbly and I was shivering in my down jacket. It was a cold-crisp day. I wore tights, but they weren’t doing any good.

R-e-s-p-e-c-t . . . .

“Where’s your ID?” commanded a metallic voice coming from a speaker. Sunlight reflected off the bullet-proof glass so I couldn’t see inside.

“Oh. Sorry.” I fumbled in my messenger bag.  “Here it is,” I called through the bars as I held up my newly-issued, laminated, press pass — white block lettering against a bright red backdrop:

CHADWICK

Lark E.

AP

PRESS

I heard a click come from the doorknob, so I stuffed my pass back in my bag, opened the spear-topped gateway and strode more confidently than I felt to the guard shack.

“ID!” The Voice barked.

“I just showed it to you.”

“I need to see it up close.”

I sighed, pulled it out again, untangled the lanyard and pressed it against the window, my reflection an angry scowl masking the terror I still felt.

The door next to the window buzzed and The Voice said, “Enter!”

Inside, the guard shack was claustrophobic, but at least it was toasty warm.  The Voice sat behind a counter that separated us.  He was mid-thirties — young, cute, and wore a crisp white shirt and narrow black tie.  His badge announced he was a member of the Secret Service Uniformed Division. Two other uniformed Secret Service guards stood off to the side.

A radio newscast was on in the background. “More tough talk from China this morning,” the announcer read.

“Put your bag up here on the counter,” The Voice said.

I did. And so began several minutes of being searched, wanded, magnetometered, and scrutinized that made going through airport security feel like a breeze. Finally, The Voice handed me off to a tall African-American man in his fifties with salt and pepper hair.

“Good morning, ma’am.” His comforting brown eyes were alive with interest and caring.

“Hi,” I said brightly, grateful for his friendliness.

The nametag on his tunic read Crandall. “You’re new here,” he said gently.

“Uh huh. First day. ” I bit my lower lip. “Is it that obvious?”

He simply smiled.  At me.

“Do you know how I can get to the press room?” I asked as I squeezed through a turnstile, clearing the final hurdle.

“Sure,” he said, putting on his uniform cap. He opened the back door and let in a fourth guard who’d just arrived from the White House. “Now that my relief is here, I can show you. I’m heading that way.”

“Thanks.”

Officer Crandall spoke to The Voice.  “I’ll be on break inside, Jim.”

“Okay, Ernie. Thanks for your help.”

Ernie Crandall touched me lightly on the elbow as we stepped out the back door of the guard shack and onto the White House driveway.

I was inside the black bars of the perimeter fence.

I stopped to look at the iconic alabaster building.  It looked bigger from here.

“First time, huh?” he asked.

I nodded, my mouth slightly agape. I felt like a rube from Wisconsin. Oh, wait. I am!

“It never fails to impress me, either,” he said.

“How long have you been here, Officer Crandall?”

“Ernie. The name’s Ernie.” He tipped his hat.  “Twenty years. Been here twenty years. Retiring soon.”

“How soon?”

“Friday,” he beamed.

“Wow.  And then what?”

“Fishin’. A whole lotta fishin’.” He chuckled.

I smiled.  “I’m sorry you’ll be leaving.  I miss you already.  Thanks for being so nice to me.”

He smiled. “You’ll like it here.  Lots of history in the making.  And you’ll have a front-row seat.  Press, right?”

I nodded.  “A.P.”

The driveway where we stood bifurcated.  The left fork curved up toward the imposing north portico of the White House. The president’s front door.  Another asphalt driveway headed straight toward the one-story West Wing and a low-slung doorway beneath a porch held up by several white columns.

“Press room’s this way.” Ernie Crandall guided me along the driveway toward the West Wing.  We walked slowly, like old friends.

“Who was president when you started here?” I asked.

“Clinton.”

“Was he as much of a player as they say?” I asked.

“My lips are sealed,” Ernie smiled, pretending to zip them.

“What were you doing before here?”

“D.C. Metro Police,” he said.  “A cop on the beat.”

“Family?” I asked.

He nodded, but a shadow crossed his face.  “A son in Michigan.  A daughter in California.” He paused and swallowed.  “Wife passed a year ago. Year ago today, as a matter of fact.”

“Oh no!  Valentine’s Day.  That’s so sad.”  I touched the sleeve of his coat.  “I’m sorry,” I said.

I’m only twenty-eight, but I know pain and loss far better than most people my age: I found the body of the aunt who raised me after my parents were killed; my boyfriend, Jason, was murdered just as our relationship was about to take off; and I was sexually assaulted by an English professor I idolized. And all of this happened just within the past few years.

Ernie smiled faintly.  “Life goes on,” he said. “Life goes on.”

As we walked up the driveway, we passed to the left of a long row of about a dozen television cameras, each beneath its own awning-covered workspace crammed with power cables, equipment boxes, and light-stands. I found out later the camera positions – affectionately nicknamed “Pebble Beach” – are where network reporters do their standups and live shots with the White House in the background.

“This is my stop,” Ernie said.  We had come to where the asphalt driveway went around a grassy circle and passed beneath the porch in front of the entrance to the West Wing where a Marine in dress blues stood at attention.

Ernie pointed toward the White House.   “The press room’s that way down this sidewalk.  See the double doors right there?”

I looked. He was pointing at a spot halfway down the sidewalk on the right, an entrance to the West Wing that was far less imposing than the one where we stood – no elegant portico, and no handsome young Marine guard.

“I see it,” I said.  “Thank you, Officer . . . um . . . Ernie,” I said.  “Glad we met.” I held out my hand.

He shook it and bowed slightly. “I am, too.  Maybe our paths will cross a few more times before I move on.”

As I watched him turn toward the West Wing entrance, my phone went off.  I fished it from my messenger bag.

“This is Lark,” I said.

“It’s Grigsby.”

Rochelle Grigsby is my nemesis.  She’s about forty, single, and good looking – way better looking than me. She’s also the deputy bureau chief at the A.P. – my immediate supervisor.

“What’s up?” I tried to sound cheerful but, based on my experience of the past seven months as one of her general assignment reporters, I’d come to accept that she saw her job as trying to trip me up at every turn.

“Heads up, Lark.” I could hear Grigsby’s gum snap. “Ridgeway’s out today.  You’re in the front row.”

Stallings Ridgeway is the long-time and legendary White House Correspondent for A.P.  He’s been there at least thirty years.  Maybe more.

Grigsby plowed on. “I know it’s your first day on the beat, but if you’re the golden girl all the higher-ups think you are, then you’ll be fine.  Me?  I have my doubts.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” I replied.

Grigsby merely grunted and hung up.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Sing it, Aretha! A little louder, please, babe.

I turned toward the briefing room. Doug Mitchell stood at the double doors, Nikon at the ready, and flashed me his trademark neon smile that contrasted sharply with his ruddy complexion, dark eyes, thick black hair, and stubble beard. He’s six-two and was looking fine in a navy pea coat, jeans and work boots.

I hadn’t seen him in a week and my heart did an involuntary flip-flop.

Doug is ten years older than I am.  We’d worked together at the Sun-Gazette in Columbia, Georgia, where he was a staff photographer.  We had a thing for each other then, but it never got off the ground because the police were, shall we say, “very interested” in him for awhile, so I backed off.  But, when the police lost interest, mine picked up. And so did Doug’s interest in me.

We both got jobs at A.P. when the Sun-Gazette folded, but right away he was on the road covering Will Gannon’s successful presidential campaign, so we only saw each other off and on.  Mostly off.

Now, after not hearing from him all weekend (okay, forty-eight hours, sixteen minutes, and thirty seconds, give or take — but who’s counting?), there he was thirty yards ahead of me, hatless in the cold, his dark, wavy hair parted down middle and curling slightly over his ears and collar.

Doug raised the camera to his face and began shooting pictures of me.  He wore fingerless gloves and I could hear the rapid-fire chick-koo, chick-koo of the shutter as he squeezed off shot after shot.

My cell phone bleeped again.  The display read Lionel Stone. Lionel is my friend, mentor, and the guy who got me started in journalism.  He earned his Pulitzer decades ago while covering the White House for The New York Times. Since his “retirement,” he’s been the publisher of his hometown newspaper, The Pine Bluff Standard in Pine Bluff, Wisconsin, and he teaches journalism as an adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Normally, I’d be glad to take Lionel’s call, but lately he’d been blowing up my phone with all kinds of mansplain texts and links to various online articles.  It all started when I told him I’d gotten the White House gig.

Now Lionel’s living vicariously through me.  And it’s getting old. But I haven’t had the heart to tell him. Yet.

“Hey there,” I said into the phone. “I’ve only got a second.  I’ve just been told I’m in Ridgeway’s front row seat for the daily briefing.”

“Outstanding!” Lionel roared.  “Front row seat on your first day.  That’s awesome, kid.”

I winced.  I hate it when he calls me kid.  I’d told him that when we first met.  It was when I learned from aPine Bluff Standard newspaper clipping about the car accident I survived as an infant.  The crash killed my parents.  I convinced Lionel to let me look into the accident.  What I came up with almost got Lionel and me killed, but instead landed me my first job in journalism with Lionel as my boss.

Gradually, I’d let “kid” creep back into his lexicon.  But now it was grating.

“Yeah,” I said.  “We’ll see just how awesome it really is.  Rochelle Grigsby made it real clear she doesn’t think I’m up to the job.” I sighed. “Maybe she’s right.”

“It’s a tough job.  No doubt about it,” he said, “but you’re tough, too, kid.”

I sighed again, unconvinced. “At least they let me through the Northwest gate.”

“Put me on FaceTime,” Lionel ordered. “Lemme relive the experience of the ole place.”

I took the phone away from my ear and pushed the FaceTime button.  My wide, terrified eyes stared back at me.

Lionel noticed immediately. “I see that deer in the headlights look.  Stop it, Lark.  You’re gonna be fine.”

“So you say.  I almost turned around and went back home to throw up, but one of the uniformed Secret Service agents was nice to me, so I think I’ll keep going.”

Lionel’s face came on the screen.  He wore a white shirt, tie loosened — and, to my surprise, he had a white beard.

“Whoa. Lionel!  When’d you grow the beard?”

He stroked it and preened.  “You like?”

“Very distinguished.  What does Muriel think?”

He frowned.  “She thinks I should shave it.  Says it makes me look old.”

“Lionel.  I hate to tell you this: You are old.”

“Nonsense.  Seventy-five is the new thirty-five.”

“Yeah.  Right.”

“Geez, I wish I was thirty-five again,” he said wistfully, then cleared his throat. “Age is all in your head.  It’s just a number. Did I ever tell you about the time–”

I cut him off.  “Yeah.  Probably.  Look, Lionel, the briefing’s gonna start any minute and I’m late, so let’s get on with this little tour.”

I turned the camera around so Lionel could see, but Doug filled the screen. He was now about ten feet from me, camera at his face, clicking off more shots and adding his own narration.

“Here’s the famous Lark Chadwick about to enter the White House briefing room for the first time.  She’s taken her iPhone from her ear and is pointing it in my general direction.”

I was annoyed.  He gives me nothing but radio silence all weekend then has the nerve to turn up, all jovial, acting as if everything’s wonderful, and then he makes a point of trying to embarrass me. But I couldn’t afford to make a scene.  Not here.  Not now.

