Monthly Archives: October 2016

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

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Title: NAKED ALLIANCES

Genre: Mystery

Author: S.K. Nicholls

Website:  www.sknicholls.com

Publisher: Brave Blue Heron Books

Purchase on Amazon

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

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

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

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

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CHAPTER ONE

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

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

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

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

“Drive,” she screamed. “Drive!”

Richard raced to the intersection.

“Turn left here!” she ordered.

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

“Just do it!”

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

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

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

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

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

“Men with guns. Damn, I hate guns.”

“What men?”

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

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

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

“So, you ran with her?”

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

“Now what am I supposed to do?”

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

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

“I’m staying at the Parliament House.”

“The gay club?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It was a brief stint.”

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

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

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

“Cara Kieu.”

“Where do you live?”

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

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

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

“Yeah, I get that a lot.”

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

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

“Yeah, I get that a lot, too.”

“I notice things about men.”

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

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

“Hold on.”

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

“You’re going to get us killed!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Categories: Mystery, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Chapter reveal: Bullet in the Chamber, by John DeDakis

Cover art Bullet.jpgTitle:  BULLET IN THE CHAMBER

Genre:  Mystery

Author: John DeDakis

Website: http://johndedakis.com

Publisher: Strategic Media

Find out more on Amazon

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

About the Author:

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

Connect with the author on the web:

www.johndedakis.com

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

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

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/johnDeDakis

BULLET IN THE CHAMBER

By

John DeDakis

 CHAPTER

1

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

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

Intimidating.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHADWICK

Lark E.

AP

PRESS

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

“ID!” The Voice barked.

“I just showed it to you.”

“I need to see it up close.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He simply smiled.  At me.

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

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

“Thanks.”

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

“Okay, Ernie. Thanks for your help.”

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

I was inside the black bars of the perimeter fence.

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

“First time, huh?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

“How soon?”

“Friday,” he beamed.

“Wow.  And then what?”

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

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

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

I nodded.  “A.P.”

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

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

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

“Clinton.”

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

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

“What were you doing before here?”

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

“Family?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This is Lark,” I said.

“It’s Grigsby.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grigsby merely grunted and hung up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He stroked it and preened.  “You like?”

“Very distinguished.  What does Muriel think?”

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

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

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

“Yeah.  Right.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I pointed the camera toward the back of the room.

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

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

“Which chair’s that?”

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

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

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

“Thanks, Lionel.”

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

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

“Yup.  Better take your seat.”

“Which one is it?”

“Front row center.”

“Helen Thomas’s old seat?”

“The very same.”

I gulped.

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

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

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

The room buzzed with expectation.

“Better sit down, kid,” Lionel urged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, my God,” I blurted.

The entire press corps erupted in laughter.

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you, Mister President,” I hollered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Categories: Suspense, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Chapter reveal: Climatized, by Sally Fernandez

climatizedbookimageTitle: CLIMATIZED

Genre: Thriller

Author: Sally Fernandez

Website: www.sallyfernandez.com

Publisher: Dunham Books

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book:

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

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

About the Author:

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

Links: 

www.sallyfernandez.com

https://www.facebook.com/SallyFernandezNovelist

https://twitter.com/SallyzSaying

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

Chapter 1

UP IN THE AIR

Claus was pleased to see Ernst standing outside the hotel at

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

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

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

weekend called for conditions that were unseasonably sunny

with cloudless skies, abnormal conditions for an April day

without rain. He suspected the roads would be cluttered with

families opting to enjoy the various outdoor activities available in

the mountainous region. Most important, the weather was ideal

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

that the desire to climb coursed through his veins since receiving

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

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

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

promised to be a strenuous but invigorating climb, exactly what

Claus preferred.

Up ahead was the sign for Saint Léger du Ventoux.

They were about to pass through the quaint village in the

Toulourenc Valley at the base of the Mont Ventoux. The

immense mountain, towering six thousand feet into the air,

was well known for casting a permanent shadow on the tiny

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

they would reach their destination. Finally, Claus steered

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

visitors had arrived.

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

Saint Léger hovering above.

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

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

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

As Ernst followed behind he spotted myriad overhangs off in

the distance. “It looks challenging.”

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

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

you; she’s a tough old crag.”

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

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

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

brought your own climbing shoes,” he joked.

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

borrow your other gear.”

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

here to the base.”

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

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

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

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

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

They both understood that with or without the bolts that

provided protection, the descent was the most dangerous part of

rock climbing—the part they both enjoyed.

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

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

but he was primarily killing time.

 

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

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

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

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

ascent?”

