“Without a Net: a True Tale of Prison, Penthouses, and Playmates,’ by Barry Hornig and Michael Claibourne

Without a Net Cover Small (2)Title: Without a Net: a True Tale of Prison, Penthouses, and Playmates

Author: Barry Hornig & Michael Claibourne

Publisher: Koehler Books

Genre: Memoir

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About the Book

Starving and certain that I would die in my dingy jail cell in Spain, I made a deal with God. I fell to my knees, promising to give up all drugs and criminal activities. I prayed out loud, witnessed only by the urine-soaked walls and huge rats that shared my cage. My desperation was raw and naked. I thought about the Countess. I thought about my parents at home on Long Island. But mostly I thought about myself. “Save me, God, and I will live virtuously and honor my family.” I was released early and found myself back home, penniless and living in my parents’ basement. God had kept his promise. I soon broke mine… Without a Net is an autobiographical road trip through a volatile period of American history. Barry Hornig was a seeker and an explorer. His adventures were splendid and sordid, and the sort of stuff that would teach anyone a lesson. This is the story of how he learned his lessons the hard way.

Prologue

I should have known what my life was going to be like from early on because I loved the Cyclone on Coney Island. Even as a kindergartener, I would drag my grandma and grandpa and anybody else I could hustle or trick into going with me (they wouldn’t let little kids on alone), and I would always put them in the rear car, the most dangerous one. My grandparents hated it. But I would make them go on every ride. They were Eastern European and very kind, so they put up with it.

This was advertised as the scariest ride in the world, but I was fearless. I loved it when it was completely dark, and you’d clatter up the track to the top of a hill, and on a clear night you could see the New York City skyline and the lights of the Rockaways. I couldn’t get enough of it, while I fortified myself with hot dogs, French fries, and Cokes from the original Nathan’s.

After the ride I wandered off to the carnie booths and watched all the bearded men, tattooed ladies, and double-headed people. I couldn’t know at the time what a foreshadowing that was of the freak show that would become my life.

I was banned from supermarkets at the age of four. I liked to pull everything down from the racks and scream. My family lived in my grandma’s house in Brooklyn. There was a wonderful girl who would walk me in my stroller up and down in front of the house. And the other day, when I saw on TV that she had died, I felt very sad. Her name was Suzanne Pleshette. She lived next door, and she was my baby sitter. We moved to Long Beach, on Long Island, in the path of huge storms. I remember my first hurricane and how the house shook. And riding my bike through the streets where the ocean met the bay. There were whitecaps in the streets. My dad, who I called Willy, would take me out on a rowboat in Reynolds Channel to fish for flounder and fluke. We ate delicious tuna-fish and salami sandwiches while we fished, but I didn’t know, until years later, that he couldn’t swim. How brave, and how reckless. A rickety little boat, a big guy with his son, one wrong move and over the boat goes. He was quite a guy, with his Errol Flynn moustache. I remember going down to the recreation center and watching him and my uncle hit a hard, black handball with gloves. I tried it, and I cried because it hurt my hand. Every Saturday and Sunday mornings we would go to the beach at eight and stay until dark. My father taught me how to surf-cast and dig for crabs, clams, and starfish. My mother and my aunt would show up by lunchtime with sandwiches and cold watermelon, and my friends and I would swim, fish, and make drippy sand castles. One afternoon, I went on a walkabout and got lost. In those days, the lifeguards would put a lost child up on a wooden platform and blow the whistle, so their parents would come and claim them. But I had wandered too far off, and they couldn’t hear the whistle. I spent an enjoyable afternoon with the lifeguards, but later in the day, my parents found me. They were very unhappy, and I got my first spanking. My grade school was right around the corner from our new house. The first afternoon I went, I got into a scuffle with somebody and wound up facing the blackboard on a stool with a pointed hat on my head. I remember my first fight clearly. One of the toughest kids in school was Johnny, who was a little bigger than everybody else, mean, and pushed everybody around. He grabbed me one day and told me he needed money to buy egg creams at the corner store and started to go through my pockets. I don’t think I was more than seven or eight, but I stepped back and hit him as hard as I could in the stomach. To my delight, he went down like a sack of rocks. Right to the ground, and he started crying. I found my new power, and a new way to negotiate.

I had trouble in my early schooling; I am dyslexic, and it was difficult for me to concentrate, so I was a C student. A coach helped me study phonetics because all the words looked backwards. I had still have a lot of trouble reading out loud, so, as a kid, I avoided it. I can comprehend language very well when reading to myself.

Although I’ve never been tested, I think I’m probably bipolar as well. My ups and downs have always been intense, and when I got manic, I was out on the street.

Since the bay and the ocean were only separated by six blocks, we spent most of our time on the water. There were fishing piers, and my friends had small boats, so we went boating up and down the channels after school. In the summer, we had the ocean and the Boardwalk. I kept out of trouble, even though I was in rumbles and gang fights as I got older, because I was a promising athlete in constant training. I lifted weights and didn’t smoke or drink. I had coaches to motivate me from elementary school on—and I was disciplined.

I had my heroes. I watched some of the star athletes in sporting events when I was younger, and it made a great impression on me. I wanted to be the Indian who became an Olympian in the Burt Lancaster movie, Jim Thorpe—All-American. I used that film as my blueprint and decided I would never get in trouble as I was determined to become a fearless athlete with lightning reflexes. I had no qualms about flying through the air or hurting someone in sports. In fact, I wanted to inflict pain; that was my job—to stop them.

I never realized just how fast I was until they timed me, and I noticed that nobody could beat me. Some of the other kids hated that I was as fast as they all were. I raced with Bobby Frankel on a bet, and won—and he was the fastest boy in Far Rockaway High School and also a Hall of Fame horse trainer. I shot baskets with my friend, Larry Brown. It got to where they wouldn’t let Larry shoot anymore at carnivals because he won all the teddy bears. Larry became a pro basketball star, and a Hall of Fame coach.

When I went into the city with my buddy, Steady Eddie, we saw street jesters, poets, drifters, and grifters on 42nd Street where we went to the movies—porn movies they didn’t show in Long Beach. By the time I was ready to go to college, I was street-smart. I was tall and athletic; people said I was good looking. I always worked so I could help my parents, and I knew everyone on the corner. I was able to inflict pain and run so fast that nobody could catch me. I thought I was special, and I knew I could take care of myself.

That didn’t prove to be enough for the depths of distress and heights of optimism which would test my ability to survive. Many of my adventures in Without a Net fill me with shame. My path is full of missteps, awful choices, uncanny luck, and wild expectations.

In my story, you might glimpse the surprising and strange choices you might have made, had you lived a life like mine.

Chapter 1: The Red-Eyed Rat 

We had really pulled a burglary, a jewel heist to fund a scheme to purchase drugs. Where did we get the guts to do it? And was it guts or bravado? And, did we really expect to get away with it?

So, here I was. Football star, athlete, Mr. Popular, and a jailbird. A disgrace, a drug dealer, a thief, a convicted felon in a foreign country. What would my family say? And my dear Grandma—how could I ever look her in the eyes again?

I was riding shotgun with Weenie, disembarking from the ferry in Algeciras, when the policeman went through the rental car and discovered the hundred kilos of hashish in our duffel bags. Everybody came around and congratulated him like he’d won the lottery, cheering him like a soccer hero.

They handcuffed me and my friend, Weenie, drove us to a prison that must have been hundreds of years old, and threw us roughly into a filthy cell. The windows were approximately ten feet up, and the light stayed on high up in the cell. It could have been there during the Inquisition. But now, Francisco Franco’s men were the inquisitors. “Remember the Phalange!”

They let us have our sunglasses, our jeans, our sandals. They took all identification, of course, but not our dinero, or our belts. They didn’t care if we hung ourselves. I sat with my back against the cell with my other cellmate; the shock made it impossible to speak.

Three days went by, with gruel, beans, and rice, wriggling with little living things: “Papillon sauce.” I wasn’t hungry enough, even on the third day, to try to eat it. They brought us a razor and told us to shave. I didn’t really know what was happening. But I thought of burning stakes, Joan of Arc, the Inquisition, or a firing squad. We shaved with cold water and no soap, and since the blades had probably been used thirty times, we just got a little of the stubble off. My hair was already full of lice.

They marched us out single-file, handcuffed from the rear, to an ornate courtroom, where three plump men in their fifties sat, wearing dirty black robes. They assigned a public defender to help us, who spoke broken English, making it difficult to follow the proceedings. They started reading a criminal charges document to us. It sounded like the Declaration of Death. This went on for an unbearably long time.

They asked Weenie and me to explain what had happened. Of course we had a pre-arranged story ready, just in case. But when it was my turn, the words came out of my mouth, but I’m not sure what I said. My voice cracked, and tears welled up in my eyes. I tried to regain my composure.

Would they believe us? They had to. We were Americans on a holiday in Spain. We wouldn’t rob each other. It had to be the gypsies. When they couldn’t solve a crime, it was always the gypsies.

The three judges talked back and forth. The police officer got up on the stand. He seemed to have a new uniform and a shiny new watch, and the spectators cheered him, of course. There seemed to be a few more witnesses, but I had no idea what was going on. They told us to stand, and the middle one banged the gavel. “Convicto!” There was a pause, and then the translator spoke. “You will serve six years and a day as a guest of General Franco in his hotel.” That was the dream from which I couldn’t awaken.

When you have a nightmare, you wake up, and everything is okay. But when you have that nightmare, and you try to wake up and you are awake, that’s the end.

It seemed delusional, and it came so fast that it was almost as if I had dreamt it. I felt that it wasn’t me there—it was somebody else, and I was looking down on the whole situation in disbelief. Like words in the pages of White-Jacket, about the voyages that transformed Melville from a boy into a man. But my own transformation would be a long time coming.

Weenie and I went back to our cells and started a hunger strike and an all-around commotion. It didn’t work. A guard in a green jumpsuit came with a billyclub, started banging the front of our cell, cursing at us, and decided that we needed to be separated.

Four or five days later, it was time for showers. I was getting ripe. I was lead into the shower room with other sordid prisoners—Arabs, Basques, Spaniards. I was the only American. The shower was ice-cold, the towel more like a handkerchief, and the soap stank.

One large Moroccan guy was watching me very carefully. I pretended I didn’t see him. He was obviously aroused, his member swollen. I was sitting on a stool drying myself when he made an aggressive move towards me. I don’t know what happened, but the stool hit the middle of his head, and it split open. There was screaming, there was blood, there were whistles, and we were brought back to solitary. I could tell by the looks of the other inmates that I’d made my point. I had established our alpha position, and I wasn’t about to be pursued or intimidated by the “pack.”

I was so angry at them and at myself, I felt like smashing him again. I looked around for the next customer. There’s always a next customer—when you’re looking.

I had a piece of wood with a smelly mattress on it—if you can call it that, a quarter-inch thick, half a pillow, a tin dish for food, and a hole for a toilet.

Unfortunately, I had roommates, the four-footed variety. Weenie and I had been separated. But Rudy, the red-eyed rat, and his friends found me. It was war. And I only had my thongs. At first, they were standoffish. Circling, making noises in the middle of the night, bothering my sleep. Then Rudy started making aggressive moves for my toes. He was good-sized—like a cat. Ugly yellow teeth, red eyes, mange. If I had had some bread or something else, any morsel I could spare, I would have fed him and tried to win him over, but I didn’t have that luxury. The other problem was the mosquitoes, the relentless mosquitoes biting me non-stop, as my blanket was too small to wrap myself in.

And if that weren’t enough, the food—I can’t even speak of the food—if you could call it that. And I knew it was only the beginning.

I sat there in the darkness, asking, “What did I do to deserve this?” I knew I couldn’t last six years. Impossible. I figured I’d go mad within a year.

With our money, which they hadn’t taken, much to our surprise, we were able to buy Carnation milk, cigarettes, delicious Hershey bars, and Valencia oranges.

Things got better, but I kept hearing fireworks, or shots in the street, and a lot of screaming and noise late at night from another part of the prison.

One day, after a couple of weeks, they brought in other inmates who looked like they’d been beaten and kicked. It appeared they needed solitary more than we did, so they put us back in our original cell.

We were able to get writing paper and envelopes and started our campaign to free ourselves. We wrote to everybody we could think of to spring us. We were charged an exorbitant fee for stamps, and, years later, I learned that the letters were never mailed because no one received them.

The only things we had to read were several pamphlets from Tim Leary’s lectures and a stained National Geographic that I was learning to read upside-down, so it seemed different.

Lighting a cigarette. Waiting for more rats, and the mosquitoes. I ended up soaking cigarettes in water, dipping rags in the liquefied tobacco and wiping it all over myself—my neck, my face, and all my other exposed parts—and the nicotine would stop the mosquitoes from biting. It gave me something to do, a little project every evening. I was looking at nothing, and nothing to do, for six years.

                              ****

As I lay in my cell, cold and hungry, I recalled a sunny afternoon in Long Beach in 1956, when I was working in a Safeway supermarket with my old friend, Mark Newman. We were fifteen, and we were putting food on the shelves to make “hot dog money” in the summer. I think we came up short. We ate more than we shelved. Another friend came into the Safeway market, and told me that somebody from a lower grade had called a girl I liked a “whore” and a “rag.” I sent word back that this was not acceptable, and I might have to crush his face if I saw him. The reply came: Meet on the beach at sunset at the end of the Boardwalk with my gang, and they would bring their gang. I talked this over with Newman and we decided to put small kitchen knives in our socks. I had read too many Harold Robbins books.

I was evaluating the situation. The kid I was supposed to meet was a grade under me, but he was six-four, two hundred pounds. . Elvis haircut, engineer boots, menacing arms from weightlifting. I myself was six feet, one hundred forty-five. We walked down to the beach, and before we were supposed to have the fight, we were surrounded by our gangs. Mike Kosella, one of the guys from the luncheonette at the Franklin Hotel, who later went over a cliff in a motorcycle and burned in the air at age twenty-two, was with me. They showed up with ten assorted hoods. I didn’t like my prospects. We decided to arm wrestle first, which was ridiculous, since his arm was twice the size of mine. But since I had been in football training that summer, he could not move my arm from its position. We pulled and tugged for fifteen minutes. Nothing happened. This was a sort of 1950’s warfare.

We backed off. He took his black jacket off, combed his hair like Elvis, smirked, and put a cigarette in his mouth. We all turned to go to the beach. Big mistake on his part. Don’t ever turn your back in combat. We walked onto the beach. I was wearing khakis, a T-shirt, and sneakers. We got about twenty feet into the beach when Mike Kosella handed me a “jaw teaser,” which is a piece of lead pipe wrapped with adhesive. It felt very comfortable in my hands. I knew if I hit him hard enough he would go down. The red mask came on me, my “ultimate rage”—the blood pulsed through my head, and I was on him, a panther on an ox. He gave up; I used a wrestling hold called the “Princeton,” where I was able to put both my hands behind his hands when he reached up to grab my head, and he couldn’t move. I don’t know if I hit him five or ten times, but the top of his head started to get mushy. He lay motionless for a time, and then he started to move again. We ran.

The next day the rumors were flying around town. Evidently he went to the emergency room and got quite a few stitches.

My mother was very good to me, very supportive, and played the he-can-do-no-wrong card with the police, keeping me out of trouble. “He’s just young and learning …” The cops didn’t really believe it, but, alright, so he busted the guy’s head open; they didn’t care. My brother was proud of me, even though the guy I smashed was the toughest guy in my brother’s class.

The most famous beach club was El Patio, which the movie The Flamingo Kid was based on. The movie was about us. The good-looking card-playing guy who beat the old man was Harvey Sheldon, a.k.a. Rodney Sheldon. The parking lot attendant in the movie was Jimmy Pullis, who later owned the club “Tracks” in New York City, the hangout for rock ‘n’ roll musicians. These beach clubs provided great jobs for young guys. I worked at El Patio for three summers during high school. We were cabana boys. “Cabana boy, get me ice water.” “Cabana boy, I need a club sandwich and a strudel.” “Hurry, cabana boy.” The tips were good, and their daughters were available.

The clubs brought in name entertainment on the weekends from Tito Puente to Bobby Darin. El Patio hosted the great garmentos. They lived in huge houses on the swamplands, had spoiled daughters with gold chains, huge bar mitzvahs, long cigars, and polished nails from 1407 Broadway. There were pick-up bars, like Lou’s, and Furies, near the railroad tracks in Cedarhurst. That’s where all the rich Jews were. I wished I was there again, right now.

                                 ****

The battle with the rats continued. Underneath my bed I found a few old logs and pieces of wood and waited for the right opportunity to kill Mr. Red-Eyes, pretending I was asleep. The first few times I missed—he was too fast. Finally, I was able to get a rebound shot and cracked him on the nose, and he disappeared, never to be seen again. And the friends he left behind were a piece of cake—they were easy to scare. So all I had to do was deal with the mosquitoes, and, since it was getting colder, they were disappearing. Perhaps, now, I could regain what little sanity I had left.

They started to let us go out into the exercise yard, and I met Felipe. He had been there for ten years. They’d caught him with explosives trying to blow up a police station. One of his hands was blown off, and he had a stump. His English was quite good, and he told me that his family had owned a restaurant in the North of Spain, the Basque area, and after the war they took his dad away, his mother, all his property, and all their animals. He would be getting out in a year.

The next day, after another evening with Mr. Red-Eyes, it rained terribly—and it rained and it rained and the water came into the cell. It was starting to get dark. I lit another lousy Spanish cigarette, closed my eyes, and thought of college. My memories were my only door to sanity.

                               ****

 I was a freshman at Boston University in 1958. My parents let me off at Miles Standish Hall, where my suite was up on the sixth floor. I had a horrible bed with hanging springs, a lumpy mattress, and I kept complaining to the dorm monitor, day after day, the first week, until I could take it no longer.

The red mask came down on me, my eyes pounding, and I don’t know what happened, but the entire box-spring, bed, and mattress went out the window into the courtyard, and I was immediately put on probation. I didn’t care; I snuck out the following night. I met a family friend who was at another college, and we drove down Commonwealth Avenue to a mixer at one of the women’s colleges. His convertible had New York plates. We were driving along, minding our own business, when we got cut off by two huge gorillas with a Boston College sticker on their car. They screamed curses, something like, “Jew pussy, go to the ovens!” or “Death to you all!” and I answered, “Come on back, and we’ll see who’s the pussies!”