I put on my best tight smile and gave his lens a laser stare. “Good morning to you, too, Mister Mitchell.” I hoped he felt the chill from the ice in my voice.  “What you’re looking at, Lionel, is my so-called friend and colleague Doug Mitchell.  Doug is in the process of being exceptionally obnoxious.”

I brushed past him, pulled open the door and stepped into the briefing room.  Doug followed.

“Here it is, Lionel.”  I held the phone in front of me and panned the scene, left to right.  In front of me, a sea of about fifty blue leather folding seats faced to the right. To my left, at the back of the room, TV cameras sat atop tripods and pointed toward the podium at the front of the room.

As I panned right, I noticed that many of the seats were empty, but some reporters were strolling from the back of the room to take their places for the briefing.  The room was much smaller than I expected – barely the size of a swimming pool.  Actually, according to one of the links Lionel sent me, I learned that the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room is built right above the old White House swimming pool where President Kennedy used to cavort with “Fiddle” and “Faddle,” two of his many mistresses.

“Wow.  The place looks great since the facelift,” Lionel exclaimed.

I made a right turn and walked slowly down the side aisle that went along the windows. When I came to the front row I stopped and turned around.  Doug nearly bumped into me.

“Chadwick has stopped now,” Doug narrated.  “It looks as though she’s about to use her phone to get a wide shot of the entire briefing room.”

I pointed the camera toward the back of the room.

“Yes,” Doug proclaimed. “That’s exactly what she’s doing, folks.”  He continued to take more pictures. I continued trying to ignore him.

“Show me the plaque on Helen Thomas’s chair,” Lionel said.

“Which chair’s that?”

“Front row center,” Lionel said.  “I miss that old broad.”

I found the seat and put my phone close enough to the plaque so Lionel could read her name on it.

“She sat there for nearly sixty years.  Covered ten presidents.  She’s a legend, Lark.  I wish you could have known her.  She would’ve loved you.”

“Thanks, Lionel.”

Just then a voice came out of a speaker in the ceiling above me.  “Attention, everyone.  The briefing will start in exactly two minutes.  President Gannon and National Security Adviser Nathan Mann will be conducting the briefing. This is your two-minute warning.  The President will be in the briefing room in two minutes.”

“Holy crap.  Did you hear that, Lionel?”

“Yup.  Better take your seat.”

“Which one is it?”

“Front row center.”

“Helen Thomas’s old seat?”

“The very same.”

I gulped.

The sudden announcement that President Gannon would be giving the briefing caused a stampede as dozens of people came running – thundering – into the room, the sound echoing on the hollow floor above the old swimming pool.

Everyone was piling into the room through a narrow hallway in the back. I pointed my iPhone toward the commotion so that Lionel could see.

In the row just behind me the correspondents for Fox and CNN were hastily getting wired up to do their live reports. Each of them faced the cameras at the back of the room. The guy from CNN awkwardly slung himself into his suitcoat while inserting an earbud into his ear.  The perfectly coifed blonde reporter for Fox stood stoically, hand to her ear, waiting for her cue.

The room buzzed with expectation.

“Better sit down, kid,” Lionel urged.

I sat, my pulse quickening. The lectern towered in front of me.

Suddenly, an older, bald man wearing black-rimmed glasses and carrying a long, narrow reporter’s notebook darted toward me from my left.  “You!” He yelled at me and jabbed his thick forefinger dangerously close to my nostrils.  “You’re in my chair.”

From the phone in my hand Lionel said, “Stallings?  Stallings Ridgeway?  Is that you, you old fart?  It’s Lionel Stone.  How are ya, man?” Lionel’s voice was giddy with nostalgia.

For a moment, Ridgeway’s face lost its intensity as his eyes searched in confusion for who’d called his name, but then he focused on the phone in my hand.

“Lionel,” Ridgeway said gruffly, “whoever this is you’re talking to is sitting in my seat.”

“Oh, c’mon, Stallings.  Let the kid have your chair just this once.”

Embarrassed, I stood.  “I’m sorry, Mister Ridgeway. Rochelle Grigsby told me you were off.”

Suddenly, I became aware of a deathly silence. I looked around. The room was full to overflowing, everyone was standing, and all eyes were on me.

I turned around.  Stallings Ridgeway, hands on his hips, glowered at me.  Standing at the podium, an amused look on his face, stood the imposing presence of Will Gannon, the forty-ninth President of the United States.

“Oh, my God,” I blurted.

The entire press corps erupted in laughter.

The president spoke.  “That’s okay, Miss Chadwick.  I’ll wait until you and Mister Ridgeway get things straightened out.”

“I’m so sorry, Mister President.” I slid away from the front row seat and Ridgeway eased into it.  “I’ll call you back,” I rasped into the phone and scurried to the side aisle and toward the back of the room.

I kept my head down, but could hear some clapping and sniggering as the reporters took their seats.

I’d only gotten past the second row when I heard the president say, “I suppose this is as good a time as any to introduce you to Lark Chadwick.  Today marks her first day as a White House Correspondent for the Associated Press.  I met Lark when I was Governor of Georgia campaigning for this job.  Lark is an impressive young woman who wasn’t afraid to ask me some tough questions.  So, welcome, Lark.”

By this time I was in the back of the room, as far from the president and the blinding spotlight as I could possibly get. Fortunately, it was next to Doug. He gently touched my shoulder to comfort me.

“Thank you, Mister President,” I hollered.

There was a bit more chuckling and then the room became silent again as reporters turned their attention to President Gannon.  He’d only been in office a few weeks, but I noticed that the pronounced southern drawl he’d had as a candidate was already beginning to fade.

Behind and to the president’s right stood a nervous, diffident man wearing a dark suit — Nathan Mann, the president’s newly-appointed National Security Adviser.

The president cleared his throat, eyed the TV cameras just behind me, and began to speak.  “During my campaign, I was asked many questions about what my policy as president would be on the commercialization of drones.  As you know, my consistent answer has been that I want to study the issue before coming up with a plan. I’m announcing today my administration’s position on the subject, and I’m announcing our legislative plan to put it into place.  I’ll give you the broad outline of the legislation, then Nathan will stay behind to take your questions.

“First and foremost, as your President, it’s my responsibility to–”

Just then the door to the president’s right rear burst open and a torrent of Secret Service agents swarmed into the room. Ernie Crandall was one of them.

“EVERYONE OUT. NOW!” shouted one of them.  “OUT.  NOW.  SIDE DOORS. MOVE! MOVE! MOVE!”

 

Two agents grabbed the president and hustled him out of the room.

Categories: Suspense, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Chapter reveal: Climatized, by Sally Fernandez

climatizedbookimageTitle: CLIMATIZED

Genre: Thriller

Author: Sally Fernandez

Website: www.sallyfernandez.com

Publisher: Dunham Books

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book:

She’s been an analyst, a spy, an investigator, and the deputy director of the States Intelligence Agency. After resigning her post at the SIA, Max Ford formally declares her independence when she bursts onto the Washington DC scene as a private investigator. While her new incarnation as PI indulges her penchant for sleuthing, her style remains unchanged. Seems Max is still brash, tenacious, tough—and unwilling to bow down to anyone, including elite and powerful politicians. Right out of the starting gate, Max finds herself embroiled in an unseemly web of mystery, murder andintrigue. When Senator Sherman Spark, a prominent Republican from Florida, is found dead in Lincoln Park, the police quickly rule the death a suicide. But Isabelle Spark, the late Senator’s wife, isn’t buying it and hires Max to prove there is something more sinister at work. Max quickly finds suspicious circumstances surrounding the Senator: two world-renowned scientists died days before they were scheduled to testify before the late Senator’s investigative committee on climate change initiatives. But when she realizes the connection to global warming, big money, deceit, and treachery, Max’s investigation accelerates in a most dangerous way.  No sooner than Max starts to unravel the mystery, a third scientist dies under questionable circumstances. Then a fourth scientist goes missing—and this missing scientist could be the key to unearthing the motives behind the deaths. Against the backdrop of a ticking clock, Max and her partner, Jackson Monroe, launch a pulse-quickening quest to find the missing scientist, and find the truth. This twisty, circuitous path leads them to the powerful organization behind the killings.  But Max Ford might find herself on the wrong side of a lot of powerful people, because what she discovers could have devastating, worldwide implications. And when that evidence is presented to the president, he will be forced to make a crucial decision:  cover up a diabolical plot, or bring down a multi-trillion-dollar worldwide economy…

Suspenseful, spellbinding and sensational, Climatized delivers red-hot action, a sizzling storyline, and a scorcher of a plot.   Briskly paced, steeped in facts, and resplendent with political intrigue,Climatized is an extraordinary—and extraordinarily provocative—thriller.  Sally Fernandez turns upthe heat in Climatized, a tale that will leave readers breathless.

About the Author:

Sally Fernandez is a world traveler and political junkie with a vivid imagination. She and her husband divide their time between their homes in Florida and in Florence, Italy.

Links: 

www.sallyfernandez.com

https://www.facebook.com/SallyFernandezNovelist

https://twitter.com/SallyzSaying

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

Chapter 1

UP IN THE AIR

Claus was pleased to see Ernst standing outside the hotel at

eight a.m. sharp. Now they could beat the weekend traffic

and arrive in Saint Léger within the hour. It was an easy drive

from Claus’ home in Avignon, but the weather forecast for the

weekend called for conditions that were unseasonably sunny

with cloudless skies, abnormal conditions for an April day

without rain. He suspected the roads would be cluttered with

families opting to enjoy the various outdoor activities available in

the mountainous region. Most important, the weather was ideal

for rock climbing, one of Claus’ obsessions. He often remarked

that the desire to climb coursed through his veins since receiving

his first Whiz Kid harness and carabiners at the age of five.

What choice did he have? Both his grandfather and father were

avid climbers. Oh yes, with the warm sun and the crisp air, it

promised to be a strenuous but invigorating climb, exactly what

Claus preferred.

Up ahead was the sign for Saint Léger du Ventoux.

They were about to pass through the quaint village in the

Toulourenc Valley at the base of the Mont Ventoux. The

immense mountain, towering six thousand feet into the air,

was well known for casting a permanent shadow on the tiny

hamlet. In another half-mile east and a quarter-mile north

they would reach their destination. Finally, Claus steered

into the sparsely filled parking lot, pleased to see only a few

visitors had arrived.

“How magnificent,” Ernst said, as he viewed the majestic

Saint Léger hovering above.

“She’s got some of the finest crags and some the hardest

routes,” Claus said. Eager to get going, he hopped out of the car

and headed for the trunk. “Help me with the gear?”

As Ernst followed behind he spotted myriad overhangs off in

the distance. “It looks challenging.”

“The route we’re going to take is a single pitch and only

a hundred and thirty feet high up the cliff. But don’t let her fool

you; she’s a tough old crag.”

“So what do we need—just ropes and belay devices?”

“That will do it.” Claus looked at Ernst’s feet and noticed

that they were two shoe sizes larger than his. “Good thing you

brought your own climbing shoes,” he joked.

“I never leave home without them. But thanks for letting me

borrow your other gear.”

“No problem. Let’s get going. It’s a twenty-minute walk from

here to the base.”

