Chapter reveal: ‘Manipulated’ by John Ford Clayton

Manipulated - Cover art

Genre: Political Thriller

Title: Manipulated

Author:  John Ford Clayton

Websitewww.johnfordclayton.com

Find out more: https://www.amazon.com/Manipulated-John-Ford-Clayton/dp/0999548204

About the Book:

Manipulated is a political thriller set during the 2016 presidential election season from January 2015 through January 2017. During these two years, a fictional account of the election is chronicled. The first half of the book provides a back story illustrating an American political system soiled by political parties, a misguided media, and lots and lots of money, all orchestrated by a clandestine organization known as Mouse Trap.​

The second half of the book provides a glimpse at what the 2016 election might have looked like had a different candidate been introduced into the campaign. A candidate not bound to either political party, deep-pocket investors, or Washington insiders. A candidate who had absolutely no interest in the job but is drafted by those that know him best to fix a broken system. A candidate who personifies integrity, character, and humility. A candidate whose core values are guided by his faith.

About the Author:

John Ford Clayton lives in Harriman, Tennessee with his wife Kara, and canine companions Lucy, Ginger and Clyde. He has two grown sons, Ben and Eli, and a daughter-in-law, Christina. He earned a BS in Finance from Murray State University and an MBA from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He is active in his East Tennessee community having served on the local boards of the Boys and Girls Club and a federal credit union, on church leadership and creative teams, and on a parks and recreation advisory committee. When he’s not writing he works as a project management consultant supporting Federal project teams. John is a huge fan of Disney parks and University of Kentucky basketball.

Connect with John Ford Clayton on the web:

www.johnfordclayton.com

www.facebook.com/johnfordclayton

www.twitter.com/johnfordclayton

EXCERPT:

Chapter 1 

January 7, 2015

671 Days Until the 2016 U. S. Presidential Election

 

“No More Hate! No More Hate!”

The chants echoed through the Quad from the two dozen protesters assembled near the campus’s main pedestrian intersection. Situated in the middle of the sidewalk was Dr. Molly Jefferson, the leader of the rabble. Dr. Jefferson’s pride swelled as she admired the growing assembly, who had numbered only six the day before.

“What do we want?!” she shrieked through the bullhorn borrowed from the track coach.

“Justice!” came the reply.

“When do we want it?!”

“Now!”

Dr. Jefferson, dean of the College of Religious Studies at Richfield College, had spearheaded this protest.

“Is hate speech welcomed at Richfield?!” Dr. Jefferson asked the crowd.

“No!” came the compliant response.

Dr. Jefferson felt a great sense of pride that a protest she launched only the day before was beginning to gain traction.

The protestors felt they were part of a larger, important, maybe even historic movement. Little did they know they were all simply being manipulated.

 

***

 

In the Winchester Library, just off the Richfield College Quad, Jeremy Prince had found a table where he could observe the growing protest. He peered through the leafless branches of the Bradford pear trees that stood guard just outside the tinted window. The sun was giving way to the early January sunset, and he suspected the protestors’ resolve had not yet grown to a level warranting a stay past dark in temperatures expected to dip into the low 20s. As Jeremy watched the marchers, he couldn’t withhold the grin that grew to a smile, ultimately producing an unconscious chuckle.

“Shhh,” objected the students sitting at the tables nearby. “Please be quiet.”

“Oh, sorry, my bad,” Jeremy raised a hand of apology. “Won’t happen again.”

Finding the fortitude to suppress his audible excitement was almost achievable, but losing the grin was asking too much. After all, a plan he had hatched two short weeks ago in a fraternity house 275 miles away was now unfolding right before his eyes. Not just unfolding but thriving. And to imagine he was just getting started. He knew he had to channel his energies to his laptop for the next step in his diabolical plan.

 

***

 

 

Richfield Bible College was founded in 1956 by the Southern Baptist Convention. It was situated in a rustic valley in East Tennessee, just outside the small town of Bard’s Ridge, 30 miles from the city of Knoxville. A local farmer donated 60 acres to get the college started. With the donation came a two-story hay barn, which served as the classroom for Richfield’s initial enrollment of 27.

Growth would come quickly to Richfield, as in four short years the freshman class of 1960 swelled to 80. By 1972, the college had grown to occupy over a dozen buildings, including the newly christened Winchester Library. Richfield enjoyed its peak enrollment throughout the 1980s. By 1988, Richfield Bible College’s enrollment rose to 927.

As much success and growth that Richfield had experienced in the 40 years since its founding, the 90s would usher in a decade of turmoil, challenge, controversy, and ultimately profound change.

Pinpointing the exact catalyst for the transformation is difficult, but many point to a seminal series published in 1992 by Knoxville’s largest newspaper, The Knoxville Chronicle. The series ran four consecutive days, each highlighting a Richfield Bible College transgression.

Day one of the series focused on the lack of quality education the Richfield students received. Comparing a Richfield bachelor’s degree with those of other area colleges, the article noted that in a 120-hour bachelor’s degree program at Richfield, students took 90 hours of Bible classes. That first day’s headline read RICHFIELD OFFERS SUB-STANDARD EDUCATION.

The second day’s article focused on equality and diversity, hot topics in the early 90s. Noting that of Richfield’s 875 enrollees, 780 were men, The Chronicle led with the headline RICHFIELD COLLEGE: WOMEN AND MINORITIES NEED NOT APPLY. The article blasted Richfield’s racial uniformity, remarking that after spending three days on campus The Chronicle staff could find only two non-white students.

The third day’s headline read RICHFIELD LEADERSHIP DISCONNECTED AND UNQUALIFIED. The article blasted Richfield’s leadership, noting that its president had no advanced degree. A similar criticism was levied at Richfield professors with accusations of a chronic lack of experience and qualifications. The article’s most biting criticism was of the Board of Trustees, composed of seven men—most of whom had no educational experience and who had rarely been to Richfield. By the time the third article was printed, national publications were beginning to ask for permission to reprint the series.

The last day focused on Richfield’s foundational belief system. Running on Sunday to guarantee maximum readership, its headline read RICHFIELD: VOW OF PURITY REQUIRED, referencing a “covenant” all students were required to sign as a condition of their college admission. This covenant required that students submit to the authority of college educators and administrators and that they commit to 60 hours of ministry service (with emphasis on UNPAID service). Having to accept the Protestant Bible as the inerrant Word of God, students also had to acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life, and that no one would go to heaven except through Him.

The Chronicle noted other practices it considered Puritanical, such as a prohibition on students engaging in sex and a ban on homosexuals. The Chronicle even included excerpts from an interview with a former Richfield student who claimed he had been dismissed from school after admitting his homosexuality to his college advisor in what he thought was a private conversation.

The series won The Knoxville Chronicle and its author, Delores Jenkins, three Tennessee Press Association Awards, as well as significant national acclaim and attention. It brought Richfield Bible College scorn and ridicule throughout the country as the articles were printed in over 100 U. S. newspapers.

After the series was published, Richfield Bible College was never the same. In just a few months, the president resigned from office. Not long afterward, a mass exodus of faculty followed as enrollment began to plummet from 875 enrollees at the time of The Chronicle series to 550 in just over a year. The snowball continued as the Southern Baptist Convention decided to divest its sponsorship of Richfield, leading to a loss of all seven members of the Board of Trustees. Richfield Bible College was in freefall. Were it not for an anonymous donor, who for three consecutive months made payroll for the remaining staff and faculty, the college might have been forced to close.

In these most difficult times, a handful of remaining faculty members and staff assembled in an emergency session to determine how to pick up the broken pieces of the college they all loved. They knew if Richfield were to survive, a new beginning was required. They decided to hold their initial planning meeting symbolically in the still-standing hay barn, which had been converted to a Richfield museum. Many options were thrown on the table, all involving keeping the college alive. Not a single voice suggested closure as an option.

In times like these, natural leaders tend to emerge; in this case, that leader was the Dean of the fledgling Business College, Joe McArthur. Mac, as everyone called him, listened to the various opinions before writing down a few common concepts he was hearing. After two days of meetings, a consensus emerged of how to move Richfield forward. As frustrated as most were with The Chronicle article, they all admitted some valid concerns needed to be addressed. The first was that the college should broaden its educational offerings and drop the word Bible from its name. Efforts were also made to diversify the college in both the student body as well as in the administration and teaching staff. A new Board of seven trustees consisted of three women, including one African-American, and four men.

Once seated, the trustees selected a new president, a PhD who had over 20 years of educational experience, and who was not affiliated with the Southern Baptists.

Throughout the 2000s, the Richfield College transformation was remarkable. The student body was now 55% female with a growing multi-cultural population. Tattoos and piercings were commonplace at Richfield, which now reflected the diverse culture of most college campuses across the U. S. The curriculum was completely overhauled to be more aligned with that of similar size colleges. Most Bible classes were dropped and were replaced by the Religious Studies Department, which Dr. Jefferson was hired to chair in 2012.

 

***

 

With the most recent cheer, Dr. Jefferson sensed the crowd begin to lose energy. Knowing they didn’t have the experience she did with protests, she recognized this moral stand would be a marathon, not a sprint. She decided it was time to send the crowd away but not before a final word of inspiration.

Stepping up on a park bench, she reactivated the bullhorn, drawing all eyes and ears in her direction. “I hope you all have an appreciation for the historic action that you have started today…and I do mean started…because we are just beginning to let our voices be heard.” Cheers sprang up around her as the original two-dozen protestors had been joined by 30 curious onlookers, not all of whom were fully invested in the movement, at least not yet.

“We all know the sordid past of this institution, a past of exclusion, hate, and intolerance. Do we want to return to those days?!”

“No!”

“That’s right; none of us want to go back to those dark days. And we’re not going to let that happen!” Again, enthusiastic applause filled the Quad.

“If it is the last act I do at this college, I will stop the bigoted, close-minded, hatemonger Elijah Mustang from speaking at this institution! We’re going to bring today’s protest to a close, but I’m going to ask—no, I’m going to plead with—those of you on the periphery listening to my voice to join us tomorrow at noon to resume this movement. We don’t want to go back. We only want to move forward! I truly believe that together we are doing God’s work!”

As she stepped down from the bench, she was greeted by hugs and cheers. She could tell she had reached a new constituency. She prayed that tomorrow’s crowd would be even larger than today’s; the same for the next and the next and the next, until justice was served.

 

***

 

Among those standing in the periphery was Jeremy Prince thinking to himself, “I can’t believe this is actually working.” Again unable to suppress the smile that consumed his face, he took a step back toward the library thinking, “Now, let’s see if the next bait is swallowed as voraciously as the last.” Would he be so lucky?