They stopped their car, they got out, and they got out, and they got out. They were big—they must have been the two starting tackles on the B.C. football team. The red mask came on me again; I charged one of them, and my “new friend” ran off screaming, “Don’t hurt me! I just had new braces put in!” This happened right in front of the school mixer. Everyone came pouring down from the stairs. I just made it under the car to protect myself, hiding, because they were kicking me and trying to turn the car over. A guy I knew, who later became a good friend, a frat brother from Long Island, the size of one of the football players, took them on. Fortunately, for me, he had been a high school champion heavyweight wrestler. In later years, he leapt out of a thirty-five story office building in Manhattan and killed himself—he was bipolar. He threw one of the gorillas over one of the garbage cans. It appears he had a red mask, too, because he ripped off their antenna and proceeded to slash the guy who was left. Then he pulled me out from under the car and helped me to the school infirmary. I needed some iodine and bandages. I looked like I’d made and lost a bad decision. The word went around campus quickly, as these things do. The next day everyone wanted me to pledge their fraternity. I was the Jewish hero.

After the incident, one of the fraternity brothers named Sandy Gallen patted me on the back and said, “Way to go!” I remembered his name years later when I heard he’d become Dolly Parton’s partner and Michael Jackson’s rep.

After college, I lived at 1012 Lexington Avenue, between 72nd and 73rd on Lexington. I had a one-bedroom apartment for forty-nine dollars a month, a third floor walk-up with French windows. I had a mattress on the floor, some built-in shelves, a bathroom with a bamboo curtain door, a hot plate, and a refrigerator.

                              ****

I could tell through the windows in my prison cell that the sun was out. It must have been a beautiful day. And tt must have been Sunday, because I heard singing from the church across from the prison. I broke my last cigarette in half and searched for more memories to keep my spirits up.

I thought about another sunny afternoon, when I was in Long Beach on one of the canals. I was only fifteen. In front of my girlfriend’s house was a fifteen-foot boat with an outboard motor. I was with Mark Newman and Joey Burrel, a swimming champ from one of the tough high schools in New York whom I’d also had a fight with. It was warm, and we wanted to go fishing and swimming. We got into the boat, which was not ours. Joey, being a pro at stealing cars, got the engine started. We both jumped in and went down the canals out to Reynolds Channel. We were having a good old time, just going around. We knew where everybody would be later in the afternoon—the tennis courts. As the then-popular disc-jockey “Murray the Kay” would say on his “swinging soirée,” it was where we would go with our dates to watch the “submarine races.”

As I mentioned, Joey Burrel was a world-class swimmer, and I was pretty good, too. Newman, who came originally from the Bronx, told us he wasn’t much of a water man. We started to show off. Everybody was cheering from the shore; they knew who we were. We were doing figure eights, going backwards and forward in circles. We were having a terrific afternoon together, until … We noticed from going around in all these erratic directions that the back of the boat was filling, and filling quickly. What do you do? Man overboard! Joey went in like a fish, and I was next. It was approximately a half mile to shore, maybe less. No big deal, we were on our way to shore anyway. Newman went down with the ship. He had on big heavy dungarees. Joey was on shore first, already smoking a cigarette. I was coming up second. Of course the boat was sinking, and Newman was struggling out there. His head was underwater. Joey was taking bets, with cigarettes, as to whether Newman would make it.

He came up, he went down, he came up, he went down. Finally, he was able to get up out of the gunk and clumsily started for shore. We had to jump in and swim back out to help him. He was panting and flopping like a wet flounder.

Two days later, my parents woke me at three in the afternoon. There were two detectives who wanted to know what I knew about the boat. They took me down to the police station, put the hot light on, and started questioning me. I didn’t crack under the pressure. I never gave up Joey, who was on probation. Newman they already knew about.

So much for my summer of loafing. They told me that I had to pay the man back for his boat, so I got a job sanding cabinets for the entire summer. Everything I made had to be paid back to the boat’s owners. Newman had to do the same.

My reminiscing ended when a blood-curdling scream came out of one of the cells. I stuffed rags in my ears. It was a death cry—one of many.

                                  ****

Three months into my incarceration, my teeth were bleeding from the diet, and my clothes were all starting to fall apart. I sat down, and was very quiet.

I concentrated, and said very softly, “If I can get out of here, I will change.”

I was not religious. I’d been bar-mitzvahed, but after that, or even before, I hadn’t given much thought to any God or divine being helping me, but at this point I had nowhere else to go. I decided to try to make a deal. I gave God my word that I would change if I could get out of there, that I would help other people. That I would try to live a moral vision of some kind.

It was getting dark.

I said, “Please get me out of here. I can’t take it. Please!”

In the depths of my despair, a powerful fantasy took shape. I imagined a sort of prison Olympics, and I got the guards to go along. It was easy because they would give us extra time to do things if we’d stay out there and be productive—by cleaning up and working on the grounds. So by building the high jump and broad jump pads, I was also able to clean up the grounds. Then I got wood from the woodshop and we made hurdles. And I got them to provide lime so we could make lines on the track, and I set up coaching classes to teach them what I knew. The prison was divided into three parts, and word got out about what we were doing in our part. And others volunteered to do it as well. The guards got involved. Watching us all train made their jobs easier. Most of the inmates were uncoordinated, and many were inept. But they tried; they were good sports. I gave them encouragement and set up competitions—the fifty-yard dash, the high jump—everybody got involved.

One afternoon, there was a commotion, and we discovered that the supervisor of prisons for the southern district of Spain had come by and watched what we were doing. They called me in the office the next day and told me it would be okay to have the games in two weeks, on a Sunday, so the guards could bring their families and have wine and cheese. And then they asked if some of the guards could participate in some events. Why not? It was turning into a carnival, like a baby Olympics!

On the day of the jailhouse Olympics, the stands were packed and there were bands playing loud music, and people were taking pictures. I was planning to pole-vault my way to freedom, but I couldn’t isolate myself to take a run at the wall. It was impossible. Everybody was watching me. I got down on my knees, asking, “What am I going to do”?

The next morning, I had a very high fever and diarrhea. I suppose the dream was part of the delirium of being sick.

Suddenly, the main guard banged on my cell, shook the doors and screamed, “¡Andale!”

They chained me and handcuffed me, and put a manacle around my waist and legs, and marched me into the warden’s office. They had a conversation, but all I got out of it was, “…mucho urgente… no más… malo… americanos…” No good. I didn’t know what was going on.

I did not have control over my bowels, and they wouldn’t let me go to the baño. Instead, they took me to another room, where I saw my suitcase and Weenie’s. I had money stashed in my suitcase, and an extra set of keys for the Peugeot that was who knows where. I was sure I was hallucinating as they told me to strip, threw me a towel, and led me into the showers and told me to clean myself up.

I got into my old street clothes, which no longer fit, grabbed my suitcase and Weenie’s, and was escorted out through the giant gates. A beat-up bus pulled up with a group of shackled prisoners—men with head and leg wounds, battered and torn—some Basques who had blown up a bank. Perhaps they needed my hotel room. But what about Weenie?

Much to my surprise, the guards escorted me back to the Peugeot to get my personal things. It was still locked up in its own little custom’s prison with hundreds of other cars. I took out my extra suitcase, a canteen, my walking boots, and some pesetas. I also took the rest of the jewels, gold, and cash I had hidden in the air conditioning system.

Luckily, the guards weren’t watching me. Then I got a cab to take me to the Hotel Christina.

I was free. But not Weenie. By sheer luck they kicked me out to make space for the Basque bombers. But my friend, the guy who came to Europe to help me find the love of my life, sat rotting in this hell hole. I had to get him out—somehow. And then I had to find my girl.

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Turning To Stone, by Gabriel Valjan

TurningtoStone_FlatforeBooks (1)Title: Turning To Stone

Genre: Mystery, Suspense

Author: Gabriel Valjan

Website: http://wintergoosepublishing.com

Publisher: Winter Goose Publishing

Purchase link: http://amzn.to/1N73WGy

About the Book:

Bianca is in Naples for Turning To Stone, the fourth book in the Roma Series from author Gabriel Valjan. Loki, her mysterious contact, is now giving Bianca baffling anagrams. They seem to lead to a charismatic entrepreneur who has a plan to partner with organized crime to manipulate the euro and American dollar. Against a backdrop of gritty streets, financial speculation, and a group of female assassins on motorcycles, Bianca and her friends discover that Naples might just be the most dangerous city in Italy.

Excerpt from Turning To Stone by Gabriel Valjan1

He was back at work.

Farrugia and Noelle had had a beautiful meal together, an even more beautiful night in bed together. It almost made him cry that she was so forgiving after the fiasco at the airport. Not even two minutes into his excuse making, telling her about the bullshit with McGarrity’s arrest, she put her fingers to his lips and said, “Shut up and kiss me.” His heart skipped the proverbial beat when she insisted that she cook for him. She had said that she had been taking a class on southern cooking as a surprise.

He felt like a child again with the antipasto. A plate of fresh-fried anchovies—Alici fritte—was to him what French fries were to American children. He was like the swordfish she cooked for the main course in that he gave her no struggle. Pesce Spada alla Ghiotta. He had pulled a Sicilian white wine from out of the rack to accompany the swordfish done “glutton’s style,” with tomato, capers, and olives. She told him there would be something special for dessert.

There was—they made love on the kitchen table. Love had made Commissario Isidore Farrugia imbranato: a goofy mess.

And now, in Scampia on an overcast morning, he was back in reality.

He watched the car ease into the parking lot. This was it. He was happy he had seen Noelle one last time, happy he had been able to spend some precious time with her in his real apartment and not in the dummy one he kept during the week in Scampia.

The car had slowed down, parked, and the door opened.

This was supposed to be a meet; “Important,” he was told over the phone by some Totaro thug he knew by name but had never met. The voice sounded as if it belonged to a three hundred-pound brute in a stained wife-beater shirt, with a paunch, some gold chains around his neck that included a crucifix and a gold cornicello, the little horn used to ward off malocchio, the Evil Eye. The goon on the phone said that he was sending Stefano with the details.

Post-coital endorphins and paranoia did not mix well.

He had arrived earlier than the scheduled time for the appointment. He had developed enough of a rapport with Stefano that allowed Farrugia to call him “Ste,” a shortened form of his name that maintained the part that carried the stress in the full name and reminded Farrugia of the English “stay” as he had heard in commands, such as “Stay put!” and “Stay here.” That was the first sign that he was in, but the System, like most crime outfits, will send the friend to kill you. It was a courtesy not to have a stranger kill you, and a humble reminder that business is business and never personal.

Farrugia feigned fixing his belt. He had his gun near his tailbone. Would Stefano shoot him from a distance? Were there no chivalrous last words, no Judas kiss before Ste made his lethal move? Another mark of respect was to kill someone up close. The way the corpse was left behind explained why the person had been killed. There was enough sign and symbol in gangland killings to fuel several doctoral dissertations.

Stefano reached into his breast pocket. Farrugia’s hand tightened around the stock. Stefano’s hand was coming out.

Cigarette pack and lighter.

Asshole.

They exchanged pleasantries. This was looking as if it would be a genuine conversation, unless it was a prelude to an ambush. Farrugia kept surveying the area through his sunglasses. The Totaros could have set them both up, which is why Farrugia had cased the area earlier for all the possible entrances, exits, and blind spots.

Ste stopped, lit his cigarette, and took some small puffs. He was puffing like a slow locomotive as he approached. Ste was from Apulia, and his last name was predictable even for the dumbest genealogist: Pugliese. His record was what the police called “small-fry” because all of his infractions were from his teenage years. He would’ve made the upper rung of the Totaro clan had he not committed those youthful indiscretions.

No mistake about it: Stefano was a known man, not associated with System violence but with a record. He was smart, not flashy, and discreet as a small-town mayor having an affair. He got things done in a friendly manner. He was also an excellent PR man in the Totaro territories. He disliked violence unless it had a purpose. Stefano Pugliese was the perfect middle-management type, directing crews and reporting back to the capos who, in turn, reported to Amerigo Totaro.

“Good to see you,” said Ste.

“Likewise. Do you want to stay here or drive around and talk?”

“Here is fine, unless you want to sit in the car for the AC.”

“I’m good,” said Farrugia.

“I’ll try and make it quick. Something big is coming down.”

“I’m listening.” Let Ste spell it out since it could be anything, drugs from the Calabrians, guns from the Russians, fake fashion from a Chinese sweatshop.

“This is new, out of Foggia.”

Foggia? The city was known for being bombed to rubble during the Second World War, known for its wheat fields and delicious watermelons and tomatoes. But he had a feeling the Totaros weren’t interested in fruit.

“This could be more your moment, Pinuccio. This might make you.”

“Pinuccio” was a diminutive of Giuseppe, Farrugia’s undercover alias. A nickname was earned, and using the diminutive was a sign of respect, of affection. Ste was saying that this business might lead to Giuseppe’s acceptance as a man with rank within the System.

“This sounds serious, Ste,” Farrugia said. “Tell me more.”

“Fake currency.”

“Counterfeiting? Impressive and high-risk, although I know sentences are turned on appeal.”

“Look at you—a lawyer before you get near a courthouse. Don’t be superstitious.  There’s always a risk, but don’t worry too much,” Ste smiled. Farrugia tried to appear concerned.

“C’mon,” Ste said, “this is a one-time gig. There’s big money involved and plenty to go around. Besides, there’s a truce with the Marra clan.”

“You’re shitting me, right? A truce?” Farrugia wasn’t play-acting his shock. This was news. “When did that happen? No, never mind. You don’t have to explain. The color of money did it all.”

Ste fished out another cigarette and let it hang from his smiling lips. “The risk is low. I’ve been told that everything has been greased from high to low so a fish could pedal a bike across the Piazza del Plebiscito and nobody would say a word, including the priests.”

“Really?” Farrugia said, playing along. “If it’s that easy then go have a kid do it. You know how the courts treat kids.”

“Relax, will you? We have somebody on the inside with the Anti-counterfeiting Unit, and the Marra clan is showing good faith.”

“Good faith? What does that mean?”

“They handed over a sample from their presses in Giugliano, gratis. You’re to pick up the rest. Giugliano meets Foggia.”

“Is it any good?”

“Absolute artwork, my friend.” Ste took the cigarette out of his mouth to kiss the tips of his fingers. “Five hundred-euro notes of such beauty that any of the renaissance masters would have cried had they seen them. Perfection.”

“Five hundred-euro notes? Are you insane? That’s much too large.”

“In Italy, it’d get attention, but do you think the Bulgarians, the Colombians, and the Russians give a damn?”

He had a point. Farrugia also knew that the Africans and Middle Easterners were using fake euros to buy up real estate in their home countries. He remained quiet. He needed Ste to think that he was not convinced.

Giugliano was a hotbed for counterfeiting. Multigenerational counterfeiters there were masters, trained from childhood. These forgers picked every ingredient like a master chef. The chemicals, paper, the ink, dryers—the entire process had to be just right. Picking a bad tomato or a watermelon doesn’t get you five to ten years in prison. So what was the connection to Foggia?  What was coming out of Foggia?

Cigarette smoke lingered near his face.

“What do you say?” Ste asked.

“What do you want me to say? I know shit about fake euros. How will I know whether the goods are quality when I get there? You’re telling me that the Marra family is behind this and the Totaros aren’t sleeping with one eye open.”

More smoke.

“You worry too much, you know that? I’ll be there myself. Marra and Totaros meet, and you’re responsible for our friends from Calabria. It’s strictly an exchange and nothing more. The Marras have guaranteed it. Part of the new peace, don’t you see? The Totaro clan gets free money as a one-time gesture, and everyone moves forward. The Marra see a sample of Totaro work done in Foggia.”

Farrugia muttered, “A regular company meeting.” Something wasn’t adding up. He wanted to show some suspicion. “Tell me one good reason why I should do this and not be thinking chrysanthemums and a funeral hymn, huh? Tell me one.”

The man put out the cigarette, exhaled a cloud of smoke, and crushed the butt with his heel. It was a nice touch. “I’ll give you more than one reason if you like, Pinucc.” You’re the man between the Totaros and the Calabrians, and the Marras don’t have that kind of in with the ’Ndrangheta. The Marras want to enjoy the benefits of working with your compatriots that the Totaros are enjoying. The Totaros know that, so they put you up. You’re the Calabrian. You have any idea how huge that is? The Totaros will be very grateful to you, and since we’re friends they’ll be nice to me. Need I say more?”

“Yeah, I feel like Othello before the Venetian Senate.” They both laughed. “And the Totaros think they’ll get money for nothing? What happens afterwards?”

Ste shrugged his shoulders. “I’ll be honest, I don’t know. But I’ll say this: if the Marras screw the Totaros, then they’re screwing the Calabrians, and the Totaros can come back at the Marras with the ’Ndrangheta behind them. You tell me, why would the Marras do that to themselves?”

He said nothing.  It seemed plausible, but nothing was that easy.

“What is it? You don’t look convinced,” Ste said.

“Did you ever think that the Marras might have some other plan in place?”

“This is serious money. Enemies will sit around a table if there is money to be made. I can tell you one thing, though.” Farrugia waited for the next pitch. “They’ll have a chair at the table for you to make things go well with the Calabrians.”

“Ste? A few days ago I heard on the news that the euro bond had beaten expectations. Sounds like the Americans are at it again with their ‘quantitative easing.’”

“Quantitative what?” The man’s eyebrows lifted.

“The Fed floods the market with dollars. Then it buys back the bonds the government issues, which keeps the dollar artifically low against the euro and that makes the U.S. exports more competitive.”

Ste had his fingers searching the cigarette pack but stopped. “What the hell do you care? Watch the news for the weather like everyone else! Are you in on this or what?” Another unlit cigarette hung from the man’s lips.

“Yeah, I’m in. Call me later with the details.”

Ste lit his cigarette. “Now you’re talking. You won’t regret this. I was worried about you there for a second.”

“Why?” Farrugia asked.

“I don’t know. You sounded like a financial analyst or something.”

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

Turning To Stone

COPYRIGHT © 2015 by Gabriel Valjan

Excerpt appears courtesy of Winter Goose Publishing

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First chapter reveal: ‘The Charlemagne Connection’ by Richard Michael Cartmel

Title: THE CHARLEMAGNE CONNECTION

Genre: Mystery

Author: Richard Michael Cartmel

Publisher: Crime Scene Books

Purchase on Amazon.

The Charlemagne Connection, Cartmel’s latest mystery, is an exhilarating tale of villainy in the vineyards featuring the rumpled but shrewd Inspector Charlemagne Truchaud of the Paris police.

About The Charlemagne Connection:  Something sinister is afoot in the charming little Burgundy village of Nuits-Saint-Georges.  Inspector Truchaud will have an elaborate mystery to unravel when a young German tourist goes missing in Nuits-Saint-Georges.  What appears, at first, to be a straightforward case takes a dark turn when a decomposing body is found in the woods….

A captivating tale that transports readers to the vineyards of Burgundy, The Charlemagne Connection crackles with suspense. Smart, seamless, and sensational, The Charlemagne Connection blends a to-die for setting, a well-balanced, full-bodied plot, and irresistible characters.  Celebrated novelist R.M. Cartmel uncorks a wild, witty, and winning wine mystery in The Charlemagne Connection.