As they walked along the narrow path lined with Austrian pines,

Claus explained that the route was one of the most difficult, as well

as one of the least ventured. “There are permanent bolts strategically

placed up the rock face. They’re positioned anywhere from fifteen

to thirty feet apart, so we’ll be able to descend without rappelling.”

They both understood that with or without the bolts that

provided protection, the descent was the most dangerous part of

rock climbing—the part they both enjoyed.

“Hey, Ernst, you never told me what you do for a living or

why you were even at the conference?” Claus was a little curious,

but he was primarily killing time.

 

“I guess our climbing tales did dominate our discussions. No

big secret. I’m a freelance consultant for biotech companies.”

“So why the interest in a climate-change seminar?”

“I was bored.” Ernst grinned. “You gonna let me start the

ascent?”

“I know the route. You don’t, so I’ll take the first pitch.”

Ernst didn’t push. He knew there would be plenty of

opportunities to switch roles back and forth between the lead

climber and the belayer.

“Here we are!” Claus announced as they came around the last

bend. Standing before them was a massive rock towering up in

the air.

Ernst inspected the crag. He noted that the first bolt was

secured approximately twenty feet up the rock face.

Claus noted his expression. “I assume you approve?”

“Absolutely!”

Claus expertly tied off one end of the rope to his carabiner

with a figure-eight knot and then attached the carabiner to his

harness. “I mentioned that this is one of my preferred routes.

It’s a rugged day’s climb that calls for endurance and physical

strength, but it’s not Dangerville.”

“I’m ready to rock and roll!” Ernst said. His eagerness was

apparent.

Claus also deemed it time to get the show on the road or,

rather, up the rock. After double-checking his equipment, he

took the lead and began the ascent. Taking special care, he

inched his way up the rock face as Ernst ran the rope through

the belay device and then clipped the device to his harness.

It provided the necessary protection in case the leader was to

slip and fall before attaching himself to a pre-placed bolt with

a carabiner. The belay device created friction, placing bends in

the rope allowing the belayer to tighten and secure the rope

quickly, preventing the leader from falling beyond the last piece

of protection.

Having maneuvered the rock face without incident and

satisfied with the pace, Claus attached himself to the next bolt.

Then, he took over the belay device and functioned as the belayer.

He watched attentively as Ernst climbed to join him. At that

point they had been ascending for well over an hour, covering

half the distance, with Claus always in the lead.

“Now can I take the lead?” Ernst asked, satisfied he had

proven his athletic prowess.

Claus gave the go-ahead.

Ernst moved upward toward the next bolt as Claus adjusted

the belay. Thus far, the ascent had moved along with a rhythmic

cadence. Then after passing a few more bolts, Claus was once

again in the lead.

“I’m ready!” he shouted down to Ernst but there was no

response. “C’mon, let’s move it!”

“Give me a sec! I’m adjusting my gear!” Ernst shouted back.

Moments later, he resumed the climb.

Finally, they had reached the top of the cliff. They each

detached the rope, removing the tether from their harnesses,

and then stood back to admire the three-hundred-and-sixtydegree

view.

“Breathtaking!” Ernst remarked. “Well worth the climb.”

“Ready for lunch? I’m starved.” From Ernst’s expression, Claus

needed no verbal response. Immediately he opened his backpack

and pulled out an assortment of sausages and cheeses, along with

a crusty baguette.

Ernst grabbed two energy drinks and two protein bars from

his backpack.

They noshed leisurely on their snacks and carried on with

simple conversation while enjoying the refreshing cool air. But

as the hour passed by they agreed to pack up and get off the

mountain before losing the benefit of daylight. Within the next

two hours, the sun’s glow would cast itself on the back side of

the mountain, leaving them hanging off a dimly lit crag. After

a few more moments to stretch their legs, they gathered their

belongings and organized for the descent. As agreed, they would

not rappel, but would climb down together, sharing the roles of

leader and belayer as they had before.

Ernst walked over to the permanent bolt fastened to the rock

face at the edge of the cliff and clipped on a carabiner. He ensured

the knotting on the rope was secure. Simultaneously, Claus tied

the other end of the rope to his harness and descended to the

first bolt twenty feet below. Ernst released the rope at a slow,

even pace through the belay, using the device as a descender this

time. As Claus increased his distance, Ernst kept the rope taut.

“Watch your footing down here!” Claus shouted, paying particular

attention to the patch of scree they encountered on the way up. He

continued to edge his way along the rock face using great caution,

until he arrived at the next bolt. “I’m clipped on!” He attached his

carabiner and waited for Ernst to climb down and take the lead.

“Whoa!” Ernst landed his left foot smack in the center of the

scree, but soon regained his balance as the loose gravel scarcely

missed Claus’ head.

Either Ernst did not hear him or he was not paying attention,

but for whatever reason it gave Claus pause. “Let’s take it slow! We

have plenty of time. Remember—you don’t know this crag—I do!”

“Got it!” After a few deep breaths, Ernst continued.

They regained their cadence, taking special care as they

maneuvered past each other and descended the mountain.

All of a sudden, Claus heard a foreboding snap. “ERNST!” he

screamed as he slid down the rock face, scraping his head along

the way.

With no time to spare, Ernst tied off his rope to stop Claus’

acceleration. Had he not, they both would have plunged over

seventy-five feet to the ground.

Dangling helplessly on the rope thirty feet below, Claus took

a lungful and then exhaled. His ears rang with the sound of

his body scraping against the rocks. It reminded him of a train

coming to a screeching halt on unoiled tracks. A horrible sound,

he thought as he shuddered.

“Find a foothold—and don’t move!” Seconds later Ernst had

him tied off, and the rope was secure. “I need to rappel down

and take your weight.”

For Claus, it seemed like hours, but it only took minutes for

Ernst to reach him.

“What the hell happened?”

Claus tried to regain his breath, but all he managed to utter

was, “The bolt let go.”

“How could the bolt simply pull out of the rock?”

“I don’t know!”

“It was fine on the way up. We both clipped on to it!”

“Let’s just get off this mountain.” Claus was clearly ill at ease.

Given the circumstance, Ernst took charge. “Take a deep

breath; we’ve got only about thirty feet more to go.”

Back on solid ground, Ernst inspected Claus’ head. Fortunately,

he had only a few superficial scrapes on his forehead, not worth

a bandage. Then, after a bit of haggling, Claus insisted he was

perfectly capable of driving Ernst back to his hotel. They wasted no

time in gathering their gear and headed for the car. Once underway,

Claus gradually returned to his former self, and their conversation

took on a lighter tone. They chatted about their good fortune until

Ernst proceeded to recount horror stories from his earlier climbs.

All Claus heard was his grandfather’s voice echoing in his

ear. “You’ll never be able to read the mind of Mother Nature,

so you’d better be able to read the minds of those helping you

to challenge her.” They were words he did not heed on that day.

Claus was rarely rattled, but he had never climbed with a stranger

before, only with close friends. But he had to admit that it was

Ernst’s quick action that saved them both.

Ernst was still rattling on about a fall he took until Claus

interrupted. “I’d prefer you to keep those stories to yourself, at

least until after our climb tomorrow.”

“Point taken. So we’re still on?”

Claus nodded, but continued to keep his eyes on the road.

The rest of the drive was relatively silent as they sped along the

winding alpine highway. Finally, Claus spotted a neon sign on top

of a building that flashed the name “Novotel,” and he breathed

a sigh of relief.

Antoinette checked her watch and then checked the wall

clock; they both read 9:38 p.m. “Il a promis.” She soon decided

moaning was useless and thought the Beaujolais wine might

produce a better effect. After pouring herself a glass, she

sauntered into the living room and waited for her husband.

Unfortunately, her favorite Gamay grape from Burgundy was

not doing its magic. She prayed that her worrying would prove

unnecessary.

Antoinette recognized that Claus was an excellent climber.

He had tackled the Matterhorn frequently with his hiking

buddies. But the day hikes by himself or with only one other

person concerned her, especially if she was not acquainted

with that person. All she knew was that Claus had befriended

another attendee during a weeklong conference. His name

was Ernst from Lucerne, who was also an avid climber. They

had made plans to climb Saint Léger on Saturday. She had

approved on one condition—they would be off the mountain

by sunset. That was two hours ago. Once again she checked her

watch with growing concern. The time was 10:15. Suddenly,

she heard a car pull into the driveway and she let out a huge

sigh of relief.

Je sais que je suis en retard!” Claus called out from the kitchen,

apologizing for being late. When he walked into the living room,

he found his wife standing in the center of the room with her

arms folded across her chest. Not a good sign, he thought, and he

moved in to embrace her with a hug, whispering “Je t’aime” in an

effort to stifle any anger.

Antoinette surrendered to his ploy, but when she pulled away,

she saw the bruise on his forehead.

Claus assured his lovely wife that it was nothing and then

rotated his cupped hand as though he were holding an empty

wine glass.

Tu veux un verre de vin?” she asked without a trace of anger,

thankful that he had arrived home safely.

Absolument!” he replied, amazed by her easy acquiescence

and more than ready for the glass of wine she was in the midst

of pouring. Then, he prepared for the inevitable question.

As expected, the moment they sat down next to each other

on the sofa, Antoinette asked, “So how was the climb?”

Claus filled her in on the day’s events, careful to leave out

a few details. It all ended well; what’s the point? he mused. Then,

switching the topic slightly, he began to wax on about how Ernst

was such a great climber, hoping to butter her up for his next

request. “Ernst leaves on Monday and asked if I’d climb the Lou

Passo with him tomorrow. I agreed.”

Antoinette knew that Lou Passo was located in the same

region they had just climbed, but it was a rarely visited crag and

considerably easier than Saint Léger. “Clau—”

Arrêtez,” he said as he held up his hand, stopping her

response. “Je l’ai déjà dit oui.”

So, you’ve already said yes. Then what’s left for me to

say?” she asked with mild annoyance, annoyance that was

rooted in her doubts about Ernst. He was not one of Claus’

close friends.

 

Categories: Suspense, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Poetry Excerpt Reveal: ‘Night Ringing’ by Laura Foley

night-ringing

“I revel in the genius of simplicity” Laura Foley writes as she gives us in plain-spoken but deeply lyrical moments, poems that explore a life filled with twists and turns and with many transformations. Through it all is a search for a fulfilling personal and sexual identity, a way to be most fully alive in the world. From multicultural love affairs through marriage with a much older man, through raising a family, through grief, to lesbian love affairs, “Night Ringing” is the portrait of a woman willing to take risks to find her own best way. And she does this with grace and wisdom. As she says: “All my life I’ve been swimming, not drowning.”