 

***

 

As Dr. Jefferson unlocked the door to her apartment, she didn’t remember the three-mile drive from campus. She wondered if she had driven or just glided on the winds of change. She had been part of many protests in her career. She joined a movement that kept the ladies’ swim team going at Delaware State, picketed for gender equality pay at the Connecticut State Transportation Department, and was among the throng who successfully got a fraternity shut down for a pattern of abusing its little sisters. However, the Richfield College movement was her maiden voyage as the leader of a protest. She quite liked it and felt she was a natural. In fact, she felt a special calling to this important undertaking. She was a true social justice warrior!

As a single, 30-something college professor with degrees in philosophy and religion, Dr. Jefferson knew the stereotype many would foist upon her: a shrill, angry, unattractive female—a stereotype that many of her colleagues unfortunately reinforced. However, she worked diligently to establish her own persona. She was known as kind, professional, even deferential to her peers. While she had strong opinions, she didn’t eagerly share them. She chose her opportunities wisely for when and with whom to make her thoughts known. At 5’ 2” with a petite figure, she was not an imposing physical presence. She was also a Christian, a fact that brought derision from many of her university contemporaries. Her Christian beliefs were the primary inspiration for her seeking a Richfield faculty position.

She also considered herself significantly out of the mainstream of American conservative evangelical Christian orthodoxy. While she believed that Jesus Christ offered a path to a heaven-like afterlife, she did not consider that the only path. She considered the Protestant Bible a mix of theology, history, and fantasy, much like other holy books such as the Koran and the writings of Confucius and Buddha. In general, she considered herself open to new ideas and teachings; and she read voraciously, always seeking a deeper truth.

Although she normally led with her gentle spirit, Dr. Jefferson held great passion for where she saw injustice and unfairness, especially if a Christian institution was involved. This passion was driving her voice of leadership in the Richfield protest. She knew the history of Richfield’s injustice and how hard those who came before her worked to correct it. Thus, she felt obligated to pick up the baton from the trailblazers who worked for almost a decade to make Richfield the more open, diverse campus it was becoming. The more she learned about Elijah Mustang, the more she was convinced that inviting him to speak at the graduation ceremony was a step backwards from the significant progress already enjoyed. His speaking there could even usher in a return to the college’s dark past. This would be a battle to which she was willing to give everything she had to win.

Receiving her B. S. in religious studies from Vermont State University in 1990, Dr. Jefferson had studied the country’s religious journey from the growth of the Christian Conservative Movement as a political power in the 80s to the backlash and decline during the Clinton years of the 90s. She had even written a paper on Jerry Falwell titled “The Immoral Majority,” making her case for how the Christian Conservative Movement had blurred the lines between church and state, causing major damage to the country in the process. In her doctoral thesis written at the University of North Carolina, she chronicled the Southern Baptist Convention’s rise and decline with a particular focus on Southern Baptist colleges. Now finding herself a professor at Richfield College seemed surreal to her. The notion that she was at the center of such a protest seemed implausible.

Walking through the door of her small, one-bedroom apartment, she instinctively popped a vanilla hazelnut decaf cup in the Keurig and took a seat at the kitchen table. Flipping open the cover to her laptop, she began perusing social media as Anthony, her rescue cat, navigated a figure eight around her outstretched legs. Twitter was her first e-destination, and she was delighted at what she found: “Awesome day on the Richfield Quad.” “Actually doing something to make a difference.” She even found that a hashtag #Richfield Protest had been established. Her movement started a hashtag! Although she knew it wasn’t “her” movement, she felt a sense of profound satisfaction.

Next came Facebook, with similar results: a half-dozen statuses from students with inspired posts, positive comments, and many “likes.” Not a single negative comment or snarky retort was found. As she scrolled through her posts, she found what she was hoping to see: a new post from Dr. Jocelyn Rosenberg, a women’s studies professor, who had befriended her on Facebook a month prior. Although they had only been acquainted a short time, they were obviously kindred spirits. Dr. Rosenberg was the first to bring Elijah Mustang’s transgressions to her attention. This new post was linked to an article in The Chattanooga Observer that included excerpts from an interview Mr. Mustang had given to a reporter in 2011. In this interview, Dr. Jefferson found even more bigotry and hatred. When the reporter asked Mustang about his stance on gay marriage, he stated, “It is my belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. That’s not just my opinion, but I believe the Word of God is clear and consistent on that point.”

“So now he’s deciding what the Word of God is?” she asked her cat, Anthony. Dr. Jefferson had found even more fuel for her passionate protest. She felt her heart race as she quickly typed three e-mails: one to Dr. Rosenberg thanking her for the link to this article and for her inspiration to pursue this issue; another to the president of Richfield College detailing her concerns about Elijah Mustang; and a third to an old acquaintance, Delores Jenkins, now The Knoxville Chronicle’s assistant editor. She sensed what started as a modest protest was about to hit it big. However, she couldn’t begin to predict what the next three days would bring.

 

 

 

 

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Excerpt reveal: ‘The Sicilian Woman’s Daughter’ by Linda Lo Scuro

Sicilian Woman-US-revised.indd

Genre: Mystery/Women’s Fiction

Author: Linda Lo Scuro

Publisher:   Sparkling Books

https://www.sparklingbooks.com/

Purchase link:

https://www.sparklingbooks.com/the_sicilian_womans_daughter.html

Follow the author:

Twitter /  Facebook

About The Sicilian Woman’s Daughter

When the novel opens, Maria, the novel’s protagonist is living a charmed and comfortable life with her husband, banker Humphrey and children, in London.   The daughter of Sicilian immigrants, Maria turned her back on her origins during her teens to fully embrace the English way of life.

Despite her troubled and humble childhood, Maria, through her intelligence, beauty and sheer determination, triumphantly works her way up to join the upper middle-class of British society.  But when a minor incident awakens feelings of revenge in her, Maria is forced to confront–and examine—her past.

As she delves deeper into her mother’s family history, a murky past unravels—and Maria is swept up in a deadly and dangerous mire of vendetta.  Will Maria’s carefully-constructed, seemingly-idyllic life unravel?  Expect the unexpected in this outstanding new mystery….

The Sicilian Woman’s Daughter is a brilliantly-plotted, exceedingly well-told tale.  Novelist Linda Lo Scuro delivers a confident and captivating tale brimming with tantalizing twists, turns, and surprise, a to-die-for plot, and realistic, multi-dimensional characters.  Thoughtful and thought-provoking, rich and riveting, The Sicilian Woman’s Daughter is destined to stay with readers long after the final page is turned.

PROLOGUE

Rumour had it that Ziuzza, my grandmother’s sister, on my mother’s side, carried a gun in her apron pocket – both at home and when she went out. She wore her apron back-to-front, resulting in the pocket being propped up against her belly. She kept her right hand poised there, between her dress and apron as if she had bellyache. I had noticed this suspicious behaviour when on holiday in Sicily with my family when I was twelve. At that stage, never could I have imagined that she was concealing a gun, while she stood there in my grandmother’s kitchen watching me have breakfast. I never saw her sitting down. She brought us thick fresh milk, containing a cow’s hair or two, in the early mornings and often stayed to chat.

She had a dog, Rocco, white and brown, which she tied to a wooden stake in my grandmother’s stable downstairs. It was a lively animal, snapping at whoever passed it, jumping and yapping. The mules, the rightful inhabitants of the stable, were out in the campagna with my grandfather from the break of dawn each day.

A tight silver bun stood proudly on Ziuzza’s head. Her frowning face always deadly serious. Fierce, even. An overly tanned and wrinkled face. Skin as thick as cows’ hide. Contrastingly, her eyes were of the sharpest blue – squinting as she stared, as if viewing me through thick fog. I was scared of her. Truly scared. And all the other women were frightened, too. You could tell by the way they spoke to her, gently and smiling. Careful not to upset her, always agreeing with her opinions. They toadied up to her well and proper. An inch away from grovelling.

And, I found out the rumours about the gun were true. Ziuzza would come and bake bread and cakes at my grandmother’s house because of the enormous stone oven in the garden. I helped carry wood to keep the flames alive. Did my bit. One day the sisters made some Sicilian cakes called cuddureddi, meaning: ‘little ropes.’ They rolled the dough with their bare hands, into thick round lengths in the semblance of snakes. Using a sharp knife, they then sliced the snake-shape in half, longways, spread the lower half of the butchered snake with home-made fig jam. They put the snake together again, slashed it into chunks. Then the chunks were dealt with one-by-one and manipulated into little ropes by pinching them forcefully into shape with their nimble fingers.

As Ziuzza bent over to wipe her mouth on the corner of her pinafore, I caught a glimpse of her gun. I was sitting at the table sprinkling the first trayful of cuddureddi with sugar. No doubt about it. It was there in Ziuzza’s big inside pocket of her pinafore. While I was looking at the bulge, she caught me out. We exchanged glances, then our eyes locked. She narrowed her hooded eyelids into slits and crunched up her face. I blinked a few times, then looked around for some more wood to replenish the oven, grabbed a few logs and vanished into the garden.

After she received a sickening threat, Rocco’s bloodied paws were posted to her in a box, she, like her dog, came to a violent end. Ziuzza was shot in her back, in broad daylight, by someone riding by on a Vespa. People with line of sight, from their windows to the body, hurried to close their shutters. Nobody saw who it was. Nobody heard the gunshots, though the road was a main artery from one end of The Village to the other. And nobody called a doctor. It would be taking sides. Which you certainly didn’t want to do. Added to that was the fact that Ziuzza at that moment was on the losing side. She was left to bleed to death in the road like an animal. It wasn’t until the dustcart came round that they removed her body because it couldn’t get by. But nobody commented, it was as if they were removing a big piece of rubbish. It was nothing to them. But instead of throwing it away, they took the body to her home. Nobody was in. So they brought it to my grandmother’s house instead.

This was the lowest point in our family’s history. With time, though, Ziuzza managed to triumph through her son, Old Cushi, who began the escalation. And, later, her grandson, Young Cushi, completed it by becoming the undisputed boss of our village, of the region, and beyond. But the transition was not easy. A bloody feud ensued. Lives were lost on both sides. Some might know who Ziuzza’s enemies were. I didn’t get an inkling. Most of the information I came across was from listening to what the grown-ups in our family were saying. And they never mentioned her rivals by name. Some faceless entity fighting for control of the area.

This is just one of the episodes I remember from our holidays in Sicily. There are many more. Every three years, I went to Sicily with my parents. Those I remember were when I was nine, twelve, fifteen and eighteen. The last time we went my mother was ill and we travelled by plane. All the other times we travelled by train because poverty accompanied us wherever we went. I think we had some kind of subsidy from the Italian Consulate in the UK for the train fare. It was a three-day-two-night expedition. I remember setting out from Victoria Station carrying three days’ supply of food and wine with us. Especially stuck in my mind was the food: lasagne, roast chicken, cheese, loaves of bread. We’d have

plates, cutlery, glasses, and an assortment of towels with us. At every transfer all this baggage had to be carried on to the next stage. No wheels on cases in those days. Then we’d get the ferry from Dover to Calais, and so began the first long stretch through France, Switzerland, until we finally pulled into Milan Station. Where our connection to Sicily was after a seven-hour wait.