Prologue 

Nuits-Saint-Georges, sometime after last year’s harvest 

Captain Duquesne raised an eyebrow when the angular features of young Constable Lenoir appeared round the corner of the door without warning. He was usually expected to announce himself from his seat behind the counter in the outer office, with a quick call on the intercom. After all, you never knew quite what the Chef might be doing. ‘Can I help you, gendarme?’ he asked icily.

‘There’s a woman out here with a problem which I think you ought to be aware of,’ the Constable replied carefully.

Duquesne thought for a moment, and then replied, as Lenoir looked as if he required some sort of answer. ‘Well, are you going to bring her in then?’

Constable Lenoir’s head disappeared from round the door, but his shoulder remained in sight, as Duquesne heard him telling someone outside to ‘come on through’.

‘This is Madame Blanchard,’ Lenoir said, introducing the middle-aged woman. ‘She runs the campsite just south of town.’

Duquesne remembered his manners and invited the woman to sit down, before asking her what appeared to be the problem.

‘It’s one of our campers,’ she said. ‘I think he’s disappeared.’

‘How might you mean disappeared?’ he asked extremely politely, somewhat to Lenoir’s surprise.

‘Well, he always comes to the shop at the beginning of the day, to buy some fresh bread and milk for breakfast; sometimes croissants as well; sometimes not. But for the past three days, he hasn’t even been into the shop at all.’

‘Might he have found another shop to get his breakfast from?’ asked Duquesne, the polite tone persisting, but with a slight overtone of dryness creeping in over the top.

‘Oh, I agree,’ she replied. ‘We’re not a monopoly, and we don’t demand that our campers buy only from us. All we expect is that our campers pay up for the rentals of their pitches. And his pitch rental also became due yesterday.’

‘How do you mean?’

‘Well, we charge a daily fee for each day stayed. When he first arrived, he paid a week’s rental up front in cash. He also used to come to buy his breakfast from us each morning. He was quite chatty, and spoke good French for a German, and each time he’s stayed, his French has improved, so he really seems to quite enjoy testing out his latest French idioms, while collecting the bread and milk.’

‘You mean this isn’t the first time he’s stayed with you?’

‘Oh no. This must be the fourth time he’s stayed at the Camp Millésime.’

‘And he has always got his breakfast from you?’

‘Yes, without fail; every time he’s stayed.’

‘Go on.’

‘Well, yesterday, as part of my walk round the campsite, to make sure all is well, I looked round his area, and he wasn’t there, and nor was his bicycle.’

‘Bicycle?’

‘Yes, he has a bicycle to get about on.’

‘He didn’t come all this way from Germany on a bicycle, did he?’ asked Duquesne, sounding slightly surprised. ‘What is he: an athlete in training for the Tour de France?’

‘No, captain. He comes here in an old Volkswagen Kombi campervan, which he parks up and sleeps in while he stays. He then potters about on a bicycle which he brings with him. He does appear to be quite fit, I suppose, but the Tour de France? No, I don’t think so.’

‘How old is he?’

‘About twenty-five,’ she replied.

Duquesne grinned at Lenoir. ‘Do you think he has found himself a little friend to make his holiday more fun?’

‘I thought that too,’ said Mrs Blanchard without missing a beat. ‘But when I came back this morning the pan was in exactly the same place.’

‘The pan, madame?’ enquired the captain quizzically.

‘Yes,’ she replied, ‘the pan. You see, when I went by yesterday there was a saucepan, of the sort you might boil water in, or cook things in perhaps, that was lying just outside the door of the camper. It was still in exactly the same place this morning. So, it’s extremely unlikely that he came back last night, because if he had, he would have had to move it, even just slightly, to get into the camper without twisting like some sort of contortionist. And why would you do that when all you have to do is shift a little saucepan?’

‘And it was in exactly the same place?’

‘Yes.’

‘Wasn’t that rather unfair of you leaving the young man’s pan outside? Anyone could have stolen it,’ remarked Lenoir.

‘But no one did. That’s the point. Nobody moved it to get into the camper either. I did ask the young couple with the baby — who had a pitch and a tent just across from him — if they had seen him at all, and they said they haven’t; not for the past three days.’

‘And he owes you money?’ remarked the captain.

‘Well, yes, but only a couple of days’ worth.’

‘And if he had been fully paid-up, then you wouldn’t have come round here bothering the Gendarmerie with all this?’

‘Oh, captain, I don’t think that’s fair. I’m worried for him too. He seems a nice young man: always comes on his own; seems a solitary lad; but has always been polite and pleasant to us. He doesn’t flirt with the assistants or anything.’

Captain Duquesne shrugged. The realization was dawning on him that he wasn’t going to get rid of this woman without making some sort of effort to address her concerns, unless he just physically threw her out, and that simply wasn’t Duquesne’s way. ‘What time are you going to be back at the campsite, madame?’ he asked.

‘I should be back there in about half an hour,’ she replied.

‘I shall come and have a look at the scene when you get back, or perhaps young Lenoir here will,’ he added, tossing a glance at the gendarme still standing behind the woman. ‘Do you know how to get to the campsite, constable?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Then you can show Mrs Blanchard out. Once you have done so, will you come back in again?’

Lenoir returned almost immediately.

‘Sit down,’ his captain instructed him, and he did so where erstwhile Mrs Blanchard had been sitting. ‘Your concerns?’ he asked.

‘Well, sir, I was just thinking … suppose she’s right? I mean, people don’t just disappear, not here in Nuits-Saint-Georges.’

‘You’re telling me that you’d like to investigate this?’

‘Yes, sir, if I may. Just to see if there really is anything to her concerns.’

‘Go for it then. You’ll find it good training, if nothing else.’

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Chapter reveal: ‘Ashamet, Desert-Born’ by Terry Jackman

Ashamet-CoverTitleAshamet, Desert-Born

Genre: Fantasy/adventure/romance/paranormal

Author: Terry Jackman

Websitewww.terryjackman.co.uk

Publisherwww.dragonwellpublishing.com

Find out more on Amazon

A desert world. A warrior nation that worships its emperor as a god. But for Ashamet, its prince, a future filled with danger…

Ashamet is confident his swordsmanship, and his arranged marriage, will be enough to maintain the empire’s peace. But when a divine symbol magically appears on his arm, closely followed by an attempt on his life, he no longer knows who to trust. Worse, the strange attraction he feels toward a foreign slave could be another trap. As events unravel, too fast,Ashamet must find out if this innocent young male is a tool for his enemies–or the magic key to his survival.

“Ashamet, Desert-Born” is a debut adventure fantasy with an exotic Arabian-style setting and elements of same-sex romance.

Chapter One

The king my father named me Ashamet. It means a copper-coloured whirlwind off the desert (colour of our own Kadduchi flesh). It’s meant to be poetic. Huh. Apart from that a princely life was pretty good – until my taster went into convulsions. Happily, they pinned it on some merchant’s less-than-healthy crawlfish. Panic over then; I didn’t bother witnessing the execution. But I was that rarity, a single offspring, and I’d been a single step from danger, and I didn’t have an heir yet.

Quite enough to make my father’s mind up; I was sentenced to be married…

Now, a thread of moisture trickled down my backbone as I took my seat again for yet another day upon the royal dais, formally escorted by my Uncle Raggesh. I had picked a sleeveless tunic in my lightest silks, a minimum of jewels, my thick, black hair lay braided at one shoulder, but it didn’t help. The Gate Hall, grandest audience chamber in our empire, had descended to a rowdy, yellow marble sweat-box.

Rag sat too, his longer robes spread out to swamp his sandalled, copper-coloured toes. Today he’d left his close-trimmed claws their natural white as mine were. Bet he wished he’d dressed like me as well. The tiny windows in the blue-enamelled arch above our heads were meant to keep this stage-like alcove cooler. Meant to, but the Gate – the famous golden screen of star-shaped so-lar lamps, at present dropped between us royals and the outer chamber – turned it back into an oven. Gods, I could have been up on a horse. In the fresh air. With a few companions I could actually trust.

I should have been receiving end-of-year assessments from my generals about our southern army’s readiness for action, given that my father had been taking more than normal interest in our southern borders lately. I suspected that our empire was again expanding.

But instead I blanked my face and scanned the throng beyond the ornate, semi-private metal filigree that dangled inbetween us.

Out there, thin coils of vapour from the ordinary iron lamps obscured the vaulted, gold and turquoise ceilings. Below, my father’s hairless, ochre-hided Kemik guard, exotic giants of our kingdoms, lined the path toward us, fangs retracted peaceably. The flame-reflections dancing off their breast-plates were the only movement there but outside them… Alpha Lords of every size and shade and all their twittering attendants skittered back and forth like termites, and the piled-up offerings destroyed the last pretence of taste the place had ever managed. I jerked my beard-point at the nearest jumble. ‘Look at it, we’ve swapped the Gate Hall for the Grand Bazaar.’

My uncle didn’t blink. ‘Show some grace. They’re your wedding gifts.’

I might have growled. It didn’t help that he was right. With five days still to go my marriage had progressed from bore, to stinking torment. Every perfume in the world was up my nose today, but none of them could mask the ripened bodies. Worse, my sword arm itched like seven hells, and with so many watchful eyes I had to curb an uncouth urge to scratch it.

Muffled creaks, from chains and pulleys underneath our feet. The Gate began to shiver upward, to disclose… ‘Gods, forget bazaar. It’s a cattle market!’

A pair of pure-bred white camels were being tugged forward, their plate-like pads scraping over the marble. Their willowy necks hung with ropes of pearls? Was the sheer volume of these eccentricities meant to make up for their inanity? As if it heard, one of the brutes chose to relieve itself, while the lordly fool in front attempted to pretend he neither heard, nor smelled, the ‘splop’ of brittle yellow crap behind him. Rag’s long nose pinched shut as brown-robed clerks made clucking noises. Slaves were chivvied forward. I think I sighed. ‘At least the colour complements the marble.’

Raggesh choked behind his drooping moustache. ‘Keep it down, Ash.’

I’d have given him a sharp retort except a guard distracted me with, ‘Highness? There’s a message from the outer gates.’

I tossed the message tube back at him and unrolled the paper. ‘Oh joy, the bride’s finally turned up… horsemen, eight baggage carts and three horse-drawn litters? My fingers tightened, crumpling the flimsy paper. I relaxed with conscious effort. ‘How many crones have they sent with her? No wonder they’re so late, they couldn’t use a desert route with those things.’

‘Uh.’ My uncle watched the frantic sweeping, quite ignoring my reaction. I obliged him with a beaming smile instead. At least my mouth did. She was here then, the daughter of our newest vassal-king, Farad of Sidass.  The bigger picture: the last of our smaller, paler, snubber-nosed Chi cousins were finally merging into the empire; a fading dynasty was being swallowed by a newer, fiercer bloodline. From where I sat I was stuck with her, unless she proved infertile.

Small chance of that. Females were rare enough. There was nothing rarer than one barren. I resisted growling at the luckless messenger. ‘Have someone send a message to the Inner Palace, to the closter-eunuchs. Tell them to unbar their doors, their future mistress is arriving.’ Though they’d very likely known as soon as I had, maybe sooner. They’d been looking forward to it.

I read on, since cleaning up the hall had halted the proceedings. Heavens forfend a lord should step in something. ‘Looks like the rumours about King Farad’s health could be true; he’s not with them.’

‘Uh.’ Rag at his chatty best. ‘Prince Effad?’

‘Not him either. This says Prince Thersat leads her escort. That’s the lesser son, right? The one who wasn’t there for the surrender?’

‘Uh.’ Rag  (another lesser son, and cut accordingly, to centre our succession) raised a lordly finger. The next noble was ushered in. The Gate lowered.  More gems.  They moved him on.

‘So what do we know about this Thersat?’

The Gate lifted again. One out, one in. Another gift, then Rag could answer. ‘At the time we assumed he’d been wounded, but now we’re told he’s “prone to illness”.’ Rag maintained his bland expression.

I drew breath. ‘Farad can’t travel, Effad’s tied to his side, so we’re lumbered with a permanent invalid?’

‘Uh,’ denoted end of topic as the Gate reopened.

‘Great.’ The cursed itching made a fresh assault. It had to be insect bites. I looked about for some distraction and spied a short, bald figure, absent from the court since summer; yes, the tubby Sheshman, copper-skinned but built more Chi than Kadd, and strident in his household’s blue and orange. Ah, and something loomed behind him.

My spirits rose. If anyone would bring me something more amusing, surely it was Sheshman, of the rolling gait and wicked chuckle. There was more trader there than noble, so my father said. More pirate too, he’d added, laughing.

I must have grinned. I felt my uncle’s disapproval so I faced toward the lord approaching, nodding gravely, like a bigger, younger copy of my stately father. But I glanced aside again to guess what Sheshman might have brought me. Four slaves were moving up a heavy-looking, box-like… something… swathed in dull grey fabric. Hmm. A cage? An animal? The male knew better than to insult his prince – and thus his king – with something paltry.

Meanwhile, the slightly slimmer northern Chi in front of us, distinguished by his nose, his browner hair and pale red skin, had bent a creaky knee before us. I shouldn’t have frowned, but it was difficult to see how the Chi, so often weaker than the other races, had been dominant so long, for all their boasts of direct bloodlines from the Ancestors. As for this one, kneeling made him look like a slave. Our own Kadduchi lords would never kneel, except to Father. Though of course these gifts were really for my father; vying for the notice of our gods-protected Voice of Heaven.

Possibly my frown grew darker; certainly my thoughts did. If I was ever crowned – I tried not to plan that far ahead – I figured their loyalty to me would be less certain. The lord before us, backing off again, looked troubled; probably convinced his present hadn’t thrilled me. ‘What was it?’ I muttered.

Rag almost shook his head. ‘Deeds to an orchard,’ he gritted. ‘Listen, will you!’

‘What-’ Now I was offended.

‘Wine, nephew, and Sultaki brandy.’

‘Ah.’ A gift worth having.

Despite his flash of temper Rag gazed calmly outward. To those who watched, he was my father’s only sibling, and his twin and his most loyal kinsman. Or to put it bluntly he was here to keep his royal nephew out of trouble. Headstrong was the least I knew they said about me; unpredictable, both in or out of battle. Rash, impetuous, a wicked sense of humour? Gods, I hoped so. Almost thirty now, and still no wiser? I ignored the carping. Sober was for years yet to come. And there was only one more presentation left before I got to see that odd-shaped box of Sheshman’s.

I turned back to my duty long enough to marvel at the antique bowls a Kemik lord brought forward. They were delightful; translucent porcelain, hand-painted by a master. Not a gift one would expect from any of the rough-skinned Kemik either, who were prone to value battle gear or horses. In fact the only gift of real taste I’d seen all morning. ‘A rare possession. I am honoured, sir.’ They moved him off. I signalled to the clerk that he record my personal approval. Now for Sheshman.

‘My prince, I bring you every prayer for your approaching marriage.’ Old Sheshman bounced up, bowed outrageously, then watched me. Ah, the sight of simple, honest motives. Bribery. Ambition. Life-blood of the palace. Earlier I’d read his beaming smile with interest, now I noticed it had faded. Second thoughts? What had the scoundrel brought me?

Despite my sudden doubts I felt my back and shoulders loosen. Moments in the old rogue’s company and I was feeling more myself, I almost burst out laughing. Well, Sheshman was both small and round, a difficult shape to look dignified. It was amusing to see him try though. He squared his shoulders, sucked in his paunch beneath one of those bright sashes he loved, and waved a lordly hand. The slaves, their cropped heads lowered, brought their burden up the outer steps and forward to my feet, then grounded it on recessed legs and cowered.

It seemed to float above the floor. Silently I awarded him marks for detail, and waited for more. He actually lowered his voice. ‘My prince, I bring you a rarity I never thought existed.’ The old fool waved again. Two slaves pulled free the heavy draperies. I started frowning; couldn’t help it. First a puzzle, now a riddle? It was a cage right enough; rounded; big enough for a large hound. But this thing was a fantasy, its bars were curled and gilded. And there was silk now, white, stretched taut inside it. A silk-lined cage? I found I’d leaned toward it. Sheshman’s eyes had sharpened, and his face gone solemn.

‘Well?’ I challenged, but I smiled. I couldn’t help that either.

‘Well enough, I hope, my prince.’ He drew a breath. ‘Perhaps.’ He glanced around. ‘Would the prince deign to open it himself?’ The fellow offered a key, from around his own neck.

Rag had straightened, in surprise or in alarm, but Sheshman wouldn’t leave alive if there was anything in there to hurt me. Besides, the key was silver. I rather thought I’d guessed the secret. Not so tempting as it had been but a well-presented trifle, and the cage, and lowered Gate, would block the view of those outside it more or less politely. So I stepped down and took the key (and the unspoken challenge) and turned it in the lock.

Sheshman was murmuring in my ear by then, his voice gone knowing. ‘Your wedding duties draw close, my prince, and your subjects know you will perform with taste and honour. But afterwards…?’

I caught the bars and pulled. Hot air rushed past me as the twin doors of this almost-cage unfurled like curving wings about me, neatly blocking the interior from anyone not right before them. The light rushed in.

There was indeed a figure; half knelt, half seated on the silken cushions. Loose white trousers were the only clothing, as I’d guessed. And silver shackles, delicate as bracelets, etched with three-point royal stars. The chain that linked them had been pegged into the cage’s flooring. And the head was ritually gift-wrapped, mummy-like, in white silk wrappings.

‘Such as this would stir the blood of any male, much less my prince, whose appetite is fabled.’ The murmur made me turn my head. The beady eyes looked up at me, expectant, earlier nerves forgotten.

I drew a breath. ‘I may be about to marry, my lord, but I haven’t yet gone blind.’ I let my voice turn cold. ‘Nor stupid. This is no youth.’

“This” was too tall, even crouched as he was. The chest, the hands and arms stretched down toward the cage’s flooring all had shape, and muscle. Maybe twenty summers? Bodyslaves were usually at least a few years younger: newly-adult: left untouched, kept very private like a female. Hells, a bodyslave was often more exclusive. After all a contract with a female – where the cursed female wasn’t royal – could be drawn up for as little as a single year. Then her family would repossess her and consider bids from other males fit to breed with.

But this one… kept apart this long, till only ten years less than I was? Virgin white and silver, on a full-grown male? What did Sheshman take me for?

Behind me Rag had risen. Sheshman’s face, which should have been as yellow-eyed and copper-hued as mine was, turned a nasty shade of umber, likely both embarrassment and fear, but he stood his ground. ‘My prince, I swear to you, I swear he’s still a virgin: more than that, a holy male, taken as an infant, grown behind high walls. I would not cheat you, highness.’ Sheshman weighed my mood and laid a final hand down. ‘My prince, I trust you to decide my honesty.  I’ll wait upon your judgement. If you judge him less than I have said, I’ll… send my youngest son to grace your chambers, to expunge the insult.’