-Patricia Fargnoli, author of “Winter, Duties of the Spirit, ” and “Then, Something

“I love the words and white space of poetry. I love stories even more. In this collection, Laura Foley evokes stories of crystallized moments, of quiet and overpowering emotion, of bathtubs and lemon chicken. The author grows up on the pages, comes of age, and reconciles past with present. Almost. Try to put the book down between poems to savor each experience. Try, but it won’t be easy. -Joni B. Cole, author of “Toxic Feedback, Helping Writers Survive and Thrive”

Plain-spoken and spare, Laura Foley’s poems in “Night Ringing” trace a life story through a series of brief scenes: separate, intense moments of perception, in which the speaker’s focus is arrested, when a moment opens to reveal a glimpse of the larger whole. Memories of a powerful, enigmatic father, a loving but elusive mother, a much older husband, thread Foley’s stories of childhood, marriage and motherhood, finally yielding to the pressure of her attention, as she constructs a series of escapes from family expectations, and moves toward a new life. In these lucid, intense poems, Foley’s quiet gaze, her concentration, and emotional accuracy of detail, render this collection real as rain. -Cynthia Huntington, author of “Heavenly Bodies”

Foley’s voice rings with quiet authority undercut by calamity, examining a life so extraordinary, she seems to have lived several people’s lives, setting a high bar for poetic craft she meets, in great mystery perfectly expressed in the tiny, quotidian, “spent matches pressed on wet pavement,” to soulful beauty, “as wind lifts/every shining wave”; in wisdom rooted in humor, from the deliciously funny “Flunking Jung,” to self-deprecating wit, misreading “poetic” as “pathetic,” reminding us wisdom is love, grown from self-compassion. -April Ossmann, author of “Anxious Music”

Buy Links:      Amazon  / Norwich Bookstore / B&N

Excerpt

Ode to My Feet

 

For years I’ve thought them queer,
hiding them
in steamy boots and sneakers,
but recently, I’ve begun to like
their well-worked lines, blue
veins, tapered,  skinny elegance.
Funny looking, yes, oddly
protuberant, awkwardly angled,
unlike anyone else’s,
models for a medieval statue’s,
ancient granite feet
on a church facade,
thoroughly unmodern.
Yet, how well they climb steep cliffs,
work my slinky kayak’s rudder,
how they tingle, tapping to music
across a wooden floor,
dangling below me
when I sit on high seats,
and turning pink as we wade
the cool mountain pond,
warming, as they carry me
faithfully home to rest.

LauraBeach.jpg

Author Info

Laura Foley is the author of five poetry collections. The Glass Tree won the Foreword Book of the Year Award, Silver, and was a Finalist for the New Hampshire Writer’s Project, Outstanding Book of Poetry. Joy Street won the Bi-Writer’s Award. Her poems have appeared in journals and magazines including Valparaiso Poetry Review, Inquiring Mind, Pulse Magazine, Poetry Nook, Lavender Review, The Mom Egg Review and in the British Aesthetica Magazine. She won Harpur Palate’s Milton Kessler Memorial Poetry Award and the Grand Prize for the Atlanta Review’s International Poetry Contest.

Author Links:  Website | Goodreads 

Website:  http://www.lauradaviesfoley.com/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8402128.Laura_Davies_Foley

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Corporate Citizen, by Gabriel Valjan

5-ccTitle: Corporate Citizen: Roma Series Book Five

Genre: Mystery-Suspense/Thriller

Author: Gabriel Valjan

Website: www.gabrielvaljan.com

Publisher: Winter Goose Publishing

Purchase link: http://amzn.to/2b9E2qE

About the Book:

A call for help from an old friend lands Bianca and the crew back in Boston. On a timeout with Dante, due to revelations in the aftermath of the showdown in Naples, Bianca is drawn to a mysterious new ally who understands the traumas of her past, and has some very real trauma of his own. Murder, designer drugs, and a hacker named Magician challenge our team, and Bianca learns that leaving Rendition behind might be much harder than she thinks. 

 

Excerpt from Corporate Citizen (Roma Series Book 5)

    “Is this Mr. DiBello?” said a woman’s voice through the long-distance connection.

“This is he,” Gennaro answered.

Bianca raised her eyes at hearing him speaking in English. She had just come into the room with their afternoon drinks. She was even more concerned that the call had come to Gennaro’s cell phone and not the house phone. They were apartment sitting for their friend Claudio Ferrero, La Stampa’s top investigative journalist, who was on assignment. This call also threatened their afternoon ritual of talks out on the balcony where they enjoyed the sights below of San Salvario, the neighborhood near Turin’s city center. Gennaro was motioning for her to come over and eavesdrop.

“What can I do for you?” he asked the caller.

“Not for me, Mr. DiBello. I’m calling on behalf of your friend, Diego Clemente. He asked me to dial your number for him. It’s not easy dialing Italy from a hospital phone.”

“Hospital?” Gennaro said, alarmed. His eyes flashed his concern to Bianca.

“I’m a nurse at MGH and he’s my patient. MGH is Mass General–”

“Hospital in Boston,” Gennaro stammered. “I know that. Scusi – I mean I’m sorry for interrupting you, but is Diego alright?”

“He took a fall at home and broke his hip,” the woman seemed to sigh, “slip rugs are dangerous, you know. He can tell you the rest himself. There isn’t much time.”

“Wait, please. Much time?” Gennaro asked, confused. “I don’t understand.”

“He’s due for surgery and I’ve started his IV. I’d say that you have about ten minutes before happy hour.”

Gennaro said, not understanding to Bianca. “IV…and ‘happy hour.’”

Bianca bared her forearm and explained in Italian: “Medication; probably anesthesia.”

The voice on the phone said, “I’ll hand over the phone to him so you two can talk.”

“Thank you, Nurse.”

“You’re welcome.” Gennaro heard the phone shuffle and heavy breathing. The connection improved. Gennaro and Bianca heard the pull of the curtain. “Diego?”

Another moment passed, and more ruffling sounds. Gennaro and Bianca huddled closer around the phone as Clemente spoke, “Slip rug, col cazzo.” Clemente had learned some Italian, but only the choice words. “That’s some hell of a story, from Mason Street to MGH and now a hip-replacement. Jesus, I can feel the drug working its way up my arm already.”

“You’re making no sense, Diego.”

“Gennaro, please listen to me, since I don’t know how fast Nurse Ratched’s cocktail will work.”

“Less than ten minutes. I’m listening.”

“Thanks. My head feels light. Damn.”

“Wait — where’s your wife? You shouldn’t be alone in a hospital.”

“My wife passed away. Look, Virgil showed me the apartment, the dead girl, and it’s a real mess, a real setup, and my life is going to hell. To hell, you understand, Gennaro, in a boat, hole in the bottom, and toothpicks for oars.” The voice was Diego irritated, in hyper mode.

“Slow down, Diego. I’m sorry about your wife. Why didn’t you tell me?”

A deep, relaxed sigh. “I didn’t want to trouble you. What could you’ve done? Send me a Mass card? You’ve been through it yourself.”

Gennaro’e eyes turned downward. He remembered Lucia. “But still, Diego. I’m your friend. Friends do something, and I don’t mean send you the latest self-help manual on grief.”

Bianca swatted his arm, “No time for sarcasm,” she said.

“I couldn’t help myself, he told her in Italian.

“Hello? Help me then.” Diego

“First, I need to understand what you’re telling me,” Gennaro said. “Who is Virgil?”

“I wish I knew, Gennaro. I wish I knew. I think Virgil is one of Farese’s people.”

“Farese?” The name, as it came out of Gennaro’s mouth, made Bianca’s eyes widen.

U.S. Attorney Michael Farese was a chameleon of a character, changing colors when he worked for the Department of Justice, when he handled diplomatic requests for the State Department, and when he worked for the CIA, as they thought he might have been after their last run-in with him during their investigation of the Camorra in Naples.

“Diego? Concentrate. Why do you think Farese?”

“That doesn’t matter. She’s dead and he’s dead.”

“Who? Who is she? Who is he?” Gennaro asked. His voice almost cracked.

“Norma Jean. She had such nice lingerie, too, and that son of a bitch was in such a nice bed.” Clemente’s voice was almost singing as he was speaking. The wonders of pharmacology.

Gennaro rubbed his eyebrows. He was frustrated. “Diego, stay with me. Who is Norma Jean? Who was in the bed?”

“Marilyn Monroe was a sad girl.” Diego giggled.

“He’s giggling,” Gennaro said to Bianca.

“Oh, it’s a party line!” Diego almost shouted. “Who else is there?”

“Bianca,” Gennaro announced. “She is staying with me.”

“You naughty boy,” Diego said. “Put her on, please.”

“Here,” Gennaro handed his cell phone to Bianca. “Talk to him. I think the medication has gotten into his brain.”

Bianca seized the phone. “Clemente, this is Bianca,” she said, hoping that using the man’s last name would snap some momentary sense into the man’s head. “Forget about Marilyn Monroe. Who is dead?”

“Marilyn, of course. Somebody murdered her,” Diego answered.

“That’s right, but who is in the bed?”

“James Guild, former special agent, FBI, scourge of my loins.”

Bianca put her hand over the receiver and repeated, “Guild is dead.”

Porca puttana.” Gennaro stepped in closer to the receiver. “What happened, Diego?”

“Hell if I know. Virgil gave me the tour of hell. I got nice slippers, though. He had a needle in his arm.”

“Virgil had a needle in his arm?” Bianca asked.

Clemente became belligerent. “I just told you Guild had a needle in his arm. He was in that expensive bed. I saw it. No gun, too. Norma was out in the living room. He was in her bedroom. Nice bed, and what a nice view, and did I tell you what a beautiful kitchen she had?”

Gennaro asked, “I couldn’t hear that last part. What did he say?”

“Nice kitchen,” she said in English “He’s getting delirious.”

“I’m not delirious,” Clemente yelled. “I’m serious! Oh, that rhymes.”

“Please focus, Clemente,” Bianca said.

“I saw it. I saw the computer. My life, your life…it all goes to shit.”

Bianca, trying a soothing voice, said, “You saw a computer. What did you see, Clemente?”

“Black, black background,” Diego’s voice was now sputtering.

In a coaxing tone and hoping for more details, Bianca asked, “What else did you see?”

“Big, big.” More sputtering. Bianca closed her eyes.

“Big red R!” Diego said triumphantly.

Bianca and Gennaro understood what they had heard: black background and red R.

She said softly, “Fuck me.”

“Lingerie?” Clemente asked. Bianca handed the phone back to Gennaro. She put her hands to her temples, rubbed them. She thought of Boston, the Sargent case, Nasonia Pharmaceutical, and the body count.

“Diego, this is Gennaro again. We’re coming to Boston.”

“That would be nice. Somebody should feed the floor people. I feel sleepy now,” Clemente said, mewing. Gennaro stared at his phone before he put it to his ear again.

“Get some sleep, Diego. We’ll be there as soon as we can.” Gennaro heard more purring and then the cacophonous drop of the receiver on the floor on the other end. He ended the call on his cell phone.

“Did he say anything else?” Bianca asked.

“He said someone should feed floor people. I think he has cats.”

“How do you know he has cats?” she asked.

“Blame it on hanging around Silvio.” Bianca didn’t question the logic. Silvio was a translator, Farese’s interpreter, their friend, member of the team, and lately, animal whisperer.

“We should go to Boston,” Gennaro said.

“He saw the red R.”

“I know. You should call Dante.”

“Do I really have to?” she asked.

“Yes, and you have to tell him.”

“Which part? Clemente and Guild, or that Clemente saw the red R.”

“Doesn’t matter. Tell him everything,” Gennaro said. “It adds up to the same.”

Red R meant Rendition.