We used to sleep on the waiting-room benches, though it was daytime, until someone complained about the space we were taking up. The Italian northerners had a great disdain for southern Italians. They saw us as muck, rolled their eyes at us, insulted us openly calling us “terroni”, meaning: “those who haven’t evolved from the soil.” Even though I was young, I noticed it, and felt like a second category being – a child of a minor god. There was the civilised world and then there was us. My parents didn’t answer back. And it was probably the time when I came closest to feeling sorry for them. For us.

            The journey all the way down to the tip of Italy – the toe of the boot – was excruciating. The heat in the train unbearable. When there was water in the stinking toilets, we gave ourselves a cursory wipe with flannels. Sometimes we used water in bottles. Every time we stopped at a station, my father would ask people on the platforms to fill our bottles. Then came the crossing of the Strait of Messina. At Villa San Giovanni, the train was broken into fragments of three coaches and loaded into the dark belly of the ferry. My mother wouldn’t leave the train for fear of thieves taking our miserable belongings, until the ferry left mainland Italy. While my father and I went up on the deck to take in the view. But we had orders to go back down to the train as soon as the ferry left. Then I’d go up again with my mother. She became emotional when Sicily was well in sight. She would become ecstatic. Talk to any passengers who’d listen to her.

Some totally ignored her. She’d wave to people on passing ferries. Laughing and, surprisingly, being nice to me.

Reassembled together again, the train would crawl at a tortoise’s pace along the Sicilian one-track countryside railway, under the sweltering heat. Even peasants who were travelling within Sicily moved compartment when they got a whiff of us. Another event that excited my mother was when the train stopped at a level crossing. A man got out of his van, brought a crate of lemons to our train and started selling them to the passengers hanging out of the windows. My mother bought a big bag full and gave me one to suck saying it would quench my thirst. Another man came along selling white straw handbags with fringes, and she bought me one.

By the time we reached The Village our bags of food stank to high heaven and so did we.

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‘Secret Agent Angel’ by Ray Sutherland

front cover final

Name: Ray Sutherland

Book Title: Secret Agent Angel

Websiteraysutherland.com

Find out moreAmazon / B&N / Kobo

An imaginative and intriguing tale, Secret Agent Angel is a story about how sometimes even angels have to act on faith.

About Secret Agent Angel:  Samuel, a secret agent angel on earth, has to improvise when things go badly wrong—and sometimes, Samuel has to prepare people for a purpose unknown even to him.  From the jungles of Vietnam with porters on the Ho Chi Minh trail, to Omaha truck drivers who befriend an abused boy, to wounded veterans who need to learn to let go of the past, to an accountant tempted to steal, Samuel works with fallible people, trying to get them to see their true strength.

But forty years of angelic missions come to a head when a fire at a snowbound truck stop leaves one man’s faith—and his life—hanging in the balance. The only hope for success rests with the spiritual power of the humans Samuel has tried to prepare for the struggle.  But have they gained enough spiritual strength and awareness?  And if not, does God have a Plan B??

An extraordinary story that will stay with readers long after the final page is turned, Secret Agent Angel is irresistible. Tender and touching, thoughtful and thought provoking, heartwarming and filled with heart, Secret Agent Angel is a powerful story about faith, healing, and the redemptive power of love.

EXCERPT

As always the first thing I knew arriving on Earth from Heaven was the terrible dislocation and confusion of re-entering the temporal stream. It doesn’t matter how many times you make the transition, it’s still a terrible wrench to your mind, almost violent in its effect. I spent a few seconds doing the normal head shaking and a shiver to get over the jolt and to get used to being flesh and blood again and then got down to business. At least this time I was undercover and didn’t have to wear a goofy robe and those wings that glow in the dark. They can be fun, but they’re also cumbersome and a real pain to keep clean.

This time, I looked like a reasonably normal human male, dressed in the regulation shirt and tie like that of a junior manager at a big department store chain or insurance agency. I was in the restroom of a convenience store close to the airport, so I hit the toilet handle to make it seem like I was in there for the normal reason and stepped out. I bought a honey bun, a chocolate bar, and the largest cup they had of orange soda because one thing I envy of you humans is eating and drinking. The Boss sure did a good job when he created that and I always take advantage of it when I’m here to earth.

I come here to Earth pretty regularly. My name is Samuel. I’m an angel.

I sat down at one of the small booths in the store and looked out the window as I ate and drank and waited for my subject to show up. I had timed it right and had just finished the honey bun and half the soda when his car went by, headed home after work, with his three year old daughter in the car seat in the back. I dropped the wrappers in the trash and headed to the car which was waiting for me in the furthest parking place. It started right up which is always a bit of a relief when dealing with a car I’ve never seen before. We’ve got good people doing these things, but sometimes the Boss likes to pull surprises even on us. I remember once when I worked in the fifteenth century in Yemen, I got stuck with a donkey with no training, and that caused me to get stranded in a tiny village where I wound up staying with the local Jacobite priest who had been having a faith crisis. The next morning, he had tried to help me teach the donkey manners while his wife supervised. We were having a conversation about his crisis during a break necessitated by the donkey winning a round, and his wife had exasperatedly broken in with, “You won’t get over this unless you get hit with a sign from Heaven!” Just then the donkey let loose with a kick which sent the priest flying, fortunately with no serious damage to anything other than his dignity. That made him laugh and say that very much like the story of Balaam, the Boss had again spoken through a donkey. That didn’t fix his faith but it seemed to give him the boost he needed and he went on to be a faithful leader in the Yemenite church, doubts and all.

I cut off that line of thought and got back to the business of following my subject. We didn’t have far to go, the store I’d picked to start from was only about a mile from his house and I wasn’t sure he wouldn’t stop in for gas or a loaf of bread. Today though, he went straight home, no stops and without any apparent glances in the mirror, even though a look in his mirror would have shown him a rather dark and nasty trail of smoke coming from his exhaust pipe.

As planned, the last stoplight before his final turn into their subdivision caught him and I pulled up next to him and got a good look. He looked exactly like what he was: a junior level management flunky trying to get on the fast track, with ambitions to reach high and talent to match. But today he looked more than harried and rushed at work, he looked troubled and uncertain. His mind was clearly somewhere else because he didn’t notice the light turn green until the driver behind honked. That let me get in ahead of him and slow down so he had to pass me and I got a good look at the girl, too. Amanda was her name and she was a star pupil at Miss Emmy’s Day Care Center and–of course-spoiled rotten by both parents and all four grandparents and two step-grandparents. She had the sweet look that all three year old girls have, even when they’re starving in the middle of a plague. I’ve seen that, too, and I screamed and yelled at the Boss to let me fix some things but got the usual answer.

Everything was just what I expected. That was no surprise since I watched them before I came over, but it was good to confirm it because, as you can imagine–or maybe not-things look very different when you’re on this side and limited to time and space.

Preliminary recon done, I turned off the main road a block before they did and headed to the big department store in the mall where the wife would be finishing her shift as cosmetics saleslady. They had about decided that she should quit that job since his last promotion and she was thinking about going back to college, hoping to study art and either be an artist or at least to teach in a high school. But her pay, little as it was, helped quite a bit and she was nervous about trying to do without it.

I parked in the closest spot, not very close. I wish the Boss would fix that like He fixed the traffic light but that’s one of his inscrutable ways. It’s not like I need the exercise since I’m usually a perfect physical specimen when I come over in human form.

 

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Honolulu Heat, by Rosemary and Larry Mild

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Honolulu Heat, Between the Mountains and the Great Sea

By Rosemary and Larry Mild

(ISBN 978-0-9905472-3-5, Trade Paper and e-Book, 298 pages, $14.95)

Websitehttp://magicile.com/

Find out more on Amazon

Honolulu Heat, Between the Mountains and the Great Sea—the long-awaited sequel to Cry Ohana—brings back the same Hawaii families that readers so warmly embraced. They confront fierce torments, take on exotic challenges, and find new loves.

Leilani and Alex Wong anguish over son Noah, an idealistic teenager who teeters on both sides of the law. He meets Nina Portfia, his dream girl, and they unwittingly share horrific secrets. Facing a murder charge, Noah flees and finds himself immersed in a bloody feud between a Chinatown protection racketeer and a crimeland don who, ironically, is Nina’s father.

Violence targets innocent real estate agents, a Porsche Boxster Spyder, a stolen locket, a petty thief, and an odd pair on a freighter to Southeast Asia. Two mob leaders and the police are pursuing Noah. Torn between loyalty and betrayal, only the boy can unlock his own freedom and bring peace to his family—and Honolulu’s Chinatown.

Chapter 1

Wind and Water

MAN AND NATURE coexist in a not-so-delicate balance, each pushing, and more often punishing, the other. Beautiful, brilliant, respectful in one moment. Violent, vengeful, destructive in the next. The forces engage and recede. A victor emerges in the ongoing skirmish and then relinquishes the laurels——so true on the tiny Garden Isle of Kauai in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The moment is 11:34 a.m. on the eleventh of September 1992, a Friday.

Alex Wong, an accountant in his early thirties, entered a few more numbers on the keyboard in his home office. But he couldn’t focus on his client’s quarterly fiscal report. His usual pragmatic head just wasn’t in it today. The radio lulled him with Hawaiian slack-key guitar melodies. He leaned back in his swivel chair. Ah, the joy of working in T-shirt and shorts. Gazing out the picture window opposite his desk, he drank in nature at her most seductive. The ocean lay peaceful with nary a whitecap in sight. The sun glared brazenly. Malia, in her baby bikini, sat under a striped umbrella next to Noah, a neighbor’s son. With shovels and pails, the two-year-olds wallowed joyously in the glistening sand. Leilani, in a broad sun hat, sat in a beach chair, dividing her watchful eye between the toddlers and the half-finished seascape on her canvas. The oils were drying quickly in the late-morning heat.

Alex breathed deeply. It doesn’t get any better than this.

At 11:40 a.m., the guitar music stopped in mid-chord. A female voice announced: ‘‘This is a hurricane alert from the National Weather Service. Hurricane Iniki is currently 160 miles south and

80 miles east of Honolulu with winds up to 135 miles per hour. On its present northwesterly track, it is now likely that the main force of the storm will miss the island of Oahu and the islands of Kauai and Niihau. However, the storm’s path is unpredictable. You are advised to secure whatever you can outdoors, then stay indoors, away from outside walls, and particularly, away from windows and glass doors. The storm center is moving at 100 miles per hour. Its track is constantly shifting and could swing north at any time—–onto a collision course with Kauai. Be aware, this Category Four storm is still gathering strength. Stay tuned for further updates.’’

Alex stopped listening. He shut down the computer and placed the monitor face-down on the floor. Sliding bare feet into his size-thirteen sneakers, he hurried out of the house, striding fast to the beach.

