Posts Tagged With: Suspense

Chapter reveal: Chickenhawk, by Arnaldo Lopez Jr.

arnaldo 2Title: Chickenhawk

Genre: Thriller

Author: Arnaldo Lopez Jr.

Publisher: Koehler Books/Café Con Leche books

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book:

Chickenhawk is an urban crime fiction novel that showcases New York City’s diversity, as well as the dark side of race relations, politics, sexuality, illness, madness, and infidelity. Eddie Ramos and Tommy Cucitti are Manhattan North Homicide detectives after a serial killer that manages to stay below their radar while the body count keeps climbing in a city that’s turning into a powder keg.

CHAPTER 1

ABE LOOKED AROUND the premises nervously. He didn’t like spending so much time with a customer. Earlier on, he had nearly bolted out of there when a patrol car, siren hooting and warbling, slowly moved up the street. He watched quietly as the strobed reflection of the car’s flashing lights alternately colored the facades of the surrounding buildings a vivid shade of red. Then white. Then red again. The colors bounced off the

windows of the nearby skyscrapers in blinding explosions of refracted light, spilling like spent fluid along the naked girders around him, disappearing then reappearing further away as they receded.

Abe nodded in the direction of the lights. “Don’t worry man,” he said. “That’s the last time they’re gonna come around tonight.”

The customer nodded in understanding. The police considered Abe and his fellow hustlers little more than pesky annoyances, lowlife perpetrators of victimless crimes who rarely even had the nerve to pick an occasional pocket. The well-heeled residents of this part of Midtown Manhattan, however, were not quite so forgiving. They convinced the local merchants to join them in demanding an increase in police surveillance in the area.

Not long after that, cops from the nearby precinct were assigned to make at least three nightly trips up Lexington Avenue from Fifty-First to Sixty-Eighth Streets, rousting and occasionally even arresting the young male prostitutes who worked the strip

2 C H I C K E N H A W K

and catered to the desires of the mostly suburban, married businessmen who comprised the bulk of their clientele; some of whom hailed from as far away as Connecticut.

Abe worked his hand feverishly, focusing on his customer’s now flaccid penis with disdain. Man, this is ridiculous, he thought as he gave the penis a shake, scattering droplets of semen and saliva into the night. If this guy’s dick doesn’t get hard again

in another few seconds, I’m just gonna tell ‘im to forget it. I mean, damn—I already sucked him off once! Abe again studied the expensive looking material that framed the limp penis in his hand before returning it to his mouth, This guy is gonna have to pay me something extra just for wasting my time, he thought. What made him think he could go twice anyway?

He let the still soft penis slip out of his mouth. A viscous strand of saliva, glistening like spider’s silk covered in morning dew, still connected Abe to his customer’s stubborn member.

Abe plucked the string of saliva and it collapsed into a fine mist.

He sighed agitatedly and made as if to get up. His customer stopped him by placing a strong but gentle hand on his shoulder.

“No, don’t get up,” he said.

Abe’s new denim pants creaked as he settled back down on his knees. The voice didn’t sound threatening or even particularly demanding. His customer had a deep, rich baritone voice, the kind that made you think of overstuffed leather chairs, mahogany bookcases, and giant oak desks. Clearly it was the voice of a wealthy and powerful man. Abe wished he had been blessed with a voice like that. If he had been, Abe could have

easily been an actor or a singer. Instead, he was just another homeboy giving blow jobs to rich guys from “The Island” at thirty bucks a pop. That was his reality.

“Keep doing what you’re doing,” that voice said. “It feels really good.”

Abe dismissed the thoughts he was having moments before and shrugged. “I don’t care how good it feels to you man,” he said. He winced at how high and whiney his own voice sounded.

“It’s taking you too fuckin’ long. I’m either gonna catch a cramp or the fuckin’ cops are gonna bust us.”

Abe flinched in surprise when his customer raised an immaculately manicured left hand. The gold ring on the third finger flashed cold fire as his hand settled on Abe’s head. Long, thick fingers lost themselves in the thick mat of tousled black curls, then gently extricated themselves. The man stroked Abe’s hair. It drove Abe crazy. He hated when they did that.

Finally, Abe felt the penis in his hand stiffen. “About fuckin’ time,” he muttered to himself.

“Ah yeah,” the customer groaned with a contented sigh. “I knew you could get it up for me again, you little cocksucker, and I do mean that literally.”

Abe didn’t like anyone calling him names.

“You little spic bitch,” the man with the rich voice continued softly. “You love sucking white cock, don’t you?”

That was the last straw for Abe. He sprung to his feet. “Man, fuck this shit,” he whispered harshly, his anger tempered by the prospect of being detected by the police. He’d had enough and couldn’t stomach this asshole any longer.

The man with the great voice just stood there, a bemused expression on his face, and watched Abe’s reaction and growing anger. His now fully erect penis pointed at Abe’s chin like an obscene divining rod. He crossed his arms and thrust his hips forward in an exaggerated motion. His penis bounced up and down, and swung in circles as if held up by an invisible wire.

“Come on Pancho,” he said, making that great voice ugly now. “Or do you think I should save some for your mamasita, huh? I bet she’s the one who taught you how to suck cock! Or maybe it was your papasita? Is that it Pancho?

Abe charged at the man with a roar burning in his throat.

His rage could no longer be contained, police or no police.

Then a sudden move that Abe did not see coming. It was a blur and before he had a chance to react, it was too late. Abe saw his customer pull a gun from under his jacket. So many thoughts ran through his mind at once. It’s huge. Black. A revolver. The barrel is impossibly long, it can’t be real…

Reality was a sledgehammer jolt of shock and pain as the gun’s barrel was shoved into Abe’s mouth—gouging lips and splintering teeth. Abe tried to pull his head back, but the other man gripped the back of his neck and kept feeding him the gun.

He tried to scream but nearly gagged on his own blood. The only sound he managed to make was a gurgling cough.

4 C H I C K E N H A W K

“Ah, you like that, don’t you?” It was the rich man’s voice again. “Tell you what,” he continued. “You’re going to give my friend here,” indicating the gun he was holding, “the best goddamn blow job of your miserable life.” The man moved his face closer to Abe’s, almost whispering in his ear. “Only this time,” he said. “You—better—hope—it—doesn’t—cum!

Abe squeezed his watering eyes shut, tears searing twin rivulets of molten fear down his quivering face. He could feel the gun’s barrel slide back and forth in his mouth, mimicking the act of fellatio. Ice-cold shards of pain shot through his body as the gun barrel rubbed against the newly exposed nerves of his shattered teeth.

“That’s it now. Oh-h, you’re doing a wonderful job. Good. Good.”

More tears welled up in Abe’s eyes and coursed down his cheeks. His mind was a hodgepodge of frantic thought.

This fuckin’ guy’s crazy! How can I get outta this? Who is this guy? Maybe I can snatch the gun away! Why me? What will mom and pop think when the cops tell them how I died?

Oh shit! Oh shit! OH SHIT! Oh my God, I’m gonna fuckin’ die! Abe pressed his eyes shut and felt more hot tears run down his face where they mixed with the clear mucus that was now running freely from his nose.

Then, the in and out motion of the gun barrel stopped. It was the most frightening moment of Abe’s young life. He literally wet his pants.

Abe waited. A heartbeat. Two. Three. He opened his eyes.

The crazy man with the beautiful voice was staring at him. His eyes were terrible to look at. Empty.

“I’m cumming.”

The man with the rich voice pulled the trigger on the big, old revolver. The tension of the pull. The sudden release of the hammer. The smell of burnt gunpowder. It was all familiar to him now, but he still jumped at the gun’s loud report.

The slug pierced the boy’s soft palette, drove neatly through his brain, and then flattened somewhat on impact with the inside of Abe’s skull. It exited the back of Abe’s head, compressed almost to the diameter of a nickel, and created a wound on its

way out big enough for a man to put his fist through.

The boy fell back, his knees still bent, a spray of blood and brain tissue that had erupted from his now shattered head soiled the fence behind him.

The killer slowly lowered his still smoking gun. He turned and started to walk away, then stopped.

The trembling started in his knees and worked its way up to his shoulders and arms. Soon he shivered so violently his teeth chattered. Every hair on his body stood painfully on end. His eyes watered uncontrollably and distorted his vision. Then, just as suddenly as it started, the episode ended. A monstrous headache remained in its wake.

The killer whipped around, eyes wild, face shiny with sweat. Shakily, he aimed his gun in the direction of the youth he’d just murdered.

“You sonofabitch!” He yelled. “You gave me this shit! But if I have to die, you’re going to die—all of you bastards are going to die! You hear me? Hear me?”

He thumbed back the hammer of the gun. The long, black barrel telegraphed the trembling in his hand. He stood that way for several seconds as light drizzle fell to earth and the rage melted from his eyes. He sniffed and lowered the gun, simultaneously easing the hammer back into place.

A brief coughing jag shook him then. It was a wet, roiling noise that bubbled up from the depths of his sickened lungs. He cleared his throat, hawked, and spat out a thick wad of greenish phlegm. Then, shoes crunching on broken glass and gravel, he left the construction site and the scene of the murder.

Eyes darting to and fro, he took pains not to be seen. He stayed in the shadows and mentally cursed the bright lights that almost seemed to increase in incandescence at his approach. He tucked the gun into his waistband and headed for the darkened

subway entrance at 53rd Street.

This entrance to the subway used to be closed at night, and so was a popular meeting place for the young male prostitutes who plied their trade here. Now that the entrance was open around the clock, business had to be conducted a bit more discreetly,

such as construction sites, under stairwells, the freight or delivery bays of some of the older buildings and department stores, and, of course, inside hastily parked cars.

The subway entrance remained the primary meeting place, however, where deals were made, prices quoted, and acts performed.

He walked down the subway steps and entered the station, the bright fluorescent lights hurt his eyes after the relative darkness of the night outside. He hunched down into his jacket, hands in pockets, and looked around furtively.

He walked quickly past the token booth and stole a glance in its direction, avoiding the bored glances of the workers inside, and continued walking toward the opposite stairway. He mounted the steps two at a time until he was back outside. By exiting through this stairway, he was now about a block away from where his victim’s corpse lay growing cold and stiff on the ground.

A moment later there was the soft sound of a car door being closed, an engine turning over, and a car  being driven away into the night. The sidewalk was deserted.

Categories: Crime, Mystery | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Turning To Stone, by Gabriel Valjan

TurningtoStone_FlatforeBooks (1)Title: Turning To Stone

Genre: Mystery, Suspense

Author: Gabriel Valjan

Website: http://wintergoosepublishing.com

Publisher: Winter Goose Publishing

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

About the Book:

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

Excerpt from Turning To Stone by Gabriel Valjan1

He was back at work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post-coital endorphins and paranoia did not mix well.