 

Excerpt published with permission from Winter Goose Publishing

 

Categories: Suspense, Thriller, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Gail Force, by Robert Lane

Gail Force Cover Art.jpgThe Gail Force

by Robert Lane

Mason Alley Publishing – Release date: September 20 2106

Available in trade paper (ISBN: 978-0692670446, $14.95) and eBook ($4.99) editions

 “a consistently entertaining crime thriller…The plot crackles with energy and suspense. The writing is crisp…clever.” –Kirkus

“Charm and humor permeate the pages of the surprising thriller. There’s little chance that anyone will turn the last page before developing a craving for the next installment.” –ForeWord Reviews

Award-winning novelist Robert Lane, who has drawn comparisons to John D. MacDonald, has created one of the most compelling characters in mystery today.  PI Jake Travis is tough, smart, wise and wisecracking. He’s hailed as “a winning hero”—and this time, Jake has an elaborate knot to untangle.

While trying to expose a corrupt Miami art dealer, Jake goes undercover for the FBI. The gallery’s owner, Phillip Agatha, is more enchanted with murder than he is with art. Aboard Agatha’s luxury yacht, the Gail Force, Jake is taken with Agatha’s hospitality—and with his alluring assistant, Christina, a woman who harbors her own secrets. Unknowingly, Jake plays into Agatha’s hands and initiates actions that could cause an innocent girl to die.

As Jake struggles to save the girl, unearth a rogue FBI agent, and bring Agatha to justice, his greatest challenge is to stay loyal to his girlfriend Kathleen—and to withstand the Gail Force.  As Jake himself observes, “After all, everything’s a game. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes you don’t know what game you’re playing.”  This game is on…

The Gail Force is crime fiction writing at its finest.  With a storyline that races from the opening page, characters that stay with readers long after the final page is turned, and the wit, wisdom, lust for life, and cynicism of Jake Travis, The Gail Force will leave readers breathless.

 

The Gail Force 

1 

The Fat Man 

Karl Anderson knew he’d made a mistake when he got a sex change and neglected to inform his wife.

“What the—”

“It’s me, babe.”

“What the—”

“Hey, you know we talked about it and—”

“Karl, you dumbass. What—”

“It’s Colette.”

“What?”

“Colette. You know, French. Thought we’d make a cute couple. Whatdaya think?”

“Oh, babe.” Riley Anderson put down her grocery bag of fresh produce, fish wrapped in white paper—she suspected the paper was not as fresh as the fish it wrapped—and a loaf of French bread. She strode over to her husband and combed her hand through his hair, tenderly tucking a few renegade strands behind his left ear. “You’re a blonde, babe. We talked about it? Remember? You’d look so much better as a brunette. Besides, a French blonde—they even make them?”

“Don’t know why not.”

“Name one.”

“One what?”

“French blonde. Come on, Karl. They don’t exist. It’s like a happy Eskimo or—”

“Catherine Deneuve.”

“Cather—OK, so you got one, but dead or alive, right? And look at your shoes. You got to start thinking differently.”

“I’ll be fine. Pretty sure she’s still alive. Born in forty-three.”

“You didn’t, you know,” Riley said with a coy smile, “touch the private equipment, right?”

They stood in a seaside bungalow, the late afternoon sun filtering through the slats of the venetian blinds, casting shadowed lines on the wall. A spiritual sea breeze swept through two sets of open patio doors, ushering in air that hung heavy with the gummy fragrance of saltwater. The front doors faced the Caribbean, and the side doors the courtyard and pool, one floor beneath them. “Some island south of Florida,” the government man in the buttoned dark suit had retorted in response to Riley’s earnest question as to where they were. That was three nights ago when they’d been dropped off at 2:00 a.m. in the middle of a weed-infested runway.

“No shit, Corky. Which one?” Riley had demanded.

“Brig-a-fuck-a-doon.”

“Gotcha. Hey, thanks for the heads up. Now give me my phone.”

“We’ve been over this. They can trace you. No phone.”

“How long am I gonna be here?”

“Until you leave.”

“Yeah? Well, let me tell you, if you come knockin’ and I don’t answer, it means I’m finally showing signs of intelligence. Got it, Corky?”

“Don’t call me Corky.”

“Corky, Corky—”

Karl had stepped in before Riley got wound up. He was always calming her emotions and outbursts, like throwing a blanket on a fire. He believed his wife’s bravado stemmed from her diminutive stature, but he wasn’t the type of man who gave thought to such trivial things. He simply loved her every way times ten.

“You know I didn’t,” Karl replied to his wife’s question and gave her their last kiss. “It’s just another precaution. We might even have fun with it.” Their first kiss had been outside the prefabricated junior high classroom in Marion, Indiana, when they were fourteen years old. It’d been building for three days until finally, on the fourth day, Karl nearly knocked her head into the side of the building before attacking her lips with his own.

He folded her, all five feet and one inch, into his chest. She jerked back. “Boobs?”

“Little fakies. I’m thinking this might be a pristine opportunity for you to see if you swing both ways, you know, snuggle up to Daddy Big Tits, might find it rocks your boat. Make a real sorority girl out of you.”

Riley smiled, glanced up at her husband, and said, “I don’t think so, baby. You’ve been rocking my boat ever since the day you grabbed my shoulders, banged my head, stuck your lips on mine, and then dashed off like the Easter bunny being chased by a pack of starving coyotes.”

While not poetic, and certainly not the finely crafted lyrical notes she would, if presented the opportunity, have chosen, nonetheless, it was a fine thing for Riley Anderson to say to her husband, as they were the last words he would hear her say. The last words she ever heard him say were coming around the corner like a downhill runaway truck.

Karl Anderson, who towered over his wife, gathered her back in his arms. He faced the open patio door. Riley, before looking up to his face, eyed the grocery bag on the kitchen counter. She wondered how she should prepare the fish but knew that Karl would likely step in and cook dinner. Maybe she’d slice up the French loaf, make garlic bread and croutons. Karl Anderson loved crispy croutons. Later, she would wonder if she hadn’t glanced at the damn groceries if she would have seen the panic—the sadness—in her husband’s eyes a split second sooner, and if that split second, of all the seconds the screwed-up world had ever known, would have made a difference in their lives.

When she did glance up, Karl Anderson was not looking at the object of his heart, but at the open patio door where a rotund, unwelcome guest stood blocking the salt air, the sun, the view, their future.

Karl, like a Polish weight lifter, jerked his wife over his head, took a giant leap toward the side patio that fronted the pool below, and heaved her over the patio rail and, with luck, into the pool’s deep end.

“Run, baby, run,” he screamed, praying that for once in her life, the little fireball would do the sensible thing and listen to him. That was assuming he didn’t miss and Riley went kerplat on the concrete pool decking. Karl spun and dove for the shelter of a desk. Like a runner on third knowing he was cooked, he closed his eyes, thinking it would be less painful when the bullet found him.

It wasn’t.

“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” the Fat Man said on entering the villa. He glanced behind him. “Find her. Go.” Two men were with him. The one who had shot Karl sprinted down the concrete stairs.

Mr. Anderson.” The Fat Man took several steps into the room. “Might I be mistaken or have you sprouted a pair of shapely—although the right one seems to be slightly off-kilter—breasts since our last meeting?”

“Eat me.”

“Yes, yes, yes. If only you knew. Why not now, Johnnie, while he’s still breathing?”

Johnnie Darling, who resembled the product of an incestuous relationship, slithered around his boss and snapped away with a Nikon D810.

“Fat little twerp,” Karl Anderson blurted out. His left hand grasped his Tommy Bahama shirt that Riley had sprung on him yesterday as a present. He tried to stem the bleeding that was turning the gold silk shirt into a rust-colored premonition of death.

“Why the animosity?” The Fat Man tapped his cane on the floor. “Is that what the end brings you, tied up in a bow? It is different with all of us. You should understand. Our minds are so similar in some departments, but apparently—and this, most unfortunately does not bode well for you—sadly different in others. But what a marvelous picture you make, especially now that you’ve made yourself such a conflicted creation. You know how I feel about art. It stimulates our senses. That which we are rarely exposed to, that which we dream about and participate in only through the voyeurism of our dreams, stimulates us the most. So considerate of you and, I might add, so utterly unselfish, to be our objet d’art.”

“Go fuck yourself.”

“Hmm…yes. Imagine the disastrous effect on the survival of the species if one could indeed finagle such an act.”

            Click. Click. Click.

The Fat Man prodded Karl Anderson’s shirt with his cane. He nudged the blond wig off to the side, taking care to keep a piece of it on Karl’s head.

            Click. Click. Click.

“This is exquisite. Exquisite indeed. Death comes to what? A man? A woman? We don’t know, Johnnie, what Mr. Anderson is trying to be. Perhaps one of your own. Death does not care, does it Mr. Anderson?”

            Click. Click. Click.

The Fat Man stepped around Karl and toddled into the kitchen, his back to Karl. “I thought we were getting along splendidly. The beauty of numbers—their simplicity and brutal honesty. It’s disappointing when those we trusted, our confidants, turn and drive a spike into our hearts. So sad. All of this, brought about by you.”

Karl groaned.

The Fat Man picked up the bag of groceries. He positioned a chair before Karl, sat, and bent over, his face close to Karl’s.

“Look at me,” the Fat Man said.

Karl did not. Karl Anderson decided to go deep inside himself, to choose his place of death, to envision the dimpled face of his sweet Riley as the last thing he would see. Did I throw her too far? I was afraid of coming up short. A short putt never goes in—oh God, please, I hope she hit the water.

The Fat Man poked Karl’s chin with his cane. “I said look at me.”

Karl did not.

“Very well then.” He leaned back and propped his cane against the side of the chair.

            Click. Click. Click.

The Fat Man gave a dismissive gesture with his hand, his fingers trilling the air. “Be done, Johnnie, until the closing shot. Why, Mr. Anderson? Why couldn’t you let me go? I told you that if you kept our secret, you would live. If not, you would create this egregious situation. What part of that simple statement did you not comprehend?”

Karl curled into a fetal position and coughed up blood.

“Now you understand, don’t you?” The Fat Man continued, undaunted by Karl’s lack of conversational participation. “And your little Riley? My! What a throw that was. My guess is that she’s bleeding out on the pink pool paver bricks. Pink. Pool. Paver. Bricks. What do you think, Karl? Or is it Pink. Paver. Pool. Bricks? Do you recall our number games? Of course you do. I got it right the first time, didn’t I? Words with the fewest letters lead the way. We resort to the alphabet for a tiebreaker. ‘Pink’ before ‘pool’ as ‘I’ comes before ‘O.’ Remember? We constructed whole sentences in such a manner, although paragraphs were beyond the scope of even our advanced minds. I will miss your stimulating company. I digress—Riley.

“Perhaps that wasn’t her fate; there’s always the cabana, a somewhat softer ending. You know which one I’m talking about, don’t you, Karl? Yes, that’s right. The one where the lady in the black bathing suit was spreading oil on her breasts yesterday as if she were making love to them. Remember now? Judging by the trajectory, I think that is where your little trinket might have landed. Johnnie, would you be so kind as to glance out the door. Take a few shots of Mrs. Anderson. Show them to Mr. Anderson in your viewfinder.”

Johnnie Darling went to the side patio door and peered down. He shook his raisin head at the Fat Man.

“Not there? Really—quite an amazing throw then. I’m sure Eddie will rope her in. Pity for her that she didn’t hit the bricks. Didn’t think of that, did you Karl? Really, have you nothing to add?”

Karl tightened his position, his arms and legs drawing into his center, as if in death, life compresses into you, growing small, dense, and close. Then, like a flickering flame reacting to a kindly puff, it was no more.