Had I blinked? I’d heard that Sheshman kept a real trader’s superfluity of children, but my eyes and ears said he favoured that one. Give him into bondage? He’d never offer – not unless… My eyes slid back toward the cage.

I’d thought him painted. Now I saw he wasn’t. Wherever Sheshman found him it wasn’t in any of our kingdoms, not with skin like creamy marble that looked unreal in the lamplight. I followed the line of his neck and shoulder, the swell of his chest. His skin looked… fragile, and there was no sweat, though when I’d opened it I’d felt the metal cage was hotter than this alcove; never good. Surely he barely breathed, there was so little movement. One leg was tucked beneath him, the other raised before. Unusual, but graceful. Then I saw the triple-knotted cord about his waist. My breathing deepened. Truth, or lies, a very fine body.

Trust my fond uncle to spoil the moment. ‘Keep your pants on, Ash. Believe this, you’ll fall for anything.’ Dry amusement on the surface. Mockery beneath?

I defended any outward sign of interest. ‘Might be fun finding out, though.’

‘Huh. You haven’t even seen the face yet.’ Ever the cynic.

My own thoughts shifted. ‘Curious, uncle? I’ll oblige you,’ I said outrageously. I stepped forward, right into the opening, and reached up to the wrapping. The knot, loose at the nape of the neck, slid free between my fingers. One gentle tug and the silk fell away in rippling folds.

The head revealed stayed lowered, the eyes hooded. The hair, far from cropped, was long enough it would have brushed his shoulders, lighter coloured even than the Chi; not braided of course but tied back loosely. I had disarranged it somewhat. Below that a high forehead and good cheekbones framed curious brows, more delicate arches than our upswept wings. No sign of any beard, nor hair upon the chest, the face as pale as the body.

Still no movement? Perhaps the slightest swaying. As if the chains helped keep him upright? I caught the jaw and jerked it upward, gasped to feel a child-like softness, but then the eyelids lifted too, a reflex surely for he didn’t seem to focus.

Wide grey eyes, like still winter pools. Rag stirred, but I’d forgotten he was there. The eyes blinked twice, all up and down – no inner storm-proof membrane? – then gazed back at me as if he was my equal. I should have felled him, or had him whipped. Instead I stared back. My mouth dried up. I felt light-headed. This creature was weak, and confused, and more? Yes, surely. How much more though?

Curse these bites, my grip had tightened in reaction so I let my fingers drop away. I didn’t want my tougher skin to mark that silk-thin whiteness.

The lips parted. A tiny frown formed between the arched brows. ‘Are you… a vision? Or a nightmare?’

Faint, and husky. I doubted anybody else had heard him. ‘Call me either one too loud, they’ll cut your tongue out,’ I said softly.

He just looked back at me with those eyes. ‘No,’ he whispered. ‘Real..?’ His gaze lowered to the shackles at his wrists. ‘I saw this. I saw…’ Again his voice tailed off to silence. Then the white chest heaved, one huge, shuddering gulp of air. The tethered arms began to shake.

‘Call my slave master,’ I ordered. Someone scurried.

The world returned around me. Despite being shorter Rag was practically breathing down my neck. Indecent. I was stung to comment. ‘Put your tongue away, eh, uncle? If you’ve seen enough, I’ll shut this up again.’

Rag recovered with a warrior’s speed of reflex. His mouth did close, but only to reopen. ‘Aye, best keep it hid. There’ll be enough laughter as it is.’

He didn’t believe Sheshman, then. Not unreasonable, I conceded. To myself, not out loud. How in all the world could any male stay innocent this long past adult? But that face, those eyes. I’d never seen such innocence, even in youths whose balls weren’t dropped yet. And his words… My thoughts rebounded. If it was an act, it was a damn good one. And if that was so, I’d see both Sheshman and his slave regretted their performance. I shut the cage and turned. ‘I’ll weigh your claims,’ I said curtly.

Sheshman backed away as Medishel bustled forward, my half-Chi slave master, a swollen, amber echo of my own appearance in a red and yellow outer robe and broad yellow sash.  When I jerked my head he pulled at one door of the cage, peered in cautiously, then backed his head out and latched the thing up again. His manners were as excellent as ever. Not a word, not a look, just a polite, ‘My prince?’

‘Take him away, Medi. See if he’s ill, or drugged. Best keep him separate, in case, until I give you other orders.’

Medishel bowed, caught the key and waved to Sheshman’s slaves. The cage was carted off, which caused a lot of heads to turn, and furtive whispers. I wondered sourly how long it would take for the rest of the tale to spread. Have you heard the latest? Sheshman actually claimed he’d found a twenty-year-old virgin. Gods, how many of these visiting lords would ask each other if they had a complete fool for a prince, if he was even tempted to believe such rubbish.

But in my heart I think I always believed, right from the start. Some things can’t be weighed, or measured, can they?

Categories: Paranormal Romance | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Chapter Reveal: April Snow, by Lynn Steward

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00031]Title: April Snow

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Author: Lynn Steward

Website: LynnSteward.com

Publisher: Lynn Steward Publishing

Website/Amazon

At the cutting edge of women’s fashion in the 1970s, a visionary young woman subdues her desire for love to remake retail at New York’s most glamorous department store.

Newly single, Dana McGarry learns she must divorce herself from more than a bad marriage to succeed. Not only must she prove to family and friends that she can make it on her own, but she also must challenge an antagonistic boss who keeps standing in her way. Moving out of her comfort zone and into the arms of a dynamic businessman, Dana bets it all on a daring new move that will advance her buying career, But at what price?

Her dreams within reach, Dana’s world is shattered in a New York minute when a life is threatened, a secret is revealed, and her heart is broken.

APRIL SNOW 

Chapter One

Dana McGarry, on vacation for the first time as a single woman, arrived at the Lansdowne Club at 9 Fitzmaurice Place, just steps from Berkeley Square, in London’s fashionable Mayfair on the morning of April 8, 1975.  Her lawyer had filed papers for a legal separation from her husband Brett in January, and after four months of being under the watchful eyes of well-meaning family and friends, Dana was savoring every moment of her solo trip across the pond.  She and Brett had always stayed at the nearby Chesterfield Hotel, but her beloved Colony Club in New York City enjoyed reciprocity with the Lansdowne Club, where she’d previously attended lunches and lectures while her husband met with clients for his Wall Street law firm.  Undeterred by the steady English rain and dark clouds hanging over the slick gray streets, she stepped from one of London’s fabled black taxis with renewed spirit, excited to think that the distinguished house in Berkeley Square would be her home for the next five days.    After Dana checked in, the hall porter asked her if she would like tea brought to her room and then discreetly disappeared with her luggage, a small, welcoming gesture that stood in contrast to an impersonal hotel.  Rather than immediately taking the lift to her room on the fifth floor, Dana stepped into the entrance hall and surveyed the club’s interior, intending to explore Scottish architect Robert Adam’s stately masterpiece commissioned in 1761 for King George III’s prime minister, the Earl of Bute.  Previously, she had limited herself to the dining room, never taking time to appreciate the club’s historic beauty.  Although rich with finely-crafted embellishments and Neoclassical splendor, the house was clearly showing signs of fatigue, and its understated elegance made the environment that much more comfortable.  Dana knew she’d made the right choice. The club was an oasis of tradition and tranquility affording her the peace and privacy she needed.

When Dana arrived in her junior suite, she noticed a bouquet of flowers sitting on a table in the sitting area. Thinking they were compliments of the club, Dana opened the attached note and laughed out loud.  The flowers had been sent by her childhood friend, Johnny Cirone.  The message read, “Take Phoebe shopping and buy up the town.  Whatever you do, enjoy yourself.  Love, Johnny.”

Dr. Phoebe Cirone, who was in London attending a cardiology convention, was Johnny’s sister.  Their father, John Cirone, known affectionately to Dana and her brother Matthew as Uncle John, was the head of the House of Cirone, a manufacturer of ladies eveningwear.  Having a passion for medicine from an early age, Phoebe had never expressed interest in clothes or haute couture, leaving Johnny to reluctantly carry on family tradition by working for his father.  Dana’s parents, Phil and Virginia Martignetti, had been friends with the Cirones since before her birth.

Dana, pleased to see a porcelain tea service had already arrived, took her cup to the window and sipped the Darjeeling as she observed the new plantings in the courtyard garden.  The peace she’d felt a few minutes ago was gone, however.  Something about Johnny’s note, as thoughtful as it was, unnerved her.  Johnny and her mother called daily to see how she was doing.  Dana sensed their concern, although she felt it was unwarranted.  What did they think—that she was going to kill herself because the divorce would soon be final?  They obviously didn’t recognize her personal strength and resolve.  Dana worked at New York City’s B. Altman, and the previous December she’d formed the department store’s first Teen Advisory Board.  She had also succeeded in getting Ira Neimark, the store’s executive vice president, to sign off on installing a teen makeup counter on the main selling floor over the objections of Helen Kavanagh, junior buyer, who thought youth-oriented strategies like those at London’s Biba, were a waste of time and money.   Despite these personal triumphs, she’d taken aggressive steps to further advance her career, leaving her comfortable job in the marketing department for the position of junior accessories buyer.  She had requested time off for this visit to London immediately after settling into the new assignment, and that alone was proof that she knew how to take care of herself.

Dana had been equally aggressive in terminating her marriage to Brett.  Papers for a legal separation had been filed in January by Dana’s lawyer when she discovered that Brett was having an affair with fellow litigator Janice Conlon, a saucy and impertinent young woman from California.  Negotiations for a final settlement were proceeding smoothly, with no protests originating from either Brett or his lawyer lest the firm be apprised of his misconduct with the audacious Conlon.  In the four months since their separation, Dana had realized that Brett’s dalliance with the abrasive Conlon had merely been a catalyst for the end of their relationship since there had been something far deeper and more troubling in their marriage: Brett’s growing neglect of Dana as he vigorously pursued partnership with the firm.  His work always served as a convenient excuse to pick and choose his time with Dana and in the long run, that grim reality had proven intolerable.  Within days of learning of Brett’s infidelity, Dana contacted an attorney and moved from her Murray Hill apartment to a carriage house a few blocks away in Sniffen Court.

Given the decisive actions in her personal and professional life, Dana therefore felt smothered at times by the daily concerns of others.  As for her traveling abroad alone, she felt more than competent to take care of herself.  When Brett had been with her in London, they were rarely together.  He usually spent days working, and evenings meeting with clients, joining Dana for late dinners, if at all.  He was up and out by 7:00 a.m.  She’d always hoped that the next trip would be better, but this was never the case.  Traveling alone?  It was all she knew.

Yes, it had all happened just four months ago, illustrating how the course of a life can change so radically and quickly.  But was she ecstatically happy now that a new phase of her life and career had begun, with Brett being almost surgically excised from the picture?  No, she wasn’t jubilant about anything at present, but she was content, at peace with the decisions she had made to take care of herself and her future.  In the words of her father, she had discovered that she had “a very good life” despite longstanding marital woes and formidable professional challenges.  Many of her friends had urged her to re-enter the dating scene since she was almost thirty and the clock was ticking, but Dana didn’t miss married life in the least and had no interest whatsoever in dating, especially guys described as the perfect match: upwardly mobile professionals, or “Brett clones,” the apt description provided by Andrew Ricci, Dana’s good friend and display director at the store.  Besides, marriage was not the only path to a fulfilled life.  In Dana’s estimation, happiness also resulted from pursuing a creative dream, enjoying good friendships and the myriad interests that gave her immense pleasure, such as travel, literature, films, and lectures on a wide variety of topics.  Being suddenly single was not a condition to be cured but rather an opportunity to be savored.

A line from Dickens came to mind as she thought of events that had altered her life:  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”  Dana had survived the tumultuous weeks of the previous December, when she realized her marriage was over, but surely this was now the best of times, was it not?  She smiled as she contemplated her walk tomorrow morning to Piccadilly for breakfast at Fortnum & Mason, followed by a long and leisurely visit to Hatchards, London’s oldest bookshop.  The thought of Dickens reminded her of the delight she took in finding rare editions of the classics, or even first editions of lesser-known authors.  Today, however, she was going to enjoy Richoux’s delicious risotto when she lunched with Phoebe, who was staying within walking distance at the Grosvenor House on Park Lane.  Filled with a new surge of energy, the blue-eyed Dana freshened up, brushed her short blond hair, and grabbed a shawl and a pair of unlined leather gloves. The clouds were beginning to part, and the steady English drizzle had let up, but it was still a nippy fifty-four degrees—a perfect spring day in London.

Rays of sunshine were reflected by leaded windows in the rows of eighteenth century townhomes Dana passed as she strolled leisurely through Berkeley Square.  It was only eleven thirty and she had an hour before meeting Phoebe at her hotel, enough time for a short detour across Hill Street and Hays Mews to the Farm Street Church, also known as the Jesuit Church of the Immaculate Conception.  Years earlier, she’d been sitting on a bench in Mount Street Gardens when she looked up and beheld one of the church’s open gothic portals that seemed so inviting, beckoning her to enter and pray.  Then as now, it had been a glorious April day, the kind celebrated by Chaucer in the opening lines of the Canterbury Tales, when spring rains provide rich “liquor” for flowers suffering winter’s drought.

Dana arrived at the church and chose to enter from Mount Street Gardens rather than Farm Street, as she’d done on her original visit.  In the transept to the right of Our Lady of Farm Street statue was the Sacred Heart Chapel, and this is where Dana chose to pray in deference to the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, who’d taught her for twelve years in her youth.  She knelt in the third pew, said a decade of the rosary, and then sat, looking up to admire, as she always did, the glorious painting of the Sacred Heart flanked by four saints above an inlaid marble altar with three brass reliefs.  But instead of finding peace in this pious setting, the silence suddenly became deafening, and the alabaster walls of the chapel began to feel close, confining.  A wave of emotion engulfed her, and she cried uncontrollably, questioning her impulsive decision to end her eight-year marriage—and without considering her vows taken before God, family, and friends. What a hypocrite she felt herself to be—a selfish hypocrite who had turned her back on the faith that was such an integral part of her life.

Glancing at her watch, Dana saw that it was almost noon.  She needed to pull herself together and be on her way to meet Phoebe.  She took a deep breath, wiped away her tears, and walked outside to a bench in Mount Street Gardens, where she would spend a few moments composing herself.

In the sacristy, a priest was marking the readings for the twelve-thirty mass in the gilt-edged lectionary when he heard anguished sobs emanating from the Sacred Heart Chapel.  Curious, he stepped into the sanctuary in time to see a young woman exiting the side door leading to the gardens.  He followed her and observed her sitting on a bench fifteen yards away.  He folded his arms, closed his eyes, and said a brief prayer.   

 

*                                  *                                  *

Looking in her compact mirror, Dana wiped away the mascara beneath her eyes and reapplied a bit of powder to her cheeks.  She didn’t want Phoebe to see that she’d been crying.  What could she possibly say in answer to any questions her friend might have?  That she was upset over the abrupt manner in which she’d dissolved an eight-year marriage to an inattentive man who’d cheated on her?  No, the emotions that had spilled forth in the chapel had taken Dana by surprise, and they needed to be processed in private moments of reflection.

Dana had been resting her eyes when she looked up and saw a priest approaching the bench.  The Jesuit, a tall man in his early fifties, walked with a confident gait, and the smile on his face was evident when he was still several feet away.

“Good morning,” he said.  “Lovely day.”  He could tell the young woman was upset and,               in point of fact, she wasn’t the only one he’d encountered on the grounds who needed consolation or, at the very least, a friendly smile.

“Yes, Father, it is,” Dana replied.  “A splendid day.”

“Are you on holiday, or are we blessed to have you as a new parishioner?” he asked.

Dana examined the priest’s face more carefully.  He wore rimless glasses, and pale blue eyes regarded her kindly beneath close-cut salt and pepper hair.  He was dressed in a black clerical suit and looked to be strong and vigorous despite his gentle manner.

“On holiday, Father,” Dana replied. “I come here whenever I’m in London and wanted to stop in and . . . visit.  I was taught by the Sacred Heart sisters back in New York.”

“A New Yorker!” Father Macaulay said. “And a member of the family, so to speak.  May I sit?” he asked, motioning to the bench.

A member of the family, Dana thought, again fighting back tears.  Not anymore.

“I’m sorry, Father,” Dana mumbled, rising to leave.  “I’m meeting someone and I’m late.”

Father Macaulay nodded.  “I hope you’ll visit again.  I’m here in the church or the gardens every morning from nine until I say mass.  If you can’t find me, just tell the sacristan that you’re looking for Father Charles Macaulay.”

“Thank you, Father.  Have a good day.”

Biting her lip to fight back fresh tears, Dana and Macaulay shook hands. The priest watched Dana walk out of the gardens, sensing that she was in distress.  He was a good judge of people, and he thought that Dana would surely return to the church before she boarded a plane for New York City.  Somewhere in her soul, he thought, there was unfinished business.

*                                *                                  *

Wearing sunglasses, Dana walked for five minutes along Mount Street until she reached the Grosvenor House.  Phoebe was waiting in the lounge, and after they exchanged warm greetings, they left the hotel for Richoux, which was two blocks away on South Audley Street.

The two women were shown to a small table in the dimly-lit restaurant owing to the dark wood paneling in the main dining room.  When Dana removed her sunglasses, Phoebe immediately saw that Dana was upset.  Her eyes were puffy and her smile was forced.  Phoebe cocked her head and raised her eyebrows, as if to say, Do you feel like talking about it?

“I’m fine,” Dana said, brushing aside the concern.  “Nothing worth discussing.  Now tell me about you, how’s the convention?”

The two women chatted over lunch, Phoebe speaking of the lectures she’d attended on anticoagulation therapy, angioplasty, and catheterization for the diagnosis of coronary artery disease.  In turn, Dana described her new duties at B. Altman.  They laughed at Johnny Cirone’s daily calls and continued concern for Dana since her separation, although Dana was reminded yet again of the excessive attention she was receiving.

“We have to get him married off,” Phoebe said, “or at least find him a serious girlfriend.  He’s becoming a mother hen.”  She paused, knowing that Dana was holding back something painful, but decided not to press the matter.  “By the way, my dad has an offer on his house, and he’s in contract to purchase the estate sale on East 79th Street. It’s a big renovation, so he’s hoping to get approved by the co-op board quickly and start the demo. Johnny is already interviewing contractors.”

John Cirone was moving to Manhattan since his Long Island home seemed far too large since the death of his wife two years earlier.  He’d accepted a seat on the board of the Metropolitan Opera, and Johnny was helping his dad make the long-overdue transition to the city—and to the present, away from thoughts of his deceased wife, Lena.

“It sounds like the convention is keeping you pretty busy,” Dana said.  “Would you like me to pick up Uncle John’s cigars at Sautter’s?  It’s a few blocks from the Lansdowne.”