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

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

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

Cigarette pack and lighter.

Asshole.

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

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

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

“Good to see you,” said Ste.

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

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

“I’m good,” said Farrugia.

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

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

“This is new, out of Foggia.”

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

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

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

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

“Fake currency.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good faith? What does that mean?”

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

“Is it any good?”

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

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

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

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

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

Cigarette smoke lingered near his face.

“What do you say?” Ste asked.

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

More smoke.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why?” Farrugia asked.

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

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

Turning To Stone

COPYRIGHT © 2015 by Gabriel Valjan

Excerpt appears courtesy of Winter Goose Publishing

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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

end_of_healing_bookTitle: The End of Healing

Genre: Suspense

Author: Dr. Jim Bailey

Websitewww.endofhealing.com

Publisher: The Healthy City

Purchase on Amazon

SUMMARY:  

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

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

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

Prologue

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

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

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

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

Let us go with him and see.

Dante Alighieri

1 

The Dark Ward 

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

Dante Alighieri, Inferno 1, 1 – 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What medicine was she taking?”

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

“Hydrochlorothiazide?”

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

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

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

“When did she last see her physician?”

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

“She lost her insurance?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AAAAAAAAAA!       AAAAAAAAAA!       AAAAAAAAAA!

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

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

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

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

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

AAAAAAAAAA!       AAAAAAAAAA!       AAAAAAAAAA!

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

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

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

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

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

AAAAAAAAAA!       AAAAAAAAAA!       AAAAAAAAAA!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You know my name?”

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

“My interests?”

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

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

“You’re a third-year resident?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And your plans?”

“I’m thinking cardiology.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It sounded more like a command than an invitation.

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

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

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The Mark on Eve, by Joel Fox

Cover (3)Title: The Mark on Eve

Genre: Suspense

Author: Joel Fox

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

Publisher: Bronze Circle Books

Purchase on Amazon  

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

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

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

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

Excerpt:

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

“Jokes?”

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

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

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

“Not me. Never me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instantly, Eve knew the target: Governor Judith Rhodes.

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

CHAPTER 3

New England, 1717

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Hidden Element, by Donna Galanti

?????????????????????????????????????????????Title: A Hidden Element

Genre: Paranormal Suspense

Author: Donna Galanti

Website: www.ElementTrilogy.com

Publisher: Imajin Books

Purchase on Amazon

In A Hidden Element evil lurks within…

When Caleb Madroc is used against his will as part of his father’s plan to breed a secret community and infiltrate society with their unique powers, he vows to save his oppressed people and the two children kept from him. Seven years later, Laura and Ben Fieldstone’s son is abducted, and they are forced to trust a madman’s son who puts his life on the line to save them all. The enemy’s desire to own them—or destroy them—leads to a survival showdown. Laura and Ben must risk everything to defeat a new nemesis that wants to rule the world with their son, and Caleb may be their only hope—if he survives. But must he sacrifice what he most desires to do so?

CHAPTER 1: The Beginning

Silent dark hung under a star-filled sky.

The dark deepened as they headed into the forest. Ancient conifers towered over them, blocking out the moon. Rain fell cold and lifeless. The nearest town of Benevolence, Oregon, was five miles northwest.

Caleb Madroc’s father stood across from him, waiting for his people to gather their belongings. Their pale faces glowed like orbs within gray hooded robes as they waited for his father’s instruction.

“We head toward town,” his father ordered. Caleb opened his mouth, but there were no words for his feelings of anger and loss at suddenly leaving the only home he’d ever known. It raged inside him, a tumult of emotion he must quell for now. At least his own black hair, like his face, was a constant reminder of his mother to his father. This made him glad.

Caleb shut his mouth and nodded, stepping in behind his father. Rain fell cold and lifeless. He fell behind as he helped the womenfolk with their bags. One young female sent him a furtive, desperate look as she touched his hand in passing.

I’m so scared. What will happen to us?

He smiled at her. Keep your thoughts to yourself. It’s safer this way. All will work out once we settle. She bit her lip, her eyes full of tears, and nodded looking back down at her feet.

“Father, how much further? Some of the younger females are struggling,” Caleb said.

His father’s eyes stung him through the mist rising up from the forest floor. They were eyes so different from his, and from his mother’s. Caleb had often seen sadness and pity for his father in his mother’s eyes. The day he had found her dead in the well her eyes held only nothingness.

“Can’t we stop and rest, Adrian?” A few in the group grumbled. They looked wet and tired, a sea of gray flowing before him. His father glowered at their weakness. As Caleb scanned the sodden crowd a female smiled at his father, holding the promise of submission. Perfect for his father, who wanted to breed another son to take his place. A worthy son.

“We do not stop.” His father’s voice rose over the line of people before him, and he smiled back at the female and a strange sense of relief washed over Caleb. If his father did create a new prodigal son to groom it might remove his first born from his watchful eye.

With that thought, anguish over his mother’s absence hit him fresh again. At eighteen and bigger than his father, he still needed his mother. She had been his kindred spirit, like Uncle Brahm. But now he was alone in this strange place. No longer did he have someone to be his true self with. He must step carefully.

His father continued to scan his flock. They stood still and silent, conveying their subservience. He nodded, apparently satisfied with their response. “You all took the oath to come here. Hard work lies before us in breeding our new community. Understood?”

They nodded in a collective wave.

Just like you bred with Aunt Manta while your wife lay dead? Caleb spewed out in his head without thinking.

His father moved closer, until his flaring nostrils touched his. Caleb stepped back, but his father gripped his arm. Dozens of eyes watched their battle.

Do not ever mention my brother’s wife’s name again, Son.

His father’s fingers pinched him hard and his hot breath pulsed across his face, but Caleb couldn’t stop. Mother’s dead because of you. And what about Aunt Manta? Did you kill her, too?

I didn’t kill anyone. And your mother should have been more careful.

You let her travel alone. She fell and died because she was alone.

It was your well, Caleb, she fell into. Your hideaway you carelessly covered up. Your fault.

His father’s accusations stabbed him with painful truth. He sucked in his breath. My fault. Yes. My fault.

He looked around the watchful crowd as his head reeled with the agony of what he had done. His people stared back at him, their thoughts hid behind blank faces. Why did they come? Didn’t they have dreams and wants and needs of their own, too? Or were they all obedient drones of his father?

His father thrust his arm away and turned around, plunging faster through the woods. Caleb hesitated then followed behind, trying to keep up. He envisioned himself standing still until everyone glided around him, leaving him to remain alone under a watchful moon.

Branches snagged his robe shooting him back to reality. His father’s people followed in silence. If they didn’t obey there would be consequences. As Caleb knew. He had no special privilege here as Adrian’s son.

At last his father stepped out onto a paved road. It stretched far into the distance, where welcoming lights beckoned them across the final mile. They reached the main intersection of town. A car flashed by. A radio blared. Faces stared out at them. He stared back. They were so different from himself and yet…not.

He broke his gaze realizing how out of place this group looked late at night. The people here wore jeans and shirts, the shapes of their bodies outlined under tight clothes. The female’s curves called to him, unlike his people who clothed themselves in shapeless robes to discourage free sexual thoughts. They were now to breed only with those chosen for them.

His father led them single file down the sidewalk. A handful of people sat behind windows drinking. They pointed at them as they walked by. “Gillian’s Bar” flashed in neon green above the doorway in the late evening hours. A man and woman, heading into the bar, stepped back from the sidewalk to watch them pass. Freaks, he heard the man say. And his father erased the memory of the encounter from these strangers’ minds in the seconds it took to pass them.

“Father,” Caleb whispered in his ear. “Where are we going?”

A large building rose at the far end of a parking lot. “Ray’s Lots” blinked over and over.

“Here is where we go.”

A woman pushed a cart filled with bags to her car, the only car left in the lot. She stopped and stared at them. Her hair framed her face in tight curls. A blue and white striped dress strained to contain her breasts and belly.

“Good evening, brothers,” she said with a hesitant smile.

His father motioned for them to stop. He smiled at her. She smiled back.

“Good evening, madam,” his father drawled.

“God bless you.” She grabbed his father’s hand. Caleb swallowed a laugh at the way his father looked at her with such a serious, doting face.

“And God bless you, my child.”

“What church are you with?” The woman fingered a cross at her neck. “Are you having an event in town?”

His father had said a church was the perfect cover. One of the many cultural ways learned before infiltration. All part of his father’s master plan.

“It’s the Church of Elyon,” his father said.

The woman took her hand away and frowned. “Never heard of it. You’re not one those crazy cults are you?”

Caleb stepped to his father’s side. Let me work her mind, Father. “What’s your name, Madam?”

“Sally.”

“I’m Caleb Madroc.” He shook her hand hoping his father didn’t have some depraved mission in mind. Caleb wanted to get food for their hungry group and shelter and have as little interaction with these town people as possible. “We’re simple folks. Our bus broke down outside of town. We seek food and a place to stay nearby. Can you help us?”

“What a nice young man you are. Of course I can help you.” She abandoned her cart and pulled Caleb toward the store. “My cousin runs this store and can stock you up with food. And the Mercenary Motel is down the street.”

He didn’t understand her eagerness as she dragged him along then it was made clear by his father’s mirthful laugh. His father had probed her mind and now controlled it—she would do whatever he commanded.

Caleb followed her into the store. Their people streamed in behind. Sally dragged him to a counter where a short red-faced man scowled at them. “Ray, these folks are here in town from a wonderful church. Their bus broke down and they need food.”

Within seconds Ray’s frown changed to a wide grin as Caleb’s father continued his mind games. “Come in, come in. Time to close up anyhow.” He flicked the sign on the front door and shut off the lights outside.

“Thank you,” his father said. “I need food here for my flock before we find a place to stay.”

“Help yourself to anything you want.” Ray ran his hands over shelves. “Pretzels, baked beans, cereal, Ding Dongs. We even sell the word of the Lord.” Sally and Ray beamed at them.

His father directed everyone to gather food and drinks. Sally and Ray stood by the counter, their minds blank except for what his father put into them. He dared not combat his father’s powers. Not here. Not now. But someday.

“Ray, I need all your money now,” his father said.

Ray clapped his hands together. “Of course.” He pulled money from a nearby metal box.

When his father’s bag burst full of items he handed it to a community member and cocked his head at Ray and Sally. “Time to go now, my new friends.” He motioned his people out the door. Ray and Sally stood with stupid smiles on their faces as the group filed out into the parking lot. All, except his father.

“Come on, Father,” Caleb pleaded, the dark knot in his stomach hardened. “Our job here is done.”

“Not quite.” His father moved toward the smiling cousins, a book in his hand. The Holy Bible. He thumbed through it to a passage and looked up smiling. “As for God, his way is perfect, is it not?”