Halting squarely in front of his wife, he announced: ‘‘Lani! We need to get the children inside. Now! I just heard on the radio that Hurricane Iniki may be headed our way. We need to get everything inside or else tied down.’’

Leilani, a tawny-skinned Hawaiian with lush dark hair, didn’t even look up. ‘‘Not to worry, Alex.’’ She applied a brush stroke of cobalt green. ‘‘Right after breakfast the TV said the storm was going to pass between Molokai and Oahu and we might just see a little rain.’’

‘‘All that’s changed now,’’ Alex said. ‘‘The hurricane’s eye is moving fast. It could be only a matter of hours before it hits here.’’ ‘‘Alex, the sky is clear blue. Look! Oh, maybe a few more

clouds over that way. So what? I have to finish this. I’m entering it in a juried show next week.’’

‘‘Lani, why are you being so stubborn? Can’t we at least take Noah home?’’

‘‘There’s nobody home. I told Ilima I’d watch him for the day. They went to a house-warming party up in Princeville.’’ She dabbed a bit of silver-gray over a whitecap.

A rare wave of anger crossed Alex’s unshaven face. ‘‘Damn it, Lani, your painting can wait.’’

Scooping up the toddlers, one in each arm, he carried them squirming into the house. He set them down on Malia’s throw rug on the mauka, mountain, side of her bedroom and drew the Hello Kitty drapes shut. Dragging her twin-size mattress onto the floor, he hefted the two children onto it. They gave him a puzzled look, then decided they must be playing a game, and bounced up and down on the soft mattress.

Leilani was about to mix fresh colors, but paused to reflect. It’s not like Alex to be so short-tempered. As if in response, the incoming clouds began to smother the beach with darkness, night descending in midday. She felt a sudden chill. Sharp gusts whipped up the sand, stinging her ample bare thighs. She gathered up her painting paraphernalia and hurried into the house.

When she appeared in the bedroom doorway, Alex looked up, his face grim. ‘‘It’s about time. Give me a hand with the dresser.’’ He stuck a large folded soji screen in front of the window, and the two of them pushed the dresser in front to hold the screen tight against the drapes. Lani gently laid Malia’s matching Hello Kitty comforter over the children; they had already tired of the jumping game and fallen asleep.

During the next hour, Leilani and Alex silently set to work. They crisscrossed masking tape on all the windows; filled empty milk jugs with water; stacked towels and blankets; brought out flashlights plus candles; and laid everything on the floor along one wall of Malia’s room. It was the safest room in the house, with only one window on an outside wall and that was now covered.

Out on the lanai, the steel sofa glider was too heavy to move. They flopped down on it to rest, both of them breathing hard, as much from tension as the physical effort of rushing around to secure things.

Leilani grabbed her husband’s upper arm. ‘‘Look how fast the clouds are moving. They’re coming straight at us.’’

They left the sliding door behind them open to hear the radio——just in time for a new report. ‘‘We interrupt this program… Attention! This is the latest update on Hurricane Iniki. The hurricane’s eye is headed directly toward the south shore of the island of Kauai at 120 miles per hour. Winds have increased to 145 miles per hour with pulsing gusts to 175.’’

The time was 12:42 p.m. Leilani shuddered. ‘‘The humidity is so heavy you could choke on it.’’

Alex eyed the two coconut palms out back and the Cook Island pine at the side of the house. ‘‘There isn’t a leaf or frond stirring out there, and it’s so darn quiet. Not good, eerie even. The calm before the storm.’’

The words barely out of his mouth, a furious gust bowed the two palms inland in deep deference to Laamaomao, the Hawaiian god of the winds. At 12:55 the humidity yielded to a brief drizzle, then a drenching downpour, sending the couple indoors. First checking on the children, who were still asleep, they watched the storm from the center of the living room. Alex drew a protective arm around his wife’s waist. The rain angled at their home from the south. Sand particles peppered the sliding glass doors with a plinking, piling up at floor level as though demanding to tunnel into the Wongs’ domain.

Alex dared not utter his one optimistic thought, as though saying it aloud might jinx them. They had chosen this sturdy little house soon after their wedding four years ago. The outer walls were cement block covered in stucco; the roof was solidly covered in blue ceramic tiles. Yeah, we just might weather this storm, he thought. Or not.

The wind roared and screeched and bellowed. They heard unfamiliar objects strike the house in a clatter of thuds, clinks, and clanks. Although sunset wasn’t due for almost six hours, darkness followed the storm’s intensity, enveloping them. They retreated to Malia’s bedroom. The toddlers slept on, indifferent. Holding hands, the parents leaned against each other as they sat on the box spring of Malia’s bed. Leilani had spread two blankets across the box springs to make the bed more comfortable.

The picture window in the office gave up first. They heard it implode. Flying shards resounded against the common wall between Malia’s room and the office. Plasterboard was no match for

the angry wind. The wall bowed ever so slightly, then a small crack appeared. Like a malicious living thing, the crack spread vertically a few inches, threatening, but somehow containing itself.

The bay window in the living room surrendered next, unleashing the cyclonic forces, toppling lamps and ripping Leilani’s framed paintings from their picture hooks. Shelves displaying her hand-built ceramics trembled. Glazed pots in glowing colors, comical dogs, cats, and geckos turned into missiles, hurtled against the remaining walls and windows——until there were no windows and no art works left to be destroyed.

Alex and Leilani knew from the clatter in the kitchen, beyond the opposite wall, that the winds had attacked from yet another direction——sounds of cabinet doors slamming open against their frames. Thumps and thuds as the wind became a giant sweeping hand across the countertops, littering the floor.

They heard an elongated groan ending in a loud thump outside. Leilani screamed as she sensed it was the massive ironwood tree next to their driveway crashing down——hoping it wasn’t crunching her new Toyota Corolla. It was 2:05 p.m. The blunt force of the storm was upon them.

Another ten minutes passed and the electricity failed. Alex lit one of the candles and heated its opposite end with the match, so it would stick to the bottom of a water glass. This he set atop the dresser and sank back down on the bed next to his wife. He took her hand in his and squeezed it whenever he sensed her quivering responses to what they were hearing. An ear-splitting crash resounded at the opposite end of the house, followed by the clatter of loosened roof tiles falling onto the cement driveway for several seconds afterward. She began to shake. Even the candlelight shivered, creating eerie dancing shadows in the room.

‘‘The avocado tree must have fallen on the master bedroom side of the house,’’ he calmly offered, so as not to upset Leilani.

‘‘Mommy, mommy!’’ The wailing, frantic cry jolted them. Noah thrashed about on the mattress in the middle of the floor. ‘‘I want my mommy!’’ he screamed.

‘‘Maybe the crashing tree woke him,’’ said Leilani.

Alex picked Noah up, cradling him. ‘‘You’ll see Mommy soon,’’ he said in a soothing voice. But the little boy refused to be comforted. His chubby body heaved and struggled as he sobbed. Alex steadfastly kept rocking, until Noah, exhausted from his own protests, nuzzled silently against Alex’s chest.

Leilani’s watch said 3:50 when Malia awoke with a whine and toddled over to her mother, arms raised, to be picked up. Leilani pulled her in and held her close, not able to speak for fear her own anxiety would be contagious and frighten her baby girl.

Minutes later the ruckus and howling winds outside the house ceased, and all they could hear was the persistent beat of the rain. Then, surprisingly, even that disappeared. It was as though nature had flipped a switch and turned the storm off.

Is the storm over or are we merely stalled in the hurricane’s eye? Alex wondered. He had to venture a peek outside and see what was going on. He set Noah down on the mattress and handed him a stuffed teddy bear; the boy seemed content enough, at least for the moment. Selecting the one Maglite from the group of flashlights, he looked across at his wife.

‘‘All quiet. It must be the eye of the storm.’’ He cautiously opened the bedroom door and peeked out into the living room, strewn with sand and debris. He stepped out, closing the door behind him.

‘‘Be careful and don’t go too far from us,’’ Leilani called out to him.

Switching on the Maglite, Alex stepped into what had been their lovingly arranged and organized living room. The irony of it. Weak sunshine illuminated what now looked like a city dump, covered with wet sand and puddles of water. Pieces of Leilani’s artwork amassed and embedded against the inland wall; the two upholstered wing chairs on their sides; the TV set smashed on its belly; end tables overturned with legs broken. Huge shards of bay window glass stuck or lay everywhere.

Glancing through the void where the sliding doors should have been, Alex saw sunlight overhead, but black clouds still blanketed the sky elsewhere. The lanai no longer had its wood-slatted roof. The air was soundless with the exception of water dripping everywhere. They had certainly entered the eye of the storm. Feeling his way to the kitchen, his sneakers immediately met up with the storm’s clutter. He pushed all the cabinet doors shut, but not before noting that boxes and cans of food inside somehow had stayed in place; and luckily, their wooden table had remained upright. From the kitchen he crossed the living room to inspect the master bedroom. Their tall, full avocado tree had indeed fallen onto the roof of that room, denting and slightly caving the roof in, but not destroying it.

The hesitant patch of sunlight now surrendered to a shroud of blackness like a moonless nightfall. A distant whine pierced the heavy air once more and grew louder. Palm trees hunched in defeat, their fronds pointing stiffly in unison. Smaller objects were flying again.

Leilani, making sure the toddlers were still asleep, anxiously opened the bedroom door and stepped out. Her brain stubbornly refused to accept the destruction in the living room. A returning Alex wrapped his arm around her shoulders in empty reassurance. He shuffled Leilani back into Malia’s room, shutting the door behind them. Just as they slumped down beside each other on the box spring, her dark eyes filled with tears. He gave her an extra squeeze.

Alex somehow knew this terrible storm wasn’t finished.

Just then, Noah rolled onto his side and moaned. Husband and wife looked at each other, sharing the same feeling of alarm. Where are Noah’s parents? Are they safe? Did the hurricane hit Princeville?

Alex knew it might be days before the electricity was restored. He stood and walked to check if the door was securely closed. When he turned around Leilani was standing and crying.

‘‘Why now?’’ she sobbed, her hands in motion. ‘‘Why, when everything was going our way? Must we always live in fear?

What have we done to anger the gods so much?’’

Alex acknowledged that there were no rational replies to such questions——and he certainly didn’t have to answer to the Hawaiian gods. His wife’s repeated reference to these gods was a cultural, traditional obsession stemming from her grandmother, Tutu Eme, and not religious in nature. But he felt obligated to give comfort anyway. He wrapped his arms around her and drew her close once more. Alex Wong, the son of a Japanese mother and Chinese father, was neither superstitious nor religious.

The storm howled and battered away, but there was yet another noise, a repeated and distinctive one.

‘‘Listen, Alex! Someone’s pounding on our front door,’’ said Leilani, slipping out of his embrace and putting her ear to the wall.

‘‘I’ll take a look. Push the door shut after me.’’ He pulled the door ajar and bent almost backward to stay upright against the whirling wind. He labored through the living room, kicking away obstacles that had once made their house a home. He was able to hear an urgent voice through the missing stained-glass window that Leilani had created near the top of their door.