“That would be a lifesaver,” Phoebe said.  “I have two days of seminars on using something called a stent to open up clogged arteries instead of always resorting to bypass surgery.  It would be a non-invasive procedure, but most cardiologists think it’s still years away.”  Phoebe suddenly burst out laughing.  “And here I am, bringing my father cigars, which is the last thing a cardiologist should do.”

The two women finished lunch, Phoebe heading to the convention for afternoon lectures,

and Dana returning to the Lansdowne Club, where she finished unpacking.

Dana sipped afternoon tea while paging through a book of poems she’d found lying on the end table by the sofa, her thoughts returning to her display of emotion that morning.  Brett had indeed been quickly and surgically excised from her life, perhaps too quickly, and yet she had received no judgments about the decision to do so from her parents.   She was aware, of course, that Virginia had always been a bit leery of Brett, even at the very beginning of their courtship.  As for her father, he was quite unflappable and had reminded Dana that things always work out in the end, which was a part of his lifelong, homespun philosophy that she found so comforting.  And yet Dana couldn’t shake the realization that Brett, despite all of his shortcomings, was a man she’d loved for over eight years.  Should she have given him another chance?  After all, the marriage hadn’t been all bad.  The visit to the chapel, she concluded, had reminded her of Catholic dogma regarding marriage: it was indissoluble.  Mount Street Gardens, the chapel, the brass panels—they’d brought to mind her many years with the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, causing her to second guess her decision.

Leafing through the slightly-worn pages—she thought that older books had such character—she saw Wordsworth’s “Ode on Intimations of Immortality.”  It was one of her favorite poems.  She especially liked the lines towards the end.

Though nothing can bring back the hour

Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;

We will grieve not, rather find

Strength in what remains behind;

In the primal sympathy

Which having been must ever be;

In the soothing thoughts that spring

Out of human suffering;

In the faith that looks through death,

In years that bring the philosophic mind.

The sentiment was essentially that of her father, who had a “philosophic mind” when it came to handling disappointment.  There had been good times in the marriage, but some things were beyond repair, and Dana had indeed retained strength in what remained behind, which was a full life that included friendships and opportunity.  Dana realized how important this trip was—far more than a break from her daily routine or an enjoyable shopping spree.  On her own, she could privately mourn her marriage and process her emotions, opening her mind and heart for whatever lay ahead.  She was at peace again, ready for the rest of her stay in London.  Still, she wondered if Father Macaulay would share her perspective.  The priest had emanated kindness and understanding in the brief minutes she’d been in his presence, and now, feeling stronger, she decided to visit him again before she left London.  He’d demonstrated genuine concern, and she wanted to hear his soothing voice one more time.

 

 

Categories: Women's Fiction | Tags: | 1 Comment

Chapter Reveal: The Accidental Art Thief, by Joan Schweighardt

TheAccidentalArtThief_medTitle: The Accidental Art Thief

Genre: General fiction

Author: Joan Schweighardt

Website: www.joanschweighardt.com

Publisher: Twilight Times Books

Find The Accidental Thief on Amazon.

For a quarter of a century forty-five-year-old Zinc has worked as a caretaker for a wealthy old man, living in a small casita on his ranch in New Mexico. She doesn’t make much money, but she has the old man, her dogs, and gorgeous views of the mountains. She is basically a very content recluse who doesn’t invest much time thinking about what she might do if her circumstances change. So when the old man dies suddenly, and his daughter all but throws her off the property, Zinc is forced to reinvent herself—and quickly.

With a touch of magical realism and a collection of offbeat characters, The Accidental Art Thief explores the thin line between life and death and the universal forces that connect all things.

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

THE ACCIDENTAL ART THIEF

a novel

by

Joan Schweighardt

Chapter 1

Zinc had hung feeders all along the boughs of the trees, mostly cottonwoods and piñons that she could see from the window of the casita where she lived. This way when she needed a break from the work she did at her desk, she could look up—a small window was right there—and drink in the bird life, albeit at some distance. There were greenish-brown hummingbirds and red-brown finches to be seen three seasons of the year. Sometimes there were piñon jays, their blue bodies as vivid as the desert sky overhead. At least once a week she caught sight of the local roadrunner, whom she had named Steven, after someone she had loved once, someone who had broken her heart. And once—mystery of mysteries—a peacock dropped out of the sky, spread its resplendent blue-green feathers, turned its head in the direction of the window behind which Zinc stood with one hand over her open mouth and her eyes brimming with tears of joy, and looked right at her before disappearing into the scrub. Now that was a day to remember.

But lately Zinc had begun to wonder what it would be like to work facing the mountains rather than the cottonwoods. In fact her casita did have windows facing east, but the main house, where the old man lived, obscured her view. She wondered what it would be like to work outdoors sometimes, where she might see jack rabbits running in the scrub, or maybe even a lone coyote reigning proud from some rocky outcrop. She mentioned this desire to Smith, the old man’s sometimes driver, and Smith said she should get a laptop. Smith told her there was a second-hand computer store on Central. The owner was a real geek, he said; he picked up obsolete models for next to nothing and gave them new life. His prices were extraordinarily reasonable, as if he labored merely for the love of it.

For the love of it. Zinc liked that.

*

On a Saturday Zinc walked down the dirt road from her casita to San Dominic Road, and from there she walked to the bus stop on Bonita. She preferred not to talk to strangers if she didn’t have to, so she carried with her a Macy’s shopping bag into which she’d stuffed the bathrobe she’d removed from her body earlier that morning. It still smelled faintly of the coffee she’d accidentally spilled. When the bus came, she took the seat behind the driver. Then she watched out the window, and sure enough, before long she saw the second-hand computer shop storefront, wedged in between a coffee shop and a new-age gift store that featured a large limestone Buddha in its big front window.

She took the bus a mile or so farther and then got off and awaited a return ride. This time she knew where to look and she was able to gather in more information. The computer store was called Timothy’s Second-Hand Computers, and what Zinc recognized as a very old Mac model sat in the center of the window—a bookend (in size and positioning if not in eminence) to the Buddha in the shop beside it. The Mac’s screen and the innards that should have been behind it had been removed, replaced with a roll of toilet paper, the end sheet of which stuck out from what had once been its floppy drive opening. Timothy had turned the old Mac into a toilet paper dispenser!

Zinc could drive of course, and she had a junker to prove it—a seventeen-year-old Pontiac Firebird that her brother, Frankie, had given her two years earlier. But she didn’t drive it unless she absolutely had to. Just looking at the orange-red beast with its long raised snout and angry flared nostrils, parked as it was as far from her casita as the old man would allow, seemed like a bad idea. And so the following week, late in the afternoon, she took the bus once again, this time throwing a pair of jeans and a paperback into her Macy’s bag, and getting off at the corner just before the second-hand computer store. Then she stood, hidden behind sunglasses with lenses the size of fists, her wild brown curls stuffed beneath a NY Yankees cap, leaning against the stucco wall of the Central Ave Bank, cattycorner from Timothy’s, at the point where she could see the door but could not be seen herself, attempting to determine how busy the place got. When she felt quite sure there wasn’t much traffic (in fact, the door hadn’t opened once), she crossed Central and marched in.

A little brass bell on the door announced her arrival, but Timothy, who had his back to her, only mumbled, “How ya doing?” and didn’t turn around. The table he worked over was full of computer parts, illuminated by a green goose-necked desk lamp, the bulb of which was close to the table surface.

“Fine,” she heard herself say. It came out sounding like a child’s voice. Well, that was her voice; it was high-pitched and there wasn’t much she could do about it.

“Can I help  you?” he asked, and he looked past her for a second, perhaps searching for the child he thought he’d heard.

“I’d like to buy a computer. A laptop. A used laptop. An inexpensive used laptop.” She smiled nervously.

Timothy was old, perhaps in his mid seventies. But it was only the skin on his face, which fell over his bones like carelessly hung curtain swags, that gave him away. He was trim and—she noted as he got up to round the counter—spry and surefooted. She raised her hand to her sunglasses, but then dropped it just before her fingers made contact. A moment later her hand came up again, and this time the glasses came down with it. Timothy stopped in his progress to stare into her eyes, tipping forward from his waist for the briefest moment. “The laptops are over here,” he mumbled, and he turned to show her the way.

Timothy spent the next several minutes describing the virtues of each of the four second-hand models he had available. Two were so old they didn’t even have modems. “What do you want it for?” he asked, turning toward her suddenly.

Zinc swallowed. This is what she hated. The sudden question, the switch in focus, and then the inevitable journey the interrogator always took into her eyes. Years ago, when her skin was smooth and tight, people only said, “What an unusual color your eyes are.” But now she was forty-five and there were tiny lines around her eyes, making them somehow more—not less—prominent, or so she felt. Sometimes it seemed as if they were doorways, with doors that strangers could throw open easily and walk on through. Where did they go?  What did they do in there all that time?

Caught off guard, there was no chance to come up with a lie. And the truth was Zinc was a terrible liar anyway. “I write poetry,” she said.

“For a living?” asked Timothy, sounding alarmed.

“No, I keep house.”

“For a living?” This time he chuckled.

“For an…a…man.” She’d almost said “an old man,” how she and Smith referred to him, a term of affection for them.

“Your husband?”

“My employer.”

“Full time?”

“Part time…the housekeeping. Well, actually, it’s more than that. I do other things for him. And then the poetry. I make some money now and then from that too. So if you put the two together….”  She realized she was rambling and stopped abruptly.

Timothy turned back to the computers. “You’re under the radar,” he mumbled. “One of those people who can’t manage a real job. A lot of you here in Albuquerque.”

The color came to her face immediately, a flash flood. She loved what she did. She loved her life. Why did everyone assume that if you didn’t make much money or didn’t do something glamorous, you were a loser? And wasn’t he under the radar too, working at rejuvenating dead computers in a store that nobody visited? She squared her shoulders. For the love of it indeed. But all she said was, “No.” And then she thought better of it and forced a chuckle. “Well, maybe.”

“You shouldn’t admit it,” Timothy said, turning to hand her one of the laptops. She could see in his eyes that he was serious, that he meant well. “If you make your money cleaning house for someone,” he expounded, “you should tell people you’re a personal assistant. It’s almost true if not exactly, and it sounds much better. Saying you keep house….” He shook his head. “People will make assumptions. You’ll never get anywhere. You’ll clean houses forever.” Again he took the journey into her eyes, but this time he returned much sooner. “But then you’re not all that young, are you?”

Although she wanted nothing more than to escape, she forced her feet to stay planted just where they were, because, second to escaping, she wanted a laptop. And, as Timothy had so kindly pointed out, she wasn’t a child anymore; she had learned to control her impulses. Ultimately, she chose the laptop that was least expensive—an old modem-less IBM that Timothy guaranteed would work for the next five years if she was kind to it—and took the bus home.

So lost in her thoughts was Zinc that she was briefly startled when she opened the door to her casita and was immediately charged by two dogs, her dogs, Paddy and Orlando. Paddy was six years old and appeared to be mostly golden retriever with some chow mixed in—a furry yellow dog with a black tongue that was always hanging sideways out of his mouth. Zinc had found him at the end of the dirt road that led to the property when he was a puppy. He was half starved then, and the gash on his leg indicated that a larger animal, probably a coyote protecting her pups, had tried to warn him away. (If a coyote had really wanted to hurt him, it would have gone for his throat, and given his size at the time, Paddy would not have survived.) Paddy was sweet and intelligent, but he was also suspicious when there were strangers about, generally up at the old man’s house as Zinc didn’t get visitors herself. Orlando was a beagle mix, about four years old. He had come from a shelter just over two years ago. This was back before the old man’s legs had gotten so bad, back when he could still get around with a cane on one side and someone’s arm on the other. He’d heard that his neighbor’s dog had run away, and since the neighbor was in worse physical shape that he was, and didn’t have a driver to chauffer him around, the old man volunteered to have Smith take them both to the shelter to look for the Doberman, Gilly. Gilly wasn’t there, but the old man saw Orlando dancing at the bars of his cage, and he imagined that the beagle would be the perfect companion for Paddy, that Paddy might relax if he had a younger dog to play with. So he brought him home and told Zinc if she didn’t want him, or if Paddy wouldn’t tolerate him, it wasn’t a problem; the shelter would take him back. But both Zinc and Paddy fell in love with him immediately and that was the end of that.

Once she had greeted her dogs, given them each a biscuit and let them out, Zinc let the “under the radar” remark go down the drain, literally. It was a trick her father had taught her when she was a child (back in rural upstate New York, a couple hours north and west of New York City) and would come home crying because someone had teased her or called her a name at school. He would drag a wooden bench over to the kitchen sink and have her step up on it. Then he would turn on the faucet and Zinc would repeat the words that had hurt her so (“weirdo,” “mute,” “witch eyes,”) and together they would wash them down the drain. They had done this so many times and with such zeal that both believed that they could “see” the insults swirling drainward. “Go play, now,” her father would say, and she would, skipping outdoors, her curly brown pigtails flying out on either side of her head, calling out her brother’s name, Frankie, Frankie, who, her father hoped, would watch after her after he and his wife were gone—because a sixth sense told him they would never reach old age.

Zinc had been working for the old man and living in the casita behind his house for twenty-five years now, since the year after her parents died, the same year Steven left, and she did not love the place any less. It had been built over one hundred years ago, from adobe. Although it had been upgraded with central cooling and heating, Zinc seldom needed temperature control. The adobe stored and released the heat slowly, keeping her little house cool in summer and warm in winter, except when the temperatures were extreme. It was almost as if she were living in something that was alive itself.

Her little casita was beautiful in its simplicity; all the walls were painted a warm white and all eight-hundred square feet of flooring was covered with a red-gold Mexican saltillo tile. Her furnishings had all come from the old man’s house over the years, odd pieces that he no longer needed, and all of it was Mexican as well. And then there was the art. The old man was a collector, and each time he brought new paintings into his house, he would pass the old ones on to Zinc. His daughter, whose name was Marge, liked to carry the smaller ones over herself, probably, Zinc thought, so that she could remind her each time that some of the paintings were of considerable value and that Zinc must never never come to think of them as anything but a loan. As if Zinc could ever forget that.

Zinc did not have a land line or a cell phone. She did not have a TV or an MP3 or an iPod or a digital camera. She had a radio. And she had a computer, now two of them, and while the new one was modem-less, the Internet that worked through her desktop model had become her connection to the world. She had even made a few friends over the Internet, most of them editors of literary magazines who considered—and sometimes accepted—her poetry for their quarterly or biannual publications.

She opened her new used laptop on the kitchen table and plugged in the charger. In addition to the Word program that she planned to make good use of, there were a half dozen others. She was delighted to see that one was a chess game, and that you could “zoom” it up to be the size of the screen. She and the old man played chess all the time. She couldn’t imagine playing chess with a computer herself, but the old man might enjoy it. He got so lonely sometimes. And now his eyes were so bad that he could no longer read. She read to him frequently, but never for more than an hour at a time, because she was prone to sore throats. He listened to audio books, but he said it wasn’t the same. They made him sleepy. He hated to sleep, because he had nightmares much of the time.

Zinc thought he must have read more books in his life than any ten people she knew, not that she actually knew ten people. He could remember everything too, even information from books he’d read back when he was quite young. Although his tastes ran toward histories and biographies and hers toward fiction and poetry, they could spend hours talking about books; they could spend hours talking, period.

While the computer charged, Zinc heated leftovers from a casserole she’d made for the old man the evening before: artichoke hearts, spinach and chicken tenders. She called the dogs in and fed them and let them out again. When she finally allowed herself to look at the digital indicator on the computer screen, she saw that the charging had progressed only to fifty percent of capacity, but it would have to do.

Zinc pulled out the cord and closed the laptop and hurried out of the house. Her breath caught immediately and she stopped in her tracks, the laptop crushed to her chest. There was a moment every evening when the setting sun was exactly opposite the mountains, and if one were lucky enough to catch it, one could see the Sandias (sandia meant watermelon in Spanish) turn pink. Not just light pink, but if conditions were right, shocking pink, a kind of otherworldly fuchsia that made the heart pump faster.

Almost as soon as it began it was over. The mountain turned gray and the sun was on its way again, descending over the volcanoes to the west. The spectacle moved Zinc to run, something she did occasionally when no one was around. Orlando and Paddy, who had been resting together under a pine tree, saw her and rose simultaneously to join in the fun. With the dogs at her heels, Zinc ran across the yard, along the slate path through the garden, and started up the slate stairs. The stairs were beautiful. The old man had built them himself, years ago, back when his wife was alive and his children were young. They were encased in stone and featured stone risers. He had gathered the stones himself, from multiple hiking trips taken into the mountains with his loved ones.

Zinc was almost to his door when the toe of her leather sandal caught and she fell forward. Of course she had to drop the computer to keep from landing flat on her face. She sat up and immediately burst into tears. Her new computer—which had cost her two trips to town and half of the money she’d saved in the glass jar she kept on top of the refrigerator—had to be broken. There went sitting outdoors facing the mountain. There went who knows how many poems about coyotes, about jack rabbits running through the brush. Orlando licked her. Paddy moaned as if he knew exactly how she felt.

Under the radar.

 

The door opened slowly beside her. She looked up expecting to see the old man looming over her. She always praised him when he came to the door with his walker instead of waiting in his wheelchair for her to open it herself. He needed more exercise. He was a small man now, the size of a twelve-year-old boy. He suffered from, among other things, kyphosis, a hunched back. A very hunched back. It made him look like a troll. But it was not the old man’s troll face that Zinc found herself staring up at. It was his daughter, Marge. “What are you doing on the ground?” she asked impatiently, in a shrill voice. “And why are you crying? And where were you this afternoon?”

Zinc got up slowly, lifting the laptop from the slate as she did. She could feel movement, things inside slipping around. She glanced over her shoulder at the driveway. Usually when Marge was there she parked out in front of the house, where a delivery person might park—which made sense because she never stayed any longer than a delivery person would. Now Zinc saw that Marge’s car was beside the workshop. She could see the bumper of the dark red PT Cruiser. If she had known Marge was there, she wouldn’t have run across the yard, and then she wouldn’t have dropped and broken her new computer. “He’s all right, isn’t he?” she asked.

Marge folded her thin arms beneath her small breasts. “No,” she snapped. “He’s not all right.” She looked upward and took a breath. “He took a fall. Down the stairs. Right here. Where were you all afternoon, Kathryn?”

“What do you mean, he took a fall? How?”

Marge unfolded her arms and thrust them out, exasperated. “He must have been feeling badly. I don’t know. He must have wanted something. He must have tried to get you on the intercom and then gone outside to see if you were in the yard. And he must have tripped.” She took another swallow of air. Her arms fell to her sides. “Peter found him. He’s dead.”