“The word of God is true,” Sally sang out, clutching Ray’s hand. Her cousin nodded.

“Ray, isn’t Sally lovely? Look at her.” His father pointed at the heavy set woman.

Ray turned to Sally. His pants bulged and Sally’s eyes widened. She tugged on her dress top.

“Have your way with her Ray, you know you want to.”

“Father,” Caleb whispered, clutching at him but his father stayed his hand.

Ray licked his lips and nodded.

“Sally, unzip your fine dress and show Ray what you’ve got.”

Sally stepped out of her dress in a motion more fluid than one would have thought possible given her size. Her belly oozed over her thighs and her bra cut into her mountainous breasts. Ray panted, tapping his hands against his skinny legs.

Caleb moved toward the door.

“Stay, Son, I want you to watch this.”

“I won’t.”

“You will or you know what will happen.”

Caleb stopped and sighed, looking down at the floor. Eyes watched from the parking lot.

“Look.”

Caleb focused on the dirt in the floor cracks. His muscles twitched with anger. His father thrived on his hate, wanted him to hate—wanted his son to be a Destroyer like him. They had hidden their true selves for so long and now were free here to unleash it. Not Caleb. He refused to give in to the dark inside. He tried to release the hate for his father, but it now filled his every pore. He made a vow right then and there, he’d never allow himself to be controlled. No matter the consequences.

He finally looked up. His father nodded, pleased, and turned back to his playthings. Ray massaged his crotch. Sally moaned, squeezing her mammoth breasts, and stepped out of her underwear.

“Take her, Ray. Bend her right over the counter. Dive into all her lushness.”

“Lush, yes.” Ray moved toward Sally, fumbling to unbuckle his pants. She squealed with glee and bent over the counter to receive him, her white bottom rising like a pitted sea of blubber. Ray mounted her, forged a path through her two white mountains, and slapped up against her in his glory.

“Lordy, Lordy,” Sally sang out as she bounced up and down.

“Now that’s wholesome entertainment.” His father jabbed him. Caleb jerked away. “They’re both enjoying it.”

Caleb clenched his fists and shoved them in his pockets. “Can we go now?”

“Yes, Son, only one more thing to do.”

His father pulled out something that looked like a handle. He flicked it open to reveal a small knife he must have picked up in the hardware section. He placed it next to Ray on the counter. Sweat flicked off the red-faced man’s forehead as he plunged into buttery flesh.

“Ray, enjoying yourself?”

Ray grunted and grabbed on to Sally’s hips, sinking into her expanse. She moaned again in delight as her buttocks shuddered.

“Good. When you’re done fucking, kill the bitch.”

His father strode out the door, pulling Caleb along with him.

“Father, no.” Caleb struggled against him as his father shoved him hard through the door. Caleb spiraled his thoughts into Ray’s brain. Stop, Ray! She’s your cousin, your family!

Ray stopped his thrusting as if listening to Caleb, but his father’s punch to his face ended his brain probe. Caleb staggered back, blood gushing from his nose. Ray straightened his head and rammed into Sally with a loud groan. Caleb drew his hand back but his father’s fingers crushed his forearm. He fell to his knees. Blood spattered down his gray robe. The flock widened their circle, silent and watching. His father led as both law maker and enforcer.

“These lowly forms of life must be controlled,” his father said. “We’ve studied their ways. Now, this first act is how we begin their demise and our rule. We will grow in number with our selected breeding and thrive as these useless beings die out. Watch this historic moment, Son, for anyone who turns away will be marked weak…and unworthy.”

All eyes turned to the inside of the store as the desperate carnal scene played out to the end.

“I hate you,” Caleb whispered, watching the forced lovers before him.

His father smiled at him in satisfaction.

Ray arched his back with a moan and finished his business. Sally squealed and pressed up against him. And when Ray raised his knife and plunged into Sally in new ways, she squealed again. And again. Her blood ran onto scuffed tiles and still she squealed. And then she stopped.

Tears filled Caleb’s eyes and he closed them against the evil scene.

His father laughed. “Don’t you see, Son?” He shook The Holy Bible at him. “I am their Way, their Truth, their Life—and Death.”

Caleb did not answer. He remained inside his dark prison and swore someday he would end his father’s rule.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Supernatural, Suspense, Thriller | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Disappearance of Jessie Hunter By Richard Williams Book Feature


ABOUT THE DISAPPEARANCE OF JESSIE HUNTER

 


9781475999365_COVER_FQA.inddTitle:
 The Disappearance of Jessie Hunter
Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Author: Richard Williams
Publisher: iUniverse
Pages: 174
Language: English
ISBN – 978-1-47599-936-5

Jessie Hunter is spoiled and always has been. He is in college when his father unexpectedly dies, and he must return home to sort out the family funds. Jessie expects to become lord of the manor, taking over his father’s business and land and becoming the high-powered man his father always wanted him to be. But nothing is as it appears to be.

Jessie soon comes to suspect that his father was murdered and that whoever killed his father now wants Jessie dead as well. He can’t be sure why, but he knows he’s being hunted and must go on the run. Jessie must place his trust in an estranged uncle he never knew in order to stay alive.

Now in hiding, Jessie leans on others to find safety and answers. But how will this spoiled, sheltered young man be able to solve the mystery of his father’s death? In order to get his life back, Jessie must be strong or end up dead at the hands of his father’s assassin.

Purchase your copy:

iuniverse

Could you please tell us a little about your book?

The story is about a young man named Jessie who is going home because of the death of his father. Jessie and his dad haven’t been that close the last few years of his father’s life and now he had to go home to find out the truth about his father’s death. He meets his uncle that he really never knew, only to find out that there was more to him than just the casual glance would reveal. Jessie finds himself having to fake his own death and go into hiding. But what he learns during that time is what is going to help make him the man his father always wanted to be.

Who or what is the inspiration behind this book?

Really no one is the inspiration behind the book as far as it being a real person. It was just a thought that came to me one day and I just kept running it through my mind until I came up with a story line that I liked.

What cause are you most passionate about and why?

That’s easy. My family is what I am the most passionate about. I have been blessed to have a loving wife for over forty years. We are blessed to have two wonderful kids and two very wonderful grandkids. I came from a broken home, so please believe me when I say that I am very passionate about family. They are my life and what keeps me grounded.

Do you have any rituals you follow when you finish a piece of work?

Yes, First I read over it, and then I put it down for a few weeks, take time to allow my mind to rest, and then I reread it again. Also, I take my wife out to the café’ for a latte.

Who has influenced you throughout your writing career?

The main person would have to be my wife. She has always believed in me and stood behind me. She has always been my strength and my love. Love is the most powerful inspiration you will ever find.

What are some of your long term goals?

First to see this book really be successful, and then to write the next book in this series.


ABOUT RICHARD WILLIAMS

Richard Williams is also the author of the Guardians series. He and his wife, Janice, have two children and two grandchildren. They currently live in Mississippi with their two shelties.

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China Red by Ralph Sanborn Book Blitz – Win a $25 Amazon Gift Card!

ABOUT CHINA RED

 

China RedTitle: China Red
Genre: Suspense/Thriller
Author: Ralph Sanborn
Publisher: iUniverse
EBook: 292 pages
Release Date: April 8, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-47598-293-0

Heroin, called “China Red” on the street, is being smuggled into the United States. Zhou Jing—who fancies himself a fifteenth-century Chinese warlord, is using Muslim Uighers in western China to produce the heroin. In exchange, Zhou arms, trains, and provides security from the Chinese government for the Uighers.

Caleb Frost is a professional assassin in a deep cover, black operations team that specializes in wet work. His team includes two ex-Navy SEALs and a Greek beauty and former New York City escort. Funded by the US government, the team operates autonomously in total secrecy. China hires Caleb’s team to destroy, with prejudice, the smuggling operation in the US.

Zhou’s partner is a brilliant, psychopathic killer—a Harvard Business School graduate named Wrath. He founded the Visigoths MC, a hard riding, vicious motorcycle gang which protects, delivers, and collects payment for the heroin shipments. When matters become personal and Caleb’s sister Rebecca is kidnapped, the team’s task gets messier. It becomes more than an “assassination engagement” for Caleb—it becomes a bloodthirsty vendetta.

“This tornado of a thriller drags the reader into a world of guns, bombs, swords and death and won’t let go.”
-Rob Swigart, Author of The Delphi Agenda

“China Red plunges the reader into a world of evil intrigue and high adventure. You won’t be able to put it down.”
-Antoinette May, author of The Sacred Well, Pilate’s Wife,
and Haunted Houses of California

iUniverse

 

ABOUT RALPH SANBORN

 

Ralph Sanborn was raised in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and earned a degree in psychology from St. Lawrence University. He has lived in several different countries and worked in a variety of manufacturing and software enterprise marketing capacities. He currently lives in Northern California with his wife, Susan, and their two dogs.

 

Pump Up Your Book and Ralph are teaming up to give away a $25 Amazon Gift Card!

Terms & Conditions:
  • By entering the giveaway, you are confirming you are at least 18 years old.
  • 1 winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter to receive each of the prizes
  • This giveaway begins March 24 and ends on April 4.
  • Winners will be contacted via email on April 5, 2014.
  • Winner has 48 hours to reply.

Good luck everyone!

ENTER TO WIN!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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First Chapter Reveal: Hitler’s Silver Box, by Allen Malnak

ATT00002Title: Hitler’s Silver Box
Author: Allen Malnak
Imprint: Two Harbors Press
Page Count: 328
Price US: $16.95
Genre: historical thriller

Novel’s WEBSITE

Purchase the book on Amazon and B&N.

A modern day historical thriller set in Chicago, begins with an elderly bookseller and Holocaust survivor, Max Bloomberg, being brutally murdered in his own home by a trio of thugs. Max’s closest relative, Dr. BRUCE STARKMAN, chief ER resident at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital is shocked when he learns his Holocaust survivor uncle is dead—his body already cremated, a violation of Uncle Max’s Orthodox Jewish views. A change in the will shortly before Max’s death provides a clue, allowing Bruce to find a hidden journal in Max’s handwriting detailing his uncle’s ordeal some fifty years before, during which Max is ordered by a Waffen SS Colonel to craft a silver box which is to be a birthday present for Hitler. The silver box contains a document written by Nazi leaders, which if discovered will lead to a worldwide Nazi resurgence. Max manages to hide the birthday gift after a strafing run interrupts their journey to Berlin to present the box.

Bruce decides to try and find the box and to solve the mystery of his Uncle’s untimely demise. He and a gorgeous Israeli female companion are followed by the thugs, who turn out to be present day Nazis intent on reviving the Reich.

The novel leads from Chicago to Paris to Prague in swift, hair-raising turns. And the novel concludes with a nearly heart-stopping climax.