‘‘Please, Alex. Let us in, for God’s sake. We’ve lost our whole roof and need shelter. We’re soaking wet.’’

Alex recognized his neighbor from across the road. ‘‘Just a minute, Jesse, while I get this open.’’ It took all his strength pulling and Jesse pushing to get the front door open. Ellie Duran slipped through first, carrying their swaddled four-month-old infant. As soon as Jesse followed her inside, they allowed the door to slam shut again.

‘‘Wait! Be careful! The power’s out,’’ Alex warned. He switched on his Maglite, concentrating the beam on the debriscovered floor toward Malia’s room. Hunching forward into the wind, he followed them and called to Leilani, ‘‘It’s me and the Durans. They’re going to stay with us.’’

Once everyone was inside, Leilani handed them towels and took the baby from Ellie so the family could dry off. Frightened by the darkness, too confused to babble, Malia and Noah sat wideeyed on the mattress and watched the grownups.

‘‘You folks have one of the only houses in sight with a roof overhead,’’ Jesse said. His voice trembled. ‘‘What a disaster outside.’’ He described the impassable roads strewn with downed trees, abandoned cars, and beach sand piled up in little dunes. ‘‘The Kaleos’ house next door was hit bad, but looks like it survived——sort of.’’

‘‘What about our cars?’’ asked Leilani. ‘‘Did you see what happened?’’

‘‘Sorry Lani, your Corolla is a total loss, but the Cherokee appears to be intact.’’

Alex braved a foray across the living room to the master bedroom to bring back dry clothes——pants, T-shirts, and underwear——for the Durans, with hand towels to turn into diapers.

The howling slowly dissipated. The drenching, driving rains eased, then ceased altogether. It was 7:30 p.m. The storm had finally passed over them. Ellie stayed with the children while the others ventured out to inspect the rest of the house. In the kitchen, Alex worked in the beam of his Maglite.

He found a broom and dustpan and swept up the smashed glass coffeepot and other debris. Next, he lifted the dented toaster-oven and small microwave oven back up to the counter.

The master bedroom had a hole in that corner of the roof where the tree had fallen, but the tree still covered much of the opening. In fact, their king-sized mattress had stayed dry, and much of the bedroom furniture was still intact. But there was no guarantee that the roof wouldn’t cave in entirely from the tree’s sheer weight. Nothing in the living room or dining room appeared salvageable.

‘‘I’ve got a small portable gasoline generator,’’ said Jesse, ‘‘and some heavy-duty tarps in what’s left of my tool shed. Maybe we can at least salvage the food in both our fridges and have a little electricity left over for some light. The tarps can cover some of the holes here. Problem is, they’re probably under a mess of debris right now. Are you willing to tackle this with me?’’

‘‘Let’s go!’’ said Alex.’’ He actually felt buoyed up with the relief of having something useful to do.

The two men had to slog through muddy ponds and climb over tree limbs and house parts just to get to Jesse’s property. There was no sign of the Durans’ roof. The men skirted the three remaining house walls still standing. They found the roof of the tool shed wedged between two trees, with the shed’s corrugated steel walls collapsed inward. Using a pole as a lever, they managed to slide the steel walls out of the way. They found the tarps first and searched for the portable generator next. At last they exposed its red metal exterior.

The generator was too heavy to lift. Even in its carriage it couldn’t be moved; the carriage wheels were too small to be of any use without bogging down in the mud. Jesse made a sled out of a flat piece of steel and some heavy cord. With huge effort and a lot of muscle, they slid the generator onto the makeshift sled and got the rig moving. Jesse was able to retrieve an axe and a saw from the tool shed he’d uncovered earlier. They made quick work of a tree branch that barred their way. The two men dragged the sled across the road to the window outside the Wong kitchen.

Jesse removed the gas cap and discovered the tank empty. No surprise. Alex came to the rescue. He kept a siphon in the trunk of his Jeep Cherokee, along with a gas can. When they were ready to start the generator, Leilani tossed the end of an extension cord out the kitchen window. Alex turned the key. The engine choked. He tried the starter cord. After a dozen hopeless pulls, he surrendered the job to stronger Jesse. Five pulls later, the generator engine took hold. Jesse adjusted the choke and throttle until it ran smoothly. Alex plugged in the extension chord and immediately Leilani yelled out, ‘‘The fridge is running. We’ve got lights! Let’s see if we can rustle up some food.’’

The men did a high five, and Jesse said, ‘‘Let’s cover the hole in your master bedroom roof next, pal, then I’ll be ready to call it quits for the night.’’ Hacking away at two large roots, the avocado tree soon slipped away from the roof and fell to the ground.

Using a tree branch, they poled up and draped one of the tarps over a corner of the bedroom roof. Standing on the front window sill, Alex stapled the tarp to a sloping beam and repeated the stapling from the window on the side of the house.

The families huddled up to the kitchen table, children on laps, Ellie nursing the baby. At 9 p.m. they devoured left-over chicken with rice and wilted, warmish salad.

But Leilani was merely keeping up a brave front. She’d already made up her mind. No matter how much repairing and rebuilding they could do to their dear little house, it would never be enough. She wasn’t going to live each day in anguished suspense, fearing another hurricane. She knew that every time high winds or heavy rain assaulted their vulnerable island, she would feel a sense of doom——that maybe next time they wouldn’t be so lucky. She hadn’t graduated with honors from the University of California at Berkeley to spend her life under a cloud of anxiety——from weather they couldn’t control or vengeful gods they couldn’t appease.

She’d wait a few days to break that news to Alex. For sure, they would go back to Oahu. Of course, they’d wait for little Noah’s parents. Leilani’s eyes welled up with fresh tears. He was still whimpering for his mommy.

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On the Spotlight: ‘Burning Ridge,’ by Margaret Mizushima

Burning Ridge cover

NameMargaret Mizushima 

Book TitleBurning Ridge: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery

Genre: Mystery

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Featuring Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo, Burning Ridge by critically acclaimed author Margaret Mizushima is just the treat for fans of Alex Kava.

On a rugged Colorado mountain ridge, Mattie Cobb and her police dog partner Robo make a grisly discovery―and become the targets of a ruthless killer.

Colorado’s Redstone Ridge is a place of extraordinary beauty, but this rugged mountain wilderness harbors a horrifying secret. When a charred body is discovered in a shallow grave on the ridge, officer Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo are called in to spearhead the investigation. But this is no ordinary crime―and it soon becomes clear that Mattie has a close personal connection to the dead man.

Joined by local veterinarian Cole Walker, the pair scours the mountaintop for evidence and makes another gruesome discovery: the skeletonized remains of two adults and a child. And then, the unthinkable happens. Could Mattie become the next victim in the murderer’s deadly game?

A deranged killer torments Mattie with a litany of dark secrets that call into question her very identity. As a towering blaze races across the ridge, Cole and Robo search desperately for her―but time is running out in Margaret Mizushima’s fourth spine-tingling Timber Creek K-9 mystery, Burning Ridge.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Margaret Mizushima is the author of the critically acclaimed Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries. Her books have garnered a Reader’s Favorite gold medal and have been listed as finalists in the RT Reviewers’ Choice Awards, the Colorado Book Awards, and the International Book Awards. Margaret serves on the board for the Rocky Mountain chapter of Mystery Writers of America, and she lives in Colorado where she assists her husband with their veterinary practice and Angus cattle herd. She can be found on Facebook/AuthorMargaretMizushima, on Twitter @margmizu, on Instagram at margmizu, and on her website at www.margaretmizushima.com.

Find out more on Amazon

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Excerpt reveal: ‘Claire’s Last Secret,’ by Marty Ambrose

Claire Last Secret CoverGenre: Historical Fiction

Author: Marty Ambrose

Website:  https://www.martyambrose.com/

Publisher: Severn House

Find out more on Amazon

About the Book:

1873, Florence. Claire Clairmont, the last survivor of the haunted summer of 1816 Lord Byron/Mary Shelley circle, is living out her final years in genteel poverty.  The appearance of British tourist, William Michael Rossetti, brings Claire hope that she may be able to sell some of her memorabilia to earn enough cash to support her and her niece, Paula.  But Rossetti’s presence in Florence heralds a cycle of events that links the summer of 1816—when Claire conceived an ill-fated child with Lord Byron, when Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, and when four tempestuous lives collided—to a tragic death. As Claire begins to unravel the truth, she must go back to that summer of passion to discover the identity of her old enemy.

EXCERPT

Florence, Italy, 1873

                  His letter came just at the point when I thought death was my only option.

                  Poverty had been creeping in like a shadow edging out the light, and it was only a matter of time before it engulfed what was left of my life and snuffed out any prospect that fate would offer another way. I could no longer envision a road that led to some lost, yet cherished land of dreams – especially when I was too old to pick up and start over on some adventure that would lead me into a new dawn.

                  It was too late for that.

                  Those were the youthful regions where fortune bestowed some great, golden happiness on anyone who had the courage to live with soulful purpose – hardly the reality of my present circumstances.

                  Yet, the letter brought a glimmer of hope . . . a wild fancy that I might, even at this late stage, turn things around. What I did not realize was that it would take me back to the early days and expose a labyrinth of deception and lies that had altered the course of my existence.

                  But I digress . . .

                  I must start at the beginning because the echoes of one’s origin never fade to silence, no matter how much it is desired. I did not know my own origin because I never knew my father – not that I needed to learn his identity, but it would have centered my world at the very least with a beginning point. A compass for my life. A moment when I first became aware that I drew breath.

                  Sadly, it never happened.

                  My last name is Clairmont. A melodic sobriquet to be sure, but my mother simply chose the name like someone would choose a ribbon for the bodice of a dress:  – it seemed appealing and created just the right effect of class and respectability – but it was for show, nonetheless, since she never married a man named Clairmont. Not that I particularly minded her choice. I love showiness. In my opinion, modesty in a woman is highly overrated, though no one in my family agreed with me. But I, Clara Mary Jane Clairmont, always went my own way – even without the compass – and I am more proud of that than anything else in my seventy-five years on this earth.

                  Just as I claimed my version of my name: Claire Clairmont.

                  Il mio nome.

                  ‘Aunt Claire, don’t overtax yourself,’ my niece, Paula, said as she strolled into the warm, slightly stuffy room, a cup of my favorite oolong tea in her hand. It was late morning – not terribly hot yet, but by afternoon the midsummer Florentine temperature would soar and everyone would take refuge inside, resting and praying to St Clare of Assisi for a breath of air. My rented apartment faced the Boboli Gardens – a lush, open space on the outskirts of Florence, perched on a hill – that often provided a slight breeze, whispering through the centuries-old cypress trees and hidden grottos.

