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

THTH_final_4Name: Joseph Davida

Book Title: “Traveling High and Tripping Hard”

Genre: Travel Memoir

Publisher: Dark Planet Press

Fine out more on Amazon

Websitewww.josephdavida.com

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

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

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

Long Island

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

“Who are you?” I said.

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

He was right. I did know who he was.

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

“No,” I replied. “I don’t!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

“Umm… What’s going on, man?”

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

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

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

Then there was only death—and everything went dark.

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

I had to save the world.

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

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

 

Advertisements
Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Lubecker by M.J. Joseph

9781614935247-JacketGray_Lubecker COVER.inddNameM. J. Joseph

Book TitleThe Lübecker

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Peppertree Press

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

Chapter 1

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

 

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

 

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

 

2

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

3

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Excerpt reveal: Watch Me, by Jody Gehrman

Watch Me CoverTitle:  WATCH ME

Genre:  Thriller/Psychological Suspense/Women’s Fiction

Author: Jody Gehrman

Website:  www.jodygehrman.com

Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin

Find out more on Amazon

A gripping psychological thriller about one college student’s dark obsession with his professor, Watch Me plunges readers into a tense, twisty, and terrifying tale about how far obsession can go…

Kate Youngblood is disappearing. Muddling through her late 30s as a creative writing professor at Blackwood college, she’s dangerously close to never being noticed again. The follow-up novel to her successful debut tanked. Her husband left her for a woman ten years younger. She’s always been bright, beautiful, independent and a little wild, but now her glow is starting to vanish. She’s heading into an age where her eyes are less blue, her charm worn out, and soon no one will ever truly look at her, want to know her, again.

Except one.

Sam Grist is Kate’s most promising student. An unflinching writer with razor-sharp clarity who gravitates towards dark themes and twisted plots, his raw talent is something Kate wants to nurture into literary success. But he’s not there solely to be the best writer. He’s been watching her. Wanting her. Working his way to her for years.

As Sam slowly makes his way into Kate’s life, they enter a deadly web of dangerous lies and forbidden desire. But how far will his fixation go? And how far will she allow it?

In this gripping novel that explores intense obsession and illicit attraction, Jody Gehrman introduces a world where what one desires most may be the most dangerous thing of all.

EXCERPT:

You’re in the foyer now, closing the door. Any moment you’ll turn and see me. My heart pounds against my ribcage like a crazed dog throwing itself against a fence. I dash up the stairs, willing my boots to stay silent. If you could see me now, you’d be impressed. I’ve got stealth. My criminal instincts are honed. The good girl in you can’t help but be turned on by that. Maybe if you catch me, you’ll find it sexy.

 

But no. Not going to happen.

 

You can’t see me.

 

I have to disappear.

 

Everything’s riding on this. My pulse races.

 

Without thinking, I run into the first room at the top of the stairs: the bathroom. Your smell is heavy in here, a tropical storm of Kateness. I creep inside the tub and, careful not to make a sound, pull the shower curtain closed.

 

I hear you walking up the stairs. You’re humming. It sounds like “Wild Night” by Van Morrison—one of my favorite songs. That has to mean something.

 

There’s a preoccupied cadence to your footsteps. I picture you flipping through mail, your brow furrowed in that tiny apostrophe of concentration. You probably have your reading glasses perched on the end of your nose. I ache for you. I peak around the curtain just enough to catch a glimpse of your slender bare feet reaching the top of the staircase and making a left toward your bedroom. I hold my breath, letting the curtain fall back into place. Why didn’t I slip out when I had the chance? If you find me here, everything’s fucked.

 

I let my cockiness get out of hand.

 

From now on, I resolve to be more careful.

 

You’re in the bedroom, still humming. Definitely “Wild Night.” I close my eyes and lean my head against the cool, white tile. My heart continues to race. My breathing’s ragged. I can hear you searching through drawers. You must be looking for your yoga pants, your wife-beater. Your humming turns to singing in the bedroom. There’s the sound of coat hangers clicking against one another. Your voice is husky and rich.

 

Out of nowhere, a ripple of calm washes over me. This is how it will be when we live together. You’ll be in the next room singing while you change clothes. I’ll step out of the shower, wipe steam from the mirror. I’ll walk into the bedroom, a towel wrapped around my waist. You’ll glance over your shoulder at me, your face lighting up as you pull your tank over your head. I’ll sit on the bed and rub my damp hair, caught between the need to touch you and the simple pleasure of watching you from across the room.

 

You drop something—your phone? The sound jolts me back to the moment. I need to go right now, while you’re still in the bedroom.

 

I can’t, though. With your scent in the air, your off-key song in my ears, there’s too much anchoring me to the spot. We’re so close right now. I’m in your world, and even though I haven’t been invited, your nearness fills me like a drug.

 

Oh, god. You’re in the bathroom. You turn on the faucet at the sink. This is torture. You’re so close.

 

So close.

 

I listen to you brushing your teeth. Smell the minty freshness of your toothpaste. You gargle. Spit.

 

My breath catches in my throat as you fall silent. What are you doing now? You’re motionless. Are you eyeing the shower curtain? Maybe it’s not as opaque as I thought. You can see my silhouette. You’re standing there, still as a tree, holding your breath, staring at my outline in the pearly white curtain. Any second now you’ll yank open the plastic and—

 

Oh, god, I can’t stand it, I’m going to—

 

Wait. You’re leaving.

 

I exhale in dizzy relief as your bare feet patter back into the hallway and down the stairs.

 

When I hear NPR come to life in the kitchen, I decide it’s now or never. The stairs end in the downstairs hallway opposite the kitchen, so it’s risky. I have to chance it. Let’s pray you’re in the pantry or at the stove, your back to me. I lift first one foot, then the other, out of the tub, moving like a mime. Every step requires extreme control. My system’s still flooded with adrenaline; my muscles ache to take the stairs at a dead run. In spite of the radio, the oak planks will make way too much noise if I hurry.

 

There’s a window at the landing. I catch sight of your neighbor’s children in the side yard—two little girls. They’re playing a game involving plastic guns. Like marionettes controlled by the same hand, their tiny blond heads swivel toward me. We stare at one another through the glass for a long moment.

 

I need to get out of here.

 

Now.

 

There’s a bad moment at the bottom of the stairs. You’re not in the pantry. Not at the stove. You’re at the sink. All it would take for you to catch sight of me is a quick sideways glance.

 

Again, the crazy injustice of our situation hits me. I know you better than anyone, Kate, yet I’m forced to run away like a thief. I hurry toward the front door.

 

Just as I’m closing it behind me, lunging for the porch steps, I hear you say, “Hello? Is someone there?”

 

As I slip away, head bowed, hoodie pulled up, one of the little girls next door cries, “Bang-bang! You’re dead!”

 

I offer her a weak smile and stride toward my car.

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A Police Action, by A.A. Freda

A Police Action Cover jpegTitle:  A Police Action

Genre:  Coming of Age Novel

Author: A.A. Freda

Website:  www.aafreda.com

Publisher: Dorrance Publishing

Find out more on Amazon

Award-winning novelist A.A. Freda received high acclaim for his debut novel, Goodbye Rudy Kazoody.  In his second novel, A Police Action, Freda delivers a gripping Vietnam era novel about two lost, confused young adults, Samantha Powers and James Coppi.   A Police Action has garnered high early praise:

“Well written and historically accurate, A Police Action is a reminder of what the 1960’s were really like, for better or worse.”