* * *

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Chapter Reveal: ‘The End of Healing,’ by Dr. Jim Bailey

end_of_healing_bookTitle: The End of Healing

Genre: Suspense

Author: Dr. Jim Bailey

Websitewww.endofhealing.com

Publisher: The Healthy City

Purchase on Amazon

SUMMARY:  

Dr. Don Newman, a resident physician at the renowned University Hospital, awakens in a windowless call room in the middle of the night to the screams of his pager. As he runs to a dark ward to attend to a dying woman strapped to a bed, Don realizes that despite having worked long and hard to become a doctor—and having sworn to do no harm—harm has become his business.

So begins Dr. Newman’s quest to become a healer in a system that puts profits ahead of patients. Abandoning his plans to become a cardiologist, Dr. Newman enrolls in an Ivy League graduate program in health system science, where an unorthodox professor promises to guide him ever deeper into the dark secrets of the healthcare industry. Along with fellow students Frances Hunt, a sharp and alluring nurse practitioner, and Bruce Markum, a cocky, well-connected surgeon, Dr. Newman begins a journey into the medical underworld.

When Dr. Newman unearths evidence of a conspiracy stretching from the halls of Congress to Wall Street and even to his small campus, his harmless course of study becomes deadly serious. Will he be silenced? Or will he find a way to save his patients and others from needless torture? One thing is certain:  the path to healing is fraught with danger. Will this path lead Don to a dead end?

Prologue

I know what it is like to be out of place, to be an idealist in a world of pecuniary traitors, to be hated for doing what is right. And so I know something of Dr. Don Newman’s story. He starts his journey much as I did, a disappointing protagonist and unlikely hero who finds himself in a dark place where the straight way is lost.  He discovers treachery, torture, and killing where he least expects—in the sacred halls of healing—the hospitals, pharmacies, operating rooms, and intensive care units where your generation places its greatest hope and trust. He is ill-equipped to deal with the world he inadvertently uncovers. You can justly call him idealistic, naïve, even foolish.

History does repeat itself. Old temptations present themselves in new and surprising ways. Our best stories ebb and flow through time in tides of glacial speed and periodicity. Dr. Newman’s story is an ancient one. It has been told in many tongues and many lands; it is my story and your story. Just as my Comedy captured the critical events of our time, displayed the underlying currents for all to see, and turned the tide of history, Dr. Newman’s story will reveal the hidden darkness of your time.

Therefore, let me beg your indulgence for our unlikely hero. Travel a little while with this unseasoned young man. Bear with him as he discovers he has stumbled into hostile territory, succumbed to base influences, and benefited from the very corruption he loathes. Our most innocent ones often bear the curse of seeing things as they really are. So it is with young Doctor Newman. He seeks to be a healer in a world where true healing has nearly ended.

With him, perhaps you can find a way out of darkness into paradise. I entreat you to follow him and behold: everything necessary to find the right path through the perils of modern healthcare—the path to true health and healing—is available to Don Newman all along.

Let us go with him and see.

Dante Alighieri

1 

The Dark Ward 

In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost.

Dante Alighieri, Inferno 1, 1 – 3

Dr. Newman dreaded the task ahead. Like countless others in these so-called halls of healing, Sibyl Bellamy was more victim than patient.

He’d been on the night shift three months earlier—the first time she was brought to the emergency room. He’d admitted her to the hospital and worked her up for the team that would care for her starting the next morning. He’d known at once she had suffered a very big stroke. It didn’t take a genius to see that. She couldn’t move anything on her right side, her mouth drooped and leaked drool from the right corner, and she couldn’t speak or squeeze his fingers. Mucus rattled in her windpipe with every breath and she showed little inclination to cough it up. Her eyes were wide open and filled with fear. Cords of muscle in her good arm strained against the padded leather strap around her wrist.

Her panicked daughter had rushed into the room and launched a battery of questions: “What’s going on, Doctor? What’s wrong with my mother? Why can’t she talk? Can you help her? Will she be okay?”

He took a deep breath before answering. “I’m Dr. Newman. Your mother is very sick. Could you tell me what happened?”

Words erupted in a breathless rush. “I found her this morning in her house on the floor and I don’t know how long she was there but she was fine when I saw her yesterday morning—she had gone to the bathroom on herself and she couldn’t move so I called the ambulance and they brought her to the emergency room about ten this morning—I’ve been in the waiting room ever since and no one has told me anything!” Tears filled the wells beneath her eyes and overflowed. “What’s wrong with her, Doctor? Was it a stroke?”

The physical exam left no doubt—yes—she’d suffered a large middle cerebral artery stroke. The left half of her brain was dead. She would probably never walk, talk, or eat again. But he was trained never to give a diagnosis until the history was complete and all test results were in.

“Let me ask you a few questions first. Does your mother have high blood pressure or other medical problems?”

“Yes, she takes medicine for high blood pressure. It runs in our family.”

“What medicine was she taking?”

“Well, she used to take a water pill, I think.”

“Hydrochlorothiazide?”

“Yes, that’s it! She took it for years.”

He nodded and noted it in the chart. Hydrochlorothiazide prevents strokes better than anything. “Go on,” he encouraged.

“Mom stopped taking it when the doctor gave her free samples of a new medicine. Norvasc, I think it was. She didn’t like the new medicine because she said it stopped her up but the doctor told her it didn’t have any side effects.”

“When did she last see her physician?”

“Four months ago. That’s when the receptionist said the doctor couldn’t keep seeing her since she didn’t have insurance anymore. He was nice enough to give her those free samples but she couldn’t go ask him for more after that lady told her not to come back and she didn’t have the money to fill the prescription. The new drug cost over fifty dollars for a month’s supply so she just quit. Her old pill had worked fine and it only cost five dollars.”

“She lost her insurance?”

“We are not fancy people, Doctor. My mom has worked every day of her life, mostly two jobs. She’s worked right here at the University Hospital as a housekeeper for years. You know they outsourced housekeeping five months ago, right? The new cleaning service company kept her on but dropped her health insurance.”

He did know. The hospital had signed a management contract with New American Healthcare in July 2000, right at the beginning of his third and last year of specialty training in internal medicine. Contracting out the housekeeping service was one of the ways New American Healthcare was helping the University Hospital save a little money. Mrs. Bellamy might not have health insurance for a simple doctor’s office visit, or a prescription to control her high blood pressure, but now she was so sick no hospital could legally turn her away. She’d be declared disabled, Medicaid would kick in, and the expensive hospital tab would get paid—courtesy of the American taxpayers.

The daughter’s body shook with silent, heaving sobs. Dr. Newman put his hand on her shoulder and waited. She took a deep breath to steel herself, shook off his comforting arm, and looked him hard in the eye. “What is wrong with my mother?” she demanded again.

He’d tried to give her the straight scoop. Pulling two molded plastic chairs over alongside Mrs. Bellamy’s gurney, he motioned for the daughter to sit down across from him. He reached out, took her hand in both of his, and spoke slowly. “I think your mother has had a very large stroke. I’m sorry to tell you this, but I’m afraid she will never recover no matter what we do. Your mother is dying.”

The daughter’s face was blank, flat, as if she hadn’t comprehended a single word of what he just said. She wasn’t ready to process the horrible news. After all, her mother was lying nearby, asleep and breathing on her own.

“There is a slim possibility that dehydration is a contributing factor,” he offered. “Perhaps with fluids, feeding, and rehab, your mother might be one of the lucky few to partly recover.”

He intended his words to comfort the daughter just enough to tide her over until she was ready to process the grim reality that her mom was essentially gone. Once the words were out, however, it was too late.

Mrs. Bellamy’s daughter’s eyes lit up and she clapped a hand to her chest. “Oh, Doctor, please, I want you to do everything possible to save my mama!”

Everything possible. The magic words. That was all it took to set the gears of the hospital machine in motion to grind out a whole slew of hopeless interventions and procedures, or—as Sibyl Bellamy would call them if she could speak—torture.

Mrs. Bellamy had fought against every intervention. The GI team hadn’t inserted a PEG tube to funnel food directly into her stomach because she would have ripped it out with her good left hand. Instead, they had stuck a feeding tube down her nose, which she could pull out without really hurting herself. As expected, she had pulled the feeding tube out of her nose again and again. Each time, the team had shoved the greased tube back through her nose and down the back of her throat. They had alternated between drugging her up—a medical form of bondage politely termed “chemical restraints”—and tying her left hand to the side of the bed.

Her second week in the hospital, she regurgitated and inhaled some of the blue liquid nutrition formula they pumped through the feeding tube into her stomach. She had nearly drowned in the blue food, which damaged her lungs and resulted in a severe case of pneumonia. She had survived only with the help of powerful antibiotics. After fifteen more days in the hospital, she had been discharged to a nursing home, where they kept her alive with more artificial feeding and hydration. Three more times she had returned to the University Hospital for lung infections caused by breathing in the spit she couldn’t swallow, and each time she was discharged on another round of antibiotics. Don had followed her course from afar, glad he was not responsible for her hopeless case.

Until today. It started like every other call day. He slept in until 6 a.m. On his way to the hospital he stopped at Caffe DiMartino for a double cappuccino at 6:25 a.m., as he did each fourth day when he was on call. The coffee bar on the Italian North End near Don’s one-room apartment had served the best espresso in Boston since 1932.

The barista looked up and smiled. “Ciao Dottore. Buongiorno! On call today?”

Don smiled back as he leaned on the marble bar, “For the hundredth time, Giulio, call me Don. Yeah, on call. Every fourth night—the worst.”

“Your mamma would want me to tell you that you have dark circles under your eyes, Dottore. How ‘bout you sit down over by that window, and taste your latte for a change?”

“Not today, Giulio, gotta go,” Don said.

“Okay, Dottore, just this time, I will give you the best cappuccino in Boston to go. But you must come back when you are ready to enjoy life.”

“I’ll do that Giulio. Grazie,” he said, completing the charade Giulio always required before he’d allow Don to take his steaming espresso to go. Don grabbed the tall frothy drink and headed out the door.

By 6:45 he was walking into the hospital, and by 6:50 he was finishing his cappuccino as he scanned labs on the hospital computer for the fourteen patients on his service. He figured he could discharge at least three before the onslaught of new patients that evening.

His day was unremarkable—examining patients and writing notes from seven to ten, rounding with the attending and team from ten to twelve, noon conference with a drug company lunch, stabilizing a patient who crashed and had to be transferred to the ICU, dictating three of the five discharge notes for the day, aspirating a swollen joint. Before he knew it, it was already 5:00 p.m. and his team was on call for the night.

At 5:05 his pager went off—he glanced at the number—the emergency room. He wasted no time in getting there. In minutes his long strides brought him face-to-face with the automatic doors before they opened. He had to stop short.

Looking through the glass window across the crowded emergency department, he spotted Sybil Bellamy strapped to a sheet-covered gurney in Exam Room 8. His heart sank. A quick review of her chart revealed the depressing details of the heroic measures the hospital staff had taken to keep her alive. The resident physician’s notes from that first admission documented the daughter’s insistence they “do everything possible.” Apparently, the original care team hadn’t been able to get the daughter to hear the hard truth, either.

Now she was back again, her congested lungs cultivating yet another crop of drug-resistant bacteria. Sibyl Bellamy was a spunky woman who might withstand the daily blood draws, intravenous lines, and tube insertions for months before being blessed by a resistant infection that antibiotics couldn’t cure. Or maybe one time she would be lucky enough to arrive at the hospital too late to be forced back to this brutal reality. But on this night Dr. Newman was on call, she was still among the living, and he would do his job.

He was glad he didn’t need to take a history. Sibyl Bellamy couldn’t speak. As he walked up to her gurney he heard secretions rattling in her throat as she struggled to breathe. Her eyes locked on his.

Dear God! She recognized him. He was sure of it.

Her wide eyes accused him. Her irises disappeared, overmatched by her dilated pupils and the whites of her eyes, and she opened her mouth wide to scream.

AAAAAAAAAA!       AAAAAAAAAA!       AAAAAAAAAA!

He had committed no crime, but her stare and mandrake screams unnerved him as if he had.

Don managed to complete a brief physical without meeting her eyes again. The exam added nothing to what he already knew. The chest x-ray showed her lungs were cloudy where they should have been clear. Aspiration pneumonia again.

He couldn’t reach the daughter and suspected the usual—the daughter thought she was doing the right thing keeping her mother on artificial feeding and was angry the greatest hospital in the world couldn’t cure her. Who wouldn’t be angry? People had come to expect the great hospital and its brilliant doctors to bring life from death. And no one, including Dr. Newman, had been honest enough to tell Mrs. Bellamy’s daughter the whole, unvarnished truth: the help of the hospital in Sybil Bellamy’s case was a joke and no doctor possessed the power to make her well again.

It would have been kinder to tell the daughter everything, keep Mrs. Bellamy clean and comfortable, and allow her to die with dignity. Instead everyone strung her along, encouraging vain hopes of an impossible recovery as they rushed to accomplish the business of prolonging Sibyl Bellamy’s death.

After admitting Sibyl Bellamy and seven more patients, Dr. Newman had finally crawled into the hard twin bed in his windowless call room at one-thirty in the morning. His body ached all over. Having worked up patients nonstop for nineteen hours, all he wanted was a good night’s sleep. He was out the instant his head hit the pillow.

AAAAAAAAAA!       AAAAAAAAAA!       AAAAAAAAAA!

Her siren screams set his heart pounding before morphing into the earsplitting screech of his pager. He groped for it on the nightstand, silenced it, and hit the light switch on the wall above the narrow bed. The stark call room materialized in a buzz of artificial light.

He shielded his eyes and squinted at the clock. Three-fifteen. Less than two hours sleep, yet he felt a stab of guilt for indulging in the luxury when a pile of admission paperwork and progress notes from the previous day’s parade of new patients awaited his attention. He forced himself upright and dialed the number on the pager.

A nurse picked up before the first ring. “Will you please come see Mrs. Bellamy right away? She’s thrashing around so much I had to put her in restraints to keep her from falling out of bed. She lost her IV and I can’t get it back in.”

After four years of medical school and nearly three years of residency, Dr. Don Newman was annoyed to be woken up in the middle of the night to do medical student scut work. He started to tell the nurse to call his intern, Edward, but the reason she had skipped protocol was obvious. Don was the third-year resident physician in charge of the medicine service for the night. It would not be easy to get the needle back into Mrs. Bellamy’s vein, and Edward—who was in the seventh month of first-year training—would end up calling him for help anyway.

He stepped out of bed right into his Nikes, splashed cold water on his face from the sink in the corner, and burst through the door into the hallway of the half-abandoned old hospital. Someone had removed the fluorescent tubes in every other fixture. He ran down the half-lit hall under the stripes of light and dark toward the new hospital, his ears still ringing with the screams of the pager.

AAAAAAAAAA!       AAAAAAAAAA!       AAAAAAAAAA!

He ran like Dr. Joe Gannon, the doctor in blue scrubs he had admired as a boy in television reruns of Medical Center. Dr. Gannon always ran and he always arrived just in time to rescue his patient from the brink of death.

Of course, this was the real world. Fewer than one in six CPR recipients survive to leave the hospital, and many of those survivors are pretty messed up. He knew that now. Nonetheless, from old habit he emulated Gannon’s heroic dash to the bedside.

He ran into the unbearable bright light of the new hospital, following the painted blue line contrived by some diabolical Daedulus-architect to lure people into the maze. The blue line snaked through a labyrinth of hospital corridors, past countless procedure rooms and operating rooms, down the stairs and past the radiology suites and laboratories, through billing and administration, then past pharmacy and central supply. To anyone who saw him run by, he appeared to be a confident young doctor eager to get to the patient’s bedside. Little did they know how he dreaded what he was expected to do to poor Mrs. Bellamy.

He considered the options. There were a couple of ways to get an intravenous line in without patient cooperation. He could give her a painful intramuscular shot of Demerol, but it would be tricky to administer enough to knock her out without impeding her breathing. Or, he could get the nurse to pin her down so he could stick the line into her arm, neck, or groin, while she fought and screamed and stared at him with her damning eyes.

The nurse shot him an exasperated look as he entered the room. “Oh, I thought you’d never get here!” she said. “What do you want to do?”

He went to Mrs. Bellamy’s bedside and pulled the covers back. The overpowering stench of diarrhea hit him like a wave. A stained hospital gown was twisted around her midsection. The head and foot of the adjustable hospital bed were elevated, causing a pool of liquid stool to cradle between her thighs. The greenish-brown slime covered her lap and bottom. An IV in the groin was clearly out of the question; it would surely get infected.

“Why don’t we clean her up, for starters?” he said in a businesslike voice. He silently cursed the nurse for not having washed her before he got there.

The nurse rolled Mrs. Bellamy over like a dead log and wiped the raw bedsores of her backside with a wet rag. The translucent skin of her pale arms and hands was scarred, swollen, and mottled purple. Her thin skin and mutilated veins wouldn’t take another IV. It would have to be the neck.

Damn it! Mrs. Bellamy was only fifty-seven years old. Worst of all, the thinking part of her brain was alive. Her furious stare indicated she was keenly aware of her desperate state.

But she had no control, no choice. She was the hospital’s prisoner. She jerked her good hand and struggled against the leather shackle binding her wrist in a vain attempt to reach the tube in her nose. She writhed in the foul sheets as violently as if she were having a seizure, but she did not meet the diagnostic criteria for a seizure. She was fighting. She looked straight at Dr. Newman. Her eyes demanded recognition and begged for mercy.

He hung his head and looked away. He was sure Sibyl Bellamy regretted surviving her stroke three months earlier. She wanted to die but couldn’t verbalize it. All she could do was to glare at her doctors and try to pull out the tubes that kept her alive.

“Give her that Demerol, now!” he heard himself shout at the nurse. “Where is that central line kit? Let’s hurry up and get this done!”

He was relieved when the narcotic began to kick in and Mrs. Bellamy grew calmer. Gently turning her face away from the side of the bed where he stood, he stretched wide cloth tape from one side of the bed frame to the other, strapping it across her temple to hold her head to the side. He painted her neck with Betadine and covered her head with a large blue paper drape. The blue shroud had a window cut out, leaving only a portion of her stained skin exposed.

For a quiet moment she was just a neck. He numbed the skin with a bee sting of lidocaine, studied the anatomical landmarks to find the right spot, and stabbed her neck with the three-inch needle. She screamed beneath the drape. Dark blood shot from the hub of the hypodermic. He passed a long stiff wire through the needle into the jugular vein and deep into her body.

The pager started screeching again but he couldn’t reach under his gown to turn it off. A voice in his head whispered the oath he had taken at the beginning and again at the end of medical school: and at least I will do no harm. Bullshit! Harm is my business. How could any good ever come out of what I’m doing here to Sibyl Bellamy?

His bloody gloved fingers worked to thread the Silastic tubing over the wire, through her soft skin, and down to the first chamber of her heart. Sibyl Bellamy began to whimper.