                  Paula set a delicate blue-and-white patterned china cup on my tea table, already cluttered with letters, books, and an inkwell. ‘You need to move around more, Aunt. Your ankle is starting to swell again, and, if you cannot walk, I will have to call in Raphael to carry you to bed.’ My niece’s voice took on that familiar combination of love and exasperation of the young who are tethered to the old; she cared for me deeply, but I tried her patience as well when I refused to heed her advice, which occurred quite often. I wasn’t ready to give up my independent ways yet.

                  Besides, she would not mind calling our domestico, Raphael; I’d seen the sweet longing in the glances that she cast at him when he was distracted by some task in the kitchen. Paula might be the daughter of my dearly-departed brother, Charles, but she was also my niece, after all. Spinning romantic fantasies around a handsome face was embedded in her nature. Certainly, I had done that a time or two in my life – sometimes finding regret in my impulsive feelings, sometimes not. But always true to my passions.

                  Quickly, I slipped the letter under the stack of books, shifting in my chair and smoothing down my faded blue cotton dress.  I was not ready to share it with her yet.

                  ‘Is that the missive you received this morning?’ she asked absently, leaning down and plumping the delicately embroidered pillow under my sprained ankle, which was propped up on a footstool.

                  ‘Nothing important.’ Assuming an air of nonchalance, I shrugged. ‘Just a letter from one of my many old friends, Edward Trelawny, inquiring as to our well-being.’

                  Paula straightened with a sigh. ‘Do we have any old friends left who have not abandoned us to our state of poverty, except Trelawny?’

                  ‘Thank you, my dear, for pointing that out. I am well aware of our impoverished state of affairs since my last ill-conceived investment in that farm.’ Folding my wrinkled hands in my lap, I echoed her sigh. Investing in my nephew’s farm in Austria was a foolishness that I could ill- afford, but I never could resist helping my family, even though it had pushed me to the brink of bankruptcy.

                  ‘I apologize – that was unkind, Aunt.’ She placed a hand on my forearm, glancing down at me with her dark eyes clouded in guilt.

                  ‘You are forgiven, even though I must remind you that friendships can ebb and flow during the years regardless of one’s financial status – even those who are closest to us can disappoint us.’ Of course, I meant the members of the sacred Byron/Shelley circle of my youth: Byron, the great poet who broke my heart, and Shelley, the husband of my stepsister, Mary, whose brilliance lit my life and whose small annuity protected me in my advanced years. I had loved them all – especially my accomplished and beautiful stepsister, Mary. Even though Mary had created a hideous monster in her novel, Frankenstein, she herself possessed that kind of tranquil loveliness that made everyone gravitate to her.

                  Serenità, as the Italians would say.

                  Unlike me.

                  I could never sit still.

                  I talked incessantly.

                  And I never let my head rule my emotions, which caused me more heartache than I can say. But my life was never dull.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christmas, 2017 068

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Marty Ambrose has been a writer most her life, consumed with the world of literature from the time she first read Agatha Christie mysteries and British Romantic poetry.  Marty pursued her undergraduate and graduate degrees in English, both in the U.S. and the U.K. so she could teach students at Florida Southwestern State College about the writers that she so admired.  Three decades later, she is still teaching and has enjoyed a writing career that has spanned almost fifteen years, with eight published novels for Avalon Books, Kensington Books, and Thomas & Mercer. Marty Ambrose lives in Florida with her husband, ex- news anchor Jim McLaughlin.  She plans to travel to Italy in the Fall to research A Shadowed Fate, the next book in the trilogy.

Links to your site and social media:

https://www.martyambrose.com

 https://www.martyambrose.com/blog

https://www.facebook.com/MartyAmbroseMysteryWriterMemoirist1957

https://www.instagram.com/martyrose57/

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‘Blood and Wisdom” by Verlin Darrow

BloodandWisdom_w12516_750Title:  BLOOD & WISDOM

Genre:  Mystery/PI Novel

Author: Verlin Darrow

Website: www.verlindarrow.com

Publisher: Wild Rose Press

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book: 

When Private Investigator Karl Gatlin takes on Aria Piper’s case, it was no more than a threat—phone calls warning Aria to either “stop doing Satan’s work” or meet an untimely demise.  But a few hours later, a headless John Doe bobs up in the wishing well at Aria’s New Age spiritual center near Santa Cruz.  Aria had ideas about who could be harassing her, but the appearance of a dismembered body makes for a real game changer.  And what Karl Gatlin initially thought was a fairly innocuous case turns out to be anything but.

Dispatching former rugby superstar and Maori friend John Ratu to protect Aria, Karl and his hacker assistant Matt are free to investigate a ruthless pastor, a money launderer on the run, some sketchy members of Aria’s flock, and warring drug gangs.  With his dog Larry as a wingman, Karl uncovers a broad swath of corruption, identity theft, blackmail, and more murders. But nothing is as it seems, and as the investigation heats up, Karl is framed, chased, and forced to dive into the freezing water of the Monterey Bay to escape a sniper.

Against the backdrop of a ticking clock, Karl races to find answers. But more murders only mean more questions—and Karl is forced to make an impossible choice when it turns out Aria’s secret may be the most harrowing of all… 

An intelligent, intense and engaging tale, Blood and Wisdom races from the opening scene to the final page.  Brimming with colorful, multi-dimensional characters, wit, humor, and a taut storyline, Blood and Wisdom is filled with twists, turns, and surprises.  Novelist Verlin Darrow, a practicing psychotherapist, infuses Blood and Wisdom with fascinating details about psychology and metaphysics, and seamlessly blends elements of hardboiled and softboiled detective fiction.   With its original premise, smart plotting, to-die-for redwood-studded coastal Santa Cruz and Big Sur setting, and protagonist like no other, Blood and Wisdom is a pitch-perfect PI novel.

Blood and Wisdom has garnered high advance praise.  According to Richard House, MD, author of Between Now and When, “Darrow has a sense of plot and style that carries the reader forward into that special place of anxious expectation, the place where putting the book down is unthinkable. Fascinating.”  C.I. Dennis, author of the Vince Tanzi series, including Tanzi’s Luck, praises Blood and Wisdom for its “great pace, fun characters who you care about, plenty of twists, and narrative personality.”

About the Author:

Verlin Darrow is a psychotherapist who was patted on the head by Einstein, nearly blown up by Mt. St. Helens, survived the 1985 8.0 Mexico City earthquake, and, so far, has successfully weathered numerous internal disasters. He lives with his psychotherapist wife in Northern California. They diagnose each other as necessary.

Connect with Verlin Darrow:

https://www.verlindarrow.com/blog

www.verlindarrow.com

 

EXCERPT

 

“Do you think we still need John?”

“I have no idea. Having a bodyguard was your idea, Karl. But if you’re asking me if I’m enjoying helping him, the answer is very much so.”

“Helping him?”

“Of course. That’s what I do.” Aria pulled her hands apart and then tilted them as though she were holding an invisible beach ball.

Something occurred to me. “Are you helping me, too? I mean, in some weird way besides answering my questions.”

“Did you sleep especially well the night we met? Right now, are you present and invigorated?”

I checked in with myself. I was feeling very alert, and the monkey chatter in my head was noticeably reduced. But the idea of somebody screwing with me without my permission was not okay with me.

“You know,” I said, “there’s something my first clinical supervisor told me. Well, first and last supervisor. Let’s face it, I got canned just a few months later, didn’t I? He told me that unsolicited help is interference.”

“I agree. What you’re experiencing is just the side effect of someone at your stage of spiritual development being exposed to my type of energy field.”

“Like what happened to Larry? Aria, let’s not get too weird. I’ve been tolerant of your beliefs, and I know you think all this is germane to the case, but…” I didn’t care to go further with this. I was likely to say something offensive.

She smiled another sweet, gentle smile. “I’m doing the best I can to minimize whatever would be difficult for you to handle, Karl.”

Larry barked. I glanced at him, and he barked again—more urgently this time. He was hearing something alarming that I couldn’t hear yet.

I stood. “Stay here,” I told Aria. “I mean it.” I didn’t wait to see her response.

Larry and I ran outside and hurtled down the front porch stairs. After a half-dozen steps toward the sound of a powerful motor, I saw it. A humongous silver SUV tore across the meadow, heading straight for us.

I dove to the side, behind a dangerously slim fruit tree. Larry remained on his feet, barking frantically as the truck bore down on him. I pulled my gun and called my dog, and thank God he obeyed. He was by my side in a flash.

Unfortunately, neither of us sensed the man behind us in time. He kicked the pistol out of my hand just before Larry took him down, but by then it was too late.

The SUV skidded to a halt, and three men piled out. One of them was the guy who’d stopped me on the road—the driver’s side guy. None of them held a weapon in his hand. They didn’t need them. There were four of them, and I was now unarmed. Presumably, someone was calling this in to the police, but we were out in the boondocks. It might be a while before a car could get to us.

“Larry!’ I called. “Heel!”

I didn’t want him getting hurt. He was astride the big guy on the ground next to me, but he backed off and sat by my side.

Larry’s guy kicked my gun away from me and moved behind us again in case we tried to run. With my knee, that wasn’t an option.

The other three stood directly in front of us now. “We meet again,” the guy with the acne said. “Where’s the woman? Is she in one of these buildings?”

I guess I didn’t answer fast enough. He stepped forward and pistoned a straight right to my gut. Jesus. This guy could punch. I’d tried some amateur boxing when I was young. Nobody had hit that hard—and this guy was a bantamweight at the most. I doubled over, trying not to retch.

“Hit him again,” one of the other men said in Spanish.

Then I heard a primeval bellow—a sound so deep and loud, all of us froze for a moment.

John Ratu sprinted around the corner of the building and tackled the boxer, driving him into the man next to him. Before the other one in front of me could react, John shot out his massive leg and swept the guy’s legs out from under him. In about two seconds, he’d knocked down all three of them.

I turned around. “Attack!” I called to Larry, and he launched himself at the guy behind us. I almost felt sorry for him. I headed for my pistol, which was about fifteen feet to the side of me.

The guy who’d punched me cut me off. He’d scrambled to his feet and eluded a roundhouse kick from John, who was now engaged with the other two attackers.

The man crouched on the balls of his feet, looking like a cross between a boxer and a martial artist. I had no doubt he could beat the crap out of me in a fair fight. It was lucky I didn’t fight fair.

He didn’t either. He pulled a double-edged knife on me and lunged forward, the weapon held low. He was going for my crotch.

I hit the ground and called Larry. We’d practiced this move at the training school we’d attended in New Mexico. With a running start, Larry leapt onto my back and launched himself. He was about head height when he reached our attacker, who was leaning forward. Larry’s open jaws clamped onto the guy’s cheek, and he screamed.

I heard sirens now. I got up, retrieved my gun, and held it on the four men on the ground. Once Larry had disabled his foe, he’d lost interest in the whole attack thing. And it had taken all of a minute for John to dispatch the other two, one of whom wasn’t moving at all.