The full journal of Max Bloomberg is included in the book and alone, is worth the cover price.

————————————–

PROLOGUE

Moscow: Wednesday, October 12, 1994

Daylight was fading on the late autumn day as Vasilevich made his way up from the subway and plodded the five blocks to his modest apartment in the Petrovka district.

The file clerk took the rattling elevator to the tenth floor, unlocked the heavy door, and began peeling off his coat. He momentarily wondered why there was no pleasant odor of shchi, his wife’s delicious cabbage soup, when out of the corner of his eye he noticed a tall stranger holding a handgun.

He carefully raised his hands and turned to face the man, forcing himself to move slowly and keep his breathing even. It was probably just a robbery, not unusual with the soaring number of drug addicts in Moscow. He’d give the man what money he had, and probably be fine.

But the intruder was too well dressed, too clean to be an addict. He waved his weapon and placed a finger over his lips. “Put down your hands and sit.” Passable Russian, but with a heavy German accent.

Vasilevich sank slowly into a large armchair in a corner.

“I’m not here to harm you,” the man said, “but don’t provoke me. You are Danislav Vasilevich, and you work for Rudolph Pikhoia?”

Vasilevich’s mouth became dry, and he had trouble forming the words. “Who are you? Where’s my wife? What do you want?”

The intruder waved his hand in a calming manner and spoke softly. “It’ll be better if you just listen and answer my questions. Then, perhaps, I’ll answer yours.”

Vasilevich took a deep breath to try to calm himself. Something strange and deep was going on here, but it left him with no choice but to obey. He lifted his chin. “Director Pikhoia is the chairman of the State Archival Service of the Russian Federation. While I work in the archives office, I’ve only met the director once. I’m just a clerk … a clerk. You must need someone higher up.” Knots formed in his stomach, and a wave of nausea hit. “Please, where’s my wife?”

The stranger smiled. “Svetlana is a lovely young woman. Don’t worry. No harm will come to her. Not if you pay attention to what I want.”

The gunman knew her name. And his. And where he worked. What were they doing to her? Vasilevich stood and took a step toward the armed man. “If you harm her … .”

The intruder waved the automatic again and said in an almost-kindly manner, “Sit back down and listen. My needs are simple. We know you have access to many German documents from what you Russians still call the Great Patriotic War.” The man pulled out a small notebook. “They are kept in the … Central State Special Archive, division 14B, room 2.” He returned the notebook to a pocket. “We need a small amount of information. If you obtain it without letting anyone know what you have done and deliver it to me, you’ll have enough rubles to enjoy a nice seaside vacation. With your wife.”

“My Sveta. You’ve not harmed her? Please don’t. She’s … very sensitive.” He heard a quiver in his voice but was beyond embarrassment.

“The Soviets captured a camp in the Czech Republic called Theresienstadt.”

“I mostly file old documents. I’m able to read some German, but I usually only read enough to get an idea of the contents, so the papers can be properly classified. Our great Soviet armies liberated a number of concentration camps. I can’t remember hearing that name before. Frankly, I’ve never paid much attention to what happened such a long time ago.”

“That’s not important. The Soviet NKVD grabbed many records from the camps, and we’ve discovered these documents are now in your Archives of the Russian Federation. We need you to find certain information and bring it to us. Quickly. You must start your search tomorrow.”

The Russian shook his head and was on the verge of tears. “Not easy. We need special permission to enter areas we aren’t assigned to.”

The German’s face registered no emotion. “I’m sure you can deal with that. I don’t want to spell out what will happen if you fail. Listen carefully now. No notes. Nothing ever in writing, except copies of the information I need. Back in 1945 an SS Colonel Steinhauser had a prisoner make a silver box while in Theresienstadt. I must know the name of that silversmith. It has to be in the archives here. My countrymen kept excellent records. I need any and all information about this prisoner. Everything. Understand?”

“But, what if—?”

The German speaker didn’t allow Vasilevich to finish. “Better you should not think of that.”

The man reached into his pocket and handed the Russian a cellular phone. “Tomorrow at this time, I’ll call you. Let the phone ring without answering. Then go at once to the Cafe Gallery. You know the place?”

“I know where it is. Not far from here.” He frowned and shook his head. “Never been there. Too expensive a restaurant for people like us.”

The intruder handed the young Russian a small stack of rubles. “Order a meal and start to eat. Sit near a window. While you’re eating, I’ll call you again. If you have the information, simply say ‘I’m busy.’ Otherwise, just say, ‘You have the wrong number.’ Better that you be busy. Understand?”

Still shaking and still sick to his stomach, Vasilevich simply nodded.

“I’ll give you instructions about delivery tomorrow. Remember, not a word to anyone if you want your lovely Sveta back home unharmed. Now sit on the floor and face away from the door.”

Unable to think of any other response, Vasilevich obeyed.

As the German opened the door, he murmured, “Remember, your wife’s life is in your hands. We have informers everywhere, so don’t do anything you’ll regret.”

And he was gone.

A few minutes later, just as he calmly exited the building, a shiny black Mercedes pulled up alongside. He jumped in before the car came to a full stop, and was whisked away.

“And so, Gerhard, did it work out?” the driver asked in German. “Can he do it?”

Gerhard nodded. “Your information on the archivist was correct. I think it’ll work.”

“Suppose he does obtain what we need to know about that Jew,” the driver went on, “how do we handle him and his woman, after we get it?”

“No question about Herr Vasilevich. He has to be erased. An accident. Can you arrange it?” His contact had better be able to, or of what use was he?

“Shouldn’t be a problem. And the lady?”

“That depends. Did she see or hear anything? Has she been touched by your people? You know what I mean.”

“Absolutely not. She was blindfolded and kept isolated. Given food and water. No one has spoken to her, except a few whispers. We even made her wear earplugs. She has a little bell she can ring with her fingers if she needs to use the facilities.”

Gerhard’s expression conveyed indifference. “In that case, no matter how this turns out, just take her somewhere, give her a few thousand rubles, and turn her loose. She’s young and pretty. She can still have a life.”

You’ve entered a different world from the one you knew. At home, we planted gardens. Here we only plant the dead.

Max Bloomberg’s journal

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

“I trust these ruffians didn’t harm you, Herr Bloomberg, and the bindings aren’t too tight?”

The tall, well-dressed man projected civility, even benevolence. He was perhaps thirty and handsome in a craggy-faced, broad-shouldered, athletic sort of way. Unlike the cracked and dirty fingernails of the others, the smiling man’s nails were professionally manicured. Speaking in fluent German, he seemed sincerely apologetic that his prisoner, whose arms were securely bound to his leather armchair with clothesline, was being inconvenienced.

Max Bloomberg understood every word, though he hadn’t used his native language in decades. If only he could get a grasp on what was happening here. The men must have crept in during the middle of the night and deftly disconnected the security system. They seemed well-armed, although Max understood little concerning firearms—except the ones that had been pointed at him by guards herding him and his fellow Jews into boxcars, herding them off boxcars, herding them through “processing” at the camp.

But that had been eons ago. Max closed his eyes, squeezing them tight to push away the memories. He opened them, blinked a few times, and glanced around. The home invaders had drawn the drapes before turning on the table lamp. Not amateurs, any of them, he supposed. It occurred to Max that the two rough men who accompanied the well-spoken, well-groomed, well-dressed man relished their work. He’d seen too much brutality not to recognize when someone enjoyed delivering pain.

Glancing toward his accomplices, the elegant interloper continued, “I told them not to gag you, but if you cry out, well, as they say in America, all bets will be off.” The stranger switched to English with only the faintest hint of a German accent. The man almost sounded Jewish, with a few Yiddish phrases thrown in, though Max considered that was probably an act, an attempt to ingratiate himself.

The intruder still spoke softly, but his almost coal-black eyes bore into Max Bloomberg’s own like steel daggers. There was something familiar about the man’s manner, something Max couldn’t help but recognize. He’d seen eyes such as these before—the color was of no importance. He’d heard voices such as this one long ago—the words didn’t matter. The words soothed and the lips smiled, while the hands choked the very life from your throat.

But, how could this fellow possibly know Max? Though he’d encountered the type, Max had never seen this particular man before. And this incident couldn’t be connected to what had happened so long ago. Not possible.

Since Winston, Max’s companion cocker spaniel, had recently died, Max lived alone in this two-story Georgian in River Forest, an affluent western Chicago suburb. Head throbbing, Max found concentration difficult. He’d been having trouble sleeping since finding Winston’s small body sprawled lifeless in the backyard. How long ago was it that his beloved Winnie had died? A week? Two? Max had taken a Seconal only an hour before the rough men, on the German’s orders, had dragged him—an old bookseller, not a rich man—out of bed and down to the small den that served as his library. Now they sat or stood among his treasured books, books Max had accumulated throughout his career and cared for like dear friends, though they had little monetary value. Were these devils here just to rob him? Could he be that lucky?

The other two men were each shorter and not nearly as well dressed as the German. They’d held handguns of some kind when they’d stormed into the bedroom, but the weapons were now out of sight. Standing almost like soldiers at attention on either side of Max, they stared at their leader as if awaiting orders.

A hint of a smile once again crossed the tall intruder’s face. “Bitter cold and snowing tonight. Mind if we light a fire in your beautiful fireplace? Make the room cozy, yes?”

Max didn’t answer.

The heavyset man standing to his left, wearing an old Navy peacoat, said, “Come on, we don’t have time for fuckin’ around. Let’s get on with this shit.”

An American with a hint of a Southern accent. Unusual here in Chicago. As he spoke, “Peacoat” played with a roll of quarters, tossing them from one hand to the other, sometimes grasping the roll tightly in his massive right fist.

The German held his left hand up, palm outstretched. “Now, now. Let’s be civilized, shall we?” He crossed his arms and nodded. “Perhaps—hmm—perhaps, we can even put the heat to some good use. Very good use. Verstehen?”

A pile of dry kindling was stacked in the fireplace.

The man on Max’s right, wearing a worn sheepskin bomber jacket, moved to the fireplace and nodded as well. “Yeah, Ich verstehen.” No southern accent, but not a German speaker, either. “I’ll need some newspaper to light the fire. Or something.”

The leader glanced at Max. “Our good friend won’t mind if we take a few of his old Jew books to use. That’s what they were made for, don’t you think?” Without waiting for a response, he continued, “Remember those good old days when the Führer burned all the Jew books, old man?” The tall stranger’s voice deepened, the tone no longer benevolent.

“Sheepskin” snatched several of the oldest books with Hebrew on the covers and ripped them into chunks, tossing the pieces onto the fireplace with the tinder and the wood. Although he couldn’t make out the titles, Max had placed each book in its slot so often he knew exactly the ones chosen. One was a siddur, a prayer book considered holy to Orthodox Jews. If such a sacred book accidentally fell to the floor during a religious service, the owner would instantly retrieve it, treating it as gently as one would an injured child, and plant a kiss on the cover. Tears filled Max’s eyes.