The Fat Man picked up the grocery bag. “I greatly admire your courage to control your last moments. Superb, actually. One never knows until the bitter end what kind of strength lies dormant in a man. With you, it is bottled animosity and structured silence. Think of the picture in his mind right now, Johnnie. The greatest art is that which we never see. Pity. Karl, are you tuned in?”

He reached into the bag and rummaged through the items. “I shall dine on your wife’s shopping tonight. Let’s see, Johnnie, French loaf, fresh produce, kiwi—excellent—such an integral component for a Caribbean salad.” He unwrapped the fish. “Yellowtail snapper. Enough for two, which means just enough for me.” He discarded the fish and stood, as if he’d instantly lost interest in it all. “I fear we’ve overstayed our visit, and we do want to be going before the police arrive; although I told them to give me an hour. One shot, Johnnie. With both instruments. Don’t cheat and rely on the camera.”

The Fat Man turned to leave.

“Shwell ill you.”

He turned and was surprised to see Karl Anderson’s eyes nailing his own. “Pardon me.”

“Riley,” Karl said with the greatest of effort, for he recognized his last breath. With that breath, he said, “She’ll kill you.”

“I think not. Johnnie.”

Johnnie circled the corpse twice and settled on a position. He took his time with the Nikon. Johnnie Darling always took his time with the last shot.

            Click.

 

 

Categories: Thriller, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Chapter reveal: ‘Joe Peas’ by Samuel Newsome

joe-peas-jpegTitle:  JOE PEAS

Genre:  Fiction/Inspirational

Author: Samuel Newsome

Website:  www.drsamnewsome.com

Publisher: Lulu

Purchase here.

An extraordinary tale about life, love, faith and friendship, Joe Peasillustrates how the most important life lessons sometimes come from the places we least expect.

About Joe Peas:  Who is Joe Peas?  Is he a simple Italian immigrant house painter, or is he a complicated man with much to hide, even from himself?   When the aging painter develops health problems, his life intersects with that of family physician James King. Dr. King is drawn to the curious Italian, whose life is a stark contrast to his own orderly life.  The free-spirited painter and doctor forge a unique friendship—a friendship that only grows when Joe breaks a hip, and becomes a patient in a long-term care facility where he does rehabilitation under Dr. King’s care.  As Joe interacts with other residents at the facility, he learns of their struggles, their triumphs, and witnesses their close relationships with their families.  The spirited little Italian enriches the lives of the other patients—and encounters with the residents change Joe in ways he never expected.   Through these interactions, Joe realizes just how much he missed in his own life.  While Joe struggles to come to term with his past, Dr. King faces his own struggles living in a community that values conformity over individual expression.  Eager to help his friend, Joe hatches a plan.  But that plan—as colorful and vibrant as Joe himself—sets in motion a chain of events that sheds light on the secrets of the enigmatic painter. Things are not always what they seem on the surface. Could there be more—much more—to Joe Peas than meets the eye?  And will the truth about the mysterious painter finally be unveiled?

An extraordinary story that will stay with readers long after the final page is turned, Joe Peas is irresistible. Tender and touching, thoughtful and thought provoking, Joe Peas is filled with unforgettable characters that come to life within the novel’s pages.  Informed by Sam Newsome’s experiences as a physician and educator, Joe Peas is a powerful story about true healing.

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

Joe Peas

by

Sam Newsome

Copyright 2015

Prologue

February 16, 1944

The Battle of Monte Cassino, sometimes referred to as the Battle for Rome, was as intense as any combat in the Second World War. Axis troops guarded the mountains and controlled the Rapido, Liri, and Garigliano River valleys. They controlled the old Appian Way access to Rome. While the German forces did not occupy the Abbey of Monte Cassino, they did control the surrounding hillside. Allied forces were uncertain of the strength of the Axis defenders and whether the abbey was under Axis control or not.

On February 15 alone, a massive barrage of 1,400 tons of bombs was loosed upon the abbey and its environs.

American soldiers of the Fifth Army witnessed the Allied bombardment as they steeled themselves for yet another assault on the enemy stronghold. The smoke and mist rolled down into the valley from the hills.

Most of these weary, battle-hardened soldiers were veterans of the North African campaign. They had not seen their wives and families for months, if not years. They knew that nothing or no one could survive such a barrage.

On February 16, as the smoke began to dissipate and the irritation of the GIs’ eyes cleared, a patrol noticed a new and unexplained feature on the landscape of no-man’s-land. A closer investigation revealed what appeared to be only a smoldering pile of cloth, perhaps a sack. On closer inspection they discovered the cloth to be the burned and tattered shirt and trousers of a small child. And they were surprised to find that the waif inside the clothes was still alive. The child was no more than smoke-stained skin and bones. His hair was filthy and scorched.

The soldiers snatched up the child and got him out of harm’s way. Over the next few days, he gained strength but appeared to be mute. The medics couldn’t tell if this was shell shock or a more serious medical condition. The homesick GIs refused to hand the boy over to the authorities. As he gained his strength, he was more or less adopted by the mess hall personnel.

Eventually the boy learned a few words. His main word was “Joe.” He probably had heard the term “GI Joe” so often that, when asked his name for the hundredth time, he said, “Joe,” and the moniker stuck.

The time came for the Fifth Army to move on. Joe had become a fixture at the mess hall and had won the hearts of the GIs, but they couldn’t take him with them to the next deployment. He was classified as a displaced person. When the aid worker asked for his name, he said, “Joe.” As for his last name, he had no idea. After an uncomfortable period of silence, he saw the cook opening a can of black-eyed peas. Joe had become fond of them as a staple of his new diet, so he said, “Peas.”

The aid worker asked, “Your last name is ‘Peas’?”

“Peas.”

And so it was. At least that was one version of the story.

 

Chapter 1

“You guys don’t know how to paint a house. You got to scrub, and I mean really clean the shit off! You don’t do that, you just wastin’ you time! Then you scrape that sucker plenty good! You don’t scrape and you just wastin’ you’ time! And then you prima it.” He used the word prima, instead of prime. “Then the paint. You got to use that good paint and none of that shit you get at any hardware store. You gotta know you’ paint, man.”

All this was overheard above the usual cacophony of the Waffle House. The customers in the surrounding booths, the chatter of the counter traffic, and a jukebox with the usual repertoire of country offerings provided a constant din that completed the diner experience. The high-speed, enigmatic counter orders shouted by the waitresses, and the clatter and motion of Freddy, the short-order cook, completed the symphony of a morning at the King’s Mill Waffle House.

The atmosphere was not one suitable for meditation, but it was great for a quick breakfast with a genial ambience. And with the bonus of a little time to read the daily paper, it was hard to beat. There was also something to be said for the old-fashioned diner experience that allowed the patron to see the food prepared.

Dr. James King and his wife, Betty, frequently slipped in for a Sunday breakfast before hospital rounds. This morning the paper took second place to the bantam man monopolizing the counter conversation. He had a dark, olive complexion; a pate of slick black hair; and a pencil-thin mustache. He appeared to be of an advanced age, but his animated speech and gestures suggested he was very active. Doc and Betty had lived in town all their lives, but they didn’t know him, and yet the small man was literally holding court with a cadre of local laborers as though he was a well-known local craftsman. Doc knew that a couple of these men had been lifelong painters, but they and the younger men listened when the speaker harangued them as though he was the resident house-painting expert.

“Lemme tell you ’bout paint. You paint a house like you court a beautiful woman. You don’t think Joe knows women? Lemme tell you guys. All the world’s best lovers, they’re Italian. All the best painters, Italian. You think that may be an accident?” The little fellow gestured widely with both hands, ending up with his thumbs inside his suspenders.

“You see a beautiful woman, you size her up. You got to find her blemishes. She may bebellissima outside, but she will have secrets. She got a jealous lover, or even a husband, you gotta know.”

He looked over at Betty, and she could have sworn that he winked at her. “That house you paint. It’s a got problems, you gotta know ’bout it. It got dry rot or hidden wasp nest, it can hurt a fella.

“That woman, you got to court her; you offer her flowers and candy. Flatter her and tell her she’s a so special to you! Give her all the attention she needs. She’ll say she doesn’t want it, but never you mind. She’ll eat it up. Make her believe she’s a you’ only one.

“That house, you got to court it too. Clean it like it’s a you’ best friend. Give it attention; take care of its special needs. It’ll pay off, guaranteed!

“That woman, now you better close in on the next step. You got to get physical contact. Now you guys know physical contact.” He looked around, giving his audience a knowing look. “A li’l touch and a li’l kiss and you on you’ way. Now you get to know her. She let her veil drop. You learn what she want or not want.”

Again, Betty sensed the Italian’s eyes on her. She could not help but wonder if it was more of a leer than an innocent glance. He was, after all, an Italian!

“That house, you ready for the next step. You get more physical with that house. You place the best prima you got. A simple kiss, a preparation for the real amore.” As the little Italian said this, he seemed to blur the comparison of house painting and a romantic liaison.

“Gents, it’s a now time to consummate the affair. Be gentle, be thorough.” He looked around to see if the entire diner, even Betty, was listening. They were. Then he continued.

“Take you’ time. You be simpatico with her and she be kind to you. Remember, you ’mericans, you always hurry. You take you’ time here. Smitty, none a’ dis wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am! Make you’ time with you’ lady count!

“That house, now it’s time to complete the act. Use you’ best paint. You no grab the brush like a bat. You hold it gently; caress it like a fine lady’s hand. You do slow, so slow, even passes, gentle strokes, feel the moist paint being stroked into the rough wooden surface. Soon the surface becomes moist, pliable—sexy. The strokes, they become more rhythmic, hypnotic—even erotic. You take you’ time, jus’ like with that bellissima woman. You do a slapdash job, you paint no good.”

As the fellow warmed to the sensual aspects of house painting, he actually lost part of his broken English.

“After that, you stay. You call that what? Afterglow! You stay. You be kind. You stay. You no run off and you see what it’s like to have real, real…”

“Intimacy.”

The little Italian and everyone in the diner turned to see who had said that. Dr. King and Betty looked around too, till they realized that the now red-faced Betty had volunteered the statement.

Joe continued, “Buono, intimacy. That lady deserves you’ best. That house deserves you’ best. You got it painted, then you look at the family. You see the look and feel of the family who live in the house. That’s a so good!”

One of the painters, Smitty, looked up from his third cup of coffee. “I need a cigarette.”

Abner, Smitty’s partner, decided he’d better call his wife and see if she was ready for their regular “date night.”

Dr. King and Betty had lingered longer than usual over their coffee as the little Italian and his band of painters entertained them. As Doc and his wife left the restaurant, they heard Joe ask his audience, “Who is that guy?”

“Why, he’s my doc,” said Smitty. “Fixed me up real good when I hurt my back last year.”

Categories: Fiction, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Chapter reveal: Death Steals A Holy Book, by Rosemary and Larry Mild

cover-artTitle: Death Steals A Holy Book

Authors: Rosemary and Larry Mild

Release: September 2016

Publisher: Magic Island Literary Works

Available at Amazon

Husband-and-wife mystery novelists Rosemary and Larry Mild have created a tightly woven, cleverly plotted and supremely suspenseful tale in Death Steals A Holy Book.  Resplendent with action, intrigue, wit, and a to-die-for cast of characters, Death Steals A Holy Book is bound to delight.