We waited for the police. After taking all our statements, corroborated by multiple witnesses, they hauled off the thugs and towed away their SUV.

 

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Excerpt Reveal: Frozen, by Christine Amsden

Apparently, life doesn’t end when you get married.

When a couple freezes to death on a fifty degree day, Cassie is called in to investigate. The couple ran a daycare out of their home, making preschoolers the key witnesses and even the prime suspects.

Two of those preschoolers are Cassie’s youngest siblings, suggesting conditions at home are worse than she feared. As Cassie struggles to care for her family, she must face the truth about her mother’s slide into depression, which seems to be taking the entire town with it.

Then Cassie, too, is attacked by the supernatural cold. She has to think fast to survive, and her actions cause a rift between her and her husband.

No, life doesn’t end after marriage. All hell can break loose at any time.

Book Links:

Goodreads * Amazon * Barnes & Noble

Read an Excerpt:

Chapter 1

Apparently, life doesn’t end when you get married. I suppose that’s obvious, but it’s hard to tell from the way Happily Ever After stories dominate our culture. At any rate, marriage seemed like such a solid conclusion to the stories I had to tell that I ended my first four memoirs the day I married Evan Blackwood.

If only I’d known then that all hell was about to break loose.

My name is Cassandra Morgan Ursula Margaret Blackwood, and if you think that’s a mouthful, go ahead and call me Cassie. Most of my friends still do, although I no longer feel unworthy of the full appellation.

To be fair to my younger self, eager to share her journey of self-discovery with the world in the wake of some powerful events, things were quiet for almost two years. More happened to my two best friends than to me during that time. Oh sure, I consulted with the sheriff’s department here and there on cases that mystified them. I also worked with my husband and a dozen others to form and support the White Guard, an organization attempting to unify and protect the magical world. We made some big gains when Matthew was able to convince most of the magical world that his nemesis was using blood magic to control people’s minds – including mine and my husband’s.

It was a sobering moment for us.

But mostly during that time, I grew a baby and took care of her. I always wanted children, maybe because I’m the oldest of nine and having kids around seemed natural.

Anastasia Blackwood turned one in mid-December, right around the time my youngest siblings, Michael and Maya, both turned two. Honestly, I would have preferred to have two separate parties – or even three – to give each child his or her due attention, but my mom wasn’t up to it. She wasn’t up to much anymore, including party planning, so it fell to me and Juliana, seventeen now and pretty much already an adult. The last two years had aged her, as the responsibility for raising Michael and Maya fell heavily upon her shoulders.

The day started normally enough. Juliana, with Michael and Maya in tow, arrived at my place several hours before the party to decorate. My two best friends, Madison and Kaitlin, came to help too, the latter with a one-year-old son of her own. Madison, pregnant but not showing just yet, volunteered to keep the toddlers out of trouble. “For practice,” she said, although we all knew she was doing us a favor. I’d return that favor as soon as she realized how badly moms need breaks sometimes.

Yeah, I know, babies and birthday parties and maybe life really does end when you get married. Or at least loses its sex appeal. Although for the record, I still found Evan as sexy as ever. I mean, the man could drive me to orgasm with a single, magical kiss.

Damn, but it was addictive.

About the Author:

Christine Amsden has been writing fantasy and science fiction for as long as she can remember. She loves to write and it is her dream that others will be inspired by this love and by her stories. Speculative fiction is fun, magical, and imaginative but great speculative fiction is about real people defining themselves through extraordinary situations. Christine writes primarily about people and relationships, and it is in this way that she strives to make science fiction and fantasy meaningful for everyone.

At the age of 16, Christine was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease, which scars the retina and causes a loss of central vision. She is now legally blind, but has not let this slow her down or get in the way of her dreams.

Christine currently lives in the Kansas City area with her husband, Austin, who has been her biggest fan and the key to her success. In addition to being a writer, she’s a mom and freelance editor.
Social Media Links:

• Website • Newsletter • Blog • Facebook • Twitter • Goodreads • Google+ •

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Chapter reveal: ‘Traveling High and Tripping Hard,’ by Joseph Davida

THTH_final_4Name: Joseph Davida

Book Title: “Traveling High and Tripping Hard”

Genre: Travel Memoir

Publisher: Dark Planet Press

Fine out more on Amazon

Websitewww.josephdavida.com

Traveling High and Tripping Hard is the story of a young man’s quest to find the meaning of life through a series of altered states and high adventures…

After accidentally ingesting a large dose of PCP at eight years old, Joseph Davida had an apocalyptic vision that would change the course of his life forever. Charged with the monumental task of saving the world, he set out on a mission that led him through the jungles of Central America, the pyramids of Egypt, the temples of Kathmandu—and into the deepest recesses of his mind.

For anyone who has ever wanted a glimpse into those strange places that lie somewhere between the darkness and light, hope and despair, and spirituality and madness, Traveling High and Tripping Hard is guaranteed to deliver.

Long Island

I grew up in a small working-class town near the Queens-Nassau county border. Technically, it was an incorporated village. Even though it was less than twenty miles from Manhattan, the town maintained strict zoning laws that were designed to keep the modern world at bay. There were no fast-food chains, franchises, or department stores. The main road had a strip of mom-and-pop-owned businesses that provided all of the essentials. In theory, you could live out your entire life without ever having to leave. There were a few small restaurants and bars…a butcher, a baker, and a grocery store. There was a post office, a pharmacy, and a bank. An old two-screen movie theater and a bowling alley. The town had its own police department, and even the last operational farm in Nassau County. Everyone knew everyone else. All the kids referred to the town as Mayberry.

I lived on a street called Wright Avenue. Every day, I walked to and from school with a kid named Jay who lived a few doors down from me. He was my best-friend-slash-arch-enemy. After school, we usually stopped at one of the candy stores that we passed on our walk back home. Either Lenny’s or Mike’s Lotto. Both places were pretty much unchanged since the 1940s. They each had racks of newspapers and magazines up against the walls, candy displays, and cartons of cigarettes on the shelves behind the register. They also both had long wooden counters equipped with old-fashioned soda fountains and round spinning seats bolted to the floor.

One afternoon in 1984, Jay and I decided to stop at Mike’s. The store had recently acquired the new Elevator Action arcade game, and we were anxious to play it. After putting a quarter in the machine, we took turns sharing lives, then walked over to the counter to buy candy with whatever coins we had left. Since you could get more candy by buying the pieces individually, I usually bought some Dubble Bubble bubblegum and probably a few loose Peanut Chews or Mary Janes. The bubblegum came wrapped in waxy pieces of paper, the ends twisted like a Tootsie Roll. I vaguely remember that one of the pieces had an abnormal amount of bitter-tasting powdered sugar (that’s supposed to keep the gum from sticking to the paper), but after over thirty years it’s hard to say for sure.

After inhaling our candy, we rushed home to pick up our cleats and gloves for Little League practice. As we walked over to the field behind the junior high school, I began to notice that things were starting to look a little strange. Everything seemed to be taking on unusually vivid colors, and normally inanimate objects seemed to be pulsating with energy. By the time I made it to the baseball diamond, practice was already underway and I was rushed onto the outfield with my mitt. I don’t know how long I was out there, but I remember staring at the trees in the distance…and for some reason, the leaves appeared to be spinning.

The next thing I knew, I was up at bat. Justin Calabria, who I didn’t like at all, was winding up to throw out a pitch. As I watched the ball come flying in my direction, I thought I detected something sinister…something about the way it whizzed past me over the plate. But it wasn’t until I saw the next pitch coming that I knew for sure. Somehow, in midair, that ball transformed into a missile…kind of like the ones Wile E. Coyote buys from the Acme Corporation. And then my suspicions were confirmed: Justin Calabria was trying to kill me. Then, as if a switch went off, something in me snapped, and I realized that I had to destroy him—before he could destroy me.

I started running toward the mound with the bat clenched tightly in my hands, and chased him into the outfield with the sole intent of smashing in his face! When the coaches realized what I was trying to do, they chased after me and eventually began to close in from all sides. Every time they tried to get close, I swung my bat at them with all the force I could possibly exert.

My father was an assistant coach for the team and he would sometimes show up a little late for weekday practices. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that his car had just pulled into the parking lot, and I heard Coach Evans yell out to him, “Hey Al, your son has gone fuckin’ crazy!” I froze as I saw my dad running toward me. He slowed down as he got close, and the other coaches stepped back. As he approached, my fear started to melt away. He pulled the aluminum bat out of my hands, and kneeled down and grabbed me by the shoulders. He looked directly into my eyes and could apparently see that my pupils were completely dilated.

He said, “He hasn’t gone crazy…he’s tripping his fucking brains out.”

At the time, I didn’t know what that meant. I was only eight years old.

 

I don’t remember everything that happened after leaving the baseball field, but I know at some point after getting home my father had me piss into a cup. He sent my urine out with one of our neighbors, who worked as a lab technician at the local hospital. Fortunately, after having his own experiences with psychedelics in the 1960s, my dad was smart enough to realize that taking me to the hospital might not be the best idea.

After the lab analysis was completed, a doctor called the house and told my parents that I had tested positive for PCP. While no one had any idea where it had come from, the doctor said that I’d somehow ingested a very large dose…enough to potentially cause a psychotic breakdown in a full-grown adult. The only thing they could possibly do was give me a large shot of Thorazine, but apparently the amount needed to counter my hallucinations came with its own set of risks. In some kind of bizarre experiment, my dad decided the best thing he could do was let me ride it out.

 

When night fell, my father took me up to my room and put me to bed. After tucking me in, he turned off the light and told me to try to sleep. It wasn’t long after he left the room that things began to get really weird. First, the walls burst into flames, and then the floor started oozing blood and lava. I looked up and noticed demonic bat-like creatures flying around the ceiling. I knew where I was…and it was hell. Suddenly, a shadowy figure started rising out of the molten ground, and began to materialize right in front of me. He looked straight at me and I asked him who he was.

“Who are you?” I said.

Without making a sound, the creature spoke directly into my brain, answering in German—which, to my surprise, I could understand perfectly: ”You know who I am.

He was right. I did know who he was.

Then I asked him why I was there and again he answered me telepathically: “You know why you are here…”

“No,” I replied. “I don’t!”

But I did know, I thought. It was because I was evil.

The figure started laughing. “Yes, that is right! You are evil!”

I asked what he wanted from me, and the fiend quickly morphed into a form that looked familiar. It was Hitler. I knew it was him because both of my grandfathers had been in the war.

He was smiling, and then he answered me: “You know what we want you for. You were chosen! You are going to finish my work for me and take over the world!”

“But I’m only eight years old,” I said. “How am I supposed to take over the world?”

Yet even before he could reply, I knew the answer: I had to kill my parents.

 

By the time my father came back into my room to check on me, I had already resigned myself to my terrible fate. I was sitting on my bed in the dark, staring into the infernal abyss, with an open Cub Scout pocketknife in hand. When my dad turned on the light, he could see that some really bad shit was happening.