Foreword Clarion

“Fluid, beautifully crafted, and emotionally rich. A brilliant intersection of coming-of-age and romance.”

Manhattan Book Review

“An engrossing tale that moves deftly from the battlefield to the heart.”

Midwest Book Review

“A spellbinding story with a powerful setting”

Readers’ Favorite

About A Police Action: It is love at first sight when nineteen-year old Samantha Powers meets James Coppi at the Country Honky Tonk in Colorado Springs. There are just two problems standing in the way of a storybook ending for Samantha’s passion:  she is pregnant with someone else’s child—and James, a young soldier, is heading for a war in Vietnam.  But is there something more to this instant attraction?  And what will happen after James is deployed? Will he return home safely, and, if so, will it be for Samantha?  For James and Samantha, it seems uncertainty is the only certainty.  A moving story that unfolds as James and Sam mature through individual and shared hardships, A Police Action is unforgettable. 

A solid and thought-provoking novel, A Police Action is a richly textured tale resplendent with vivid historical detail.  In this unique story that blends elements of coming-of-age, romance, and historical fiction, novelist A. A. Freda captures the atmospheric, turbulent late 60s, the heady rush of young love, and the unmistakable restless uncertainty of youth.  A powerfully realistic story informed by Freda’s own experience in Vietnam, A Police Action brings to life the spirit and the struggles of the 60s.  With its engaging premise, multi-dimensional characters and gripping storyline, A Police Action is an extraordinary tale extraordinarily well told.

 

Chapter 1
The Launching Point

Coppi’s definition of a lifer is any man who enlisted to join the service, any soldier that has the initials RA on his dog tags, RA standing for Regular Army. Draftees, like Coppi, are not lifers. Their dog tags begin with the letters US, which stands for United States. The army probably doesn’t even consider them regular soldiers.

To Coppi, there is also a difference between a lifer and a true lifer. A lifer is a mixed-up jerk who joined the army for some stupid reason, probably to get away from something in his pathetic life on the outside. Once in the army, the poor slob realizes his mistake and wants to go home just as much as a draftee does. Unfortunately for him, his mistake will cost him an extra year of active duty.

A true lifer is a loser who has made the military a career.

• • • • •

Specialist Fourth Class James Coppi comes out of the company headquarters where he’s just reported for duty, early one mid-April evening, picks up his duffel bag, and heads to the barracks. A drab gray building of horizontal planks, it looks the same as all the other barracks he’s seen since being drafted. It makes him long for home for a minute—but just a minute—and then the beautiful Colorado evening with its night sky already full of stars reminds him that the Bronx was no Garden of Eden, either.

Coppi hasn’t seen so many stars in the sky since he was a young boy in his native Italy. The air is already beginning to freshen, a cool breeze moving across his face and carrying with it the aroma of those fields of bright-blue flowers he saw out the window of his plane as it landed earlier. What were they called … Texas bluebells? Yes, that’s the name. The sight of acres of deep sky blue blooms had stayed with him. There is something else in the air, too—a chill following not far behind the fading sun and the fragrance of the flowers; he wouldn’t be surprised if during the night there’s a late-spring freeze. He’s read that the night temperature in the Rockies can easily drop fifty degrees.

He still can’t believe he’s headed for Vietnam. Only ten months left on his tour—he’d thought he was in the clear. What draftee goes to Nam in his last ten months? He will have only six months remaining on his service when this unit heads out, sometime in July. The army must be really hard up for men. The news coming from the conflict is bad. The Tet Offensive, mounted by the North Vietnamese Army, has shown the general public that victory for the Americans, as assured them by the politicians, is not imminent. The news is so bad that Lyndon Johnson has dropped out of his reelection bid. The stubborn fool still won’t accept reality and defeat. So, what’s his plan…to increase the forces fighting in Southeast Asia to more than five hundred thousand? To what end?

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Written Off, by Sheila Lowe

Written Off_Sheila Lowe Cover FinalTitle: Written Off

Genre: Suspense/Thriller

Author: Sheila Lowe

Website: www.claudiaroseseries.com

Publisher: Suspense Publishing

Find out more on Amazon

About the Book:    

In the dead of winter, handwriting expert Claudia Rose journeys to Maine to retrieve a manuscript about convicted female serial killer, Roxanne Becker.  While searching for the manuscript, written by Professor Madeleine Maynard, who was, herself, brutally murdered, Claudia uncovers a shocking secret about a group of mentally unstable grad students, selected for a special project, and dubbed “Maynard’s Maniacs.”  Was Madeleine conducting research that was at best, unprofessional—and at worst, downright harmful, and potentially dangerous? Could that unorthodox research have turned deadly?

Claudia finds herself swept up in the mystery of Madeleine’s life—and death—and makes it her mission to hunt down Madeleine’s killer.  But Claudia soon realizes that Madeleine left behind more questions than answers, and  no shortage of suspects.  Seems the professor’s personal life yields a number of persons who might have wanted her dead—and her academic success and personal fortune clearly made her the envy of fellow faculty members.   The University anticipates being the beneficiary of Madeline’s estate—but that seems in question when a charming stranger, claiming to be Madeleine’s nephew, turns up brandishing a new will.

The local police chief prevails upon Claudia to travel into town to examine the newly produced, handwritten will. Rushing back to Madeleine’s isolated house to escape an impending storm, Claudia becomes trapped in a blizzard.  With a killer.

Intelligent and engaging, bristling with tension, twists and turns, Written Off is a pulse-pounding tale that grabs readers on the first page and doesn’t let go. With its appropriately chilling Maine winter backdrop, compelling characters that spring to life in the novel’s pages, and seamlessly-plotted storyline, Written Off brings spine-tingling thrills and plenty of chills. Resplendent with fascinating details informed by Sheila Lowe’s experience as a forensic handwriting analyst, Written Off is an extraordinary—and extraordinarily terrifying—work of psychological suspense. Smart and suspenseful, tense and intense, Written Off will leave readers gasping for breath.

EXCERPT

December 3

The cabin was the size of a master bedroom; a ramshackle shed whose cedar logs had expanded and contracted, until the spaces between them were large enough to admit small vermin. Inside, the musty smell and scat on virtually every surface confirmed that many such creatures had availed themselves of the accommodations over the years while it fell into disrepair.

It had been unused for so long that few in the village of Summerhays remembered that the cabin stood—or more accurately, leaned—in the overgrown clearing in the woods, let alone who had built it, though most folks readily agreed that given the one room, a hunter was more likely than a family to have occupied the place.

No evidence of any dweller endured; no furnishings other than a rough-hewn kitchen chair. No guesses how long the chair had stood in front of the old wood-burning stove, waiting for someone to sit down and warm their hands.

Each summer, the vegetation crept closer to the cabin. What little light that managed to penetrate the sagging windows was murky at best. In winter, even when the trees were stripped of their leaves as they were now, the metallic snow-laden skies darkened the cheerless room to a permanent dusk.

It was through those grimy, sagging windows that searchers spotted the remains of Professor Madeleine Maynard. 

Chapter One

Chaos theory—the science of surprises—teaches that one small change to a system can later produce tremendous, and often unintended, consequences. You start the day taking a friend to the doctor and make a choice that ends up altering lives. Including your own.