Reluctant sleuths Dan and Rivka Sherman yearn for a tranquil life as the owners of The Olde Victorian Bookstore in Annapolis, Maryland. But when the Shermans acquire a rare volume, they find themselves embroiled in a firestorm of deceit, thievery, and violence.

Israel Finestein, renowned restorer of old books in Baltimore, has just finished his work on the Menorat ha-maor, “The Candlestick of Light.”His life is brutally snuffed out and the book disappears. What makes this rare text so valuable that someone is compelled to kill for it? Two Baltimore detectives find a puzzling number of suspects. Is it the controversial woman whom Israel plans to marry? The rare book agent who overextended himself in the stock market? Israel’s busybody cousins who resent his changed lifestyle? Or the wayward lad who thinks a gun is the way to big bucks?

This case could be one for the books…

Chapter 1

Loss of Innocence

Monday, January 8, 2007 

A wooden sign over the door read “Fine Old Books Restored.” The tiny shop at 59 Beuller Street reeked of fermenting leather, neatsfoot oil, and musk—exuding from rare tomes and the noble attempt to resurrect them. Could such an unusual stench follow the dreadful journey of two rare manuscripts?

The shop’s small front room served to greet customers. Beyond it lay the inner sanctum, the artisan’s hallowed workroom. A man in a yarmulke, a black knit skullcap, sat hunched over his large work table, deep into the project before him: a rare ancient manuscript he had just restored. No longer any sign of mildew—the pages more pliable—their stains now barely perceptible—the cover and binding newly supple. With a tweezer-like tool, this fifty-two-year-old artisan carefully tugged at a frayed re-weave of the original stitching. His cotton-gloved hands and sinewy forearms moved with a deftness and assurance that only an experienced and loving craftsman might display. No ordinary shopkeeper or tradesman here. Nothing was bought or sold here. He simply provided a valuable, singular service.

A broad blue mask with thick binocular lenses hid the upper half of his angular face, while its strap disappeared behind his head into ridges of bristled, gray-black hair. The skullcap personified his belief in the ever-presence of God above him. Beneath a generous coffee-stained mustache, his thin lips exposed a hint of protruding pink tongue, a boyish gesture suggesting the deep intensity required by the task at hand. There, almost finished, he thought.

The tiny bell above the street door jingled, startling him. He’d flipped the OPEN sign to CLOSED several hours earlier at 5:30. He wasnt expecting any customers this late. Ah, it’s probably my lovely Peggy schlepping my supper. He had left the shop’s door unlocked for her. She’s such a good woman, a friend like I’ve never had before. A little meshugge with all that Goth makeup and jewelry, but I’m in love with her anyway—God forgive me.

He heard footsteps in the dark front room, and wondered why she wasn’t calling to him.   Pushing his chair back, he stood up, eager to receive her. But actually seeing who had entered was impossible with the magnifying aid in place. As he slipped the mask up his forehead, a gold-monogrammed briefcase caught his attention. It dropped to the floor near the table. Without warning, the business end of a Saturday Night Special loomed into his view from out of the darkness. Before he knew who or why, Israel Finestein heard a shot and looked down to see blood pouring out of his own chest. He never heard the second shot, nor the abandoned .38 caliber revolver falling with a thud on the vinyl floor. Israel slumped first into an awkward heap. Then gravity slowly leveled him out flat.

The killer picked up the tan leather briefcase, set it upright on a corner of the table, and undid the buckles on the two straps. Black-gloved hands removed a chamois cloth and spread it out on the table. The dark-clad figure gently closed the rare old text and laid it in the middle of the cloth, wrapping it securely before tucking it into the briefcase. After buckling the straps, the killer turned off the lone lamp and exited quickly to the faint sound of the doorbell jingle.

* * * *

Peggy Fraume was on a happy mission: to bring her lover his supper. In her left arm she cradled a tuna-noodle casserole inside an insulated bag. Under the streetlights, she began walking to his shop only a few blocks away. Izzy had entrusted her with the keys to his apartment. It was his supper she carried—in his yellow crockery bowl, prepared by him in his kosher kitchen, and merely reheated by Peggy in his oven.

Peggy worried about him. He often skipped meals or ate them unheated, so a few times each week she took his own hot food to him at his shop, enough for a couple of days, knowing that he sometimes slept in that old schleppy recliner in a corner of his workroom. This woman with short, punk, black hair and wild gypsy eyes felt far more than compassion for her friend. Peggy and Izzy lived in adjacent apartments on the eighth floor of a quiet Baltimore City neighborhood. They had immediately connected when they discovered they both played chess. After several months of casual dating and hours-long chess games, fondness had bloomed into passion to the point where they were planning a most unlikely marriage. They had even sent out save-the-date notices without considering all the contrasting consequences. They were blindly in love.

As Peggy approached the first-floor shop, she hesitated. Why is it so dark inside? Could he have left early without letting me know? She looked at the illuminated dials of her watch: eleven minutes past eight. The hairs at the nape of her neck bristled. She tried the door. Surprisingly, it wasn’t locked. She stepped inside and flipped on the front room light switch next to the door. Without looking about, she lifted the yellow crockery bowl out of its insulated bag and set it, along with her purse, atop the nearest display case. Only then did she venture into the darkness of the workroom.

Peggy moved cautiously. This is so strange. Where’s Izzy? Is he okay? She fumbled for the overhead light switch on the wall to her right, and while she adjusted to it, she heard a muffled moan. It came from behind the massive work table. She followed the source of the faint uttering. Izzy was sprawled out on his stomach, with the left side of his head on the floor and his face turned toward her. She knelt beside him. He wasn’t moving, but his mouth whispered what sounded like the Sh’ma, the prayer at the heart of Judaism, a pronouncement of the Oneness and Greatness of God. Then he mumbled something she couldn’t quite discern. The letters M-P-S or N-T-S maybe. Peggy knelt closer. Did he say “briefcase”? Then she thought he was asking for the police. As soon as the pitiful mumblings ended, her Izzy died.

As the pool of blood rapidly expanded, Peggy, still on her knees, backed away until she encountered something hard under her left shin. Reaching down, she grabbed the uncomfortable object—and screamed. She had retrieved the murder weapon. Realizing she’d left her fingerprints all over the grip, she gathered up the hem of her long skirt with the intention of wiping away those prints.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” said a booming voice behind her. “Just lay the damn gun on the floor and get up. Slowly now, woman! Keep your hands where I can see them. It’s murder all right, and I’ve caught you red-handed.” A stocky, red-faced, uniformed police officer stood over Peggy with his service weapon pointed directly at her.

“But…But I found him this way!” Peggy screeched. “Izzy was already dying.”

“His name was Izzy?”

“Israel. Israel Finestein, but I called him Izzy. Officer, I didn’t do anything. I didn’t kill him. He was my fiancé! I loved him. Why would I kill him?”

“Put both your hands on the arms of that recliner,” the officer commanded. “You have the right to remain silent…,” he recited while frisking her one-handed, clumsily, near her breasts and down her hips and legs. Satisfied with the search, finding no additional weapons, and having finished with her Miranda rights, he seized and cuffed each of her wrists behind her back and pushed her into the front room. The officer followed so closely she could smell his cheap aftershave.

Nodding toward the yellow crock on the display case, she decried her innocence once more. “I was just bringing my fiancé his supper. See there on the counter? It’s a tuna-noodle casserole. I just heated it up for him. Doesn’t that make sense to you?”

But Officer James Francis O’Mera wasn’t listening. He was busy reporting a crime, speaking into his shoulder microphone. “Yes, sir! A woman yelled out a second-floor window at me. Said she heard shots in the shop downstairs, and I responded….No, sir! I didn’t get any names yet. Found a woman perp hovering over the male victim with a recently fired gun in her hand. Yeah, she’s in custody. Got ’er cuffed. Sure I read ’er her rights….No, I didn’t touch anything….Okay. I’ll wait for the detectives and transportation.”

Letting go of the transmitting button, Officer O’Mera turned to his prisoner. “What’s your name, lady?”

“Fraume, F-R-A-U-M-E, Margaret Fraume. But I tell you I’m innocent. You’re letting the real killer get away.”

“Sure, sure, I got it all wrong. That’s what they all say. I got you dead to rights, ma’am. You got any ID, Fraume?”

“My purse,” she said, tilting her head toward the counter and indicating the black cloth shoulder bag sitting there. She watched him upend the purse contents onto the countertop: lipstick, compact, cell phone, keys, handkerchief, a Kleenex mini-pack, and a vinyl wallet. He flipped open the snap and spread the wallet until he saw her driver’s license in its compartment window.

“Ah, Margaret Fraume it is. Age forty-eight. You don’t look it, lady.”

“Thanks, but I—”

“So who’s the poor slob on the floor in the other room?” Officer O’Mera began to write in a small notebook he’d taken from his breast pocket.

“His real name is Israel Finestein, but everybody calls him Izzy. And don’t you dare call him a poor slob. I love him. He’s a wonderful, hard-working mensch, and the proprietor of this shop.”

“Does he own the joint?”

“He rents from some lady upstairs. I don’t know her name.” Peggy shuddered. She suddenly realized she was talking about her beloved as if he were still alive.

Vehicles screeched to a halt out front and car doors slammed shut. “Homicide!” the first man through the door said. “Officer, I’m Detective Sergeant Shap and this here is Detective Sullivan. He’s assisting me in this investigation. Anything appear to be missing from the shop? Cash or something else valuable?”

“Nothing obvious, sir. I haven’t had much of a chance to look around yet.”

“Good thing,” said Shap. “Wouldn’t want you lousing up my crime scene now, would I?”

“Yes, sir. I mean no, sir. Didn’t touch a thing.”

The two detectives perused the crime scene room for about fifteen minutes before calling in the lab people. Then Shap called Peggy into the workroom and sat her down in the recliner. He stood before her in a leather jacket and black pants, almost six feet tall, with a clean-shaven, handsome face and wavy walnut-brown hair brushed back with no part.

“Ma’am, I’m Detective Sergeant Shap. Did you know Mr. Finestein well?”

“Very well. We are—I mean, we were—neighbors and best friends. More than that. He was my fiancé, for heaven’s sake.” A sob caught in her throat. “The only reason I’m here is that I brought Izzy his supper, in that yellow crock in the front room on the counter. I didn’t kill him. I couldn’t do anything to harm that lovable man. Did you know we were engaged?”

“No, I didn’t know?” he responded sarcastically. “How could I?” Shap circled behind her, and examined her cuffed hands. He saw two rings on her right hand, one a carved silver rose, the other a black onyx stone. “So where’s the diamond ring if you’re engaged?”

“We hadn’t gotten around to that yet.”

“I see,” said Shap. “And if you were engaged, why would Officer O’Mera believe you murdered your lover? Was it a lover’s quarrel?”

“No, no, no!” Peggy, near tears now, said, “I’ll explain everything, but can’t you take off these horrible cuffs? They’re cutting into my wrists and my shoulders are getting sore.”

“No way.”

It occurred to her that the detective was enjoying her misery. She had no choice but to relate her whole story, beginning with finding the shop dark and ending with the attempt to wipe her fingerprints from the murder weapon. At several junctures she proclaimed her innocence. She was so despairing, so distraught that Izzy’s final utterings had completely slipped her mind. She offered them now.