Soon, they had a blazing fire. The leader nodded to his henchmen. “Bring him closer. Careful not to mark this beautiful floor.”

With Max still bound securely, Peacoat and Sheepskin dragged the chair across the waxed parquet floor, only stopping when the well-spoken German motioned for them to do so. Now Max was so close to the fireplace his bare feet began to feel uncomfortably warm, although he didn’t yet feel any pain.

The German stared hard into Max’s eyes. “You know what we want. So, tell me where the box is. Hmm? Then, we go. We know all about you. You’ve hidden long enough, old man. Too long.”

Max shook his head. “No idea what you’re talking about.”

His aching head began to clear. He kept the rest of his words inside himself. He wasn’t crazy. Something had been going on around him in recent weeks. My God, after all these years. How? How’d they find him?

Max tried to lift his right arm, but was only able to raise his index finger. Pointing it as best he could. “Get out of my home! Now!”

He felt like screaming for help, but knew no one could possibly hear him. The closest house was perhaps fifty yards away, and the windows would be shut during the freezing weather. His house was modest—one of the least expensive on the block—but it occupied a quarter-acre corner lot, carefully landscaped with Northern Accents rose bushes as well as tall red oaks and American elm trees.

He tried to study the men, so he could describe them to the police, but they had handled him roughly when they’d forced him out of bed, and he had difficulty focusing. His heart was pounding. Did that mean the drugged feeling from the sleeping pill was wearing off, or was he becoming even more frightened?

The German simply stood there, allowing Max’s helplessness to sink in. “Oh, you’ll tell me whatever I want to know. Perhaps time has caused you to forget the methods we can use on you Jew bastards? You’ve forgotten the camps?”

Heaven forbid, the camps. That was going back over fifty years. Before these evil men were even born. What could they know about the camps? Only stories they’d read. Max knew—really knew. And, sometimes in the dark, alone at night, his flesh bathed in a cold sweat, he only wished he could forget.

In the next instant, it came to him. His dog, Winston. That was what had happened to his sweet little friend.

“You, you rotten, filthy Nazis. You killed my beautiful little Winnie.”

Now, for the first time, Max began to sob. He became even more short of breath as his chest tightened, and he began to wheeze. Prayers came automatically to his mind. Please, dear God, no time for my emphysema to act up. I’m choking.

He tried to take in deeper breaths, but it didn’t seem to help. If only he had the inhaler with him. But that was still atop his bedside table.

Ignoring Max’s comment and grief, Peacoat lit a Camel, flicking the old-fashioned kitchen match with his thumbnail near his prisoner’s face. The sulfur smell caused Max to cough, and the tightness in his chest increased. The room began to spin as his breathing became ever more labored.

“Go in the kitchen,” the German said. “Get a dish for those ashes, so you don’t leave a mess. No cigarette butts left behind. Verstehen?”

The leader had just confirmed what Max already suspected, since the men wore neither masks nor disguises. When they left, there would be no evidence of their crimes. Alive, Max would be evidence.

Resigned to his fate, Max turned his thoughts to his nephew, Bruce. If Bruce were half as smart as Max knew him to be, he’d find what Max had left for him.

Max silently thanked God he’d been suspicious. And that he’d carefully shredded his notes after finishing the detailed review of exactly what had happened to him so long ago. He had never spoken of it, even to his closest friends or family. But when he finished the journal, he’d hidden the document and left a clue for Bruce, should Max’s worst fears be somehow realized.

The German put his hands on Max’s shoulders and shook him, almost gently. “You haven’t answered. Where’s our box?”

Shortness of breath made speaking nearly impossible “Why … why are you here? Take what you want … leave. I just sell … a few old books.”

Peacoat laughed. “Look who’s asking questions now.” He turned toward the leader. “Better let this Jew vermin know who’s running the show. Before you know it, he’ll be ordering us around. And you’ll probably click your heels and say, ‘Yes, sir, your honor!’ That’s what guys like you are trained to do.”

The leader ignored Peacoat and tapped his right index finger on Max’s head. “Pay attention. I’m running out of patience, and, as you see, my friends here are not as pleasant as I. I must have that box and its contents. Then we’ll leave, and you can get on with your miserable life. You mean nothing, the box everything.”

At that second, the fire crackled and flared, and Max felt a burning sensation in his feet. He did his best to pull them back. His eyes closed for an instant, and he silently prayed. Please, dear God, let me be strong. This may be the last favor I ask.

Max leaned forward as if to whisper something. The German leaned in toward him.

Max spat into his interrogator’s face.

The German straightened, snatched a silk handkerchief from his pocket, and without uttering a sound, carefully wiped the sputum from his cheek. At almost the same moment, with the rolled coins clutched in his right fist, Peacoat punched Max on the left side of the head, knocking him and the chair onto the floor. Max let himself go limp. The pain in his head was excruciating, but he didn’t cry out.

“Pick him up and cut out that kind of thing!” the tall German shouted. “Leave that to me. You’ll kill the old Jew before we get him to tell us what we need to know.”

As the two men lifted the chair along with the apparently semiconscious Max, the German carefully removed three fluid-filled syringes from the side pocket of his cashmere topcoat and laid them on a little table. Max began to groan. The German strolled to a nearby armchair, removed his coat, and folded it over the chair back. He dragged the chair close to Max, who was thinking desperately, trying to dream up some way out of this. Through half-open eyes, Max watched the German sit down and cross his legs.

After a moment, Max slowly opened his eyes and blinked a few times. He shook his head, acting as if he were still trying to clear his mind. His whole body throbbing, he needed a few minutes to figure out if he had any options. From previous experience though, he knew these types wanted people to grovel, to be frightened out of their wits.

Max took a deep breath, sucking in as much air as possible. “Please, don’t hit me again,” he whispered. “I’ll tell you.”

“Speak up,” the German urged.

“Those papers. Burned ’em. In the woods. Didn’t … didn’t make any sense to me. That’s the truth.” Max looked the interrogator in the eyes without blinking. “They important?”

The German nodded. “Sure. And the silver box? What did you do with that?”

“Box? Oh, the box.”

“You know exactly what I mean. You made it. Called yourself a silversmith back then. Where is it?”

Max didn’t hesitate. “Melted … melted it down. Sold the silver.”

Peacoat stepped up to Max and waved his clenched fist, the roll of coins still in it. “You’re a filthy, fucking liar.” He turned toward the leader. “You going to let this piece of shit get away with this nonsense? Look! Let me at him. Leave the room, if you need to. Just give me ten minutes. Probably won’t take that long.”

“Patience, patience.” The German waved his hand. “Now, do me a favor. Take a deep breath and sit down.” Then the German whispered just loudly enough for Max to hear, “We do only what we have to in order to get what we need. Yah? After all, we are not animals. So.”

Peacoat stared hard at his leader, shook his head, and frowned. “Talk. Talk and experiment! That’s what you’re best at. The way you’re going at it, we’ll be here all fuckin’ night. My way will be lots faster. You’re too damned smart. And you know what? That makes you too damned soft.”

“And you never learn how to follow orders. So, shut up and maybe we’ll all learn something besides how strong you are and how brave when your victim is an old man, tied up and helpless, hmm?”

The German picked up one of the syringes. “So. Let us begin.”

Categories: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Political Thriller, Suspense, Thriller | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Threading the Needle, by Gabriel Valjan

ThreadingtheNeedle_3D-523x600Title: Threading the Needle

Author: Gabriel Valjan

Publisher: Winter Goose Publishing

Genre: Mystery/suspense

Purchase THREADING THE NEEDLE on Amazon / B&N

Milan. Bianca’s curiosity gets a young university student murdered, but not before he gives her a file that details a secret weapon under development with defense contractor Adastra. Guilt may drive her to find justice for the slain Charlie Brooks, but she is warned by the mysterious Loki to stay away from this case that runs deep with conspiracy. Bianca must find a way to uncover government secrets and corporate alliances without returning Italy to one of its darkest hours, the decades of daily terrorism known as the “Years of Lead.”

ROMA SERIES: Book 3

Threading the Needle

-Gabriel Valjan

L’Italia è l’antica terra del dubbio.

Italy is the ancient homeland of doubt.

—Massimo D’Azeglio

1

 

This was a bad idea from the start.

Isidore Farrugia sat in a car, watching Bianca from across Via Manzoni. He was off-duty, out of his jurisdiction, and doing the best and worst of all possible things: doing a favor for a friend.

But his gut was telling him this was a bad, bad idea.

She said that she had to meet someone with information, someone who wanted to meet her in person. Not good. Bianca had explained that in the past her drop-offs were anonymous and in public places. A postal box. A newsstand. Never face to face. The ideal was through the computer. Remote and anonymous.

None of them could forget Loki. None of them had forgotten Rendition.

Bianca wouldn’t say what the information was and when Farrugia asked, all she said was that her contact was a man. He didn’t ask her how she knew. Farrugia knew better than to expect a straight answer from a woman. The female brain was wired differently, processing nuances below masculine capability, and the female heart was attuned to the unknown frequency of feminine intuition.

She ordered something from her table outside.

Nobody seemed suspicious.

The waiter delivered her drink. She had ordered something sweet. Rabarbaro? Women and their sweet drinks.

Two university-age kids were sizing her up for flirtation.

Her contact, she said, did not know what she looked like. If this someone was expecting an American in jeans or some gaudy ensemble that American women thought was fashion, then he would be in for a surprise. Bianca fit into Milan with her Aspesi turtleneck, Alessandra Colombo leather jacket with the rose-accent, ruffle fringe, and a pair of Tod’s. He saw that she sensed the two amateur Casanovas, turned her head and dismissed them. Quite remarkable, since she was wearing sunglasses.

That must be him.

Definitely an American. Down the block, about to turn the corner onto Via Manzoni.

He was walking fast, hands in pockets. No messenger bag, no bag at all, so maybe this wasn’t him, despite what Farrugia’s gut was saying. A few meters behind him, two other men followed. Matching camel jackets, matching haircuts. The man in front peered over his shoulder.

This must be him. Farrugia knew that worried expression.

Bianca hadn’t seen him yet. No time to call her cell. Her contact was early-twenties, handsome with a nice navy jacket, although from the looks of him he’d had little sleep for a few nights. He glanced again over his shoulder.

The other two behind him picked up their pace. It was definitely him.

This was a bad idea from the start.

Farrugia opened up the car door. The car was a small rental and climbing in was like putting a sardine back into the metal tin. No typical American could fit in that automobile, and he knew the stubborn strip of fat around his midsection was what made his extraction an act for Houdini or Chaplin. The next risk was crossing the street and not getting killed by a real car or grazed by an angry Vespa.