Claudia held open the doctor’s office door and followed Zebediah Gold out into the hallway. The week following hip surgery he was eager to get back to the gym, to long walks on the beach and driving his car whenever he felt like it. To his chagrin, he was being forced to understand that in his early seventies his body took longer to heal than it used to. The patience he generously imparted to his psychotherapy clients was less evident when it came to himself, and the unhappy thump of his cane on the polished floor shouted his feelings louder than an F-bomb.

That he was stewing over something had been noticeable from the moment Claudia picked him up at the guesthouse where he lived in Venice Beach, The drive to the Beverly Hills medical building made in near silence. Even when she told a silly joke that on any other day would have made him groan, Zebediah—ordinarily the most good-humored person on earth—barely responded.

“The Buddha said to the hot dog man, “Make me one with everything.”” Half a head shake. “Come on Zebediah, that was funny. Okay, the Buddha hands the hot dog man a twenty. The man puts it in his apron. The Buddha says, “where’s my change?” The hot dog man says, “Change must come from within.” Nothing.

He had not flirted with woman at the front desk, nor the nurse, and that was definitely out of character for her friend. Now, back at the elevator, Claudia kept waiting for him to tell her what was on his mind. By the time she pressed the button for P2, she was burning with curiosity and could no longer contain it.

“What did the doctor say? How’s your progress?”

“Fine.”

The noncommital answer was infuriatingly unsatisfying. Claudia was glad when no one else shared the ride to the parking garage. She held the view that when shared with strangers the trip took longer, everyone uncomfortable, avoiding eye contact by watching the floor numbers flash past. Her friend Kelly Brennan would inevitably make some ribald quip to break the ice. If Kelly were there now to vamp with Zebediah, she would certainly have found a way to make him laugh.

They bumped to a stop at the subterranean parking level. Dozens of parked cars and she and Zebediah the only humans in sight. It made Claudia think of earthquakes and being trapped underground. “Would I get an answer if we played twenty questions?” she asked, her voice hollow in the gloomy cave-like structure.

This time, he managed a faint smile. “Twenty questions sounds like fun.”

“Number one, is there a problem with your recovery?”

“Not at all, darling, I’ll be leaping tall buildings in a single bound by tomorrow.”

“So, does that mean you got a clean bill of health?”

“All is well, Doctor Rajagopian says I’m right where I should be.”

“Then what’s with all the cane thumping?” Reaching his Lexus, Claudia opened the passenger door. Zebediah handed her the cane and maneuvered into the seat. In his present condition it was easier for him than her low-slung classic ‘85 Jaguar. “Too many restrictions,” he grumbled. “No air travel for three months.”

She handed him back the cane and went around to the driver’s side. Up the winding slope to the exit, she inserted the parking ticket in its slot, happy to see daylight. “What’s the problem? You don’t need to fly anywhere in the next three months.” He didn’t say anything and she glanced over at him. He was staring down at his hands, twisting in his lap. “Do you?”

“As it happens…” Zebediah started, then broke off. The gate arm rose, and Claudia shouldered the Lexus into the endless stream of vehicles on Wilshire Boulevard. L.A. might have dealt the smog a crippling blow, but the traffic monster consumed the Southland with the appetite of King Kong.

“As it happens, what?” she asked when Zebediah left his words hanging.

“As it happens, I do need to fly. To Maine.”

“Maine?”

“Yes, darling. It’s a large state on the East Coast.”

“I know where Maine is, thank you. What’s there?”

“Blueberries in the summer. Loads of snow in the winter.”

 

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Chapter reveal: The Guardian, by Anna del Mar

The Guardian-SMName: Anna del Mar

Book TitleThe Guardian

Genre: Romantic Suspense

Publisher: Mermaid Press

Find out more:

http://www.annadelmar.com/pages/books_guardian.html

Amazon / Kobo / Nook

Chapter One

Jade

Flying had never been my definition of fun and yet here I was, with my stomach stuck in my throat, traveling across Africa in a dilapidated, single-engine plane that rode a lot like a moped in the sky. According to our rakish South African pilot, the six-seater had rolled out of the factory in 1956, thirty long years before I’d been born, in a century far, far away. I could’ve done without the trivia tidbit. I was the sort that worried about metal fatigue. But I’d made it to Africa at last. Africa!

Three other passengers crammed with me in the sputtering little plane, a gaggle of excited grad students of about my age with some impressive academic credentials. They were on their way to work as research assistants at the private wildlife conservation reserve that was also my destination. Loud, chatty, and excited, they looked alike. They were perky, enthusiastic, and all blonde to some degree, a quirky fluke that, in my current state of jetlag, struck me as a little funny.

I was decent at identifying wildlife species, but terrible with names, so I made an effort to keep my traveling companions straight. Short-bob Sarah and curly-haired Lara sat in the seats directly behind mine. Like me, they were new to Tanzania. Poor pony-tailed Cara was jammed in the very back seat between loads of supplies. She’d been working at the reserve for the last year and was returning to the station after a break in Arusha.

In the three hours since I’d met my traveling companions, I’d learned a lot. Talk about information overload. Sarah was a Rhodes Scholar, shrewd and observant, kind of like me. The big difference between us was that she was also charming, totally unlike me.

Lara had confessed to being a card-carrying member of MENSA. Holy Cow. Talk about nuclear brain power. As to Cara, she hemmed and hawed about her gigantic student loans, but at the tender age of twenty-nine, she’d already published in several journals and staring at her bright future required heavy-duty shades. Sarah, Lara, and Cara. I giggled inside. What were the odds?

From the moment the women hopped in the plane, they’d slammed me with a crushing wave of friendliness that defied the loner in me. Sarah kept telling me that I looked familiar, but she didn’t put two and two together, which was fine and dandy by me. Not even our pilot, Peter Drake, knew who I was.

Incidentally, he was also blond, and the owner of an impressive set of surfer curls he wielded with panty-melting capabilities. I’d paid him double to fly me without asking questions and he’d been more than agreeable to bend to the will of the mighty dollar.

Anonymity was my preferred MO. Even though my face was on the Nat Geo channel a couple times a month, my job was way easier when I flew under the radar. I liked working alone and I hated when the attention focused on me instead of my work. Honestly? I wasn’t exactly amiable—or particularly sociable for that matter, a tendency I’d cemented during the first shitty fourteen years of my life.

But thanks to a belated set of kickass adoptive parents who’d checkmated me into manners, culture, and higher education, these days I passed as a semi-civilized creature. Now I just had to ignore my terror of flying, suppress the jetlagged witch I’d become somewhere over the tropic of Cancer, and do my best to fit in, even though, technically, I was the only brunette in the plane.

“Fasten your seatbelts, ladies,” the pilot announced in his melodious accent—definitely sexy. “We’re beginning our descent.”

The little plane punched down through the clouds and hit a patch of turbulence, courtesy of some wicked afternoon thermal currents. I clutched my backpack, dug my nails into the nylon, and tried very hard to keep my lunch down.

“Look ahead,” our pilot shouted. “We are officially in the reserve’s air space. Over to the north, you can get a glimpse of the twin lakes that give the Pacha Ziwa Reserve its name.”