Shap said, “You say you found the room dark. Why would Finestein be working late in the dark?”

“That’s just it,” she replied. “He wouldn’t be in the dark. He’d be working late to finish the rare holy book for Rivka and Dan Sherman. They’re supposed to pick it up the day after tomorrow. The book is gone! It should have been on the work table with the light over it. That’s why I became so concerned.”

“Who are these people, the Shermans?”

“They own The Olde Victorian Bookstore in Annapolis and they’re good friends of mine as well.”
“So where’s this so-called holy book now?” asked Shap.

“I just told you—it should have been on the work table. Otherwise, it would be stored in the locked cabinet for safekeeping.”
“In there?” he pointed. The steel cabinet’s door was slightly ajar, indicating that it had been left unlocked. Shap swung both doors open wide and saw two books and a rolled papyrus parchment. “One of these?” He gestured with his open hand.

“No!” Peggy said. “The Shermans’ rare book was at least twice the size of either one of those. And much older.”

“Just how holy was this book?” Shap pressed on. “It’s obviously not the Bible or the Torah or Haftarah.”

Peggy eyed him with curiosity. “How would you know? Are you Jewish?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Shap was once Shapiro. My father’s idea entirely.”

She’d never met a Jewish cop before. “Well, Detective, it’s the Sefer Menorat ha-maor.”

“Never heard of it.”

Sefer means book. Menorat ha-maor means The Candlestick of Light. The way Izzy explained it to me, it’s a precious book of religious truths and ethics. This copy is in Yiddish and there are other translations, too. It was the most popular book in Jewish households in the Middle Ages. How the righteous should live their lives.” She steadied her voice, praying that she was appealing to his more rational side. “So you see, robbery is the real motive here, and I don’t have the book. Ergo I am innocent.”

“Not so fast, lady. You could have had an accomplice. Mrs. Fraume, I—”

“It’s Ms. now since my divorce and I don’t have any accomplice.”

“Ms. Fraume, while your version of what transpired here may well be plausible, there are circumstantial facts sufficient to cast doubt on your explanation. Enough for you to remain in custody, at least for the time being. The question of your guilt or innocence may well rest with the courts. You may be able to get bail fixed at your arraignment.”

In the front room, Officer O’Mera shifted from foot to foot. He was alone and had nothing to do. He’d worked with Detective Shap before, arrogant SOB, and right now O’Mera’s stomach grumbled, reminding him that he hadn’t eaten anything since two doughnuts on his morning coffee break. He lifted the lid of the yellow crock, plus a corner of the Saran wrap, and sniffed. Mmm! Smells good and it’s still warm. It’ll go to waste if it just sits there. Besides, it can’t be evidence. Who’s gonna miss a coupla mouthfuls anyway? He took another sniff and checked to be sure nobody could see him. Using three fingers, he scooped up a small bundle of tuna and noodles covered with cream of mushroom soup, and popped it into his wide-open mouth. Delicious. He faced the door so no one would see him chew and swallow. With nobody watching, he repeated the procedure until only a quarter of the casserole remained.

Just as Peggy and the two detectives emerged from the workroom, the crime scene investigators arrived in a long white van. At the door, gloves and cloth footies were distributed to the team. Soon both rooms were taped off, leaving only a narrow passage from the entrance to the workroom. They even covered that with heavy brown paper. A crime-scene announcement prohibiting entry to unauthorized persons was posted on the window next to the shop’s front door.

No one noticed Shap lifting the cover off the yellow crock. He peeked under the Saran wrap, smiled, and nodded. Just as I thought. “Let’s get out of their way so they can dig up some more juicy evidence,” he said to Sullivan. His sidekick shrugged. Blue-eyed, with a crew cut, he tended to be an obliging sort.

“What about my purse?” Peggy blurted out as Shap guided her toward the black unmarked cruiser.

“Your purse is now inventoried evidence. It will be returned to you as soon as the lab people have cleared it.”

“But it’s my whole identity,” she protested.

“Sorry, miss,” replied Shap, his voice hard and not at all sorry. He pushed down on her head as she reluctantly entered the rear seat of the unmarked police car.

 

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Chapter reveal: The Moreva of Astoreth, by Roxanne Bland

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In the world-building tradition of Andre Norton, Anne McCaffrey and Ursula K. LeGuin, The Moreva of Astoreth is a blend of science fiction, romance, and adventure in a unique, richly imagined imperialistic society in which gods and science are indelibly intertwined. It is the story of the priestess, scientist, and healer Moreva Tehi, the spoiled, headstrong granddaughter of a powerful deity who is banished for a year to a volatile far corner of the planet for neglecting to perform her sacred duty, only to venture into dangerous realms of banned experimentation, spiritual rebirth, and fervent, forbidden love.

 

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Chapter One

“I could have you executed for this, Moreva Tehi,” Astoreth said. My Devi grandmother, the Goddess of Love, scowled at me from Her golden throne in the massive Great Hall of Her equally massive Temple.

Sitting on my heels, I bowed my head and stared at the black and gold polished floor, trying to ignore the trickle of sweat snaking its way down my spine. “Yes, Most Holy One.”

“You blaspheme by not celebrating Ohra, My holiest of rites. And this one was important—the worthiest of the hakoi, handpicked by Me, celebrated with us. ”

“I can only offer my most abject apologies, Most Holy One.”

“Your apologies are not accepted.”

“Yes, Most Holy One.”

“Where were you?”

“I was in the laboratory, working on a cure for red fever. Many hakoi died last winter—”

“I know that,” my grandmother snapped. “But why did you miss Ohra? Did you not hear the bells?”

“Yes, Most Holy One. I heard them. I was about to lay aside my work when I noticed an anomaly in one of my pareon solutions. It was odd, so I decided to investigate. What I found…I just lost track of time.”

“You lost track of time?” Astoreth repeated, sounding incredulous. “Do you expect Me to believe that?”

“Yes, Most Holy One. It is the truth.”

A moment later, my head and hearts started to throb. I knew why. My grandmother was probing me for signs I had lied. But She wouldn’t find any. There was no point in lying to Astoreth, and it was dangerous, too. Swaying under the onslaught from Her power, I endured the pain without making a sound. After what seemed like forever the throbbing subsided, leaving me feeling sick and dizzy.

“Very well,” She said. “I accept what you say is true, but I still do not accept your apology.”

“Yes, Most Holy One.” I tried not to pant.

A minute passed in uncomfortable silence. Uncomfortable for me, anyway. Another minute passed. And another. Just when I thought maybe She was finished with me, Astoreth spoke. “What do you have against the hakoi, Moreva?”

The change of subject confused me. “What do you mean, Most Holy One?”

“I’ve watched you, Moreva. You give them no respect. You heal them because you must, but you treat them little better than animals. Why is that?”

The trickle of sweat reached the small of my back and pooled there. “But my work—”

“Your work is a game between you and the red fever. It has nothing to do with My hakoi.”

I didn’t answer right away. In truth, I despised Her hakoi. They were docile enough—the Devi’s breeding program saw to that—but most were slow-witted, not unlike the pirsu the Temple raised for meat and hide. They stank of makira, the pungent cabbage that was their dietary staple. From what I’d seen traveling through Kherah to Astoreth’s and other Gods’ Temples, all the hakoi were stupid and smelly, and I wanted nothing to do with them.

I did not want my grandmother to know what was in my hearts, so I chose my words carefully. “Most Holy One, I treat Your hakoi the way I do because it is the hierarchy of life as the Devi created it. You taught us the Great Pantheon of twelve Devi is Supreme. The lesser Devi are beneath You, the morevs are beneath the lesser gods, and Your hakoi are beneath the morevs. Beneath the hakoi are the plants and animals of Peris. But sometimes Your hakoi forget their place and must be reminded.” I held my breath, praying she wouldn’t probe me again.

Astoreth didn’t answer at first. “A pretty explanation, Moreva. But My hakoi know their place. It is you who do not know yours. You may be more Devi than morev but you are still morev, born of hakoi blood. You are not too good to minister to the hakoi’s needs, and you are certainly not too good to celebrate Ohra with them.”

I swallowed. “Yes, Most Holy One.”

“Look at me, Moreva.”

I raised my head. My grandmother’s expression was fierce.

“And that is why you let the time get away from you, as you say. You, Moreva Tehi, an acolyte of Love, are a bigot. That is why you did not want to share your body with My hakoi.” She leaned forward. “I have overlooked many of your transgressions while in My service, but I cannot overlook your bigotry or your missing Ohra. I will not execute you because you are too dear to My heart. The stewardship for Astoreth-

69 in the Syren Perritory ends this marun on eighth day. You will take the next rotation.”

My hearts froze. This was my punishment? Getting exiled to Syren? From what I’d heard from morevs serving in Astoreth’s other Temples, the Syren Perritory in Peris’s far northern hemisphere was the worst place in the world to steward a landing beacon. Cold and dark, with dense woods full of wild animals, the Syren was no place for me. My place was Kherah, a sunny desert south of the planet’s equator, where the fauna were kept in special habitats for learning and entertainment. As for the Syrenese, they were the product of one of the Devi’s earliest and failed experimental breeding programs, and were as untamed as the perritory in which they lived.

But I knew better than to protest. Astoreth’s word was law, and it had just come down on my head. “Yes, Most Holy One,” I said, my voice meek.

“Mehmed will come to your rooms after lunch tomorrow so you can be fitted for your uniform.”

“My uniform, Most Holy One? I will not be taking my clothes?”

“No. As overseer of the landing beacon, you are the liaison between the Mjor village as well as the commander of the garrison. Your subordinate, Kepten Yose, will report to you once a marun, and you are to relay the garrison’s needs to Laerd Teger, the Mjoran village chief.”

“Yes, Most Holy One.”

“I will make allowance for your healer’s kit and a portable laboratory, but you are not to take your work on red fever. I am sure you have other projects you can work on while you are there.”

“But—”

“No, Moreva. It is too dangerous.”

“I can take precautions—”

“No. That is My final word.” Astoreth leaned back in Her chair. Her eyes narrowed. “One more thing. You will be the only morev in Mjor, but that will not prevent you from observing Ohra. And you will do so with the garrison stationed there. Go now.”

I stood on shaky legs, bowed, and backed out of the Great Hall. Once in the corridor, I turned and fled to my quarters. I threw myself on the bed and sobbed. It was bad enough to be exiled to the Syren Perritory, but Ohra with the garrison? Only the hakoi served in Astoreth’s military. I felt dirty already. And not allowing me to work on my red fever project was punishment in itself.

A few minutes later I felt a hand on my shoulder. “Tehi, what’s wrong?” a worried voice said. It was Moreva Jaleta, one of my friendlier morev sisters.

“I-I’m being sent to the Syren Perritory to steward Astoreth-69,” I wailed.

Jaleta sat on the bed. “But why?”

I sat up. “I missed the last Ohra and n-now Astoreth is punishing me.”

Jaleta gave me an unsympathetic look. “You’re lucky she didn’t have your head. Be thankful you’re Her favorite.”

I sniffed but said nothing.

Jaleta patted me on the shoulder. “It won’t be so bad, Tehi. The year will be over before you know it. Come on, it’s time to eat.”

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