The two tails on Bianca’s man had that experienced stalking gait. Several notches up from street vermin. Farrugia was thinking contract killers, possibly with a military background. Hair was short and they weren’t neo-Nazis. They were lean, looked foreign, and moved with precision. A career soldier’s walk was never erased from neurological memory. Their jackets were relatively short, so that might mean no shotgun, unless one of them had a sawed-off for the maximum amount of spray while his partner had the handgun for the final shot, usually to the head. Farrugia thought all of this in the seconds it took to negotiate one car horn and one silent obscenity from behind fast-moving glass.

He was on the divider in the middle of Via Manzoni when Bianca saw him.

She stood up and both their eyes drifted to the fast-walking man. Farrugia had hoped she wouldn’t do that. That is, stand up. Everybody knew everybody now.

The two men were almost there. His Beretta Raffica was ready.

The contact walked up to her, turned her shoulders so her back was to his two trackers. Air-kiss to her right cheek, air-kiss to her left. Pause. His hands slid down her hips. He said something to her, kissed her on the lips, then ran inside Bar Gadda.

What the . . .

The two in pursuit graduated from walk to run. They got into the bar before the door closed. Farrugia unzipped his jacket and withdrew his gun. Instinct. He didn’t think about the traffic after the divider. He ran. There was a squeal of rubber. Farrugia realized that he still had functional legs when he reached the pavement’s gray flagstones. Horns blared behind him, but he focused on the commotion inside the bar in front of him.

He slid through the door, eyes searching, and out of reflex said, “Stay calm. I am Commissario Isidore Farrugia.” The customers couldn’t have cared less once they saw the Beretta. Their eyes and a few of their arms pointed the way out back. With his adrenaline flowing as it was, he wouldn’t remember much of what he saw, but would always remember the old lady crossing herself and calling upon the saints and the Virgin. He did the same in his mind.

A restaurant kitchen was always a well-lit trap for a confrontation. Cops and bad guys. Rats or roaches and the health inspector. Illegals and Immigration Services. The Albanians and the Romanians made way for him and pointed. The broken plates crinkled as he stepped on the shards. The chef looked scared with a huge knife in his hand. Farrugia was trying not to look frightened with the pistol in his. Almost thirty years as a cop, pension calculations and the whisper of mortality moved through his head. The Beretta had two settings: three-round burst or single fire. His was set to single fire, and each round would count.

Ahead he spotted the streak of navy blue and then camel. Hunted and hunter. Then the metallic slam of the back door flung open to crash against a hard wall. There was some indistinct yelling. Farrugia’s eyes took it all in while he calmed his heart down with deep belly breaths and moved through the kitchen. His belt was tight. He promised himself that he would lose the stomach if he lived through the day.

The busboy on Farrugia’s right said, “Vicolo cieco.”

Dead end. That door would make him an easy target for two potentially armed men on the other side. He approached the door. He peeked through the sliver of light, since the door had returned home on its hinges. The busboy was right. A wall a few meters to the left, a large, fragrant metal dumpster against it, left you with no choice but a hard right turn and a fast run down an indeterminate alley out to Via Manzoni.

The American didn’t know that. He had turned left. Arms and legs appeared and Farrugia heard pleading.

The saints might not help him, but the Virgin had always been kind. He gripped the gun, breathed in, and trusted his eyes and trigger finger to think for him. In through the door and outside.

Too late.

Man One fired a single shot into the American’s chest. Man Two fired the headshot. Farrugia faced two automatics now turned on him, and the only thing he could do was resort to his lame academy training.

“Police. Put your weapons down.”

In this two-against-one dialogue their likely reply is to shoot him, knowing that at his fastest he could wound only one of them.

A choked siren, the screech of one blue-and-white cop car, its silent blue twirling lights now blocked the alley from Via Manzoni. Farrugia saw the first man’s eyes look leftward again. No weapons had gone down. No concession. Farrugia was the apex of the triangle with his gun, and these two were the base angles pointing theirs at him. Unequal . . . unlikely he’d survive if they shoot.

The car doors down the alley opened and closed. There was a squelch of walkie-talkie exchange. The siren lights played like a rave-party color on the walls.

Farrugia repeated himself. “Weapons down.”

Another leftward look. The second man lowered his gun. Farrugia almost breathed.

The gun went off.

The first man had shot the second in the head and, as Farrugia was about to step forward and pull his trigger, put the barrel into his own mouth.

The two cops walking down the alley stopped when the shot went off.

 

Four gunshots can have a way of ruining a drink. Four.

The orange zest, the hypnotic cardamom and the other curatives in Bianca’s drink suddenly turned sour. Two shots might be a matter of syntax, like a judicious comma and then the full-stop period. Or they could be a call-and-response exchange. But the second set of shots, Farrugia, her contact, and two suspects made four men.

One of those shots may have been for Farrugia.

She had to know before the other cops came. There were already sirens in the distance, she couldn’t tell whose. Here in Milan, ambulances and police cars sounded the same to her, like the European starling with their “nee-nah nee-nah” through the ancient streets. But within minutes Via Manzoni would be covered with screaming sirens, the smell of rubber, bright lights, a cacophony of voices, a multitude of colors, and every type of police, from authoritative uniform to the suited support staff to process the crime. There would be tape to cordon off the bodies, tape to section off each part of the bar and the path to the denouement in the alley, and tape to identify the section where the witnesses had been herded off for questioning.

She was worried about witnesses recalling the American embracing a woman. She was worried whether any surveillance cameras in the shops or on top of the traffic lights might have recorded Farrugia’s transit across the street, his momentary interest in the future victim. She was worried whether any surveillance cameras had captured her.

But she was most worried about Farrugia.

Down the street, a man in an eco-fluorescent uniform and ear protection was spray-cleaning the sidewalk with pressurized water from his l’agevolatore, a moveable, jointed steel arm on top of a truck. A policeman ran down the street and asked him to stop his work. The streets can remain dirty for a few more hours for the sake of preserving the crime scene. The imposing l’agevolatore stopped. The water stopped. Everything stopped.

She had to move.

Navy-blue cars with red pinstripes—the carabinieri—began to arrive as she cut through the crowd. She expected to see women making the sign of the cross and men bypassing the five wounds of Christ to simply kiss their thumbs as a way of kissing the Cross of Christ and acknowledging death. She had seen Italian-Americans do that thousands of times back home. Not here in Milan. She heard murmurs of inquiry, exchanges of speculation, and the confident assertion from someone that three men were dead. She flowed with the crowd to the open mouth of the alley, her head bowed in respect.

She saw Farrugia.

He was speaking to someone from the Omicidi, the Homicide Squad. He was visibly unnerved, but unharmed. She surprised herself by saying, “Thank God.”

There’s was a smaller crowd moving out of an old-style carrelli on Line One, a street tram like the ones in San Francisco. The street was blocked off at both ends.

She needed to call Dante.

She decided on the nearby metro, the Montenapoleone stop. That would lead her anywhere that was away from the noise, away from detection. She would have a chance to think, collect, and determine what was on the jump-key he had slipped into her pocket during that surprise kiss.

She would never forget that—not so much for the kiss, or that he was handsome and kissed well. But that he was young, terribly young, and now dead.

 

Threading the Needle
COPYRIGHT © 2013 by Gabriel Valjan
Excerpt appears courtesy of Winter Goose Publishing

Categories: Mystery, Suspense, Thriller | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Anselm, a Metamorphosis, by Florence Byham Weinberg

Anselm_medTitle: Anselm, a Metamorphosis

Genre: metaphysical fantasy

Author: Florence Byham Weinberg

Website: http://www.florenceweinberg.com

Publisher: Twilight Times Books

Purchase the book on AMAZON

Christians believe the spirit survives the body. The philosopher René Descartes equated mind and spirit and tried to prove them totally separable from the body. Are they?

Cocky young Professor Eric Behrens, fired for seducing an undergraduate, curses the world and wishes he were someone, anyone, else. He trips, is knocked out, and wakes in the body of a middle-aged, overweight Benedictine monk with a severe heart defect. He must survive in an alien environment and in a defective body, while trying to “go home again.”

“Anselm: A Metamorphosis by Florence Byham Weinberg plays upon an ancient longing as well as ancient fears. What is it like, it asks, to wake up as another person, unrecognizable even to those closest to one, being in all but one way wholly new to oneself? That one way is an abiding sense of self-identity. In a fascinating tour de force, this novel follows the sudden change in the identity of a carefree young English professor into a middle-aged priest by exploring many layers of his consciousness… A fantasy? Of course. Unreality? No. Instead of removing himself and becoming another, the searching protagonist of Anselm achieves a sense of his true identity that had been closed to him before.”
~ Ralph Freedman, author of Hermann Hesse, Pilgrim of Crisis

 

——————————————————————-

Chapter 1

Transformation

I grinned at Sally, the dean’s attractive secretary-receptionist, eyeing her cleavage spilling out of a crisp, white blouse. She stood, leaving her desk to cross the small but neat outer office to the filing cabinet in the corner. She turned to give me a better view of her seductive nylon-sheathed legs and her shapely hips in a tight yellow skirt. She glanced over her shoulder, rolling her eyes with a playful head-toss. I knew she liked what she saw, and I reciprocated. She pulled a file, swiveled those hips and returned to the desk.

“What does the dean need me for, Sally? It’s Saturday.”

“Don’t know, Eric . . . uh, Professor Behrens. You’ve been naughty, it seems. He was grumpy when he called me to come to work and told me to contact you.”

“I hope this won’t last long. I’m on my way to play a round of golf with Jim Stevenson.”

“Oh, yes, Professor Stevenson. He . . .” She was interrupted by the buzzer. She picked up the phone. “Yes . . .? Yes, he’s here. I’ll send him in.” She looked at me, holding her hand over the receiver. “He’ll see you now. Watch out; he sounds angry.”

“Uh . . . thanks, Sally.” I hesitated on the threshold of the wood-paneled and carpeted inner office.

Bernard Graham, Dean of Woodward State University in upstate New York, stood facing the window as I entered. He swiveled, his face in shadow, his stocky outline silhouetted against the bright October day. His greeting was brusque. “Sit down, Professor Behrens.”

I was surprised at his terse greeting and took the chair facing his tidy mahogany desk. “Thank you, Dean Graham. May I know why you called me in? Did the draft board contact the University? Are they drafting professors for Vietnam?”

“No, no, Behrens. Nothing so simple—I almost said nothing so honorable.” The dean took his seat behind the desk, his square face severe. “I hate to say this to any of my faculty. But you’ve violated our university’s moral code. I have to ask you to tender your resignation.”