I took in the glimmer of the long, finger-like lakes on the horizon, twin mirrors sparkling in the savanna’s endless expanse. The headache blooming behind my eyes lifted. My spirits soared. I’d been dreaming about the Serengeti since I was a little girl. Not even the jetlag could suppress the sheer joy that swelled in my chest.

“We’re in luck.” The pilot shot his million-dollar grin in my direction. “Beneath us you’ll see your welcoming committee, a big ass giraffe of the Maasai variety, as indicated by its distinctive starred blotches.”

I pressed my nose to the window and scanned the ground. Several other giraffes appeared around the first, long necks randomly popping out from between the trees. Keeping my eyes on the bush below, I unzipped my backpack and groped for my camera. Fighting for focus, I began to shoot.

Sarah squealed. “There are like seven giraffes!”

“No, look, there’s more!” Lara counted aloud. “Twenty-two to be precise.”

Fan-freaking-tastic. A huge smile hijacked my lips. Click, click, click. This was why I’d come to Africa, to see these animals in their natural environments, to share my wonder with the world, and to help protect the last few places on earth where the wild still roamed.

The landing strip was a grassy line carved onto a landscape of plains and brush. The pilot buzzed by the first time around, to clear the zebras from the runway. Pretty surreal. Laughter bubbled up my throat. On the second try, we landed safely, despite a couple of rough bounces. The girls cheered. Okay, fine, I cheered too.

When the plane finally stopped, I took a deep breath and combed my fingers through my hair in an effort to look presentable to the powers that be. It only took a sec. I’d gone hair-minimal for this trip, chopping off my long mane. Even then, my bangs fell right back over my brow, because that was the kind of hair I’d gotten in the hair lottery, bone-straight and dense.

I hung the camera strap from my neck, opened the door, and unfolded from my seat. My knees cracked as I climbed down from the aircraft. I felt like hugging the poor old plane and thanking it for holding itself together long enough to get me to the reserve. But I refrained from the impulse. No need to flaunt my addled brain in public just yet.

A pair of tan Land Rovers materialized from around the bend, rattling and sliding over a dirt track, pushing through the scattering herd of zebras as they drove our way. Not unlike the zebras, the girls took off, whipping out their cells and snapping selfies, with Cara leading the way and acting like the resident tour guide.

“Here comes our ring master.” Peter came to stand next to me and perched his Aviators on the top of his head, tracking the Land Rovers’ approach with a pair of huge brown eyes. “Lucky you. The boss himself is heading your welcoming committee. You get to meet the reserve’s game warden right from the start.”

I squinted at the truck, but the sun’s glare prevented me from seeing the man inside. There hadn’t been a lot of information about him on the website—a name, no pictures. I’d been intrigued about that.

In Africa, for many years, game wardens had been the custodians of private hunting reserves that had their roots in troubled Colonial times. But these days, the concept had evolved and at this huge reserve set aside for the study and conservation of animals, the game warden led the rangers who protected the wildlife and facilitated cutting edge research. According to my sources, during his two-year stint at Pacha Ziwa, this game warden had impressed with his performance.

“Hey.” Peter tugged on my arm and pressed a business card into my hand. “I’m here at least once a week. If you get sick of this place, if you ever need a ride, or want some cool aerial shots, I’m your guy.” He winked. “First three hours are free for you.”

God. Why did wasps and flirts always home in on me? The business card creased between my fingers. Peter was nice on the eyes, sure, and that accent had the potential to tickle my G-spot, but I hadn’t come to Africa for pleasure. I was here for work—in, out, no dudes, no complications.

With a screech of brakes, the Land Rovers parked next to us. The driver of the nearest truck stepped out, slammed the door, and sauntered toward us, scanning the airstrip and carrying a very handsome automatic rifle.

Niiiice.

It wasn’t only his top-of-the-line carbine that caught my attention, a lovingly maintained M4 different from the AK47 I’d expected to see on the ground in Africa. Or the way he held the weapon, pointed down in the low-ready position, both hands cradling the beauty to his chest like a pampered lover. It was the powerful vibes his body gave out and the systematic way in which he scanned our surroundings from behind mirrored shades, vigilant—focused and ready.

Warrior alert. My body snapped to attention. Here was a top-of-the-line soldier if I’d ever seen one. And then there was…well…the rest of him. And what a nice rest of him it was. Yes, sir. I was in the presence of hunkiness, which was very bad news for the Jade who’d come to Africa for work. Work, I repeated in my mind like a mantra. Not pleasure.

But a girl could look, right? No harm in appreciating a prime specimen, especially as he turned on his heel and methodically inspected the grounds, giving me the benefits of 360-degree views of his fine, fit body.

The guy was tall, even for a girl as tall as I was, somewhere in the neighborhood of six-four. It was hard not to notice the definition of his flexed arms beneath the rolled-up sleeves of his tan bush shirt. It was also impossible to miss the way in which his shapely ass fit perfectly into olive cargos. From one athlete to another, I appreciated the view of his finely built glutes, especially as they were mounted on a pair of muscular thighs that also impressed.

Work. Are you freaking listening, Jade? Not pleasure. I’d had a little trouble with adrenaline-driven hook ups early on in my career, but now I was over my addiction to bad boys and firmly established in the thinking zone.

The man strode over to us with feline grace, confident and yet cautious, fully engaged in a multi-level recon. Oh, yes. From his style to his weapons and down to his Oakley Jury mirrored sunglasses, he fit the profile. This guy had special ops written all over.

His gaze fell on the girls wandering among the zebra herd. His lips pressed together to amplify a severe, eyebrow-clashing frown. This soldier? He liked his order.

“Hey, Zeke,” he called out to the man climbing down from the other Rover. “Would you mind rounding up the arrivals before somebody gets kicked in the gut?”

“Sure thing.” The man named Zeke took off after the women.

The game warden’s polarized glasses aimed at me. “Ma’am.” He touched the rim of his wide-brimmed Tilley, then turned to Peter and extended a hand as huge as a lion’s paw. “Drake.” His veined, sun-bronzed forearm flexed as he shook the pilot’s hand with a firm grip.

“Matthias, my friend,” Peter said, trying to hide a wince behind a smile. “Good news. I have three new bushels of fresh quality grass or you today.”

Fresh grass? My spine snapped at attention. The cocky ass pilot could only count me as fresh grass if he included poison ivy in his botanical classifications.

Easy, Jade. A surly bitch lived inside of me, a highly reactive broad who’d come of age in a man’s world and had been put down one too many times for having a V instead of a dick. She wanted to have a go at the arrogant fool, but I held back and took a deep breath. I might need a triple shot of patience today.

The game warden’s perfectly proportioned lips thinned. I didn’t know the guy at all, but my bet was that he didn’t like Peter’s tone either. He looked at the card I held in my hand, leveled his gaze on the pilot, and spoke in a low, gravelly voice that reminded me of fast water tumbling over rocks. “Do I have to remind you that we’re a research outfit and not a dating site?”

“Nothing wrong with getting a jump on the crowd.” Peter chuckled nervously then turned to me. “Matthias here is the king of this jungle. He always aims for the windpipe, but his roar is worse than his bite.”

“Is that so?” Matthias glanced in my direction. “Allow me to warn you about the great predators among us.”

Man. I’d stepped right into a pissing contest and I didn’t like it. I’d served my time with dudes like these. I didn’t need a warning from anyone and I knew how to take care of myself.