“Umm… What’s going on, man?”

“Dad. I’m evil. I just spoke with the devil and he told me that I have to kill you and Mom to take over the world.”

Now that I am a parent myself, I can’t even imagine how I would have dealt with a situation like that. But this is why my father was the man. It is almost impossible to fully comprehend how delicate my psyche was at that point, but what my father said was perfect. He told me that not only was I not evil, I was in fact a pretty good kid. He said I was being tested, and only if I gave in and actually killed my mother and him would I become evil. Even in my semi-deranged state of mind, this seemed to make sense.

After seeing how quickly things went south when I’d been left alone, my dad decided not to take any more chances. He asked me to hand him the knife, and then took me downstairs to lie down in his bedroom. For the next few hours, I saw the history of the universe play out before my eyes—from the Big Bang up to the rise of modern civilization. And then, I witnessed what I could only perceive as the future…and it looked grim. The world was at war: cities were burning, children were starving, and entire populations were killing one another. It seemed like the entire planet was possessed by madness. The entire surface of the Earth was either devastated by drought or flooded with water. It was the apocalypse, the end of the world, and I could see that it would happen in my lifetime.

Then there was only death—and everything went dark.

Just when I thought it was finally all over, the room became engulfed in an almost blinding white light. I could hear a sound—a constant layering of notes played by an orchestra of unknown celestial instruments—that climaxed when it reached a perfect chord. And then…I heard a voice. It was the sweetest voice I had ever heard, and it told me that I’d passed my test…that my heart was pure. And then it explained that while everything I’d seen was real, it was not too late. There was still time for things to turn out okay, but there was just one catch…

I had to save the world.

I called out to my father, who was sitting outside the door: “Dad, you were right! An angel came and told me it’s going to be okay!”

I was crying hysterically, but these were tears of joy. The gravity, the weight of my mission was not yet apparent, but at that point it didn’t matter…the nightmare I had been experiencing for fourteen hours was coming to an end. All I felt was an overwhelming sense of relief, and for the moment at least, I knew it was all over. Then, finally, I fell asleep.

 

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The Lubecker by M.J. Joseph

9781614935247-JacketGray_Lubecker COVER.inddNameM. J. Joseph

Book TitleThe Lübecker

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Peppertree Press

The Lubecker explores the dynamics of personal identity and self-knowledge in a thematically braided journey of characters toward a dramatic and unexpected finale. M.J. Joseph achieves this by plunging the reader into a world of parallel and lively narratives drawn into the roiling milieu of European history leading to the onset of World War I. the book also recalls many of Western Literature’s most engaging philosophical and religious challenges and its most memorable and moving human struggles.

Chapter 1

Dr. Tomaso Bettoli looked down at Dr. Sam Yoffey, who was sitting on an old, blackened, scarred, hickory stump, picking with the edge of his left thumb at the black shell of a nut, exploring grooves where the nut’s skin it had lifted away.  The stump had been created some years, ago, after a squall had moved-in from the Bay over the Bluffs and blown the tree down.  Men had hacked at the stump for a while, trying to shape it into something flattened, and their axe bites had left their straight and wedged marks.  There were trees everywhere: hickory, oak, magnolia, all hung with moss swaying in the light breeze stirring from the Bay, below.

 

“Sam, you can’t save them all; premature births are all too common, here on the Hill.  The women don’t let anyone know they’re in trouble, until it’s too late; some are afraid of their husbands, some rely on midwives.  Who, knows? said Bettoli. Dr. Bettoli was from New Jersey, and having served his commitment with the Navy, left his last station in the adjoining town, to serve as a physician in the town across the Bayou from the Hill.  He was only able to visit patients on the Hill once a week: far too seldom.  He had let it be known through medical schools, that he was looking for a partner and one day, Samuel Yoffey, late of South Carolina, had arrived at his door. Sam wore the same clothes he was wearing, today: khaki pants, white cotton shirt with two chest pockets and cowhide brogans; all items procured from his father’s dry goods and surplus store.   “I’ll leave you, now; maybe old Jones still has my boat unrented.”  And, so, Bettoli left the tired, saddened young man muttering to himself: “It’s 1886; might as well be 1786, as far as these poor women are concerned,” to walk down the Hill to the boathouse and, hopefully, rent a boat to row back to town, to rest in his house, atop Town Hill.

 

Sam looked out over the Bay, silver and calm, with sea birds wandering from the Hill’s shore out to the white sand island, the spit that enfolded the harbor.   He lifted himself from the stump; it had been a long night, and the peace he’d enjoyed with the hickory nut was to be left behind for a while.  He walked back to the little cottage, passing unwashed, children of all ages, a parade of dirty bare feet and mostly blond and light-eyed heads. As he entered the house, he went into the small, mournful room and accepted the small bundle from Sister John.  The nurse had worked with him several times, but neither Yoffey, nor the nurse, had been able to accustom themselves to such scenes.  Yoffey moved the bundle to his left arm and said to the Sister, “I’ll take it to the Esther, if you’ll see to the girl, please.”  The Esther was the Hill’s infirmary, hospital and late-morning gathering place for the Hill’s women, who sat in the most comfortable crux, which varied according to season and weather, of its low, stone

 

2

 

wall, to gossip and complain and keep account of their neighbors.  The Esther House had been founded by Miss Esther Cord, a well-to-do spinster who had lived-out her days in a tall, wooden mansion next door, the daughter of a timber magnate who had appeared on the Hill in the 1830’s, the scion of an old, Mississippi plantation family. Esther Cord inherited the white, columned house and a fortune that she devoted to establishing a hospital for the residents of the Hill with a group of nuns she had invited from across the South, most of whom had walked away from disparate Orders to serve more of mankind and less of the Church. These women had kept their distinct habits and somehow, had captured the support of the nearest Catholic priest, who was careful never to mention the ladies of the Esther to his superiors. Sam bent his back forward to stretch in the early day, and the cool air, quiet, except for locust with their insistent buzz along the bayou as the sun rose higher into a clear sky.  Sam left a couple of hours after the rosy shafts of the dawn had begun to reach over the east bluffs and fall down the great hill that defined the community, bringing the season’s heat through the trees to meet the Bayou’s interminable humidity.

 

The young doctor left the small, green, shotgun house, meeting no one, except one or two of the girl’s worried women relatives, some holding hands, some clinching their sides or pulling and twisting stringy hair; all the men were in the Bay or the Gulf.  A sandy path paved with magnolia leaves, each side lined with large white chunks of marble, all growing green with age, damp and shade, led away from the small house, and the pervasive beards of Spanish moss hung slightly angled from the live oak branches tangled over the ill-defined yards that neighbored the sad home.  Yoffey followed the dirt road along the bay heights and decided to detour and trudge down, along the narrow trail dividing the native tangle of dewberry vines, yaupons and false rosemary.  As the trail began to rise, he came to the long thicket of palmettos which, as he’d learned as boy in South Carolina, harbored rattlesnakes.  The palmettos led up the hill and he rejoined the road as it curved and straightened into a wide, dirt, four-rutted lane that led to the Esther Sisters, as they had become known to the tiny community.  The “hospital” had been established after the Civil War and the number of Sisters varied, according to a management Yoffey didn’t attempt to understand. The “Mother” was always glad to see him, notwithstanding the news he brought or the time of day he appeared.  As he walked up the concrete steps onto the porch, he noticed that the painted boards were wearing and flecked, but clean, as always, the wood declining under the feet that trod them and the Sisters’ application of rough brooms and potent mops.  He nodded to the thin, black boy who rose to open the double, black-painted, screen door and, as he entered the reception room, was met by a new, fresh face, fixed into a coif and veil and an old-fashioned, dampened bandeau.  Her eyes shone light, brilliant gray and she stood before the young man as an apparition of the type of Rococo light he’d seen in museums, a kind of beauty he could not recall encountering amongst the living.  As he opened his mouth to speak, the Mother appeared and shook her head, and unclasping her hands, held them out to take the bundle. “This is two, this week, doctor.”

 

“Yes, Mother, birth mortality is so common on the Hill.  The womenfolk run themselves to death, trying to earn extra money across the Bayou and the men are never around, until after

 

3

 

dark.  It’s hard to know an ailing woman by the light of a kerosene lantern and then, after pulling up oysters or mackerel all day, trying to look at them through eyes, half drunk or half asleep. I am a twenty-six year old doctor, I do not want to keep delivering these premature and stillborn babies, Mother; I suppose that I’m just tired” said Yoffey, with tears welling up behind his spectacles, over his soft brown eyes.  His ample mustache was damp and the curls of his black hair, loosed by the removal of his hat, had begun to spill over his forehead. He bowed, walked out onto the porch and sat down at the left edge, knocking his heels against the brick that lined the bottom and hid the cool and dusty underside of the building.  He allowed a few of his tears to fall, and took out his plain, white handkerchief, to wipe them away and blow his nose. The Sisters were busy, as always, working the grounds’ verdant and variegated collection of flower bushes, hedges, and grass, as well as, cleaning, and more cleaning of the stone fountain with the Virgin standing with clasped hands.  Other nuns walked their patients around an elliptical stone path that centered the building, or pushed them in wooden wheelchairs, silently, cutting through the usually indifferent and voluble gaggle of women who had found the perimeter wall’s ideal corner.  Behind Sam, a steady influx of maids with food from the richer families mixed with the sick, and the dying, to enter the front door to leave their offerings.   The occasional cackles and Southern articulations of “uh-huh” or “uh-uh” or “ah-ha” of ladies filled the air as visiting Esther Foundation members came and went, most hailing from across the Bayou and “Town”.

 

Presently, the young Sister he’d encountered came out of the building and offered him a cup of strong, black coffee. Yoffey accepted it and, ashamed of his tears, whispered, “Thank you, Sister.” She stood behind him for a few minutes, until he seemed calmed, and then sat down, next to him.  Her bright eyes and full lips were the only things he noticed, pulling his mind away from his amassed grief and into her presence.  She offered her hand, a defiant gesture that would never have been allowed by her original Order, and introduced herself as Sister James. Yoffey accepted her hard and callused hand and said, “I’m Sam Yoffey; you’ll have to get used to me; I’m the only doctor practicing east of the Bayou. Your physician on the Hill, ma’am.”

 

“Dr. Yoffey, that’s a beautiful accent you have: South Carolina? I believe that I’ve heard it at the abbey, where I trained. ”

 

“Yes, ma’am, born and bred, except for some training in Paris.”

 

The two young people sat quietly, Sam sipping his coffee, trying to revive his spirits and alertness and Sister James, watching the activities of the other nuns about the hospital grounds and the antics of the poor Hill women, who occasionally rose from the wall to bring to life an absent member of their tribe with comical, idiomatic wiggles and other, more lively gestures.  “Where do you maintain an office, Doctor?” asked the young nun. “Do you live on the Hill, or in town?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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