My hands clutched the arms of the chair and a roar thundered in my ears. I managed a few words. “Wh-what? I’m sorry, but . . . but I don’t understand, sir.”

“Does the name Diana Gregg mean anything to you?”

“I . . . I . . . She was a student in my summer literature survey course.” I began to sweat.

“Did you know that her father, Durwood Gregg, is the chairman of the Board of Trustees?”

“Not at first, sir.”

“He tells me you seduced his daughter. She’s an undergraduate!” Graham shook his head, his expression a blend of anger and reproach. “For God’s sake, man! You know the rules: no fraternizing with undergrads. And you must have gone further . . . a lot further . . . . What do you have to say?”

Scenes from the previous summer flashed through my mind: the poolside party where it all began, the clandestine meetings at the riding stable, rides into the woods, making love in forest meadows, at the lakeside. “It’s true. I can’t deny it. We had an affair, and she wants me— wanted, I guess—to marry her. I said no; said we’d have to wait.”

“Durwood demands that you wait forever. You’re Protestant, aren’t you?”

“Lutheran. But what has that—?”

“The Greggs are Roman Catholic,” he cut in. “Strict. Under no circumstances would he have allowed such a marriage. I have a form here, a resignation form. I need your signature.”

“But, sir, classes have already begun. I’ve passed out my syllabus; the students are already working on their first paper.”

“Hampton Clarke retired just last year. We’ll call on him to finish the semester while we look for your replacement.” The dean turned to his desk, picked up a sheet of paper and thrust it at me. I scanned it: at least it said nothing about moral turpitude. I could deny nothing. I had violated the rules, thinking I could get away with it. I’d used Durwood Gregg’s beautiful daughter, flagrantly, irresponsibly, and then wanted to leave all that behind; close the summer dalliance like a chapter in a book. I still hadn’t told her. It would have been the old story: seduced and abandoned.

I felt cornered, helpless, and most of all guilty. I felt in my shirt pocket for a pen.

“Here.” Dean Graham’s voice was harsh as he held a pen under my nose.

I placed the paper on the edge of the desk, signed and then stood, my legs trembling. “I guess there’s nothing more to be said.”

“No, nothing. Clear out your office before Monday.”

I moved to the door, turning once to see the dean standing again silhouetted against the sun streaming through the window. I passed through the outer office in a daze, only hearing Sally’s goodbye after I had closed the door behind me.

Jim had waited on a bench just outside the administration building, kicking at the leaves piled there. “So, what did he want?”

“Let’s walk. I’ll tell you.” A dry wind rustled more fallen leaves across the path under our feet and intermittently carried the notes of the tower clock to our ears. Chimes followed by two solemn strokes. Two o’clock on a sunny Saturday afternoon, yet I was oblivious of the beauty of the day, the glowing fall colors and the crisp air: my world had crumbled. I told Jim everything as we shuffled through the swirling leaves toward the chemistry building, my voice shaking with self-pity. Jim made surprised and sympathetic noises, wondering if, rather than the golf course, we should go to Kenny’s Pub near campus to talk over the situation.

We rounded the corner of the chemistry building. Jim stopped by the wall to shelter from the wind and tried to light a cigarette while I walked on and began to climb the long stairway to the upper campus.

In a sudden rage against my persecutors—now including Diana—I raised my fists to the sky and snarled, “Damn them all! Damn the whole world! Satan, take them to Hell and take me, too—just make me into someone else! I’d give anything, even my soul, to be somebody else!”

The surrounding air closed in on me like a smothering plastic film. I gasped and tripped on the next step. Had I been pushed? The fall gave me the sensation of traveling through time and space, and yet I had no time to stretch out my hands. I then realized I was lying in extreme discomfort on the stairs, my head and shoulders propped against Jim’s leg. The first thing I saw was his face. The corners of his eyes crinkled when he saw I was conscious.

“That was a nasty fall! Do you think you’re badly hurt, sir?”

Puzzled by his tone, his words, his attitude, I struggled to my feet, using him as a prop. I weaved as I stood, unable to regain my balance, as everything seemed out of perspective. I blinked, then lowered the hand that had been feeling the wound on my forehead. “N-no . . . I don’t think so, not seriously.”

My voice gave me a violent start. It was a deep, metallic bass, utterly unlike my own light tenor. I cleared my throat, watching to see if Jim had noticed anything unusual. His attention seemed divided between concern for me and some other worry. His brow creased and his eyes searched the campus in all directions as if looking for someone.

“Eric?” he called, almost under his breath.

“Yes?” I answered, again unprepared for that unfamiliar bass.

“Oh, is your name Eric?”

I stared at him, not answering. Was Jim crazy, or was I?

He hesitated, then excused himself, “Well, sir, if you’re sure you aren’t seriously hurt, I must be going—my friend seems to have run off and left me.”

He turned and ran up the steps, stopping once to scan the lower campus and glance at me with a half guilty, half frightened expression. Jim’s behavior should have given me a clue, but I was far from suspecting the truth. My right hand again went to my forehead. Dizziness became one enormous, pounding pain that began at my hairline. My fingers found the spongy, sticky area. I stared at them, now red with blood.

Something other than blood froze my attention. I stretched both hands out palm up, then turned them over. They were large with prominent veins; the long, tapering fingers ended in clean, square-cut nails. On the backs, an orderly pattern of black hair grew from wrist to knuckles and in tufts at the base of each finger. They were powerful and brutal, yet elegant hands, but they were not my own.

The sight of them filled me with creeping horror mixed with curiosity. I must find a mirror to see if all this had some easy explanation. I looked down. I wore some sort of black wool robe with a wide leather belt around the waist. I had obviously tripped on the hem—but where had the black robe come from? I staggered, dizzy and close to nausea, as if I had on someone else’s glasses. By reflex, I felt the bridge of my nose. Perhaps something was really wrong with my eyes, something resulting from the fall? I descended the few stairs back to the chemistry building, the wind flapping the robe against shaking legs, gravity dragging at me with every downward step. My balance point seemed to have shifted; I had to lean farther back than usual to maintain my equilibrium, my body thus blocking a clear view of the next step, forcing me to guess where I should set my foot. The fall must have affected my balance, too. I caught a glimpse of my toes and saw sandals. Sandals . . .?

I arrived at the bottom step and pushed against the side door that opened slowly, as if by itself. The hall seemed dark and stank of sulfur. Perhaps a student experiment had gone wrong. While my eyes adjusted to the gloom, I felt my way to the men’s room where I remembered a small mirror. Inside, I groped to find the light switch, then crossed the room in two strides. The face reflected in that mirror was someone I’d never seen before. I gave an inarticulate scream.

Panting, I ran back into the malodorous corridor.

After a few steps I stopped, shaking all over. I stared down at the black robe, the sandaled feet, and those hairy hands that, independent of my will, fingered the ebony rosary at my waist.

“My God, my God, who is this?” That unfamiliar voice boomed into the emptiness. I shrank against the wall, needing but fearing to look again in a mirror. I must fit the pieces of the puzzle together, somehow.

The faculty lounge on this floor had a wide plate-glass mirror on the far wall. It would show a full-length image. I hurried through the dark hall, exhaling the sulfur fumes that seemed to grow ever more pungent, and entered the brightly lit but deserted lounge. The mirror faced me across the room and I froze with my back against the door.

I should have been around five feet ten, slight, with one of those freckled complexions that often goes with red hair. My nose was average, my eyes gray, and I’d been wearing a pair of charcoal gray slacks, a white shirt, and a pale blue sweater-vest.

The figure cowering against the door was perhaps five inches taller than I was . . . or should be . . . and much heavier. His square figure seemed almost menacing in its potential strength, although his deterioration was clear. A paunch strained the leather belt, caught at the last hole, to its limit; deep buckle marks at each of the preceding four holes gave mute testimony to a recent weight gain. Here was the reason for my difficulty on the stairs: the paunch had prevented me from seeing my feet.

The forward shift of the body’s center of gravity was offset by this man’s hypercorrect posture—militarily correct. He held his tonsured head erect on a muscular neck. His remaining hair, a sort of crown, was black, salted with gray, and totally white above the ears. A bloody gash broke the crown at the hairline above the right eyebrow. The wound dwindled into a purplish weal, still swelling, slanting across the forehead to the left eyebrow.

I moved closer to the mirror to examine the man’s features. He was handsome in a dark, forbidding way. The eyebrows were thick, black and peaked in the center, the nose thin and aquiline. The full-lipped, sensual mouth seemed to express scorn even in repose, its disdainful curves underscored by the square chin. He seemed to be in his fifties: not only was his hair graying, his swarthy skin was coarse. The lofty forehead bore horizontal wrinkles as well as deep frown-marks between the brows. The gold-flecked brown eyes seemed to mock me, to censure my very essence.

I recoiled.

This man, this dark, almost sinister creature was . . . me?

It could not be true—I must be mad. I moaned and hid my face in my hands; I could no longer bear to see that image as it mimicked and mocked my every move.

Amid the confusion of conflicting impulses and ideas, I remembered my half-serious invocation to the Devil. Had he instantly fulfilled my wish to be somebody, anybody, else? Could I have traded the eventual fate of my soul for this new body? I couldn’t have been serious; I didn’t even believe in the existence of a soul. But if there is no soul, what was left of “me” in this stranger? Does the self then reside in memory alone? I’d willed to become someone else and had no one but myself to blame for the results.

An acute sense of loss filled me, many times more painful than the humiliation I’d suffered at being dismissed from Woodward State. Where was I, who was this; what should I do now? I could have been transformed into anyone at all—a shoe salesman, a fireman, an artist—but instead, I’d been changed into a monk!

The irony struck me like a blow: a tremendous practical joke by the Devil to punish me for having slighted and scorned Diana, in the process betraying my better self. I had asked to give myself to the Devil, but was now in the form of someone who had given himself away utterly. To God! Perhaps I was being punished for my irresponsible sensual appetites. In my present form, it would surely be more difficult to satisfy them. Perhaps the Devil is a reformer?

The essence of that outcry on the stairs had not been my invocation to Satan, but my fervent wish to be someone else. Had I precipitated this disaster by wishing it? I remembered Freud’s remarks on “compelling thoughts” that primitives and neurotics believe actually control reality. Perhaps, after all, under certain circumstances, they do?

The only hope of saving the last shred of sanity lay in action: I must care for this stranger. I made my way among the chairs and low tables to the coffee bar against the wall. After removing the pot half full of stale coffee, I stooped over the sink and bathed the gash with cold water. The cut had stopped bleeding and did not seem deep; the greatest damage was caused by the crushing force of the fall. The bruise throbbed at my pressure.