“Whoa.” I fanned my hand under my nose. “This place reeks.”

“Excuse me?” Both Matthias and Peter looked at me in puzzlement.

“Testosterone.” I wrinkled my nose and made a show of grimacing. “It stinks, big time.”

“Let me guess.” The game warden’s lips twitched. “You’re the smartass who sits at the back of the class making snarky comments?”

I raised my chin and smirked. “Only when required.”

He parked those shades on my face a little too long. “Why is your face familiar?”

“No clue,” I said. “Why is your face not familiar?”

Under his hat’s wide rim, his eyebrows clashed. “What do you mean?”

“No picture,” I said. “On the website?”

“Ah.” His mouth set into that maddening straight line.

“Not photogenic.”

“Is that so?” I lifted my camera and focused on his face.

Click. “Problem fixed.”

His eyes were hidden beneath the shades but his strong jaw tightened ever so slightly. Oops. I’d known the guy for three minutes and I’d already rankled him. Way to go, Jade.

Peter let out a shrill laugh. “Matthias, my man, I think you’ve just met your match. She’s gonna be a joy to manage.”

“Manage who? Me?” The surly bitch almost bust out of control. “Back off, buddy. That’s not his job.”

“Well, unfortunately, it is my job,” Matthias said. “Not that I enjoy agreeing with Drake on anything, but managing people is the downfall of my job description.”

“Then by all means,” I said, aiming to nip whatever the hell this was on the spot. “Let’s rewrite the part of it that pertains to me.”

The mirrored shades lit me up. “You’re a funny firecracker.”

I sneered at my own reflection. “And you haven’t seen my sparklers yet.”

His well-defined lips came up in a smirk that wasn’t a smile so much as a dare. It implied that his mouth had no problem adapting to his moods and was capable of great range, not to mention delicious improvisation. A tingle of excitement pebbled my skin and prickled my most contractible parts. He’d have no trouble seeing my sparklers and doubling down on his own pyrotechnics.

“I bet your sparklers would be something to see.”

Matthias’s smirk widened into the kind of challenge I had trouble resisting, on account of my faulty DNA. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I heard the whoosh of a fire starting. The game warden? Not a safe bet, not if I was going to keep to my professional resolutions. I tried a mental dip in a glacial lake.

“What’s with the big guns?” Peter gestured to Matthias’s weapon. “And why are you in such a particularly ramped-up mood today?”

Matthias shades kept me in the crosshairs. Hard to know what someone’s thinking when you can’t see his eyes. Whereas I, I had no choice but to keep my chin up and my gaze leveled on him. He took his sweet time before he finally quit staring at me.

“Did you see anything from up there?” he demanded, shifting his attention to Peter. “Trucks? Helos? Tracks?”

“Nothing.” Peter sobered. “Trouble with poachers again?”

Matthias’s gaze skimmed the bush. “Somebody shot at our rhinos yesterday.”

Holy shit. I could totally understand the warden’s edgy mood now. The reserve’s black rhinos were an endangered species. I started to take mental notes right away. I’d been on the ground for less than five minutes and I already had a story in the works.

“Damn those poachers.” Peter swore under his breath.

“Did they get any?”

“It ain’t gonna happen,” Matthias said. “Not under my watch. We chased the sons of bitches all the way to the reserve’s fucking boundary.” He flashed me an apologetic glance. “Sorry about my French, ma’am.”

“No worries,” I said. “I’m fucking fluent in the same kind of French.”

“Good to know.” His lips twitched again, but the smile never fully realized. It stayed smothered beneath the pile of worries that deepened the vertical lines permanently etched between his eyebrows. When I thought about the rhinos, I couldn’t blame him.

“Jesus, they’re getting brash.” Peter shook his head.

“Sudanese rebels, you think?”

Matthias lifted a brawny shoulder. “Probable.”

“Those fuckers poach the animals, trade the goods, and buy weapons,” Peter explained to me as if I hadn’t done my homework before I came out. “In between, they murder, abduct, rape, and pillage.”

“I’ve heard.” The sarcasm in my tone rolled right over Peter’s head.

“I hope you get the poachers,” he said to Matthias.

“Count on it.” This time, when the game warden’s jaw tightened, a muscle twitched on the side of his face. I didn’t know much about him, but I believed him.

“Mind if I stay the night?” Peter asked.

“We’re tight,” Matthias said. “A bunk at the ranger’s camp is all I’ve got.”

“I’ll take it.”

“Then make yourself useful.”

Matthias whirled on his heel, stuck his fingers in his mouth, and let out a whistle that chiseled my brain and resuscitated my headache. At the end of the airstrip, Zeke signaled with a hand in the air. He and the women started in our direction.

Peter and Matthias got busy unloading the plane. The game warden had a lot of questions for Peter. He wanted to know what the pilot had seen from the air and if he’d heard anything about poachers in the area. I helped unload, happy to melt into the background, listening to the in-depth interrogation.

As soon as the luggage was loaded on the trucks, Peter climbed back in the cockpit, restarted the plane, and drove it over to an old metal hangar that stood nearby. Matthias rearranged the supplies in the back of the Rover, slammed shut the trunk, and turned to me. A bunch of questions glimmered in his eyes, but he didn’t get to ask them, because Zeke and the women joined us.

“Hey, Matthias.” Cara fluttered her long eyelashes, all sweetness and smiles. “Miss me?”

“Welcome back.” Matthias ignored Cara’s flirting and went straight to business. “Ladies, please, let’s get the formalities out of the way so we can get out of here before the mosquitoes come out for dinner.”

The women bunched up around Matthias, eager and excited. I slung my backpack over my shoulder and leaned against the truck, happy to speed things along. Mosquitoes always seemed to crave my sweet Spanish blood. Despite the course of preventative antibiotics I was taking, I didn’t want to test the limits of modern medicine and contract malaria or some other nasty bug during my first day in Africa.

“For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Matthias Hawking. I’m the game warden here, which makes me chief of security as well.”

“Are you American?” Sarah interrupted him right away.

“I am.” He inclined his head. “I’m from Montana.”

“Yay.” Lara clapped her hands. “Viva the USA. Love the rugged west.”

“What’s a guy from Montana doing all the way out here?” Sarah asked, demonstrating curiosity that matched mine.

“Can’t a guy get a job in Africa?”

Not for anything, but he sounded a little defensive to me.

“Ex-military,” I spoke my thoughts aloud, not one of my finest habits. “Muscle for hire?”

His mouth curled into a sneer capable of freezing the tropics. “So now you think I’m a goddamn mercenary?”

“Just a theory.” My spidey senses were all agog. “But I’ve heard you’re doing a good job here. Care to clarify your bio?” “Not really.” He turned his attention to the other women. “I’d like to introduce you to my associate, Zeke Logocho, one of the best rangers in Africa.”

He slapped a paw on his companion’s shoulder, a tall, dark, muscularly lanky fellow sporting high cheeks, a bony, meandering nose, and a wide, benign smile. One could’ve driven a small truck through the gap in his front teeth. Zeke was talking to someone on his headset, but he waved at us.

“If I’m not around, Zeke is your man.” Matthias grabbed a tablet from the Rover’s front seat and tapped on a list, eyes shifting from the screen to the girls standing next to me. “So, right, introductions. You must be…Sarah Stevens from Cal Tech?”