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

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

opportunities to switch roles back and forth between the lead

climber and the belayer.

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

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

the air.

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

secured approximately twenty feet up the rock face.

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

“Absolutely!”

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

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

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

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

strength, but it’s not Dangerville.”

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

apparent.

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

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

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

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

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

It provided the necessary protection in case the leader was to

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

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

the rope allowing the belayer to tighten and secure the rope

quickly, preventing the leader from falling beyond the last piece

of protection.

Having maneuvered the rock face without incident and

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

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

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

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

half the distance, with Claus always in the lead.

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

proven his athletic prowess.

Claus gave the go-ahead.

Ernst moved upward toward the next bolt as Claus adjusted

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

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

again in the lead.

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

response. “C’mon, let’s move it!”

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

Moments later, he resumed the climb.

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

detached the rope, removing the tether from their harnesses,

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

view.

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

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

needed no verbal response. Immediately he opened his backpack

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

a crusty baguette.

Ernst grabbed two energy drinks and two protein bars from

his backpack.

They noshed leisurely on their snacks and carried on with

simple conversation while enjoying the refreshing cool air. But

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

mountain before losing the benefit of daylight. Within the next

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

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

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

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

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

leader and belayer as they had before.

Ernst walked over to the permanent bolt fastened to the rock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

missed Claus’ head.

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

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

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

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

They regained their cadence, taking special care as they

maneuvered past each other and descended the mountain.

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

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

the way.

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

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

seventy-five feet to the ground.

Dangling helplessly on the rope thirty feet below, Claus took

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

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

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

he thought as he shuddered.

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

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

and take your weight.”

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

Ernst to reach him.

“What the hell happened?”

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

was, “The bolt let go.”

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

“I don’t know!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Claus gradually returned to his former self, and their conversation

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

Ernst proceeded to recount horror stories from his earlier climbs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ernst’s quick action that saved them both.

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

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

least until after our climb tomorrow.”

“Point taken. So we’re still on?”

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

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

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

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

a sigh of relief.

Antoinette checked her watch and then checked the wall

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

moaning was useless and thought the Beaujolais wine might

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

sauntered into the living room and waited for her husband.

Unfortunately, her favorite Gamay grape from Burgundy was

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

unnecessary.

Antoinette recognized that Claus was an excellent climber.

He had tackled the Matterhorn frequently with his hiking

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

person concerned her, especially if she was not acquainted

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

another attendee during a weeklong conference. His name

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

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

approved on one condition—they would be off the mountain

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

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

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

sigh of relief.

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

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

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

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

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

effort to stifle any anger.

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

she saw the bruise on his forehead.

Claus assured his lovely wife that it was nothing and then

rotated his cupped hand as though he were holding an empty

wine glass.

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

thankful that he had arrived home safely.

Absolument!” he replied, amazed by her easy acquiescence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passo with him tomorrow. I agreed.”

Antoinette knew that Lou Passo was located in the same

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

considerably easier than Saint Léger. “Clau—”

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

response. “Je l’ai déjà dit oui.”

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

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

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

close friends.

 

Categories: Suspense, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Poetry Excerpt Reveal: ‘Night Ringing’ by Laura Foley

night-ringing

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

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

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

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

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

Buy Links:      Amazon  / Norwich Bookstore / B&N

Excerpt

Ode to My Feet

 

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

LauraBeach.jpg

Author Info

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

Author Links:  Website | Goodreads 

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

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

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Corporate Citizen, by Gabriel Valjan

5-ccTitle: Corporate Citizen: Roma Series Book Five

Genre: Mystery-Suspense/Thriller

Author: Gabriel Valjan

Website: www.gabrielvaljan.com

Publisher: Winter Goose Publishing

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

About the Book:

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

 

Excerpt from Corporate Citizen (Roma Series Book 5)

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

“This is he,” Gennaro answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you, Nurse.”

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

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

“You’re making no sense, Diego.”

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

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

“Thanks. My head feels light. Damn.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hello? Help me then.” Diego

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Please focus, Clemente,” Bianca said.

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

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

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

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

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

“Big red R!” Diego said triumphantly.

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

She said softly, “Fuck me.”

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

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

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

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

“Did he say anything else?” Bianca asked.

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

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

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

“We should go to Boston,” Gennaro said.

“He saw the red R.”

“I know. You should call Dante.”

“Do I really have to?” she asked.

“Yes, and you have to tell him.”

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

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

Red R meant Rendition.

 

Excerpt published with permission from Winter Goose Publishing

 

Categories: Suspense, Thriller, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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