I dried my face on paper towels and cleaned the sink and then began searching my clothing for identification. In a pocket of the robe, I found a handkerchief and a battered wallet containing a five-dollar bill and a familiar card: a meal ticket for the student cafeteria. The name “Anselmus” was scrawled in a bold, black hand at the bottom. I assumed this was my own name—but I now must try to find out who and what Anselmus was, where he was from, and what monastic order he belonged to.

My only association with that name was Saint Anselm, a brilliant theologian of the eleventh or twelfth century. I clutched at my memory of the saint like a drowning man reaching for a plank. Here was something familiar, something removed from the horror of the present moment that might stave off the panic crowding the edges of my consciousness. I’d learned in college that Saint Anselm had invented a clever argument for the existence of God, a precursor to the one Descartes tried centuries later. That’s the one where he notes that we all have an idea of perfection. Since we get all our ideas from an outside source, and yet there is nothing perfect in this world, there must be a perfect Being who implants the idea: namely, God. Therefore God exists. The theory works only if one believes in the absolute reality of ideas.

Could I concentrate enough to recall Saint Anselm’s argument? If my memory was correct, it went something like this: “The fool says in his heart there is no God. But even he would agree that God is something than which nothing greater can be conceived, including all perfections, such as absolute goodness, omniscience, omnipresence, and existence in reality. If one can conceive of God at all, one is forced to concede that He exists, otherwise something greater could be conceived.” Not bad, but after all, merely a slick manipulation of words and ideas. I smiled. At least I could still put two coherent thoughts together. Irrelevant, but coherent. Madmen can do the same, though, can’t they?

Anselm. Anselmus. Yes, maybe I had seen a black-robed figure on campus. Normally, I avoided the school on my off days. Perhaps the monk never came here on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, when I teach . . . taught. But if I, Eric, now inhabited the monk’s body, where was his essence, his “soul?” Now that my “soul” seemed trapped in a monk’s body, I’d have to behave—temporarily, I hoped—like a monk. And how was that, anyhow? Should I be addressed as “Brother” or “Father”? It would be the latter if Anselm—if I—had been ordained a priest.

By this time, I’d reached the main door of the building and paused. I had begun to identify “me” with “Anselmus”—but what else could I do? Before I tried to claim any of my own—of Eric’s—possessions, I must try to discover what had happened to my realself, my body, while I was forced to “be” Anselmus.

I pushed open the heavy main door with such unaccustomed ease that I almost lost my balance. I turned back to peer into the dark hall and a clanging laugh rang out, buzzing in my brain, terrifying me. I let the door close behind me and before I could take three running steps, I realized that I myself was convulsed with mirthless laughter. Had I heard the echo of my own voice, or was my convulsion a reflection of some unseen, controlling power?

I fled up the long stairway to the upper campus, just enough wit left to hold up the skirts of my robe so as not to trip again. The paunch and heavy flesh around my flanks and hips dragged and bounced, resisting every upward step. I’d often run up those stairs before, but this time, once I’d reached the top, I was soaked in sweat. My legs trembled and my breath came in ragged, painful gasps. My heart pounded irregularly in my throat; my head seemed about to explode with the pressure of the throbbing ache. My hand fumbled for the handkerchief and I blotted my forehead gingerly, sweat in the new wound adding to my misery.

I turned to face the door I’d just left below me, expecting to see a formless somethingappear in pursuit. There was no visible movement about the façade of the chemistry building; everything looked normal in the golden light of the afternoon sun. Thatsomething remained hidden, at least for now. I trembled, not just from my exertion, but in terror: not only of that controlling power but of my own possible madness.

Other preoccupations plagued me as well. I wondered what had caused me to be so short of breath and waited until I could breathe comfortably. Surely, my increased weight wasn’t enough to account for all those symptoms. What was wrong with this body?

I must find people, make human contact, or I would indeed go mad. I turned to the student union. As I entered, two co-eds brushed past me. They stared, then one whispered loudly enough for me to hear, “Now there’s a cool-looking dude!”

“He looks like the devil to me,” replied the other dryly.

Were they seeing Eric or . . . Anselm?

The student health service at the end of the hall offered a temporary refuge. I hesitated with my hand on the doorknob. Would the nurse see me as I’d just seen myself in the mirror? Maybe “Anselm” was merely my hallucination. I opened the door with a jerk. At the moment there were no students in the office.

Miss Cunningham, the nurse, sat alone at her station. A tall, bony woman with a horsy face, I’d pitied her as a perpetual spinster. Now, I sought her for comfort. I leaned toward her, my knuckles on her desk. “Miss Cunningham, I wonder, could you spare a couple of aspirins?”

She faced me with a start. “Why, Father Anselm! That’s a nasty bump on your head.”

I sighed both in disappointment and relief. At least I was not mad, but it was terrifying to think that I might no longer have contact with myself. 3

Miss Cunningham brought me two aspirins and a paper cup of water. “Let me clean that wound and bandage it, Father Anselm,” she said, “How did it happen?”

I gulped down the aspirins and crumpled the paper cup in a nervous fist. “I tripped and fell on the steps out there. Could you bandage it? I’d be most grateful.”

I sat in a straight chair while the nurse got out cotton, alcohol and materials for a bandage. She bustled over to me, an alcohol-soaked swab in her hand. “This is going to sting, now, Father,” she said in a singsong.

I closed my eyes, anticipating the smart of the alcohol with a wince. Miss Cunningham went over my forehead well: then I could hear the snip of her scissors as she fashioned a bandage. Her firm yet gentle fingers on my face filled me with longing for my home, my mother. Could I never go home again?

Tears of self-pity must have escaped my closed eyelids, for Miss Cunningham’s nasal voice, filled with concern, broke in upon my thoughts. “Are you in much pain, Father?”

I looked up at her, startled, and brushed the wetness from my cheeks. “No, not too much. I’m sorry, I was thinking of something else.”

“Father Anselm . . . I think you’d better have that X-rayed,” she said as she placed the last adhesive strip, “You might have a concussion and even some bleeding inside there.”

“Perhaps I will, Miss Cunningham.” I stood up, smiling.

“Oh, and Father, don’t forget the sign-up sheet; we keep track of everyone who visits our health services.”

How should I sign? Obviously, I could only write the priest’s name. Taking up the pen, I wrote “Fr. Anselm.” It was as far from my own over-precise Palmer penmanship as possible. The heavy black scrawl was identical with the signature on the card in my pocket.

“Father, are you having trouble focusing?” Miss Cunningham asked in alarm.

“Oh, it’s not that—it’s just my head; I have a terrific headache. I’ll be all right. And thanks so much for fixing me up.” I touched the bandage in a sort of salute, then turned unsteadily and re-entered the hall. I paced up and down the corridor past the student cafeteria that emitted the odors of stale frying fat and onions I usually found nauseating. Today, it smelled good. The obsessive rhythm of one of the Beatles’ recent recordings, “Nowhere Man,” pursued me as I walked. Instinctively, I clasped my hands behind my back in a priestly gesture. What should I do now? I was obviously known on campus—even Miss Cunningham knew me—but how was I to find out who I was without appearing ridiculous?

The door of the cafeteria swung open, and one of the cooks appeared. “Hullo, Father, you here today? And you haven’t come to see us? Hey, what’s wrong with your head?”

“Just a bump, Rudy.”

“Well, hey, you know, it’s late, but we still have plenty of chicken and dumplings on the steam table. Enough for seconds . . . and thirds,” he smirked, glancing sidewise at me.

“Oh, no thanks, Rudy.” My reply was interrupted by a loud growl from my stomach. I closed my arms across my belly to suppress the noise, sheepishly joining in his laughter. “I see I’m receiving contrary orders!”

He winked. “We’ll be open for twenty more minutes; I’ll keep the steam tables hot.”

I shook my head. “Thanks, Rudy, but some other time.”

“Well, it’s there waiting for you, Father, if you want it. Think it over.” He smiled as he moved away down the hall.

Unexpectedly, I felt a light hand upon my arm. I turned and saw that it was Diana Gregg, the source of my misfortunes, looking both sorrowful and more beautiful than I’d ever seen her. She drew me into a small lounge, where we were alone. She raised her face to me. “Father Anselm, you’re hurt!”

“It’s nothing, Diana,” I replied.

Her eyes suddenly brimmed with tears. “I’m sorry I am burdening you with an unwanted confidence at a time like this, but since you’re a teacher as well as a priest, you can understand the problems better than anyone else. It’s Eric—I’ve told you so much about him—and you know I want to marry him. He wants to wait, but I was still sure I could persuade him. But now Mom and Dad won’t let me. They think he’s irresponsible—unstable, they call him—and besides, he’s a Protestant. I love him and I don’t care. I’d elope with him this minute, but Professor Stevenson says Dad just had him fired and he has completely disappeared! Oh, Father Anselm, I’m so worried! He could be desperate! Can you help us find him? Can you bring him back to me?” She burst into sobs and slid slowly to her knees, then to the floor.

Her words echoed in my ears. Find him? Bring him back? Diana, my lovely Diana, he is here in this room, that man you want to marry!

I suddenly knew I loved, needed this girl I’d been ready to abandon. My desire flashed through me with an intensity I’d never felt before. I shook, vibrating from head to foot, forgetting my situation, everything, in a fury of passion that my new body seemed to intensify. I would tell her everything. She, like no one else, would understand my nightmarish situation; she would quiet my fear. I would carry her away to my apartment where we could be alone, where she could care for my bruised body—and soul.

I stooped and picked her up tenderly, with amazing ease, and cradled her like a child. My forehead, my lips, my body burned in fiery anticipation of her cool kisses, kisses that could only increase my sweet agony. Out of the medley of my violent feelings and turbulent thoughts, only one word, “Diana!” escaped aloud.

Diana, whose shock had at first rendered her helpless, braced her fists against my chest. “Father Anselm, let me go at once! Have you gone mad?”

I set her on her feet, lucidity flooding over me like cold water. I looked down upon us both from a great height. Father Anselm, the chaste, holy monk, had intended to betray his sacred vow and had begun an assault on an innocent and trusting girl who’d come to him for help. The scene was pure caricature. I felt my blush. “Diana, my child, forgive me, please, forgive me! I’m only human, you know. Diana, I didn’t mean . . .”

She gave me no chance to explain. With a toss of her lovely head that expressed her contempt for me and her triumph in an unexpected conquest, she turned and walked majestically away down the hall.

I stood aghast, my body’s fire dwindling to the heat of shame still glowing on my face. With my head bowed, I wondered at such passionate, impulsive behavior. I’d never been like this before: slow to action, I normally had held back, cool and calculating, from any decisive step. Now, I’d nearly succumbed to two deadly sins: gluttony and lust. The body must determine a large share of the personality, but the essence, the knowing essence, seemed somehow independent. I must retire to some less exposed position until I could learn how to live with myself, to manage this body and prevent further injuries to others—especially to someone I loved—or to myself.

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