Sarah’s blue eyes brightened. “That’s me all right.”

“Welcome to the reserve.” He shook her hand and moved on to the next woman. “And you have to be Lara Quinones, from Harvard.”

“Glad to meet you.” Lara pumped his hand, back straight, tight curls shaking around her head with enthusiastic vehemence.

Matthias turned to me. I was pretty sure he’d left me for last to punish me for giving him attitude. I would’ve preferred to have this particular conversation in private, but his stare was fixed on his tablet and he never saw the request in my eyes.

“That means that you are…let’s see…” Matthias took off his glasses, scrolled down his list once more and looked up in triumph. “Pat Schumer, from Stanford.”

Those eyes. The color. They were so unusual. I guess they could be called hazel mostly, but a rim of bright amber speckled with darker flecks surrounded the black pupil like a ring of fire. The gold in his irises echoed the reddish glint in the closely-cropped, straight-trimmed stubble that edged his jaw, adding power and intensity to a sun-bronzed face that needed absolutely no help in the power and intensity department.

Next to me, I felt the wind shift as the girls gasped in unison. Then his gaze met mine and the women disappeared, and so did the airstrip, hell, the whole of Africa vanished from my map. Direct hit.

The fire in his stare went straight to the center of my brain, overloaded my logic circuits, and connected. My body clenched in all the right places and his body pulled on me like a freaking magnet. It wasn’t a one-way thing. He stared at me as if I were a particularly delicious ingredient to the twelve-course meal he was planning.

Oh, no. No way. Cool it Jade. No more bad boys in my future. I’d made that mistake before, because—as my true mom liked to theorize—I’d learned my sexual habits from some very bad examples. My blood ran hotter than the pits of hell, and the scalding flow plunged me straight into the no-thinking zone. It wasn’t as if I believed in love at first sight. That was a bunch of fried baloney. But lust at first sight? Yeah, it happened. To me.

But I’d learned my lesson and this new and improved version of Jade didn’t react to a pair of hazel eyes as if she’d been stricken by a bolt of lust, or act on her body’s hyperactive sexual cues, or engage in gratuitous erotic exploration. She didn’t toe the line to the point of disaster, mix personal with professional, or sleep with strangers, either.

Heads up, Jade. I tried to blink Matthias off my retina. Eyes like his should be strictly prohibited on a face like that. Get it under control. Enough with the hunkiness already.

“She’s not Pat,” Sarah said before I could speak up for myself, something I was usually very good at. “Pat’s flight got delayed in Amsterdam. She won’t be arriving until tomorrow.”

His stare returned to scan me. Whatever warmth I imagined I’d seen in his eyes was gone, transformed into cold, calculated intensity. “If you’re not Pat Schumer, then who the hell are you?”

Uh-oh. Somewhere, somehow, somebody had dropped the ball. “Your director didn’t tell you?”

His eyebrows clashed over his nose. “Tell me what?”

“Her name is Jade,” Sarah volunteered in an obvious bid to try to help. “Jade, you know, like her earrings?”

She caught one of my earrings between her fingers, a green jade stone carved into the stylized figure of an elephant. The antique pendants had been a gift from my parents on the cataclysmic occasion of my adoption at the ripe age of fourteen. My parents had “Jade-proofed” the earrings, commissioning a custom-designed mount capable of withstanding “Jade-force winds.” Since then, I’d worn them almost every day of my life, even while I was out in the field.

“J-a-d-e,” Sarah pealed. “Easy to remember. Her earrings match the color of her eyes.”

Matthias’s gaze lingered over my face before he decided on the spot that I wasn’t supposed to be here. “I’m gonna tell you right now.” Aggravation whetted his voice. “We don’t do tours of our research facilities and you need special permission to be here.”

“I have authorization,” I said, hoping and praying I was right. “Call your director.”

“Answer me first.” He’d rather give orders that take them.

“Who are you?”

No way around this. I stuck out my hand. “My name is

Jade Romo.”

“Hang on.” Matthias blinked blankly several times, but he didn’t take my hand. “Did you say Jade Romo?”

“Yes.” I dropped my hand to my side and dug my nails in my palm.

“From Mission Protect,” he said flatly. “The Jade Romo?”

“In the flesh.”

The girls gasped in unison. Zeke stared, his mouth slowly expanding into a silly grin on his face. My hopes for negotiating some sort of anonymity clause with the station’s powers that be died under their gawks. The tension that straightened Matthias’s mouth and sparkled in his eyes anchored the most intimidating scowl I’d ever come across. Something curdled in my stomach and I felt a little sick. His stare was all steel and fire as he uttered the word that shoved him to the top of my shit list.

“Goddamnit.”

This was going to be a wild ride.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Excerpt reveal: Desert Kill Switch, by Mark S. Bacon

Front cover - Full Cover DKS v3 (1)Title: Desert Kill Switch

Genre: Mystery

Author: Mark S. Bacon

Website: www.baconsmysteries.com

Publisher: Black Opal Books

Find out more on Amazon

About the Book:

Set against the backdrop of Nostalgia City, an Arizona retro theme park that recreates, in meticulous detail, an entire small town from the 1970s, Desert Kill Switch features stressed-out ex-cop Lyle Deming.

Deming, a cab driver for Nostalgia City, finds himself in strange circumstances when he discovers a bullet-riddled body next to a mint-condition ’70s vintage Pontiac Firebird on an empty desert road. Stranger still, when Lyle returns to the scene with sheriff’s deputies, the car is gone—and so is the body. Could this somehow be tied to Nostalgia City?

Nostalgia City VP Kate Sorensen, a former college basketball star, is in Nevada on park business when she gets mixed up with Al Busick, a sleazy Vegas auto dealer who puts hidden “kill switches” in cars he sells. Miss your payment by a few days—and your car dies. But when Busick is murdered and Kate becomes the prime suspect, Lyle arrives to help his tall, blonde, not-quite-girlfriend. As they plow through a twisted tangle of suspects and motives, Lyle and Kate soon realize that the best way to clear Kate’s name is to find out who killed Busick.

Turns out there were a number of people who might’ve wanted Busick dead. But when a video implicating Kate appears, along with a ransom demand, things take a deadly serious turn. Blackmail, murder, and a lengthy list of potential killers: hardly a wholesome or inviting image for Nostalgia City.

As the tension ratchets up, Kate and Lyle find themselves in increasing danger. Against a ticking clock and scorching desert heat, Lyle and Kate launch a pulse-quickening quest to clear Kate’s name, find the dead body, and figure out how a million-dollar antique Italian sports car fits in this deadly game. But time is running out—and it’s all fun and games…till someone loses his life.

Author Mark S. Bacon 5052 - smlrAbout the Author: Mark Bacon began his career as a newspaper reporter in Southern California covering crime and city beats. As a writer, his work has appeared on television and in radio, magazines, newspapers, websites and fiction and nonfiction books. He and his wife, Anne, live in Reno with their golden retriever, Willow. Bacon is also the author of Death in Nostalgia City.

www.baconsmysteries.com

https://baconsmysteries.com/blog-2/

https://www.facebook.com/markbaconmysteries/

 

Desert Kill Switch

By Mark S. Bacon

Chapter 59

Lyle didn’t know if Sergei had a gun or not.  If he didn’t, maybe Lyle had a chance.  But the Chechen stood a half head taller and looked like he had seventy-five pounds on Lyle.  He walked slowly over to Sergei.  Shit he’s big.  But maybe.