Out of nowhere, water filled his eyes and blurred his vision. What was this? It wasn’t like him to become emotional while dealing with a patient, and he bristled with irritation at the sudden unprofessional display. He blinked hard, hoping the nurse didn’t notice the single drop that spilled from the corner of his eye and trailed across his cheek and around his mouth to balance on the tip of his chin.

Mrs. Bellamy had once been a beautiful woman. Something about her reminded him of his own mother. Momma was gone now, and he had done nothing to help her, either. As he struggled to suture the line into place, the tear dropped off his chin. It landed on the sterile blue drape and spread into a dark circle over Sibyl Bellamy’s heart.

AT EIGHT the next morning he dragged himself to Grand Rounds at the University Hospital auditorium. Dr. Desmond, Medical Director and Chief of Cardiology—renowned for his encyclopedic knowledge as well as his bowtie collection—would not abide any of his residents missing this weekly pompous lecture. Per Desmond’s rule, he had donned brown leather loafers, a dress shirt, and a necktie, as scrubs and tennis shoes were not tolerated during normal work hours. Don Newman admired Dr. Desmond, but he wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a bowtie.

Don collapsed in a seat near the back next to Sarah Moore, his intern from the previous month. A faint yet familiar scent of jasmine stirred about her, calming his nerves. His eyes met hers in a millisecond of recognition. How did she always manage to look so good, even after a long night in the hospital?

Sarah was a good doctor, too. Her kind voice would have comforted Mrs. Bellamy and eased the pain. Their month working together had been incredibly busy, yet Sarah had handled the pressure far better than most first-years, making another month of hell a little easier for Don to bear….

A deep voice rumbled through the auditorium like an earthquake tremor and commanded Don’s attention.

“You are in the trenches! You know the problems in American medicine are serious! Almost one-fifth of Americans have no health insurance and no preventive care, but they still get expensive emergency and hospital care after things go bad. Americans pay a ridiculous tab for these end-stage medical heroics…and nearly a third of our healthcare dollars pay for bureaucratic paperwork.”

The speaker slammed his fist on the podium, making everyone jump.

“That’s right, we pay middlemen a third—middlemen who make more money if they deny people the basic, preventive healthcare they need most.”

The lecturer looked out of place. He wasn’t wearing a suit like most Grand Rounds speakers—not even a white coat. Just a blue shirt with sleeves rolled partway up his broad arms, a dark tie, and black horn-rimmed glasses. He inspected the crowd coolly, as if he faced an angry army of Philistines.

Resolute, he rumbled on. “A conscientious doctor has a tough time making his practice economically viable because the system discourages a focus on preventive care—even though most fatal diseases are preventable. The payment system pressures doctors to pack more and more visits into every hour, perform as many surgeries, tests, and treatments as possible, and speed patients out the door. Procedures and hospital stays, whether they’re needed or not, generate profits. Doctors and hospitals get paid more for complications. Should it surprise us that waste and serious medical errors are routine? Did you plan on a career in an assembly line that produces so much needless suffering and death?”

Don sat up straight in his chair. Was he hearing this right?

“My question for you today,” the speaker said pointedly, “is the same one Rosie Greer put to his crack-addicted friend Richard Pryor: ‘What are you going to do?’”

Sarah nudged Don with her elbow and whispered in his ear, “This is exactly what you keep talking about! What are you going to do?”

He turned to look at her. Sarah’s light brown eyes met his and she smiled, raised her eyebrows, and nodded her head, intimating the question was meant for him.

Don shrugged and looked back to the speaker, trying to appear unfazed. The truth was, he was quite taken aback. In all his years of training, Don had never heard any attending physician talk this way. Doctors were trained—brainwashed, really—to believe they could fix any problem. They might gripe about this and that, but he had never heard anyone condemn the entire premise of the health care system in this way.

The plainspoken words rang true and intensified Don’s gnawing sense that he was no Dr. Joe Gannon, that the idyllic medical center where everyone was healed was a television fantasy. At the same time, the speaker’s question hinted at the possibility of liberation and planted a fledgling idea in Don’s brain: there might be another path.

The speaker dimmed the lights and began his slide presentation. He detailed the major causes of premature death and disability in America and the evidence-based treatments most proven to help. He shared concrete data from study after study showing how little money Americans spend on care proven to save lives—and how much we spend on services that do more harm than good. He concluded with the heretical claim that most healthcare spending is misdirected and does little to encourage health.

“But,” he said, turning the lights back up, “there is hope. My colleagues and I are working with legislators in Washington, D.C., to reorganize American medicine. I am helping the Senate Health Committee draft revolutionary legislation to reform the way we pay for healthcare. We want to incentivize prevention and patient safety. The proposed Medicare Quality Improvement Act is the first step toward creating a healthcare system that would serve health before profit.”

The cold dark pit of the lecture hall faded away. Dr. Newman stood on a high green hilltop under the warm sun amongst the greatest healers of his knowledge and memory. Drs. Gannon, Welby, Kildare, Schweitzer, and Holmes stood beside him, and Sarah was there too, all bathed in golden sunlight. They greeted the arriving people with gentle words and stood together on the summit, healers and healed, caressed by a balmy wind in the full midday sun. Don felt warm, content, at peace with himself….

His head fell back and he snapped it forward with a jerk—back to the lecture hall and the draft of forced hot air from the vent above his head. What was he thinking? The new healthcare system the speaker described was pure fantasy. It was ridiculous to think American medicine was about to be reorganized. What was it Dr. Desmond always said? The best way to fix healthcare is to work in the trenches and give people the best care you can. You have to learn to work the system.

Yes, Dr. Desmond was right. During his first two years of residency Don had copied the way Desmond worked the system and admired how he rounded late into the night to make sure his patients got the care they needed. Don could pretty much do it all now: penetrate any vein, artery, or organ in the body with a needle, catheter, or intravenous line, and run a code so systematically he restored circulation of the blood more often than any other resident. He could keep the dead alive—whether they wanted to live or not.

He’d learned to push away the nagging reality that most of the patients he coded never lived to walk from the hospital, that most of the “survivors” were left with severely damaged brains from the lack of oxygen. He couldn’t allow himself to become discouraged by that. The important thing for him was to do his job.

His interns and his teachers knew he was good. Dr. Desmond had just offered him a coveted cardiology fellowship position at the University Hospital. Everyone knew it was the best program in the country. Don was thrilled. After that, he could go wherever he wanted. With only a couple more years in training, he would be doing cardiac caths for a cool half million a year.

He pictured himself working in the North Shore Cardiovascular Institute, that cool, mirrored-glass building on Lake Michigan near Loyola University. He had borrowed an obscene amount of money for medical school and residency, so he couldn’t afford to do primary care with its long hours and low pay. Why not do a little more training, focus on something simpler than primary care, and earn four or five times as much money?

He contemplated a life of days and nights in the cardiac catheterization lab. Cut the skin over the blood vessels in the groin and insert a big plastic tube right into the pulsating artery. Ram a long, thin, tubular wire through the artery and up the great aorta, the biggest artery in the body. Hope and pray not to knock loose any calcified cholesterol lining the aorta and cause a stroke. Finally, with the help of x-rays that give as much radiation as a year in the sun, twist that wire into the little coronary arteries and squirt in the poisonous dye.

He would be a hot shot in the cath lab. He would control the greatest technology modern medicine has to offer. Of course, occasional strokes and collateral kidney failure were an unfortunate cost of doing business—he knew he would have to accept that—and his authority to decide who needed testing would be limited. Like a trained monkey, he would stab and twist wire again and again, maybe four to ten times a day. Day after day, month after month, year after year…he began to imagine the fright-filled eyes of countless Sibyl Bellamys hidden beneath the great blue drapes….

Polite applause at the lecture’s end startled him out of his stupor. His heart pounded, his palms were sweaty, and the ideal health system the speaker had conjured had evaporated like a phantom. Obviously, this guy was one more in a long line of idealistic, ivory tower academics. He sounded good, but Don knew he had to work in the trenches and just do the best job he could for each patient.

He started toward the door, remembering the hospital wards and the giant stack of paperwork awaiting him, but Sarah held his arm.

“Come on,” she said, “let’s go talk to him. He’s a friend of my father. Remember Dad telling us about his training program?”

Sarah’s dad was a doctor. He had bought them coffee in the hospital cafeteria one night in the winter when Sarah’s parents were visiting from Minnesota, but Don couldn’t remember anything they’d talked about.

Sarah steered Don down to meet the speaker before he had time to object. “Hello, Dr. Sampson,” she greeted him.

“Well, if it isn’t Dr. Sarah Moore! It’s good to see you. How are your parents?”

“Oh, they’re doing well. You know Dad. He’ll never give up his patients. He seems to keep working harder than ever.”

The speaker was shorter than he had appeared from the back of the room, but he had a commanding presence, like an aging warrior captain. His arms and legs were thick as tree trunks. His hairline receded beyond the shiny crown of his head, encircling it with a ring of dark gray hair. His deep gray eyes looked from Sarah to Don.

“So, this must be Don Newman.” The speaker’s deep voice reverberated from his broad chest. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.” He thrust out a thick hand and gave Don a vigorous handshake.

“You know my name?”

“Oh, yes. Sarah has told me of your interests.”

“My interests?”

“I’m always on the lookout for kindred spirits. I don’t find many among your generation. Guess I’m just a contrarian old doctor, born into a time known as the golden age of medicine.” He laughed. “For over twenty-five years I’ve been telling people who did not want to hear it that modern medicine isn’t nearly as good as it’s made out to be.”

“Don always gives us articles on how dangerous healthcare is and how many people get tests and treatments they don’t really need,” Sarah informed him.

“You’re a third-year resident?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And your plans?”

“I’m thinking cardiology.”

“After what Sarah has told me, I am surprised to hear that. Why are you planning to labor on the assembly line of an outmoded industry? You must see the writing on the wall. Why don’t you consider doing something to help change healthcare in America?”

Don was taken aback by these comments from a perfect stranger. Most people were impressed when he said he was thinking of cardiology. What in the world had Sarah said about him?

Don’s eyes wandered to the blackboard behind the podium, where the name DR. GIL SAMPSON was written in large block letters. He hadn’t noticed it from his hiding place in the back of the hall.

Oh, crap! This was the Dr. Sampson who authored the famous papers on variations in care for coronary artery disease. The Dr. Sampson that proved whether you got medicine, stents, or bypass surgery depended more on how many cardiologists and heart surgeons there were in your town than it did on which treatment was most likely to help prevent a heart attack. Sampson had made a career of studying why medical care varies so much across the country. His work had helped father the field of health services research in America.

“I just realized—you are Dr. Gil Sampson,” Don admitted. “I’ve read many of your papers and admire your work. Forgive me for not making the connection. I just had a horrible night in the hospital—how can you be a good doctor these days?”

Don was surprised to hear himself revealing his true feelings to this man he hardly knew.

“If you want to be a good doctor, you have to either work outside the system or work to change it. Either way is hard.” Dr. Sampson glanced around to make sure no one was listening and lowered his voice. “I’m sure you would make an excellent cardiologist. But you must see that cardiology will only pull you deeper into the current system. The procedural subspecialties like cardiology are flush with cash, and they draw the best and brightest into their ranks. The prestige and hefty paychecks quiet the voices screaming in their heads that much of the work is useless and vain. The champions of healthcare reform will address real health care needs and seek to eliminate the copious waste that is especially common in the procedural disciplines.”

“I want to be part of the change; I just don’t know how,” Don replied, looking down. “All I know how to do any more is put in IVs, catheters, and chest tubes. There’s no time to think.”

“If you are sincere in your desire to be part of the change, you must take another path. Why don’t you do a general medicine fellowship and become a health services researcher? There are many training programs you could consider, but the best is the one I run at Florence College, a short distance away in Florence, New Hampshire.”

Everyone knew of Florence College. One of the top Ivy League colleges in the country, it had a reputation for free thinking and intellectual rigor.

“I must go now to meet with Dr. Desmond and the faculty,” Dr. Sampson said. “Meet me this afternoon. Five o’clock in the Social Medicine annex of the School of Public Health.”

It sounded more like a command than an invitation.

“If I can get free from the hospital I’ll try to make it,” Don heard himself answer.

Dr. Sampson gathered his papers and walked with Sarah up the narrow stairs, out the back doorway, and into the hall outside the auditorium. The audiovisual staff dimmed the lights from front to back as everyone filed out. Don bounded up the stairs two at a time and headed back to the hospital.

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Excerpt reveal: ‘Silk,’ by Chris Karlsen

Silk HighRes (2)Title: Silk

Genre: Thriller

Author: Chris Karlsen

Website: www.chriskarlsen.com

Publisher: Books to Go Now

Purchase on Amazon

SUMMARY

London-Fall, 1888

The city is in a panic as Jack the Ripper continues his murderous spree. While the Whitechapel police struggle to find him, Detective Inspector Rudyard Bloodstone and his partner are working feverishly to find their own serial killer. The British Museum’s beautiful gardens have become a killing ground for young women strangled as they stroll through.

Their investigation has them brushing up against Viscount Everhard, a powerful member of the House of Lords, and a friend to Queen Victoria. When the circumstantial evidence points to him as a suspect, Rudyard must deal with the political blowback, and knows if they are going to go after the viscount, they’d better be right and have proof.

As the body count grows and the public clamor for the detectives to do more, inter-department rivalries complicate the already difficult case.

EXCERPT:

Events of the day and the potential satisfaction of giving Napier a bloody nose dwindled. Questions about the murder crept back into Ruddy’s thoughts. Morris joined him at his table in the rear of the pub with a Guinness, the popular beer of choice in hand. “You’ve got the look of a man whose thoughts are a long distance from London.”

“No, sadly my thoughts are fixed here in the city. I’m trying to figure out a clue. Ellis’s roommate said she’d sometimes meet with a well-dressed man, a man of means the victim indicated. They’d meet up at the fountain by the British Museum.”

“Don’t know the spot but then the museum isn’t my cup of tea.”

“Not the point. I’m saying it’s odd. What member of the upper class chooses to stroll through a public garden other than Hyde or Regents, where they can see and be seen by one of their own?”

“I agree the wealthy prefer the parks filled with others of their kind but it doesn’t mean a man can’t enjoy someplace different.”

“We interviewed the guard again. The one that discovered the body walks that half of the building. He told us the majority of their male patrons are natty dressers, but he never saw a man like that loitering by the fountain.”

“My guess is: the man is married and can’t afford to run the risk of being seen by a friend of his wife’s. Or, he might live or work in the area and the spot is convenient.”

“Or, he’s a murderer who’s noticed the victim walking through the park on a regular basis, saw it as an opportunity and cozied up to her.”

Ruddy took another swallow of his ale, mentally debating the merit of each theory. “I don’t think he lives in the area. If so, he’d have cut through the park more and been seen by the guards. Not sure about the married man having a tryst idea.”

To Ruddy’s way of thinking, if the man was married and looking for a tumble, he’d have met her someplace other than the gardens and at a better hour.

Instinct drew him back to his original sense of the culprit and crime. “I feel like this was a crime of opportunity. I’ve thought it all along and can’t shake the sense.”

“If he was just seeking a victim, then why haven’t you had more murders like this?” Morris asked.

Ruddy downed the rest of his beer and put his tankard on the edge of the table where June would refill it. “Everyone has to start somewhere. She might be number one.”

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The Mark on Eve, by Joel Fox

Cover (3)Title: The Mark on Eve

Genre: Suspense

Author: Joel Fox

Website: http://www.joelfox.com/

Publisher: Bronze Circle Books

Purchase on Amazon  

California Governor Judith Rhodes is well on her way to becoming the country’s first female President.  But at a campaign rally in Los Angeles, Governor Rhodes’s campaign is nearly thwarted by an assassin’s bullet—but for the quick thinking of Eve, who single-handedly foils the attempt on the Governor’s life. It seems almost miraculous that Eve survived….but things, especially as pertain to Eve, are not what they seem.

Eve, after all, is anything but what she seems.  Jealously over the love of an 18th century New England pirate prompted a powerful witch to cast a spell on Eve.  While she doesn’t age, Eve is condemned to an endless—and often tortured—life, cursed to remain on earth until she kisses the lips of the pirate lover who went down with his ship in the waters off Cape Cod in 1717.

Meticulously guarding her past by not residing anywhere too long or forming any lasting relationships, Eve has somehow reached present day, her secret intact. But after having wished for death a thousand times over, now Eve has a reason to live.  And that reason is to see Governor Judith Rhodes become President of the United States.  Throughout her interminable, often intolerable, existence, Eve watched women suffer, struggle, and fight to improve their position in society throughout American history.  But now, in a strange twist of poetic justice, Eve is helping a woman run for President. However, Eve soon finds herself where she never wanted to be:  in the spotlight. After centuries of keeping her tightly-guarded secret, Eve’s carefully-maintained life could start to unravel—inadvertently dooming Governor Rhodes’s quest for the White House.  Dogged by a tenacious reporter who senses there is much more to Eve’s story than meets that eye, Eve will find that not just her secret—but her life, and the course of history—may be in jeopardy.

Brilliantly crafted and mesmerizing, The Mark on Eve grabs readers from page one. Seamless, suspenseful, and sensational, The Mark on Eve is an extraordinary tale rich with history, mystery, and intrigue.   The Mark on Eve is destined to leave its mark on readers. Novelist Joel Fox, whose thirty plus year career in politics informs his latest novel, delivers a taut, tense, uncompromising tale. 

Excerpt:

Eve felt Sansone touch her lightly on the arm to gain her attention. “Remember now, no jokes,” he said.

“Jokes?”

“People are here to see the next President of the United States. They don’t want a sideshow from anyone else at the mike.”

“I’m not at the mike. I’m a producer; I never get out front.”

“What d’ya mean? You helped arrange this event. Who better?”

“Not me. Never me.”

Sansone edged closer to Eve and lowered his voice, keeping the cutting edge unsheathed. “A presidential race is a team sport. You’re part of the team pushing toward the goal. If you’re not part of the team, you’re dead weight. Either push or get lost.”

Eve did push. She pushed Sansone easily with no force.

“A word to the wise,” Eve said, “don’t shove me away. I’m going to be with Judith Rhodes when she’s elected president. I’ve waited too long for this to happen.”

Eve stepped back. Had she put too much emphasis on one little word? She would not be denied this moment in history. However, she must not be found out.

Their staring contest ended only when Judy Rhodes walked over to them. “Let’s get this show on the road,” she said.

Eve joined Governor Rhodes and Walter Sansone as they walked into the tunnel. A typical warm October day disappeared in the cool tunnel. Police cars and an ambulance were lined up in the center of the tunnel, allowing people to pass on either side.

Secret Service agents, wearing earpieces and speaking into wrist microphones, strolled behind them. Eve looked ahead out of the tunnel at the huge white screen, maybe twenty feet high, standing behind the stage and blocking the view of the field. However, from her position, she could see on each side of the screen the colorful clothing of those in attendance sitting in the top rows of the stadium. The stands were splashed with golden October early evening sun.

From the front side of the screen the final stanza of “God Bless America” was being sung by a country-western star, accompanied by thirty thousand or so other people. What a great day for the Rhodes campaign. Nothing would stop the march to the White House, Eve thought.

Walter Sansone was talking to the governor but Eve only heard bits of what he said. Judy responded with perfunctory nods. Going over the speech, Eve guessed.

From the corner of her eye, Eve saw a movement, a gangly Highway Patrol officer walking more swiftly than anyone else. He was on the other side of the cars parked in the center of the tunnel. When he reached the spot where a police car and the ambulance met, he looked down and saw the bumpers were touching. His face showed anger. He continued walking swiftly toward the field end of the tunnel, disappearing from view behind the truck-like ambulance.

Eve continued to walk with the governor. Sansone was on the other side of Judy, still exhorting her. Eve watched Sansone’s earnest eyes searching his candidate’s face to see if his instruction was received. For her part, the candidate continued with her practiced nod. Eve could not tell if the governor was absorbing the lecture.

Eve sensed they were approaching the end of the tunnel. The light was brighter. She looked up. The gangly Highway Patrolman stood at the end of the tunnel, his hand on his holster flap.

Why was he in such a rush to get ahead of them? she wondered.

He lifted the holster flap and started to draw his gun.

Eve felt panic grip her. She turned her head, looking for support. Nothing. No one else was reacting. Not the Secret Service agents. Not the candidate and her campaign manager. No one else saw any danger.

The gun cleared the officer’s holster. He was bringing it up to shoot. Who?

Instantly, Eve knew the target: Governor Judith Rhodes.

A jolt of adrenaline shot through Eve’s body. She lunged in front of Judy. She saw the flash from the gun and heard a boom like a cannon echoing inside the tunnel.

CHAPTER 3

New England, 1717

Eve felt the musket ball smash against her chest. The impact knocked her back and she crumbled to the ground, dust billowing around her. The forest trees seemed to swoon in a circle above her. Pain surged across her chest in waves like ripples in a pond flowing from the place where a rock struck the water.

She slapped at her chest as if beating out a fire. She pulled and tore at the strip of leather that kept her deerskin shirt closed, tearing it open to her breast. The iron ball rolled over the mound of her right breast and dropped into her hand. She squeezed the ball and looked at the purple-orange-blue mark just above the breast. The ball hit her with such force as to sketch a steeple-like peak on her skin.

A shadow crossed her face. She looked up at a man’s dirty face partially covered by a scraggly beard. Long hair fell to the shoulders of his weathered coat. He smelled like the animals of the forest. He scowled, showing brown teeth and emitting a sour breath when he spoke. “Why ain’t ye dead?”

The question sent a shock through Eve’s system the same as the bullet had. The ball hit her hard yet bounced from her skin. A cough sent a spasm of a dozen knives cutting inside her chest. She should be more than pained; she should be dead.

Starting from the spot that throbbed on her chest, a shiver raced through Eve’s body. Could this mean the words of Tinuba Tam were true? She thought back to that awful day just one week before when she dared approach the only person she thought could help her: Tinuba Tam, the witch of Cornell Harbor.

Eve crashed through some bushes, a shortcut to Tinuba Tam’s lean-to. A branch caught against her chin and cut deep. She cried out, her hand slapping at her face. She could feel the wet—not rain, thicker. She looked at her hand and saw the blood from the wound. No time to stop now. She had to save Marcus.

The lean-to made of logs stood in a stand of cedar trees near a small clearing. The open end of the lean-to, covered with the remains of an old square-rigger sail to keep the rain out, faced east away from the prevailing wind. A puff of smoke curled from a hole cut in the roof.

Eve would not wait for a proper invitation to enter. Without a holler of greeting or a fist pounding the log siding, she flipped back the corner of the sail and stepped inside the lean-to.

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Chapter Reveal: The Intriguing Life of Ximena Godoy, by Graciela Limón

ximenaTitleThe Intriguing Life of Ximena Godoy

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Author:  Graciela Limón

Website www.gracielalimon.com

Publisher:  Café Con Leche

Purchase on Amazon 

The Intriguing Life of Ximena Godoy follows the story of a woman from very early life to maturity.  Her tale takes place in the early to mid-twentieth century unfolding first in her native Mexico, and ending in Los Angeles, California.  It is a story of love and revenge told against the historical events of Revolution, Repatriation, War and Peace.  When Ximena Godoy falls into the abyss of crime, she faces the punishment demanded of that crime.

The Beginning

XIMENA GODOY stood in the empty cocktail lounge, struggling to catch her breath. It was just before daybreak, on an early December morning, She had sprinted up the stairs to glare out the window at the commotion below. After a moment, Ximena opened her fur coat, fumbled to feel the wetness, then jerked her hands away and wrapped the coat tighter to cover the blood. On impulse, she reached for a cigarette and her lighter, but when she flipped the lid, the metallic click was so chilling that her hand shuddered violently. Once the cigarette was lit, she sucked in a long drag, inhaling deeply into her lungs, and waited for the jumpiness to pass.

Ximena tried to shake off the terror gripping her, but her mind slipped and staggered as she relived the moment when Camilo’s body had crumpled onto the street. She still felt the impact of falling onto her knees and hunching back on her heels, holding his bleeding head on her lap. Now, trembling, she looked out the window and muttered, “It’s done.” She took another drag on her cigarette, but the steadying calm she needed from the cigarette still didn’t kick in; the earthquake inside her continued—it just would not go away. Again, she glanced out the window and this time saw the coroner’s ambulance pull up next to the man’s body sprawled on the street.

Los Angeles 1950

The nightclub faced Sunset Boulevard, on that half curve4 THE INTRIGUING LIFE OF XIMENA GODOY

just before it intersected with Alvarado Street, so from her vantage point Ximena could see up and down the street. As she watched, it filled with cops piling out of black-and-white patrol cars, cherry lights whirring, splashing the damp pavement with flickering shadows. Some of the officers were busy writing; others exchanged words about the killing that had happened less than an hour before. On the opposite side of the street, a couple of newspaper reporters haggled over a camera and the pictures they had taken.

Ximena was taking it all in; she wasn’t about to miss anything. She watched when the rear panels of the ambulance swung open and two orderlies jumped out to help ease the gurney down next to the corpse. She stared as they paused, took a breath and then heaved the body up onto the stretcher, and just then she took a good look at Camilo’s blood-soaked head and shirt. His tie hung limply around his neck, and that sight made her hand shake so hard that the ash from the cigarette flaked onto the front of her coat.

The lounge was dark, lit only by the flickering reflections that bounced up off the street and smeared onto the ceiling. For a moment Ximena looked around at the rows of cocktail tables piled with upside-down chairs. At the end of the room, glittering in strange reddish shadows, was the long bar that had been so jammed with carousing, smoking customers just a few hours before. Nervously looking for an ashtray, Ximena moved closer to the bar, and for an instant she glimpsed her reflection in the darkened mirror behind the rows of colored bottles. She took a hard look and saw an angular face, its sharp features drawn by a startled expression.

It didn’t cross her mind that most people thought her looks were very special, even now at fifty. Maybe it was her smooth skin, or that pile of black hair, that made her so attractive; or it could have been the way she strutted on those high-heeled platform shoes; or perhaps the way her shoulders shimmied just a little when she spoke. On the other hand, she was actually more striking than pretty. When she glanced at a man, he got the message right away, and could be enticed to be by her side in a split second. Women, too, responded to her looks. They saw that she had a certain allure, a natural glamour and grace that

GRACIELA LIMÓN 5

made her striking. They knew that it came from inside her, and it made her different from other women.

Some people knew that despite her good looks and what they saw on the outside, the real Ximena Godoy was a closed book. Others said all sorts of things about her, especially that she didn’t know how to love, and that her life’s path was littered with withered love affairs. Well, that might have been so, but who really knew? Maybe it was just that she was reserved and solitary, or maybe the truth was that no one really knew her, and so they had no right to talk.

Ximena’s mind was fixed on her mirrored image when the flashing lights suddenly jerked her back to the scene down below. She turned, still searching for an ashtray, but she couldn’t find one so she let the ashy butt drop onto the floor and then absentmindedly squashed it with her foot.

“Mrs. Ibarra?”

The detective called out Ximena’s name twice before she turned to look, but it took her a moment to make out the man moving toward her. He was dressed in the style of the times: dark flannel suit with a matching tie and vest; a fedora pulled low on his forehead, an unbuttoned raincoat over his suit. In general, the detective cut a heavy-set figure, maybe a little out of shape.

When Ximena didn’t answer, he repeated, “Mrs. Ibarra?” She finally spoke up, “Miss Godoy.”

“What? Sorry! I didn’t catch what you just said.”

“I said, I’m Miss Godoy.”

“I thought you were… ”

“Married to the dead guy? No. We were partners, not married. My name is Ximena Godoy.”

“Right! Well, miss, I’m Detective Poole with Homicide. We need a statement from you. You’ll have to come with us to the station.”

“Why? Don’t you get the picture? There was a holdup and my partner was shot dead. We were robbed. What more do you need?”

“A lot more, Miss…”

“Godoy!”

“Right! You’re the only witness. We need to ask you some

6 THE INTRIGUING LIFE OF XIMENA GODOY

questions and get a signed statement from you.” “Now?”

“Yeah!”

“How will I get home?”

“Someone will drive you when we’re finished.”

Ximena leaned against the bar as she reached for another

cigarette, but when she held the lighter to its tip she, realized that her hand was shaking even more than before. She glanced at the detective and caught his sharp eyes taking in her nervousness, so she hid one hand in her pocket and tried to steady the one holding the cigarette.

“All right, let’s go.”

Once in the vehicle, she crouched into a corner; she was scared, and the dark streets didn’t help her get hold of her nerves. It was December in Los Angeles, with one of those drizzles: just enough rain to muddy pavements and cars. Inside the car, the swishing sounds of tires on the pavement and the back-and- forth rhythm of the windshield wipers broke the eerie silence.

The patrol car reached the precinct entrance and pulled up to the curb. When the vehicle stopped, Ximena pulled the collar of her coat high around her neck, stepped out and quickly climbed the steps to the front door. Inside she found Detective Poole waiting and ready to open a door into a small office. Without saying a word, he motioned with his head for her to step in. When she did, he followed and then pointed to a chair facing another man sitting behind a desk. The seated man was wearing a hat but not a jacket; his tie was loosened at the collar, and his face showed signs of serious fatigue.

“Thanks, Poole, and that’s it for now.” The man turned to Ximena, “Sit there, Ma’am. I’m Detective Tieg, Poole’s partner.” Then he reached into his shirt pocket for a cigarette, lit it, and Ximena did the same. He spoke with a drawl, as if perhaps he was from Texas, or maybe Oklahoma. He then pushed back his hat, giving her a clear view of his face: lean and craggy with flinty blue eyes.

The room was dim, lit by an overhead fluorescent light that cast a grayish tint on their faces; even Ximena’s coffee- toned complexion looked ashy. The bad lighting was made worse by heavy cigarette smoke, so it took her a few minutes

GRACIELA LIMÓN 7

to see that over in the corner was another cop sitting behind a typewriter, evidently ready to take down her statement. Tieg slid a form toward Ximena: “Fill this in. We need your full name and address. When you do that much, then we can get to your statement.”

Ximena filled in the blanks and then pushed the sheet back toward the detective who was rubbing his face, evidently trying to get new energy. He muttered, “Okay. Let’s start at the beginning. About what time did it happen?”

She said, “About three.”

“What makes you think that?”

“We usually close the club at two in the morning. We had

already done that.”

“What happened during the hour between closing time and

when the robbery came off?”

“Camilo and I stayed behind to have a nightcap. We

do…did that all the time.” With that, Ximena turned to look at the man tapping out the questions and answers and wondered how he kept up, but she knew from the clicking and pauses that he was catching every word. Then Tieg asked, “What happened next?”

“As always, we closed the place and headed for the car.” “Where was it parked?”

“Around the corner.”

“Where did the robber jump you guys? Were you in front of

the club or down the street?”

“We had just come out so we must’ve been in front of the

club.”

“Where did he come from? The side? Or maybe from another

doorway?”

“I’m not sure. I think he came from behind us.”

“Did you see his face?”

“I turned when I heard his voice, but I couldn’t see his face

because it was covered.” “Covered?”

“Yes. He had a handkerchief tied over his nose down to his chin. And his hat was so low, all I made out were his eyes.”

“Is that when he pointed the gun at you?” “Yes.”

8 THE INTRIGUING LIFE OF XIMENA GODOY

“Right or left hand?”

“I didn’t notice.”

“You said that you heard his voice. Was there anything about

it that caught your attention? Anything like a funny accent or drawl?”

“No. All he said was ‘Gimme the satchel.’ His voice was ordinary. Nothing different about it.”

“What about his eyes?”

“What about them?”

“Well, were they slanted, like a chinaman’s?”

“No they were regular.”

“What does that mean?”

“I mean they were round.”

“Was the guy a metzican or a negro?”

“He wasn’t a negro. If you mean mexican, then maybe he

was, but then maybe he wasn’t.”

Tieg made a sour face. “What about his size? Short? Tall?

Fat? Skinny?”

“He looked about six feet and he wasn’t fat.”

“Was he dressed like a bum, or like just another gigolo who

might’ve been in the club dancing and drinking?”

“He wasn’t a tramp. He was dressed in a dark suit and overcoat.” And after a pause Ximena said, “What do you mean,

‘gigolo’?”

“Never mind! Was there anybody else with you and Mr.

Ibarra? The barkeep, or maybe a waiter?” “No.”

“Why not?”

“Camilo didn’t think he needed anybody tonight.”

“Okay, let’s go back to when the guy ordered Mr. Ibarra to

pass the satchel. What then?”

“Camilo snapped, ‘No!’ Then the guy grabbed the bag, but at

the same time Camilo tried to rip off his mask.”

“Did he rip it off?”

At that point Ximena seemed out of breath. She finally

mumbled “No!”

Although he noticed that she was shaky, the detective still

pushed for more information. “Go on!”

“They fought over the bag, real hard, going back and forth.”

GRACIELA LIMÓN 9

Her voice was rough with strain but she went on. “Then I grabbed the guy from behind, by the collar, and I made him lose his balance. He nearly fell. Then the gun went off.”

“Went off? Like, an accident?”

“Maybe. I don’t know. There was a shot. That’s all I remember.”

“And then?”

“And then he pulled the bag from Camilo’s hands and ran away.”

“In what direction?”

“I don’t know. Away from us.”

“Then what did you do?”

“The next thing I remember I was on my knees with Camilo’s

head on my lap. He was shot through the head. He didn’t stand a chance.” At that point Ximena was finding it hard to breathe so she clammed up. The tapping of the machine stopped. Everything stopped. Even Detective Tieg let up on the questions, but after a while he went on. “I’m sorry, ma’am. I have to ask questions about you and the victim. What was he to you?”

“He was my partner.” Her voice was a whisper.

Tieg glared at her and then asked, “What kind of partner?” “Business,” she answered.

“Is that all?”

This time, it was Ximena who glared at him and said, “What

do you mean?” Tieg squirmed a little. “I have Mr. Ibarra’s driver’s license here, and it shows the same address as the one you just gave on this form.”

“Yes, we lived together.”

“Then I’d say that he was more than a business partner.” “And you want to know if we slept together.” Ximena’s retort

was quick and wrapped in sarcasm.

Tieg countered, “Well, you said it, I didn’t, but now that it’s

out, what about it? Did you or didn’t you?”

“Yes, we slept together. What’s that got to do with the

robbery and Camilo’s death?”

Without hesitating he snapped back, “I can’t tell right now,

maybe later.”

“Look, Detective, I’m tired and real upset. I’m going home.” “Just a couple more questions before we finish. How did the

10 THE INTRIGUING LIFE OF XIMENA GODOY

thief know that Mr. Ibarra had money in the bag?” “I don’t know.”

“How much was in the satchel?”

“About ten thousand.”

Tieg whistled through his long front teeth. “Christ! That’s a lot of dough! Was that just one night’s work?”

“No. It was money that came in during the week. We kept it in a safe until Sunday when we took it home for Camilo to deposit Monday morning.”

“Is that what you always did?”

“Yes.”

“Besides you, who else knew your routine?”

“I don’t know if Camilo told anyone.”

“How about you? Did you ever tell anyone?”

“No.”

Tieg stared at Ximena, and she guessed that his eyes were

snooping for scraps of information that she might be holding back. When she sensed that he was trying to catch her in a lie she shut up and waited until he spoke. “Okay, ma’am, that’s it for now. Don’t leave your place in case we have to reach you.”

A short time later the patrol car slid through the now- awakening streets off Sunset Boulevard. When the vehicle pulled up to the curb in front of her house, Ximena didn’t wait for the driver to come around to the door before she pushed it open, jumped out onto the walkway leading to the front of her house, and in moments she stood facing the front door. “Jesus, why did I let Tieg rattle me? He saw through me, and I let him do it,” she muttered until she finally reached into her bag for the key, but because her hand was shaking so hard she fumbled around for a while before she found it.

When she finally made it through the door the house was shrouded in early morning shadows, but Ximena didn’t put on a light. Instead she kicked off her shoes, slipped out of the coat, stripped away the bloodied dress and let it fall on the floor. She kicked it aside. The place was cold so she headed to the bedroom to find something to pull on, and there she found the robe she had left on the bed the night before.

Thinking of Camilo, she absentmindedly put on the wrap and waited to warm up. Ximena returned to the front room

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where she lingered in the long shadows creeping in through the windows. She went to the liquor cabinet, poured a drink, helped herself to a cigarette, lit it, and then she went to the sofa where she sat trying to put things together, all the while smoking and exhaling thick coils of smoke that spiraled up toward the white plaster ceiling. Unmoving, she stared at the shadowy patterns inching across the floor. Daylight was making its way into the room.

Ximena scanned the room: high ceiling, bricked fireplace, polished wood floors, plush woven rugs. She sipped while taking drags on the cigarette, and when it burned down she lit another one, and yet another one. All the while she was lost in thought, reliving the events of the night that ended with Camilo shot through the head. Then, too agitated and nervous to sit, she got to her feet and paced the room while she drank, smoked and thought. The cops will wise up. They’ll track down Chucho Arana, and he’ll talk. The thought of her lover made her stomach churn. I’ll disappear. Just become invisible. Who’s to know? Then, suddenly struck with another thought, she stopped. Wouldn’t that prove that I’m guilty? With that idea Ximena returned to the couch; she decided to take a chance and stay put.

Ximena felt alone and scared as she sat in the gloomy room staring at nothing, but relieved when after a while she felt herself calming down. Maybe to escape those fears and anxieties bearing down on her, or maybe searching for a way out, she shut her eyes and let her memory take flight back to the beginnings of her life.

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