Before Lyle came within ten feet of Sergei, the Chechen reached behind him and pulled out a large-caliber semi-auto.  Lyle continued his stroll in a large circle, heading back toward the Mustang.

“Okay if I get out of the sun?”

Sergei motioned with the barrel of the gun.  The car door was already open.  Lyle sat in the driver’s seat and watched through the windshield as Sergei wandered along the road.  He turned his back to Lyle, looking off the pavement to the dirt trail.

Lyle reached down, under the dashboard, and felt around for the wires he’d been working on.  He twisted two bare wires together then slowly put his hand on the ignition,  the key still in place.  He turned it hard.  As the engine burst into life, Lyle threw the car into gear, crushed the gas pedal, and the car’s nine-inch-wide tires grabbed the pavement.  The Mustang sprang forward, the driver’s door slamming shut.   Sergei spun around and saw the car racing toward him.  He started to bring up the pistol but seemed to realize the car would smash him whether he fired or not.  He leaped toward the side of the road, like a base runner diving face-first into home plate.  The Mustang’s bumper caught the bottom of his legs and spun him halfway around before he hit the sand.

Lyle jammed on the brakes and jumped out.  Sergei lay on the sand, groaning and clutching his left ankle.  Lyle seized the gun and ejected the magazine and the round in the chamber.  He threw all of them as far as he could into the brush. Sergei couldn’t stand so Lyle patted him down on the ground.  He found Sergei’s cell phone, dropped it on the pavement, and stomped on it before throwing it into the desert.

Dashing back to the Mustang, Lyle saw one of their suitcases and a string of clothes along the pavement behind the car.  The trunk lid had remained open after the Chechen’s search.  He grabbed the clothes and stuffed them into the suitcase.  Before tossing the case in the trunk, he opened a hidden compartment near one of the taillights and pulled out two handguns.

Like a thoroughbred, the Mustang was eager to run, its twin exhausts grumbling.  Lyle gave it gas and the high-powered American fishtailed when it hit the dirt road, then righted itself and dug in.  Lyle knew his dust tail would advertise his arrival, so speed was essential.  But the Ford Mustang was not made for dirt roads.  Four hundred horsepower is only as good as the traction.  Lyle turned the wheel left and right to avoid ruts and keep the rear wheels on the ground.  When he heard gun shots, he thought he was too late.

* * *

Kate touched the boulder to steady herself and almost pulled her hand away when she felt its heat.  Nina tucked her small body into the ravine and kept her head below the level of their temporary fortress.  Kate could see Alex and Viktor walking slowly toward them, holding their guns, ready to fire again.  She ducked as low as she could.

“We come out there and kill you, woman,” Alex said as he advanced.  “Then we just throw your body in desert.”

When Kate raised her head again she sighted down the barrel of a .38—the gun she’d taken from Viktor’s shop coat the day before.  She fired.

One of her shots just grazed Viktor’s shoulder, the other thudded into the side of the SUV, but she got the reaction she wanted.  Both men looked on in terror.  Alex returned one shot that missed by six feet and the Chechens scampered over the rocks and back to safety behind their Suburban.

“Where’d you get the gun?” Nina asked, holding her ears.

“Took it from them yesterday,” Kate said.  “Stay down.”

Kate knew she had only three shots left.  If they just traded shots, she’d be defenseless soon.  A ridge off to their right could give one of the Chechens cover to circle around behind her and Nina.  Just a matter of time.  Maybe if she fired at the Suburban they might decide it was too much trouble, too dangerous, and drive away.  Dream on, lady

Blam, the shooting started again.  Kate ducked until she realized the Chechens weren’t firing.  She looked to her left and saw Lyle’s Mustang kicking up dust as it tore down the road spitting bullets. Staying behind the Suburban protected the Chechens from Kate’s shots, but exposed them to Lyle’s fire.  Kate stuck her head up and fired twice.  Lyle, too far away to be accurate, drove with one hand and fired with the other.  But it was too much for the Chechens.  Alex and Viktor got in the car and pulled out so fast they looked like actors in a Keystone Cops film.  Kate stood up and waved at Lyle as he came to a stop where the Suburban had been.  She still held the .38 when Lyle walked up.

“You okay?” Lyle said, stepping around the sagebrush.

“Yes,” Kate said expelling a big breath. “We’re glad to see you.” She gave Lyle a bear hug and held her head close to his for a moment.

“They were like, going to leave us in the desert,” Nina said coming out from behind the boulders.  “Alex and Viktor, you should have killed them.” Nina’s face glowed red from anger, fear, or the sun.  Maybe all three.  They walked to Lyle’s car, Nina holding her blouse closed with one hand.

Lyle pointed to the revolver in Kate’s hand.  “I assume that’s the gun you took from Stark’s guys yesterday.”

“Yeah, that idiot Alex didn’t even search my purse.  Women don’t carry guns, do they?”

 

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Excerpt reveal: LIVIN’:  From the Amsterdam Red Light to the African Bush, by Frankie Hogan

Front ADN3395 Digest-Soft-Cover (1)Title: LIVIN’:  From the Amsterdam Red Light to the African Bush

Genre: non fiction

Author:  Frankie Hogan

Website: www.livintravelbook.com

Publisher: Wharton Reed

Find out more on Amazon

About the Book: In spite of a lifelong passion for travel, author Frankie Hogan admits that he often fell victim to “life getting in the way” until he decided, once and for all, to stop giving in to easy excuses, stop yielding to the reasons not to—and stop the cycle of procrastinating, putting off and waiting for the right time, the right circumstances, and the right companions.  It was time, Frankie decided, to get out there and see the world, to take in the history, nature and nightlife of places far away from home.  It was time to get out of his own way and travel—really travel—to off-the-beaten-path, exotic, far-flung destinations.  And Hogan, a South Philly native and streetwise everyman, did just that.  Livin’ is the story of the ride, the road, and the reward.

A travel guide like no other, Livin’ presents a first person look at the joys, the wonders, and the occasional woes of busting out of the comfort zone and seeing the world.  A tale told by a tour guide like no other—the affable, outspoken, and hilariously observant Frankie Hogan,  Livin’ is part memoir, part adventure story, part unconventional travel guide,  part laugh-out-loud narrative and totally irresistible.  Consider what would happen if you traveled the world with a Charles Bukowski-Jack Kerouac hybrid leading the way, and you will get a sense of what this tantalizing tome has to offer…

Unfiltered, uncensored, and unapologetic, Livin’ takes readers beyond the glossy brochures and postcards and lays bare the good, the bad, and the ugly.  A memoir that celebrates wanderlust (with its fair share of both wandering and lust) Livin’ is vibrant and vivid, irreverent and inspiring, uproariously ribald but abundantly real.

Come along for the ride as Hogan leads a tour from Egypt to South Africa, Amsterdam to Vietnam, Peru to Cambodia, India, China and more.  Livin’ is a larger-than-life tale about taking chances, conquering fears, taking the road less traveled and rolling with the punches.  A book that could inspire even the most steadfast homebody to hit the road, Livin’ is a journey in itself.

A hell of a storyteller with one hell of a story to tell, Frankie Hogan pulls no punches in this refreshingly candid narrative. Eminently readable and wholly unforgettable, Livin’ charms with its friendly, conversational tone and mesmerizes with its fascinating accounts of some of the most enviable travel destinations in the world. Moreover, Livin’ comes alive with Hogan’s colorful observations, joie de vivre, unmistakable wit and keen eye for the comical, the sublime, and the absurd.   Quite simply, Livin’ is a real trip.   

FH

About the Author: Frankie Hogan is an American writer, director and filmmaker. He is founder and principal partner of Corner Prophets Production Company, a film production company.  A native of South Philadelphia’s Grays Ferry neighborhood, Hogan lives in Los Angeles. Livin’ is Hogan’s first book—a book he wrote in hopes of inspiring others to stop making excuses, and make their dreams of travel a reality.

Links: https://www.facebook.com/Livin-by-Frankie-Hogan-483490791821612

https://www.facebook.com/Livin-by-Frankie-Hogan-483490791821612

www.livintravelbook.com

Excerpt:

 As noon approached, we split into different groups, depending on which optional tours were scheduled that afternoon. Two of our group, Austin and Brett, stayed put. They had chosen to bungee jump from the Victoria Falls Bridge between Zimbabwe and Zambia, with the falls as the backdrop. We watched one of the jumpers, and I give them credit; it takes balls. Not that I would have been against jumping myself, but I had a scheduling conflict. I was joining with the bulk of the group downtown to visit a local craft village. We walked the outdoor markets for an hour. There was good haggling to be done. However, the locals dealt in US dollars, and that priced up even local crafts. I was glad I had made it down to the market to meet some locals, but I was also glad I had done most of my shopping in South Africa. When I ventured back to our pick-up location, I ran into Laura and Luis. Laura was our group’s lone Mexican woman (who usually took longer than the rest of us to get through border control). She had brought her nephew Luis with her on the trip. Luis was wise for his age, wide-eyed eleven-year-old who had a look of amazement almost everywhere we went.

“Frank, I am glad to find you,” she blurted out while I (self-deprecatingly) wondered why.

She had booked the falls helicopter ride, which didn’t allow children younger than teens. That’s right. It was babysitting time. Really, it was no big deal. He was a great kid. “No problema,” I assured her. She was relieved when she hopped on a bus to the chopper helipad. Luis, Tom (who was sick from malaria meds), Singh, and I hopped another bus back to the lodge.

We let Tom limp back to his room and sleep it off (poor guy). Now where to take the kid and what to do? What does the responsible adult decide? To the bar and poker table! All right, all right, I kid. It wasn’t a bar, per se. We took him to the outdoor deck of the main cabin that overlooked the watering hole. Singh and I grabbed a beer and ordered Luis a ginger ale, and we all looked down at a family of impala. The kid was right at home too. With a genuine fascination, he recited facts about impala. You came to the right place, Luis. I was no slouch on animal behavior, and Singh knew his shit too. This was a Nat Geo kind of table. We circled around and traded different animal facts for the first half hour. We took out binoculars and my camera long lens and looked for hidden gems in the bush. Luis took out the deck of cards he had bought at the market. We decided to have a go at a game of poker. We played a few hands and then he balked at the fact that we had nothing to bet with.

“Okay, let’s play for dollars,” I dared him.

His grin grew wide and he immediately accepted. I was dealt two pairs and chuckled to myself.

“How much you bet?” I taunted him a bit.

“Five dollars,” he proclaimed.

“Are you sure?” I teased.

He confirmed with a nod, I agreed, and he laid down four of a kind. He gave me a coy grin.

“All right, no more games for money,” I said.

Hustled by an eleven-year-old. Singh had a good laugh. We then went down to the deck below and watched as swarms of vultures circled overhead. The hotel held a daily vulture feeding that the giant birds must have timed, as over fifty of them seemed to come from nowhere ten minutes before a staff member brought a tray of meat to the lower level. Their size and wingspan took center stage as they flocked to the kill. When Laura returned, I promised Luis I’d get him his money when we all grouped back up. He was on his way to an elephant-ride safari but was envious of where I was going, which was another place he was too young to visit. My optional tour for the afternoon was a lion walk.

When I first booked the lion walk, I had preconceived notions. The main attraction for me was to be out in the bush, in the lions’ territory, and hiking with the future kings of the joint. Another assumption was that they would be future kings. I believed the lions on the lion walk would be knee-high youngsters. Maybe a hundred pounds, but far from fully grown. This might have been reinforced by online pics of the walk. My walk proved half of those assumptions incorrect. Lilly, Singh, and Sharon joined me as our bus picked up tourists and volunteers. Some of the volunteers were there on summer holidays from their universities. Man, to have your shit together that young. First clue of the reality when we arrived was the safety talk and precautions. The guide passed out indemnity forms and basic legal paperwork.

“Here is where we sign our life away,” I joked.

“Yes, death by lion is now your choice,” the guide agreed. He went over safety tips. “We have teenage lions right now, and as those of you who are parents know, teenagers can switch their moods very fast.”

The humor by the guides on this tour was tip-top.

“Let’s keep you safe. The lions are the leaders here. You are now a part of their pride. Never walk in front of them. Keep behind their back legs. If they stop to scratch or lie down or go to the bathroom, you stop.

Do not pass them. You will receive walking sticks. If a lion makes eye contact with you and then approaches you face-on, take your stick, hold it out at arm’s length, and say ‘No!'” he continued.

We chuckled a bit. He did too but then concluded, “They know this word. But if a lion decides you are a meal, it will be hard to stop him.” His face was serious now. “Stay safe. We want you to be safe. There will be a gunman leading our group. This gunman is for other wild animals, not our lions. We are here for the preservation of these animals, not to become their food.”

It was a good reminder of the pecking order. Let’s do this.

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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

Measure CoverTitle: A Measure of Murder

Genre: Mystery

Author: Leslie Karst

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

Publisher: Crooked Lane

Find out more on Amazon

About the Book:

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

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

karst headshot

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

Connect with Leslie Karst on the Web:

http://www.lesliekarstauthor.com/

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

https://twitter.com/ljkarst

http://www.lesliekarstauthor.com/blog

 

EXCERPT

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Fire!”

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

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

The entire kitchen staff stood there, stunned.

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

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

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

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

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

“Really?” I said. “That’s weird.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Excerpt reveal: Beautiful Mess, by John Herrick

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

Genre: Fiction

Author: John Herrick

Websitewww.johnherrick.net

Publisher: Segue Blue

Find out more on Amazon

About the Book:

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

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

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

Connect with the Author on the Web:

www.johnherrick.net

https://www.facebook.com/johnherrickbooks

https://twitter.com/johnherrick

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

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

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

BEAUTIFUL MESS

JOHN HERRICK
EXCERPT

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

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

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

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

“Have you read this, Del?”

“I have.”

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

“She made herself vulnerable, no doubt.”

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

Del winced. “Arnie, cut it out.”

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

“But today—”

“—it’ll resurrect it.”

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

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

Del shrugged. “I never betrayed her.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Del leaned forward and locked eyes with his agent.

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

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

“Arnie—”

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

“I’ll be fine, Arnie. Trust me.”

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

“Agreed.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Agreed.”

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

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

‘Big’ didn’t do it justice.

This wasn’t just Marilyn’s final chance.

It was Del Corwyn’s, too.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: