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        Mystery

Reunions Are Murder
by Ersla McNabb

Reunions -- you either love them or hate them. This one means death to more than one old classmate. Bob Brantmier didn't want to go to his 30-year high school reunion, but when his old friend is murdered at the reunion. Bob puts aside his feelings of bitterness and distrust, and with the aid of his wife, Gladys, sets out to find a very clever and elusive killer.

ISBN: 1-59431-084-X Mystery/ Suspense

Cover: Maggie Dix



Preface

Swope Park —Kansas City, 1966

The dark silhouette hid in the shadows next to the picnic grounds waiting for one particular couple. As a slivered moon cut through the night sky, a cool spring breeze lifted off the Blue River and rustled through the park. The chorus of tree frogs voiced their approval at the final arrival of spring and the air swelled with the sweet smell of lilacs as the park filled with teenagers racing to their designated parking spots.

Fred Bishop pulled the black ’57 Chevy with the large illuminating white walls into the small gravel parking lot. Fred, a popular senior on the football squad, had a crew cut, a face covered with freckles, and a noticeable gap between his front teeth. He turned off the lights and the car was enveloped in darkness. Rhonda was the senior class vice-president and one of the smartest girls in Humble High. She was a witty blonde with large breasts and sultry blue eyes and had been going steady with Fred for almost two years.

“Trying to get away?”

Fred reached across the seat and roughly grabbed her buttock in one hand as she leaned over to crank the window down to make sure they were alone.

“Stop it!” she squealed, and playfully knocked his hand away, but Fred quickly found access through her parted legs.

“Aren’t you glad I made the change. Ed’s car has more room than my Renault.”

Rhonda fell back into his arms and he swallowed her with a kiss. Rhonda’s arm reached around his neck as she drew him closer, while Fred’s fumbling hands begin to unbutton her blouse.

“Back seat,” Rhonda gasped.

They rolled over the front seat to land partially on the floor. The silhouette slid forward when the car began moving in a rhythmic beat.

“You smell gas?” Rhonda abruptly asked. She pushed Fred to one side so she could prop herself up to listen. Rhonda looked around the car suspiciously. Her large breasts that hung above Fred’s head were his chief preoccupation instead of any leaking gasoline.

“It’s the carburetor,” Fred assured her. “It happens all the time. Probably the butterfly is stuck.” He pulled himself up and clamped his mouth around Rhonda’s breast.

Rhonda giggled, wrapped her arms around Fred’s neck, and fell back down on the seat. She felt their bodies beating against each other with a frenetic energy, but an uneasy feeling prompted her to open her eyes and she saw a sinister shape standing by the front window of the car.

“Stop, Fred! Stop! Look! Get off! Outside the window!”

Rhonda’s squirming body pushed at Fred’s chest and pushed his head against the car roof. He made a failed attempt to grab her flailing arms in the cramped space.

“What’s wrong with you, Rhonda?” Before she could answer, he felt something cold on his skin and the smell of gasoline burned his nose. He gagged as he sucked the fumes that made it almost impossible to breathe deep into his lungs. Rhonda was screaming hysterically and her foot slammed into Fred’s chin, knocking him halfway into the front seat.

“Lemme out!” she wailed as she shoved Fred’s sprawled body and scrambled halfway into the front seat.

“Burn in hell!”

The nozzle shot through the open window and a stream of flaming gasoline splashed all over their naked bodies.

Fred jerked his head around only to swallow a stream of flaming gasoline. “What the fuck?” were the last words Fred would ever utter. He clawed at the car door handle in one last effort to escape, but his flaming body crumpled lifeless to the floor. Rhonda struggled to crawl over Fred’s burning body when she felt the searing stream of burning gasoline against her skin. She let out one last horrified scream. The car interior blazed out of control. The nozzle was directed toward a rag sticking from the gas tank. The figure raced back to the tree line just as the tank exploded and a car full of rowdy teenagers, anxious to bushwhack their friends, suddenly stopped within thirty yards of the burning car.





Chapter 1

Saturday -- The Reunion

Near Kansas City—30 Years Later

Kent Knowles felt a sense of accomplishment when the barn materialized at the crest of the hill after he had wandered aimlessly on gravel roads for the past hour. He pulled off the road into the makeshift parking lot as amber beams of light escaped through the huge cracks of the tobacco barn, only to fade in the night sky. Music from his youth drifted through the air. Kent wasn’t comfortable about tonight. He’d never attended a reunion, but Sam Curtwright had called him and he’d agreed to come. Kent wore a pair of faded jean shorts and a Grateful Dead tee shirt with a faded skull on the front. His skin was dark from regular tanning sessions while his blond streaked hair looked fastidiously unkempt. Kent recognized the woman at the entrance handing out name tags

“Good God, Sam said you were coming! I can’t believe it,” Brenda Feldon screamed. She ran up to Kent and threw her arms around him.

Kent found himself staring into Brenda Feldon’s smiling face and recoiling from her alcoholic breath, while she clung to his neck as if she never planned to let go. Brenda was not attractive. She was still that short, chubby girl with the kinky hair he’d known in grade school. Her skin had become wrinkled and blotchy and her eyes were sunken and dull.

“Brenda, you’re choking me,” Kent pleaded, trying to pry her arms apart.

“I don’t care. You are a dear friend, even though you haven’t called or seen me in….”

“Thirty years,” Kent grunted as he roughly extracted himself from her grasp.

“Every bit of that. You look great, Kent. Those shorts show that you still have the legs.”

Brenda reached down and pulled his hair.

“Hey, stop that. Aren’t we a little old to be pulling leg hair?”

“Oh, you tease! You might have heard Jim and I are divorced now. How about you? You married?”

“No, I’ve never been married. I decided early on to refrain from relationships that involve marriage—unless there is a lot of money involved.”

Brenda snuggled her bulky frame closer.

“Maybe you and I could get together later, after we mingle and all.”

Kent ignored Brenda’s advances and asked, “How about Sam Curtwright? Is he here yet?”

“You don’t know? Sam isn’t coming.”

“What do you mean? He’s the one that talked me into this.”

Brenda leaned over and whispered, “Its all that Mary Beth’s fault.”

“Mary Beth?”

Kent recalled how he had thought he had a chance with her after she told him she was going to divorce her husband, Tom Marks. A month ago, she’d ended their six-month affair. They had just finished making love and she was sitting in front of the dressing table in her bedroom when she told him nonchalantly that it was over between them. He protested, but Mary Beth explained he had nothing to offer but a stud service, which wasn’t enough. She and Kent were very much alike in one respect, both loved money.

“Ever since that bitch came back there’s been nothing but trouble,” Brenda ranted.



$16.95
84-p
Format: 
House on the Bluff
Legacy Series, Vol. 1

by Elena Dorothy Bowman

The last voice heard from the house was an 18th Century ancestor's blood-curdling screams in the dark of night. What was it about the "house" that made people tremble? Why had no one dared venture near it since 1789? Had it not been there for centuries, tall, empty, beckoning? Abigail Adams Pierce could not envision that the information she stumbled upon would take her on a hair-raising journey she would never forget. A journey that once started would have no turning back, even at the risk of losing her life in the physical sense and being trapped within the spiritual realm, which had invaded the Pierce House. And nothing, in her wildest imagination, could have prepared her for the effect her discovery would have on her life from that moment on.

ISBN 1-59431-363-6 Romantic Suspense/Mystery/Thriller

Cover Art © David P. Bowman



Prologue

Situated in a dense forest, a scroll, in White Stone Abbey, which held the secret to the present Pierce House, lay hidden in a chamber behind an altar, protected, down through the ages until the18th Century, by brown-robed monks. The papyrus, enclosed in a white leather hand-bound sheath, emblazoned with a Crest and a Cross, had been consecrated and sealed with a Royal Imprint.

Sometime during the 18th Century, those who had no fear of God, or man, plundered the Abbey. The case was stolen, the scroll removed, and the seal broken. On the hand-printed, quill- scripted parchment were words that foretold the future of a dwelling, its surrounding properties and, through generations, its final location. Granted by Divine Decree, to a mortally wounded Noble Knight and all his descendants in perpetuity, this Royal Boon was awarded in tribute for his sacrifice in the service of God and King.

The bequest, and all it contained, passed from one generation to another. With the seal of both a reigning King and Archbishop’s blessing, along with the request of the Royal Knight’s descendants, the Royal Grant was eventually transferred to consecrated ground in a distant land across the seas.

When the Nobleman’s descendants left England for the Colonies, they took with them a small bronze cask containing a relic of the Noble Knight. To lay claim to the consecrated land forever, the Relic was to be buried within the foundation of their home in the new land-its final resting place.

The papyrus wound its way to America and into the hands of vandals. From the latitude and longitude inscribed within the scroll, these raiders knew the location of the grant and set out to find it. Word reached them about the priceless articles that were purchased over time, to furnish the now existing dwelling, and the tragic death at sea of the most recent in its long line of owners. This spurred them on. It was their intention, then, to use the sacred document as a means of obtaining possession of the property and all within it.

Since the residence was built on an isolated bluff above the bay, a sailing ship could easily slip its way up the cove away from prying eyes, and pillage the place. In order for these marauders to keep their dastardly and diabolical act secret, any vessel, along with its crew, entering the harbor, would surreptitiously vanish. It didn’t take long before the inlet became known as the Bay of Death and, from the 18th Century to the present, no one dared sail nor moor their boats in the beautiful blue pristine sound.

With the bay secured, the buccaneers launched a full-scale assault on the house on the bluff. With visions of riches clouding their minds, they invaded and ransacked indiscriminately. But, to their complete horror, the house fought back. It restored everything to its untarnished condition, at the same time, assimilating the transgressors within its confines, while the sailing ship, anchored in the bay, slipped quietly beneath the sea, taking with it the sacred papyrus stolen from the White Stone Abbey.

Only the Holy Knight’s descendants, however remote, connected with, and in-line to, the prophecy could claim ownership of the property and all it contained, by right of succession. Any violation or attempted usurpation of the sacred bequest or authority, whether intentional or accidental, would only bring misery and gloom to its perpetrators and, as punishment, doom such brigands to spend an eternity as non-entities within the confines of the estate for violating the edict of the God-centered prophesy.

The energetic memory that encompassed the dwelling and its surrounding area was in tune with those not yet born, whose own vibrational energy stemmed from the passing down through the ages. To ensure the authenticity of the true line, it was ordained that the descendent who opted to claim ownership must remain in the house alone, enduring whatever precarious events occurred until such time as the house permitted the intrusion of others-a champion, but especially a Consort. Failure to adhere to the doctrine would negate that descendant’s right of ownership forever and could, instead, claim that person for its own as it would with any interloper.

Of the two, only the true Consort’s vibrational energy passed down through time would be in-line with, and connected to, the prophesy, as well as the vibrational energy of the house, and to its future occupant. And, it was the Consort who would be the vessel necessary to ensure the prophecy’s manifesto coming to fruition.

According to the Legacy, the entire estate would be within an extremely strong, eternal, energy vortex. Since we are all energy and the energy of that vortex is timeless, nothing within it ages as we perceive aging to be. As a living entity, it would bring forth a time-capsule of History, as well as forming visions of people, places, and things that did not exist, to thwart those who might become too curious or those whose intentions were ominous, to intimidate a descendant who didn’t have the stamina to withstand the onslaught manifested by the house itself, or one whose only purpose was to plunder. Since, in reality, time and space have no meaning, but simply are, all things are possible.

To the day Abigail entered her ancestral home, with its promise of fulfillment, it maintained its enchantment and its ageless elegance, standing as a silent sentinel waiting for the one long destined to enter along with her Consort, to claim ownership. At that moment in time, the papyrus would physically appear as a sign and a blessing to the rightful heirs.



Chapter One



Abigail stood against her red Jeep Cherokee parked at the edge of the gravel driveway of the deserted mansion. The wind blowing out of the Northeast across Adam’s Point flattened her long-sleeved white blouse and new navy blue pantsuit against her body, whipping her hair around her face while she desperately tried to keep its long strands from blocking her view of the scene spread before her. Her unbuttoned jacket took on the appearance of a navy blue sail flapping in a gale behind her. The widow’s walk perched high above, struck her as a crow’s nest on a sailing vessel of long ago. Shading her eyes, she swept the dunes to the ocean beyond and back to the house. A flutter of a curtain from the third floor caught her attention. She looked again, but saw nothing. Must be tired, she thought. I’m beginning to imagine things. She laughed.

Her laughter, echoing over the dunes, stopped short as the curtain on the second floor moved ever so slightly. When she looked again, all was still. She shook her head. Without knowing why, her heart suddenly began to race as an excitement arose within her being. Spellbound, she held tightly onto the front of her jacket and to a broken picket. As she stood transfixed, with her gaze upon the house, her long dark hair blew unrestrained in the wind.

It didn’t look any different from other stately houses she had seen on her travels along the shoreline and inlet seas of New England. It still had an air of dignity about it with itswhite, clapboard-covered, multi-tiered and dormer-studded roofs, and its blue shuttered windows. And, it seemed to be easily accessible by front, back, side, or basement doors. As always, there were the large floor-to-ceiling windows, first and second floor wrap-around porches, and a widow’s walk sitting high atop the house. But then, too, there was a white picket fence in disrepair, running along the front of the property, its broken slats standing aloft, weaving in and out of the holding rails like drunken sailors on shore leave. To complete its demeanor, the gate squeaked unattended as it swung free from restraint. On the top floor, from a shattered window, curtains periodically flowed through the break as gusts of wind blew wantonly through it.

The house sat imperviously on a bluff, above windswept dunes that seemed to drift down to the sea. The open ocean beckoned as its waves washed against the fragile shoreline. What was it about this place that caused one to silently shiver, then shudder violently, and swiftly pass, always looking back over one’s shoulder until they were a safe distance away? No one could be sure. Was it because it stood unoccupied for decades, appearing so alone and forbidding? Or was it because the last person to stay there had vanished into the night after a blood-curdling scream had permeated the air? Something had happened here. Yet, to this day, no one was really sure what.

Abigail felt a compulsion to move forward toward the house. Though her head told her “no,” she wasn’t listening to her head, only to the challenge that was in her heart.

In a rash moment, she was standing inside the grand main entrance hall. Before her, the stairs rose to the second level and above. Her heart thumped as she felt herself being propelled forward step by step to the second floor. The click of her heels echoed throughout the house.

From the darkened second floor hallway, she looked furtively around at the closed doors leading to the rooms behind them and shuddered. Then she looked up. The stairs led even further. She followed them to the third floor. Again, the doors were closed to the rooms hidden behind them. What am I doing here?

The light flickering in from atop the house sought her attention. She again moved forward, on up a ladder, and out to the widow’s walk above. Staring at the vast ocean before her, she wondered about the people who had once lived here, and who they might have been searching for as they scanned the ocean, waiting for the sailing ships to return to shore.

Abigail felt a tap on her shoulder and turned. No one was there. She laughed silently as she shook her head. My imagination again.

Once more, her eyes sought the sea before her. There wasn’t a single ship in sight. No sails. No modern vessels. Nothing—just the clear blue ocean. Its waves were washing gently upon the dunes and back again into the waters, taking with them a part of the fragile land.

It was dark when she looked away from the sea and back into the house. If she were going to get out, she would have to make her way through a lightless house. Then again, she wasn’t sure she wanted to leave. She would wait for morning. At least here, on the widow’s walk, she would be safe. Wouldn’t she?
$16.95
363-p
Format: 
Whispers
A Novel of Romantic Suspense

by Nancy Madison

In the wee hours of her wedding day, whispering wakes New York heiress Layne Hamilton. Investigating, Layne finds herself in the darkened hall outside her guest room. Through a closed door, she hears her fiance and maid-of-honor planning her death.

Realizing they are in bed together, Layne uses that as her excuse to cancel the wedding and flees south to Virginia. Freddy pursues his runaway bride, but when she rejects his attempts at reconciliation, Freddy loses his self-control and Max Carter, the county sheriff, comes to her rescue.

Max hopes Freddy will give up and go back to New York, but Freddy, desperate due to gambling debts, needs Layne's fortune too much.

ISBN 1-59431-322-9 Romance/Mystery/Suspense

Cover Art by Maggie Dix



CHAPTER ONE



The night before her New York City wedding, heiress Layne Hamilton dreamed she heard someone whispering in her West Central Park apartment. After she opened her eyes, the whispering continued. Puzzled as to who it might be, she raised her head off the pillow, listening.

Straining to hear, she sat up in bed. There it was again. Now she could distinguish two voices. The deeper one sounded like her fiancé Freddy. The higher voice belonged to Trish, her friend and maid-of-honor in tomorrow’s wedding.

There must be an emergency. That was the only reason for Freddy to be in her apartment tonight of all nights.

Turning on a bedside light, Layne put on her robe and slippers and left her bedroom to find out what happened.

The guest room Trish occupied that night was close to the front door. Trish must have heard Freddy’s knock and let him in. Perhaps she didn’t want to disturb Layne. A busy day lay ahead for Layne and Freddy with a morning wedding then a luncheon reception before their flight to Tahiti.

Don’t turn on the hall lights. A silent voice warned her. Aware she was probably overreacting to a situation that would be explained in a few minutes, Layne padded down the dark corridor toward the guest room and the sound of Trish and Freddy’s voices.

Their voices grew louder. Be careful.

Layne stopped to listen outside the guest room before knocking on the door.

Then Freddy said something that froze her in her tracks.

“Don’t look at me like that.” Freddy spoke to Trish. “You know what we agreed. And it must appear to be an accident.”

“Hush. Suppose she heard.” Trish’s low voice replied.

“You worry too much,” he said. “Come here.”

There was a rustling sound followed by silence.

Stunned, Layne managed to stumble back to her own room. Lock the door? Not a good idea. They mustn’t know she was on to them.

Uncertain what to do, she huddled under the covers, shocked and trembling. No wonder. She’d just overheard her bridegroom and her best friend plotting her death.

She wiped away her tears. So that was how it was. Freddy lied. He didn’t love her. He loved tall, curvy Trish.

In the back of her mind, Layne had always wondered how he could possibly want her with Trish around. The gorgeous redhead exuded sexuality the moment she walked into a room.

Layne prided herself on being able to see things as they were. And she knew her own limitations. Five foot four, a heart-shaped face, brown eyes and hair, she was no competition for tall and sexy Trish with her flaming red curls.

The two people she trusted most had deceived her. Well, she wouldn’t fall into their trap. Still, she couldn’t march into Trish’s room and announce she was on to them. If they’d kill her after the wedding, they might be dangerous before it took place.

Yet, if she happened to find them together in bed, that would be a good excuse to cancel the wedding. With that thought in mind, Layne wiped away her tears, climbed out of bed and marched back down the hall.

At the guest room door, she sucked in her breath. She threw open the door, found the light switch on the wall and turned on the ceiling fixture.

The light dazzled her eyes. Blinking hard, she saw Freddy and Trish on the bed. Their heads turned and they were looking in her direction. Layne screamed.

Before Freddy could jump out of bed and stop her, Layne ran back to her own room. This time she slammed the door with all her might then locked it.

Her mind racing, she fought down panic while deciding on a course of action. Then she picked up the phone on the nightstand. Punching in the extension for the guest bedroom, she waited for someone to answer.

Trish picked up the phone. “Hello, hello. Well, talk to me, Layne. I know it’s you.” Sarcasm replaced Trish’s customary sugar-sweet tone, like Layne had done something really stupid.

“I want both of you out of my home. If you’re still here in ten minutes, I’m calling the police.”

“Wait a sec, baby doll…” The voice changed to Freddy’s Southern drawl.

“You heard me.” Hanging up, Layne glanced at the clock. Two-thirty. She’d give them until two-forty. No, be generous. It wasn’t every day you lost a fortune. Make that two forty-five.

Layne dressed while she was waiting. At two-forty, there was a light tap on her bedroom door. She didn’t answer.

Five minutes later the front door slammed. She waited a few minutes to give them a chance to take the elevator. Then she thought of the night watchman downstairs.

The apartment she’d inherited from her grandmother was in the Majestic. With large rooms, hardwood floors, fireplaces and terraces, it had long been considered one of the most prestigious residential addresses in the city. Though her owner’s maintenance fee was steep, it included excellent security.

Layne punched in a number. A man’s voice answered.

“Mr. Jenkins?”

“Yes, Miss. What can I do for you?”

“Did you just see my fiance and girl friend leaving?”

“Want me to catch them? They’re probably in the garage.”

“No, thank you. By the way, Mr. Jenkins?”

“Yes, Miss?”

“Make a note, please. As of right now, those two are not to be allowed access to my floor.”

“Yes, Miss.”

If Jenkins was curious, it didn’t show in his voice.

Relieved to have avoided a face-to-face confrontation, Layne visited the guest room. It stood vacant, the sheets on the bed rumpled, an ashtray full of cigarette butts.

She winced, seeing the crude message Trish left behind. On one wall, in large shiny red letters, presumably lipstick, the word “Bitch” was printed.

That room would need a fresh coat of paint. Layne shook her head. The woman never had any class. She wondered why she hadn’t noticed that earlier. Maybe she was just too grief struck, too lonely after her grandmother died following a long illness.

All of a sudden, she yearned to get away but didn’t know where to go. Not to Tahiti where Freddy and she planned to fly today for their honeymoon.

There must be somewhere you can go. Her grandmother had gently nagged her for years. Go to Virginia and visit your roots. Layne’s great-great-grandfather had migrated from Virginia to New York City after the Civil War. In New York he’d made his fortune in banking. And his family remained in the city.

All at once she made up her mind. Virginia, here I come.

Eager to get away, Layne dialed the airline that Freddy and she would have flown to Tahiti. Explaining there’d been a change in plans, she cancelled the reservations and purchased a seat on a noon flight to Richmond.

With that done, she grabbed her designer silk-and-lace wedding gown off its hanger on the closet door. Stuffing it, veil and all, into a plastic trash bag, she left it, note attached, for the weekly cleaning service. Someone else might enjoy wearing it. She never wanted to see it again.

Moving on, she unpacked her suitcase, shoving her Pacific resort clothes back in the closet and refilling the suitcase with casual outfits suitable for Virginia, jeans and sweaters, a dress or two and some walking shoes. How she’d spend her time down south, she had no idea yet it did not matter. All she wanted was to escape.

Maybe she should consider changing employers. A good suspense editor was always in demand at the publishing houses. That idea she entertained for all of one minute. Then she reminded herself of the four years she’d invested in her firm since college, including many late nights reading manuscripts. And the hours she’d spent with authors, working with them, helping them smooth their novels’ rough spots.

Trish had joined Layne’s firm six months ago as a secretary to one of the publishers.

Layne shrugged, not feeling charitable towards the woman who’d stolen her fiancé and been his accomplice in a hideous scheme. Let Trish change jobs if she felt uncomfortable being around Layne.

One thing was sure, Freddy better keep away from her. If he didn’t, she’d tell the police about his scheme. Of course it would be her word against the two of them. Freddy could always say he’d dropped her for Trish and Layne was trying to strike back at them.

The phone rang, stopped and rang again. She didn’t answer. At daybreak, she couldn’t wait any longer. She checked the apartment once more then took the elevator to the ground floor.

“Good morning Miss Hamilton.” George McGregor, a tall, graying Scot in an immaculate maroon uniform and the building’s senior doorman, greeted her in the front lobby. “Isn’t this the big day?”

Layne hated to spoil her old friend’s fine mood. Still, he needed to know. “There’s been a change in plans, George. I’ve cancelled the wedding.” Hopefully he wouldn’t press her for the details. Her composure was tentative at best.

“I see.” He gazed kindly at her. “Anything I can do?”

A flurry of affection filled Layne, easing her pain. Always available when needed, George had helped her with countless problems since she moved in with her grandmother, following the death of her parents in an automobile accident. Recently George had grieved along with her when Nana, her last surviving relative, died.

“I’m on my way to Virginia for a few days. My family comes from there. Nana always wanted me to go back for a visit.”

“Ah, Virginia should be beautiful right now.” George seemed to be making an effort to lift her spirits. “It’s April so the cherry blossoms should be in bloom.”

She nodded. There was no need to inform the old Scot that the famous cherry trees bloomed around the Reflection Pool in Washington, D.C., not across the Potomac in Virginia.

“Do you have a number where you can be reached in case of an emergency?” George’s furrowed brow indicated his concern.

Layne shook her head. “I’ll call you when I know where I’m staying.” She patted his hand. “Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.”

“The last conversation I had with your grandmother, I promised her to look out for you.” He hesitated. “Excuse me. I don’t mean to intrude. It’s not like I’m part of your family.”

“With Nana gone, I don’t have any family that I know of, except you, George.” She tiptoed and kissed his cheek.

The old man flushed. “Thank you for that.” He heaved a deep sigh. “Well, we don’t want you to miss your flight so let me get that taxi.” He stepped off the curb and blew his whistle. The first of two yellow cabs waiting down the block whizzed to the front of the elegant old building.

Layne stood by while George loaded her suitcase into the vehicle and helped her into the back seat. Leaning into the taxi, he reminded her of her promise. “Don’t forget to let me know where you are.”

“I will.” She waved to him as the taxi driver edged into the morning traffic. “LaGuardia, please. Take me to the American Airlines Terminal.” Sitting back, she tried to relax.

The driver nodded and gave the rush hour traffic his undivided attention. Thank goodness. She wasn’t good at small talk with strangers.

***

A few hours later Layne had checked in at the ticket counter and boarded a Super 80, taking her place by a window. The aisle seat remained vacant until right before takeoff. At the last moment, a large breathless woman squeezed into the space. Meeting Layne’s gaze, the woman flashed a bright smile.

If you were too friendly on a plane, some passengers would talk your ear off. With that in mind, Layne nodded briskly then pulled a manuscript from her shoulder bag and began to read.

The new author’s story caught her attention. Soon she became absorbed in a cleverly woven tale of suspense.

Rustling paper broke her concentration when her neighbor folded the newspaper she brought aboard and Layne braced herself for unwanted conversation. She was relieved when the other woman turned to a crossword puzzle, making no attempt to talk.

In the main cabin, people in business attire prevailed, yet there were a number of passengers dressed more casually. Vacationers, she surmised.

An older gentleman two rows ahead on the aisle bothered her for some reason. He was dressed casually yet his rigid posture and somber manner indicated this was no holiday outing for him. A thick gray beard hid most of his face below a pair of strangely familiar hazel eyes when he passed her once on the way to the restroom. She reminded herself that many people had hazel eyes. Still, whenever she looked his way, he was watching her.

Layne smiled at her own foolishness. That’s what came of reading too many suspense novels. Between her position as an editor of suspense for a large publishing house in Manhattan and her own natural interest in the genre, she spent a lot of time reading suspense and intrigue.

Later she noticed the bearded gentleman chatting pleasantly with the lady seated next to him while he admired her snapshots.

The plane flew over Washington, D.C. with the congenial captain directing the passengers’ attention to the various national monuments. Minutes later the Super 80 crossed the Potomac River into northern Virginia. First they flew over suburban communities. After they’d passed a certain point, settlement was less dense. As the Virginia countryside unfolded below, Layne gazed down on pine forests intersected by highways and small towns and villages.

Marking her place, Layne tucked the aspiring author’s manuscript back in her bag, settled back in her seat and closed her eyes. As long as she’d kept busy, she could avoid thinking of the reason for this solitary flight on what would have been her wedding day. Now her thoughts traveled back to last night.

The rehearsal for the wedding had gone well. Afterwards, Freddy’s three groomsmen, waiters at the restaurant where he worked when not looking for parts in off-Broadway productions, led him off to the traditional bachelor dinner. Layne and Trish shared a quiet supper with her two other attendants in a restaurant near her apartment building.

As soon as they’d finished dining, Layne and Trish returned to Layne’s apartment in the Majestic near the Park. Layne needed to finish packing for the flight to Tahiti.

As she checked her luggage contents, she could hear the muffled sounds of a Survivor show coming from the direction of the guest bedroom.

All was quiet in the apartment by the time Layne took a shower and slipped into bed. Later her safe, normal world began to fall apart.

Hearing that hideous conversation and then finding Freddy and Trish together would have upset Layne even as a nightmare. It was terrifying because it really happened.

When she considered what a close call she had, escaping those two cold-blooded schemers, she became breathless. She was running away as fast as the plane could carry her.
$16.95
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Format: 
Warping The Mind: Arbiter Series, Vol. 1
Arbiter Series, Vol. 1 By Matthew L. Schoonover

Agustus Pilot, a detective assigned to Special Services, is not a new kid on the block. in fact, he’s an Arbiter, a supernatural being assigned to solve any paradox between God and Satan for the disposition of contested souls. He’s not your average cop. These aren’t your average criminals.

ISBN 1-59431-041-6 Mystery/Horror/ Thriller Cover Art/Maggie Dix Our Price $ 5.50
$16.95
207-p
Format: 
Tortured Souls: Arbiter Series, Vol. 2
Arbiter Series By Matthew Schoonover

Incubus-detective Gus Pilot is back in a paranormal police procedural that pits mortals and supernaturals alike against the Arbiter. When body gases escaping from a corpse start killing people Pilot is put on a timetable that pits him against wise guys, vampires, the FBI and a bodiless sylph. Side-stepping the Secret Service and a Presidential appointee he's supposed to be guarding, he must stop a plague and keep his friends from suspecting supernatural interference. But time is running out …

ISBN 1-59431-208 Science Fiction / Mystery / Police / Paranormal

Cover Art/Maggie Dix



Chapter 1

"[T]here ariseth another priest, Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life." __Hebrews 7:15,16

Webster was the first to meet the stranger, although later, when people started asking questions, he kept his mouth shut.

Webster wasn't a young man, he knew, but he didn't consider forty-nine as old as he once had. He had been in good health all his life and even though he was going bald (no graying, no thinning, just straight to bald) and had about twenty pounds too much around his mid-section, he had thought himself worldly and able to take care of himself.

He had been wrong. So terribly wrong.

Leaning against the wall of a honky-tonk, Webster was on his knees, vomiting, when the hand came down softly on his shoulder. "Are you all right?" the stranger asked.

He turned to see a face shrouded in shadows. The weak light from the parking lot lamp was behind the stranger and too far away to do anything but throw shadows on already existing shadows. Even with that thin light, he could tell the man was black. A black man in a black shirt, shadow on shadow. At this realization came a thought; a thought that made Webster lean his head against the brick wall and laugh hoarsely through split lips. His head reverberated with the sounds of country music coming from the other side of that wall. "Great!" he thought, "I must have a neon sign on my back that says SUCKER." He had already been used and thrown away once tonight, and now this guy, obviously seeing an easy mark, had come to scavenge.

The stranger wiped blood from his face with a handkerchief. He raised a hand to ward the man off. "I'm fine," he said, his voice a whisper filled with pain. His nose was broken, he had one swollen eye, and one cracked rib for sure, maybe more. For all that, he still felt lucky.

"Who did this?" the stranger asked.

"I did," he said. "It was my own damn fault. I should have known better."

Hands began probing his body; gentle, knowing fingers that seemed to know where each sore spot was; brushing over those areas without touching hard enough to cause pain. Even though he knew what those fingers were doing he still misunderstood their intent, still clung to his first impression. "You're too late," he said through split lips. "They already took it."

"Who did?" the stranger asked. "What did they take?"

For answer, he tapped the wall behind his head and said, "Everything that was of any worth to me."

"You're still alive."

"You're wrong, Mister. I'm dead. Or at least I will be when I get to Benny's."

He was about to tell the stranger to mind his own business, to find someone else to mug, when he caught sight of something in the weak parking lot lamp. The stranger turned sideways while probing his body and the dark shirt he was wearing suddenly took on a minor glow of its own. It was centralized, localized, singular, and Webster had to stare for a minute before he understood what it was.

"You're a priest?"

He caught a partial smile on the black man's face, ironic, almost impish. And then he noticed the black man's eyes.

They were gray-green.

"Who are you?"

"Someone on a mission," the stranger answered.

I must be going into shock, Webster thought as a cold finger ran down his spine. "Mission? What kind of mission?"

The priest started to speak and then stopped. "I was going to say a mission of mercy, but there is no mercy in what I've set out to do. Call it a mission of justice. I am looking for a man named Red Hurly. Truck driver. I'm told he frequents this bar on occasion."

Webster tried to stand. "He's in there," he said. "Him and his friends did this to me."

"How come?"

The words jumbled out, "Playing pool… money for Sharon… sick, real bad…needed chemotherapy and the insurance ran out. Was winning too. Red didn't like it." For the rest, he showed the priest his right hand, now a mangled heap of flesh and bone at the end of his wrist. "He didn't like it at all."

"How much," the priest asked.

"About two hundred dollars."

"No. I mean, how much do you need for the Chemo?"

Webster stared in disbelief. "Too much," he answered. "Besides, the two hundred is for Benny. He's the loan shark I borrowed money from to pay for the Chemo."

The priest helped him into a fairly comfortable sitting position. "Wait here," the priest said.

Webster reached up with his good left hand and took hold of the shirt. The priest pulled gently but Webster wouldn't let go. "You've helped me some, Father, and I'd like to repay you if I can. You can't go in there. The last black man who went in there hasn't been seen since." The priest looked at him with mild surprise. "You would help me?" An impish smile spread across his face. He patted Webster's hand in a comforting manner, dislodging it from his shirt. "Trust in the Lord," he said.

"Only if he's got a forty-five."

"Better than that." the priest chuckled.

Webster watched in stunned disbelief as the black man with the priest's collar and eerie gray-green eyes walked into the bar.
$16.95
208-p
Format: 
Spirit of Wind
Spirit Series, Vol. 3

by Arline Chase

A society murder, his psychic sister, Jillian,and suspicions of a departmental cover-up, all contribute to the complications that find Jack Abercrombie resigning from Baltimore’s Police Department and going on tour with his actress friend Genevieve Desmond during the hurricane-laced summer of 1906. Jill sees the storm coming and tries to warn them, but when have her family ever listened to her?

ISBN 1-59431-651-1 Paranormal / Mystery / Romance

Cover Art: Maggie Dix



Chapter 1

A Body on the Bed

Baltimore, February 27, 1906

Detective Sergeant Jonathan Lloyd Abercrombie III stared down at the body of Thaddeus Forthwright IV and bit his lip. As soon as the murder had been reported, Police Commissioner Harry Burke had sent for Jon and refused to allow anything to be moved. Another society crime. I might have known. Now the commissioner paced back and forth across the room, fidgeting with his bowler hat, but not touching anything.

"Pictures?" Jon asked.

"The photographer's on his way." Burke fished a cheroot from his coat pocket and stuck it in his mouth, but when Jon gave him an impatient look he didn't light it. The commissioner, a large, bluff Irishman who still spoke with something of a brogue, had been asked before not to add things like dead matches and cigar ashes to murder scenes.

Jon busied himself with his notebook, writing quick descriptions of all that he saw and making notes of what things he'd like to take into evidence. At twenty-seven, Jon was the youngest detective sergeant on the force and though he frequently heard remarks about his rapid advancement in the department being due to his family's influence, he had learned to ignore them. "Rich kid" they called him, when in actuality Jon had no other income than his salary. True, his attorney father was quite rich and his sister, Jillian, was very rich indeed, but Jon himself had almost nothing. Having no cost-of-living expenses was one of the reasons he lived in his sister's house on Hunter Street, but the least important one. Jon was genuinely fond of his sister and he felt protective of her as well, so living in her home was both a pleasure and a duty. Besides Genevieve Desmond, the woman he loved, had refused to marry him at least a hundred times and she was his only good reason for moving out.

Jon sighed and told himself silently to get his mind back on business. He noted a vast quantity of home remedies, including purges, bromides and a generous-sized bottle of Heroin cough syrup, and another of Fowler's solution littered among the gleaming silver-backed combs and brushes on the dresser and thought the victim had perhaps been something of a hypochondriac.

The body lying on the bed was naked, but for a pair of silk drawers, though a fresh shirt and trousers lay across the foot. The bullet had pierced his neck and traveled upward exiting at the temple, just above the left eye, but the damaged side of his face lay against the pillow. Forthwright had been thin, tall, and sported a trimmed-back mustache that hardly looked worth the trouble to shave around it. Except for the mess on the headboard he might almost have been asleep. He smelt of gunpowder, some kind of fancy cologne, and death.

"Did you find the gun?

"Outside the front door in the bushes under that window." Burke pointed across the room, then indicated a short-barreled, .22 revolver small enough to fit in a lady's reticule. The pearl handles gleamed in the lamplight. "Four cartridges left, only one fired. The cartridges are old rounds and the barrel doesn't seat well. Wonder it even went off. "

"Powder burns behind his ear, but nothing on his hands. Who found him?"

"The wife…she went out to the theater. Came home late. Said it must have been an accident."

"Oh, sure." Jon gave the commissioner a disgusted look. "Same as Mayor McLane year before last. Cleaning his gun. Shot himself in the head by accident." Jon looked at the window across the room by the desk. "Except in this case Forthwright threw the gun out the window afterward, shut it, and went back to bed? Tidy of him."

"McLane's death wasn't your case and I don't want to hear you mention it ever again, boyo. But this one's yours--all yours. And I want results."

"I'll do what I can, but I don't know him, nor anything about him. Living up here on Bolton Hill--he's not in my precinct. Why, me?"

"Well, now he works in your precinct, boyo. He runs Buckland Shipping now that the old man's in residence over to Forrest Street."

"Buckland--?"

"He's some relation Mrs. Penelope sent down from Philadelphia to run things here while Buckland's in prison. Not that your old man has made it easy for him. I hear that Buckland Shipping is in sad shape and may go belly-up."

Jon's face looked pale as he stepped back to make room for the photographer. "I thought we'd heard the last of the Bucklands. This will upset my sister. It's bound to."

"Do your best to keep Miss Jillian right out of it. As for hearing the last of Buckland, I wouldn't rightly count on that. Seems the old man's been angling for a pardon from the Governor's office. He might get out yet--if his pockets are still deep enough when your old da gets through with him."

"Surely you don't think the governor--?"

"Well, perhaps not. But his staff makes recommendations now, don't you know? The poor fellow might sign something recommended without checking too close into it then, might he not?"

Jon's sister Jillian, once engaged to the Buckland heir-apparent, had certainly suffered enough at the hands of his family. But keeping her "right out of it" would be downright impossible. Jon had learned at an early age that there was no keeping secrets from his sister. With another sigh he said, "Let's go talk to the wife."
$16.96
656-p
Format: 
Shape of Fear
Arbiter Series, Vol. 3

By Matthew L. Schoonover

Detective/Incubus Augustus Pilot meets the vampire Moineau at last in Shape of Fear, another thriller from Matthew Schoonover.

This time Internal Affairs is after the Special Services Squad in general and Pilot in particular. His new partner, a georgeous black woman known as Danny Rodriquez, is supposed to get under his skin and search out his secrets. But Danny, victim of a blood ritual plot, is more attracted to the vampire …

ISBN 1-59431-002-5 Mystery / Horro / Thriller

Cover Art/Maggie Dix





"I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood. How shall I say what wood that was! I never saw so drear, so rank, so arduous a wilderness! Its very memory gives a shape to fear. Death could scarce be more bitter than that place!" ___Dante, THE INFERNO



"Show me the world's desire and I will show you the shape of fear." ___ Santiago Weneslau Ortega

Chapter 1

Night came on owl's wings; thick and heavy, swift and silent. The sky darkened as lights winked on in buildings across the metropolis, eyes of yellow and white, some shaded and curtained in reds and blues and greens like the mascara-covered lids of harlots. It was hot and humid, and sweat came as readily to those venturing out into the somber night as from the heavy sloughing whine of air conditioners.

Angelina shook her head at these thoughts. "I've got to stop reading those Romance novels," she griped to herself. The black man beside her stopped looking at the sky and turned his attention to her. She shook her head to indicate the unimportance of her thoughts. He smiled.

He was a strong and healthy-looking young man, self-importance written all over his demeanor, with close-cropped hair and sharp copper eyes. Angelina knew that her own ebony, seductive good looks went well beside the man's. They could have been companions, perhaps lovers. But one look in her watery brown eyes told the real story. He was the candyman and she had a sweet tooth.

"Satan Black," he said.

Angelina shifted nervously from foot to foot, feigning attention. He smiled patiently. "My dad used to call nights like this Satan Black," he explained.

"Whatever," she said, shrugging her shoulders.

"I didn't want you to misunderstand," he added. "What I said wasn't meant as an insult."

She didn't bother to shrug. "Do you have it, Milo?"

Headlights flashed up the far side of the alley. Milo slipped back between dumpsters and disappeared expertly into the shadows. The car pulled in a short distance and stopped, splashing Angelina with its Halogens. She stared into the headlights like a doe caught in mid-leap. There was a pause as the driver shifted gears and then the car backed into the street and drove off the way it had come.

Milo emerged from between the dumpsters and snagged the woman's attention with a hand that swung leisurely by his side. It held a cellophane packet with a whitish-yellow powder in it.

Angelina began salivating and impulsively reached for it.

Milo pulled it away, placed his other hand on her shoulder to ward her off. "What you got to trade?" he asked.

She looked shocked. "You never asked for anything before," she protested.

"I'm asking now."

"Bastard!"

"Now, now." He brought the packet up so she could see it. "Reminding me of my good qualities won't get you what you want."

"I don't have any money," she cooed, trying to look sexy.

Although he didn't show it, Milo found her ploy working quite well. No wonder she was so good at her profession, he thought. He forced himself to laugh and shake his head.

Pissed, she said, "What do you want?"

"A trade," he answered. "One Bliss for another."

She eyed him eagerly, desperately.

"I want you to meet someone."

"Who, where, when?" The questions leaped over each other as she eyed the packet.

Milo slapped her. She rocked on fragile feet and bounced against one of the dumpsters. He caught her before she could fall and held her tightly by both shoulders, forcing her to look into his eyes. "Pay attention," he hissed, suddenly serious and emitting an aura of danger Angelina had never before experienced around him.

There was satisfaction in his eyes at the fear on her face. Milo laughed harshly. "Only a week and already hooked. Ready to sell your soul yet?" His smile was wolfish, predatory. "Are you listening?"

She nodded, her eyes never leaving his.

"Good! I'm going to give this to you—" he waved the packet at the corner of her eye—"but I don't want you to use it yet. Do you understand?" She nodded eagerly, her eyes shifting to the packet. "If you use it now, I won't give you any more. Ever. Do you understand?"

Again she nodded vigorously.

"There is a door at the end of this alley, a metal door with a neon yellow stripe on it. It's not locked. You will take this packet and you will go through that door. Go straight through that room and you will find a set of stairs. Take those down to the basement. You will find a small room to the left of the stairs. Go in there and sit on the bed. Do you understand so far?"

She moved her head in the affirmative, but he made her repeat everything just to make sure. She repeated the instructions almost word for word.

"Good. There's a large box with a shaded window to one side of the room. Don't look at it. Ignore it. Once you're on the bed you can take your Bliss."

Unexpectedly, she felt herself being pushed away. She tripped on her own heel and fell hard to the ground, landing in a puddle of dubious origin. It reeked. She removed her hand from the puddle and forced herself to her feet. Milo laughed and tossed the packet at her.

She reached for it frantically but missed. It bounced off her forehead and fell into the puddle.

"Go!" he snarled.

She bent quickly, retrieved the packet. Wiping it across her blouse she hurried to the metal door, eager to get where she had to be to take her fix.

It took her mere seconds to find the door and open it. It opened on oiled hinges, making hardly a sound. From the backwash of a street light she could see the door on the far side of the room. She stepped inside and was half across the room when the door closed, engulfing her in darkness. Her steps faltered. She hit something metallic with her foot and stopped. She squeezed the packet in her fist tightly and scrunched her eyes shut, trying to pull up a memory of the room as she had seen it seconds before. She reached out the hand that wasn't holding the packet and moved it around in front of her. She stepped forward slowly, cautiously, unsure of where the door was.

Something brushed her cheek and she shivered, barely holding back a scream. She forced herself forward—too quick! First her hand and then her face rammed up against the door. She could feel her heart pounding madly in her chest and a warmth grow on the side of her face where she had smacked the door—felt blood pulsing to the area that would soon sport a bruise. She flailed for the doorknob, found it and pushed the door open.

Stepping into the stairwell, she was relieved to see a small light at the bottom, glowing a path that showed shadowy steps in a darker, more shadowy realm. The handrail was missing and she put one hand against the wall to support herself as she moved downward.

Her steps weren't as quick as they had been.

Her heart was still beating madly and she felt a chill run up her spine, but she didn't shiver until her hand ran through something wet and thick on the wall. It felt like melted Jello.

To her mind, that equated to blood.

She shook her head, knowing that it couldn't be. Besides, it didn't matter. She squeezed the packet to her breast, feeling the smoothness of the cellophane against her sweaty skin. Her heart still beat wildly but some sense came back to her mind and she moved down the steps as one moves to the front of a firing squad. "What does it matter," she mumbled. "It's not my blood. And as long as I get mine, what else really matters."

When she reached the basement Angelina saw the room that Milo had told her about. She paused at the door, feeling the packet in her hand, pressed against her breast, wishing she could go back, wanting to leave almost as much as she wanted the drug. Almost. Taking a deep, long breath, holding it, and finally letting it out, she said, "What the hell," and turned the knob.

The room surprised her. After everything she had gone through to get here, she expected it to be in no better condition than the rest of the building. It wasn't.

Unlike the hot, sticky outside and the stuffy stairwell, this room was cold with air conditioning. It caressed her like a welcoming hand, inviting her in.

Once she was in, she looked around. The entire room was lit with candles, some black, some red and some a peculiar shade of purple. The walls were covered in soft brown paneling and the ceiling was painted a gentle shade of pink. It was spotlessly clean, spacious and held an aura of comfort. She saw the bed against the far wall, a king size mattress with red satin sheets, four fluffy pillows and a teddy bear sitting in the middle, staring at her with black button eyes.

Angelina smiled with a remembrance of her own childhood. Of course, she didn't have satin sheets or a king-size mattress, and instead of a teddy bear she had a furry, nose-tickling stuffed rabbit named Noonie. Despite the differences, there was much about this room that reminded her of better times.

She remembered the packet in her hand and moved eagerly toward the bed.

On the nightstand she found a mirror and a razor, both spotlessly sterile, and a straw still in its paper wrapper. She carefully opened her packet and spread it across the flat mirror, then used the razor to build four lines of whitish-yellow powder. Removing the straw from its wrapper and cutting it down to size, she began to snort the drug. When she finished she lay down on the sheets, closing her eyes and feeling the rush of blood to her heart and head; the sense of euphoria washing over her brain, dropping like a chiffon curtain across her worries and fears, her wasted, desperate thoughts.

When the initial rush was gone and she floated in a sea of calm, she opened her eyes and looked around.

She saw the box. It looked like a confessional booth, like she'd seen in church as a child. The dark wood of the box was polished brightly and the screened window was black and open.

As she stared at it, she picked up on the noise she'd been hearing since she'd entered the room. It was the raspy breathing of someone. Someone watching from the box.

She smiled at the little window and moved her body around on the sheets, enjoying the feel of them. "Hi," she said and let her head drop back against the pillows.

The room was silent except for the breathing.

"You going to join me," she asked.

Still nothing.

"Suit yourself."

The lights in the room began to soften even more as candle after candle went out in a pantomime of air where none was present, dimming until everything was in shadows.

The door to the confessional opened and a figure emerged. Even in the shadows and at that distance, she could see the boyish figure—no surprise there—and that the youth was wearing a black cassock.

A priest! she thought. She couldn't help but giggle. It was starting to make sense. "Milo, you pimp," she breathed to herself. "You set me up with a holy man!" Holy or not, she thought, he's still a man. And that was something she knew how to handle. And, thanks to Bliss, could now look forward to enjoying it.

She patted the bed beside her, inviting him to join her.

The shadow moved toward the bed hesitantly.

Shy, Angelina thought. She knew how to encourage that kind too. She smiled and closed her eyes. "Whenever you're ready," she cooed, and waited, expecting him to drop on the bed any second. Maybe even paw at her. Right now, under the circumstances, she found herself actually looking forward to it.

The time passed where she expected him to drop on the bed, forcing her to open her eyes out of curiosity.

He stood at the foot of the bed, a silhouette with white eyes and white teeth in a black shadow. For a split second, Milo's words came back to her: "Satan Black." Then the drug reminded her of Bliss and she let the thought float away.

One hand reached out to her and she saw it shake. She giggled. "Don't be shy," she murmured in a deep-throated way. "Join me."

The shaking hand moved forward, caressing her leg, massaging foot and ankle, and she was shocked to realize that her skin tingled pleasantly under those fingertips. She closed her eyes and leaned back against the pillows, floating in a euphoric world of dreams and pleasures where all was good and there was no evil. She felt his fingers move up her body . . . exploring . . . seducing her flesh . . . probing . . . and resting, finally, on her neck, tickling one ear lobe.

Even as she was enjoying the sensations a disturbing thought crept into her mind, one that she tried desperately to ignore, fighting and losing a mental battle to stay in the world where all was good and wonderful. She felt his presence, just as she felt his hand on her neck, his fingertips on her ear lobe, but she hadn't felt any pressure on the mattress as his body climbed on the bed.

Her body remained relaxed, no visible sign that the thought was winning, except that her eyes began to scrunch tight.

Her sensory perception increased even as an idea embedded itself in her psyche; feeling the hand and fingertips with a new awareness—how cold they were and how sharp and ragged the nails felt --; the sudden awareness of odor, the foul smell of his breath as it washed against her cheek and the taste of his presence like bitter aluminum at the back of her throat. She moved her head, shaking it the way a dreamer might shake away a nightmare.

But the nightmare would not go away.

She was forced to open her eyes. The world had lost all color and everywhere she looked was in shades of black and white.

Her eyes continued to open, wider and wider as she saw the shadow floating over her body, one hand at her throat. It was a black shadow, hiding the man behind a darkness that should not have been there. She saw the white of his eyes clearly—pupilless eyes!—and the glistening shimmer of light off his yellow-white teeth, yet she could not see the man!

The caressing hand abruptly changed to a vengeful claw. It clamped down hard on her throat.

Her eyes widened even more as she saw the glittering reflection of herself in the blade of the machete in his other hand.

He laid the machete on the bed, out of sight, and his free hand deftly stripped her of all her clothing. Then it began doing things to her body, things that made it respond in a way her brain would not, could not respond to in its terror stricken state. Part of it, she knew, was the drug in her system; part was a strange charismatic power that this man must possess, and part was an intangible something that escaped her consciousness. Despite her fear and terror she heard and felt herself responding to his caresses.

She was engulfed in a cocoon of ecstasy and horror, loving and hating every bit of it, her mind split and floating in a swirling, Sargasso sea of pleasure that knew no right or wrong. Her eyes, beyond her control now, focused on the one aspect of the man that was clear to her.

The white teeth parted as if in laughter but she could hear nothing. She found herself mesmerized by that mouth, looking through and around the teeth. The mouth was as black inside as out, revealing nothing but bodiless canines and incisors. And as the pleasure cresendoed, the inference to laughter ceased and the teeth shifted. They moved closer to her face, a fiery furnace of breath spewing across her nostrils and lips. . .

She tried to scream, in horror or ecstasy she didn't know, but it was too late.
$16.95
209-p
Format: 
Swan Song
Alex Masters Series, Vol. 4

by Brenda M. Boldin

Alex Masters is back for the forth and final episode in this popular mystery series. This time she's a suspect in a drug deal gone wrong? This time it looks an awful lot like she might be guilty. Will Cole Armstrong lose his favorite songbird forever? For before it's over, Alex's/Lexi's life is on the line again? Will it be wedding bells for Alex and Cole at last? Will she even survive?

ISBN 1-59431-294-X Mystery/Romantic Suspense Cover Art by Maggie Dix



Prelude

Alex Masters ducked into the alley. She peeked around the corner, trying to make sure she'd just seen what she thought she'd seen. Her heart rate had suddenly tripled at the sight of him. Just one more look to be sure.

No. It wasn't him, too young. She let out a sigh of relief. That ghost wasn't back to haunt her at least. At first glance the resemblance had been amazing. She watched him walk by the alley and saw the difference in build, gait.

When she caught her breath once more and her heart stopped pounding, she slipped back onto the sidewalk and continued on her way to Jellyroll's.

He answered at her first knock and ushered her inside. Alex stepped through the doorway a bit warily. This was her normal time, her normal day. He should have been ready with her stuff and just given it to her. She stayed just inside the entrance.

"What's going on? Where's my stuff?"

Jelly gave her a big smile, suspicious in and of itself. "Just a little mix up. I didn't get a delivery last night. I have something else though. Do the same thing. Just keep your energy up."

Alex eyed him suspiciously as he reached under a sofa cushion and pulled out a small packet of white powder.

"No. I'm not going on the hard stuff. I told you when I started coming here, I just need a little pick me up because the pain meds drag me down so much."

"Easy girl. Easy. This is the same thing, just in a powder. I swear. It's just this one time." He eyed her. "Of course if you'd rather go home empty-handed."

Alex dropped her head back and it smacked against the wall. Shit, that hurt.

Maybe this was a sign she was supposed to stop. She needed to cut back at the very least. If she could only kick the painkillers it'd all be fine. But she couldn't sleep without them.

A shiver of cold went through her and her body trembled, begging to be fed what it needed.

"Just this once?"

"Sure. I'll have your regular stuff next time, I promise."

"Same price?"

He grinned. "Same price." He handed it to her as she handed him the wad of bills.

Chapter One



Homicide Lieutenant Cole Armstrong followed the sound of raised voices. At the closed door to Vice Lieutenant Steve Miller's office stood four detectives, with their ears to the wall. When they saw Cole they straightened and had the decency to look slightly embarrassed.

Cole indicated Steve's office with his chin. "What's going on? I heard it all the way down the hall."

"The Loot and Alex are going at it."

Cole raised an eyebrow. "Alex Masters?" They all nodded in unison. Cole sighed. "How long has this been going on?"

To a one, they looked at their watches. "More'n five minutes." Butch Gordon replied.

Cole debated almost a full minute, still the arguing continued. It didn't sound like they were going to wind up any time soon. With another heavy sigh he stepped to the door and quietly opened it.

Alex Masters had both hands flat on the desk and she was leaning into Steve's face. Steve, normally a very placid man, had a complexion the color of Bing cherries.

"This is useless," Alex was bellowing. "I quit. Do everyone a favor Miller: go shoot yourself." She pushed herself off the desk, started to turn away, then whirled back. "Better yet, tell me when you're ready and I'll do it for you!"

She brushed past Cole without seeing him or any of the men standing around the doorway.

Steve sank back into his chair with a sigh of relief. "I was beginning to think I was going to have to throw her out bodily." He glanced at Cole. "What a law suit that would've been, huh?"

Sensing that as an invitation Cole closed the door, much to the disappointment of the rest of the Vice squad. Taking a seat across from Steve he asked, "What the hell was that about?"

"Your girlfriend's using Armstrong. You know that?"

"Whoa. Back the train up. In the first place, she's not my girlfriend." At his colleague's skeptical expression, he felt the need to defend himself. "We're friends. She sings in my band, but that's as far as it goes."

"Whatever you say."

"What makes you think she's using drugs?" Cole tried to shift the topic.

Steve gave a short burst of laughter and pointed at the door. "That wasn't proof?"

"Some people have tempers."

The Vice detective leaned back in his chair and looked at Cole. "In denial are we?"

Choosing not to answer, Cole asked another question. "So that's what all the shouting was about? You accused her of using and she denied it?"
$16.95
575-p
Format: 
Wake the Dead
Kydon Chronicles, Vol 5

By Robert Legleitner

Dead men seem to be breaking out of their graves. Are they the walking dead? Or are these sightings connected to a posh spa run by a doctor rumored to have worked with Nazi medical experimentation? Reunited lovers Kydon Schmidt and Robin Wyngate track fleeing Nazi war criminals. Gay content, adult situations.

ISBN 1-59431-081-5 Action-Adventure/ Gay/ Mystery

Cover Art byMaggie Dix

Also available in RTF and HTML formats.



Chapter One

Italy, February 1946

Death was in his hand. The man calling himself Signor Dicosta held an amber capsule, easily swallowed, and then blessed release and freedom. Many people, if not most, believed or hoped that death was only the gateway to a better life. He was fortunate. He knew it.

Dicosta beckoned the waiter and ordered steamed shellfish. His command of Italian was not good, he had to repeat himself, and that annoyed him.

The elderly quartet rattled sheet music. Three white-haired men and a fragile old woman no larger than her cello began playing "Musette's Waltz." None of the patrons seemed to notice them. Dicosta lit a cigarette as the waiter served the wine. A man and woman came in and took a table near him. The smell of rain and wet wool came with them mingling with the aroma of food and cigarette smoke.

Outside, the street was shiny but the rain had stopped. Here in the village, the houses and the apartments above the shops were curtained and shuttered against the bitter February day. Beyond the piazza, beyond the church, the houses were farther apart, the trees thicker. Farther out, between dark umbrella pines and spears of black cypresses, stood the clinic.

He wondered if they'd take his body back to the clinic. No, the mortuary.

He put the capsule in his mouth and washed it down with the pale wine just as the plate of steaming mussels was put in front of him. Thirty minutes left in this life, a life that had gone awry. He took his watch from his pocket.

The seal his father had given him was gone from the chain. The tiny gold ring which held it was still on the chain but the solid gold disk with an embossed Roman eagle was missing. He had not meant to take this last journey without it. It must be in his room at the clinic. Too late now to go after it.

Later, when he sagged against the table, fell sideways off his chair, and heard alarmed voices that dimmed at last to silence, it didn't seem to matter.

***



Ida Gentili held a parcel tight as she hurried along the street. Her aunt knew someone in the black market, and tea and sugar were always wanted. Ida would brew a pot for her English employer when she got to the house.

As Ida passed the restaurant, she glanced through the steamy windows. She saw Signor Dicosta alone at a table. He had been pointed out to her at the clinic, but she never expected to see him in Santa Maria a Mare where her two surviving relatives felt safe. She must tell them.

She was startled when he fell to the floor. The people around him turned to see and some rose to bend over his prone body. Another man she recognized, the local doctor, gestured for the others to stand back as he knelt by Dicosta. Ida saw the doctor feel for a pulse, saw him touch Dicosta’s neck, before he shook his head and got to his feet. A woman near the fallen man screamed.

Two people came out into the street saying, “He’s dead, did you see?” and Ida answered, “Yes,” as if they’d spoken to her. She hugged herself. The parcel pressed against her chest and reminded her that she must go.

At the house, Ida hung her coat on a peg in the closet near the kitchen door. She drew water for the kettle. Signora Parmenter was busy writing in her study but she would want a cup of hot strong tea. Dinner must be prepared and served.

Ida wondered if she should tell anyone that Signor Dicosta was dead. But by now everyone in the village must know. The man died in a crowd and the word must be in every house. Lina Monti, her aunt, and her cousin Rosa would hear the news and be comforted. The matter was settled. Ida set out the cup and saucer, filled the sugar bowl, and laid the tea tray. The matter was settled and she hadn’t lifted a hand against the man.
$16.95
125-p
Format: 
Spirit of Fire
Spirit Series, Vol. 2

By Arline Chase

The story was fiction, but the Fire was real. When the most hated man in Baltimore is stabbed in the back, youthful detective Jon Abercrombie hunts a murderer as the city burns around him. When an newspaper editor is killed, Jillian, his psychic sister, offers her advice, but her warnings of fire make little sense. A blackmail scheme and more murders build the suspense. Then Jon's mother is kidnapped by the killer. Can Jon track down the murderer in the midst of the greatest conflagration 1904 Baltimore has ever seen? Can he do it in time to save his mother?

ISBN 1-59431-066-1 Historical / Mystery / Romantic Suspense

Cover Art by Maggie Dix



Baltimore Winter, 1904

On the ground floor of the Flag-Bulletin Building the mighty presses of the Federalist Flag newspaper roared out the green edition, while two stories above in a paneled office just off the newsroom, a man with a large pair of composition scissors protruding from his shoulder, lay slumped across a roll-top desk. Blood darkened the blotter, ran across the desktop and stained its walnut wood.

The figure watched as the pool of blood reached the telephone cord and ran in a semi-circle around the loop., then stopped. The blood had stopped.

A figure backed away slowly, opened the door to the office and left without a sound.

Inside the office, T.P. Fitzgibbons’s hand crept across the bloody desk top and reached over his shoulder for the scissors. He dragged them away from the wound and sat up, as fresh blood flowed. He reached for the telephone, smeared sticky half-congealed blood on the standard, then stopped and hung the earpiece back in the cradle with a thoughtful look. Behind him, a door opened, but Fitzgibbons did not turn around. He only glanced up at the convex mirror on the mantle, an expression of surprise on his face.

“Oh, it’s you? Good.” He did not even look up as a gloved hand reached over his shoulder to pick up the bloodstained scissors from the desk.

* * *

Detective sergeant Jonathan Lloyd Abercrombie III’s neat hands tightened on the neck of the telephone as if he wanted to strangle it. His sister Jillian’s voice came over the line with only a mild stutter of static. “There’s death wrapped in old glory! You must be careful Jack, for you will soon be in grave danger.”

Jon entertained thoughts unbecoming to a police detective sergeant, albeit a newly appointed and exceptionally youthful one. In these modern times, there were more than ten thousand telephones in Baltimore City. He cursed the day his sister Jillian had installed one in the front hall of the Tyson Street mansion they shared. Jilly was difficult enough at best, but since she had embraced spiritualism her constant messages from “the other side” had exhausted Jon’s patience. The telephone only extended her range for dispensing pointless information.

“Are you listening?” Jill sounded exasperated. “Heloise has been nattering away at me all day in medieval French and you know how bad my French is, Jack. But now I’ve figured out what she’s saying. You are in grave danger. Hello! Are you listening to me?”

“Yes.” Jon closed his hazel eyes and bit back a curse. All the family did it, but he hated to be called Jack, his father’s boyhood nickname, almost as much as he hated Heloise. Jilly had clung to her imaginary playmate long past babyhood and had recently elevated her erstwhile make-believe friend to the role of “spirit guide.” For the past year she’d filled her house with a host of table-tapping, ectoplasm producing, last-trump-blowing, frauds. Jon tried to be tolerant of Jill’s supernatural “studies,” but he privately thought she used her quest for the spirits as an attempt to escape her grief after the death of her fianc‚ and the bitterness that had followed. He wanted to hang up, and he would have, but Jill would probably only call back.

“Jack? Don’t you dare hang up on me! I hear what you’re thinking.”

Jon could almost see her running her hand through that wild gold-streaked hair, her brown eyes moist with tears as she clutched the fluted handset in the entry hall. He turned his lean body away from listening ears, thinking were it not for the fortune she had inherited from their grandmother, half the world would have thought his sister stone mad, rather than “eccentric.” Jillian’s behavior sometimes embarrassed Jon, yet he loved her with all the exasperated resignation of an indulgent older brother. Not for the first time, he wished he knew what to say.

“Jack! Say something, can’t you?”

He chose his words carefully, knowing the other men in the station were listening. “Jill, really, it’s an exceedingly dull day here. The kind that makes me wonder why I gave up law school.” Jon winced. Why had he mentioned law school? The senior men would think him pretentious and any mention of the bitterness that had all but destroyed their family, and resulted in Jon’s choosing to walk a beat in Pigtown rather than finish his law degree, always upset his sister.

“How is she?”

“Who?” Jon’s eyes flicked to the framed daguerreotypes on his desk. One was of his parents, one was Jill dressed in the fashionable ruffles often depicted by Charles Dana Gibson’s drawings. On the wall above was a framed poster of a young woman with long shapely legs, half-falling off the back of a nervous looking horse. Theatrical type proclaimed, “Genevieve Desmond as Mazzeppa.”

“Your friend, the one “

“Desmond is fine and none of your business.”

“Yes, well, I must be going. You’re much too busy to talk to me right now. The bull dog will be along any minute.”

“What?” Jon bit his lip. “What are you talking about?”

“How should I know? The voices never explain anything. All I know is the bulldog is coming and it means danger. Oh! And do wear your gloves, Jack. The thick ones. Heloise says that’s very important, though she doesn’t know why. You mustn’t take them off at all for the next week. I’ll see you at dinner. Maggie’s roasting a leg of lamb. And don’t forget, Madame Hortense is coming tonight to materialize her spirit guide for us. Sir Harold? Sir Hart? I forget. Anyway, he’s a Knight of the Round Table and communicates directly with King Arthur.” Jill’s voice took on excitement. “Oh how I wish I had a true talent like Madame’s. I mean can you imagine what would happen if I had the power to bring Heloise into the corporeal world?”

“I shouldn’t care to think about it.” At Jill’s sharply indrawn breath, Jon realized he had hurt her feelings. “Dash it, Heloise cause quite enough trouble as a disembodied spirit. Why on earth would you want to materialize her so she could plague us even more?” Jon caught the grin on Cameron Hollister’s face. The older detective would never let him live this down. So much for his plans to be circumspect.

“Jack, I wish you’d have a little respect. I may not have a true talent like Madam Hortense, but “

“Balderdash!” His comment was followed by a resounding bang from the other end of the line.

Jon rubbed his ear, hung up the telephone, and apologized to the duty sergeant for tying up the line.

“It ain’t everybody on the force that gets personal calls over the telephone.” Hollister cleaned dark-rimmed nails with a matchstick. “‘Course I reckon an Abercrombie can afford it.”

Jon shrugged. In theory, Hollister was his mentor, but they had never got on well, in part because they came from such different backgrounds. Hollister had worked his way up from the ranks and often told war stories of bloody battles with railroad strike-breakers and the horrors of cleaning up after the Jones Falls flood, back in the ‘80’s. Jon was the youngest detective in the city and he had risen to his rank with less than a year in the field. He’d be a fool to expect Hollister to like him, but he found the older man’s superior attitude tiresome, nonetheless.

“How about that?” The duty sergeant grinned as he looked up from his log book. “Miss Jill Abercrombie called, and asked to speak to her brother, JACK.”

“Jack, Jack, Jack! You’ve been keeping secrets from us.” Hollister started on his other hand. The matchstick left a rim of black close to the quick. “Jack and Jill. How cute. My, what a cozy little family the Abercrombie’s are!”

“Actually I’ve always preferred Jon. Jack was my father’s nickname as a child. And after Jill was born, calling me Jack became his idea of a joke.”

“Your old man? Ain’t he that hotshot lawyer? High-muckety-muck in city politics.” Both Hollister’s feet hit the floor and he leaned forward, staring at Jon. “With all the strings your old man must’ve pulled no wonder say, how come he ain’t got you stationed uptown with the rest of the rich bastards?”

Jon only shrugged and reached for some paperwork. No point in denying Hollister’s accusation. If he said he hadn’t spoken to his father in nearly two years, nobody would believe him. Or worse, maybe they would and he’d find himself reading it in the newspapers over breakfast. Jon stared at the rain beating on the windows, remembering. During what Jill always referred to as the “family quarrel,” in a cold rage his father had instructed Jon to stop seeing a certain actress whom he termed “nothing but a cheap gold digger.” Unless Jon complied, his father said, he’d be cut off without a penny. Jon had joined the police force the next day. Since then he had not accepted a cent of his father’s money. Living on a policeman’s salary, Jon could no longer afford to send Desmond roses after every performance. Now he was lucky to manage a modest floral tribute on special occasions. And that only because he saved on living expenses by sharing his sister’s household. Jon glanced at the framed pictures again and smiled, then devoted his attention to a treatise on the work Scotland Yard was doing on the newly developed standardization of fingerprints. He ignored a steady stream of jokes about disembodied spirits and nursery rhymes passed back and forth between Hollister and the desk sergeant. Jon had heard them all before.

“Oh, Ja-ack! Sorry, I didn’t mean to spook you, but you’d better wake up. We wouldn’t want Jill to break her little crown worrying about you making a bad impression.” The duty sergeant nodded toward the door. “The bulldog’s on a tear!”

“Bulldog?”

“Burke, you idiot! The police commissioner is parking his automobile outside. Boy, you really are green.”

“Have you already forgotten me, boy?” Harry Burke, swung through the door, propelling his large frame and beer belly forward with a fluid motion. Jon remembered him all right. Though their former association had been brief, Jon’s life had changed forever that night. Burke’s dark grey eyes missed nothing, despite the bags under them. He exuded the scent of cigar smoke and bourbon, but nobody complained. Neither did they mention the puddles forming on the floor from his dripping boots and umbrella.

Hollister got to his feet. “Commissioner.” Belatedly, Jon remembered his manners and rose from the own chair. Burke nodded to Hollister, but leaned on Jon’s desk, spattering raindrops on the curly oak. “Got us a murder. You’re reassigned!”

Jon fought to gather his wits, banishing echos of Jill’s voice whispering murder. “Who? Where?”

“Somebody finally stabbed T.P. Fitzgibbons in the back. ‘Course it was only a matter of time. Anyway, we got to get right over there.” Burke snapped his fingers under Jon’s nose. “Wake up, boy! Get your coat.”

“Wait a minute! Ain’t he that newspaper editor? The Federalist Flag? That’s it.” Hollister gave Burke a belligerent look. “Hey, this should be my case. I’m senior man, here.”

“I make the assignments on this one.” Burke blew smoke in Hollister’s face.

“Harry, how can you send in a green kid? You need somebody with balls on this.” Hollister glowered at Jon.

“I need somebody with brains on this! Half the city hated the bastard. The mayor’s already yelling “ Burke raised one eyebrow and stared at the older detective. “Do you really want to be the cop who couldn’t crack this one, Hollister?”

Hollister dropped into his chair like a stone. Jon got his coat and followed the commissioner outside into the rain.

“Hurry up, can’t you?” Burke dashed to the yellow Stanley Steamer he had parked in front of the station house. Jon wondered briefly where Burke got the money to afford such luxuries, then climbed into the waiting machine. Even the novelty of riding in the unusual vehicle could not distract him from his private thoughts. Burke had said everyone hated the editor of the Flag As they motored past seemingly endless brick row houses with rain-slick white marble steps, Jon summoned up bits and snatches of conversations he had heard about Fitzgibbons. No one had said anything good about the man. Fitzgibbons had married well Suzanne Lanier. Jon had known her as a child, but had not seen her in recent years. He remembered reading about the wedding, which Jilly had attended, though his mother had refused on grounds that she was unwilling to “sanction Suzanne’s unfortunate connection to an Irishman with absolutely no breeding.” Now there was gossip that things were less than perfect for the couple. Jon knew full-well that gossip was not evidence, but his mother lived for the stuff. What Burke had said was true; Fitzgibbons was one of the least liked men in Baltimore. It wasn’t just the business community he had offended. The masthead of his newspaper might claim it was “A Shining Flag of Truth,” but the social lions of Baltimore would cheerfully have lunched on his liver. Almost everything he printed stepped on somebody’s toes.

Finding the murderer would test Jon to the limit. He knew that Burke would take the credit if he cracked the case. If he failed, the commissioner could point to Jon’s legal training and say he’d assigned the best-qualified man on the force. And he was young and inexperienced enough for failure not to ruin his career completely maybe. If Burke was hedging his bets so soon, he must have serious doubts about finding the murderer. Jon sighed as the bright yellow steamer pulled up and parked beside a fire hydrant in front of the Flag building.

“How much leeway will I have on this? Experts, that sort of thing?” Jon opened the door, then glanced back.

“Anything you need, I’ll authorize the expense.” Burke reached for his umbrella, dripping on the floor between them. “Fitzgibbons has been crucifying the mayor, and half the city council, in that dirty rag of his. We can’t afford to have anyone say we ain’t trying on this one.”

Jon took a deep breath and leaned forward. “DO you want me to find the killer, or only look as if I’m working?”

“I want you to do your best, boy.” Burke met his gaze. “And I don’t want anyone to be able to say we’ve missed anything.”

“But you don’t think we’ll succeed.”

“No, sir. I do not. By god, it could have been anyone. Half Baltimore thought the man was the devil incarnate.”
$16.95
66-p
Format: 
Clan Gunn: Gerek
Scottish Heritage Series, Vol. 1

By Dorice Nelson

To become chief of his clan, Gerek Gunn must wed before his 30th birthday, an arranged marriage, but that was how things were done—or so Gerek thought until he met his bride. Catronia has no desire to wed any man and certainly not one known as the "Beast of Battle." In disguise, Catronia flees, only to find herself sharing a crofter's hut with the very man she ran from.

ISBN 978-1-59431-190-0 Historical Romance /Suspense /Action Adventure

Cover Art by Maggie Dix



Prologue

Gunn Country

The Highlands—1632

Two days after his twelfth birthday, his mother died of a sudden stomach ailment and took with her the last thin thread of his identity. Now, the day of her funeral, he sat stiffly on a stout oak chair in the library at Killearnan. His companion since cradle days, Dubh, a huge, dark gray Scottish deerhound, lay stretched at Gerek Gunn’s feet, large head upon paws, and gazed at his master’s face. Gerek patted the dog for comfort.

The candlelight surrounding the wooden casket shimmered and swayed. The light reflected off the room’s stone walls but did not soften the angles and planes of his mother’s bold Scottish face. He looked at the shrouded woman, pale and motionless against the white cotton lining. She no longer resembled the spirited woman he knew. Alone, he grieved but did not weep over his mother’s passing.

What was he to do? Where could he go? Back to the desolate hut at the edge of the keep? Fearful of the future, he ground his teeth and cried out to his inert mother. “How could you leave? You never told me about my father as you promised. I’m not ready to be in this world without you.”

He drew in a powerful breath. It burst from him in a torrent of words. “Who was he? This father who was never father to me?” A single tear slipped to nestle at the edge of his mouth. He flicked the wetness with the tip of his tongue. He tried to halt the emotions raging through him, but her death had abandoned him. Her silence about his father had betrayed him. How could she leave him without a father, or even the name of one? He forced himself to breathe slowly. Somehow he’d get through this day, and the next. But never would he allow another woman to deceive him. His lanky body shook with despair. Trust a woman? Never!

Taps by a booted foot against the door scattered his thoughts. Dubh uttered a low growl. Gerek wiped his nose on the sleeve of his only clean shirt. “Enter.”

A serving girl whom he didn’t know slunk into the room without looking at him. With fitful movements, she put a cloth-covered tray on the table near the door and bobbed a curtsy.

“There’s nourishment for ye. To break yer fast.”

She skittered out the door and slammed it shut.

The smell of food turned his stomach. He went to the table where he removed the cloth, set the tray on the floor and gestured to the dog. “This shouldn’t go to waste. Go ahead, Dubh. You eat,” he said, moving to the tall windows of the cavernous room.

Dubh dashed to the tray and devoured the food. Just as the great dog finished and was licking his lips, he sank to the floor, thrashing in silent spasms of agony. Within seconds, the hound convulsed and lay still.

Gerek raced across the room. He stopped in mid-step. “Dubh. Dubh. Get up. No silly tricks today.” When the animal did not move, Gerek knelt and whispered, “Dubh, please. Get up.”

Nothing moved on the great dog. Gerek touched the deerhound’s neck. His friend was dead. He clasped the head and thick shoulders in his arms and dragged the body over his knees. Cradling the animal, Gerek rocked back and forth, consumed by sobs.

* * *

A day later, Harald Gunn, chief of Clan Gunn, summoned his grandson to the library. When the boy entered, Harald watched as Gerek’s eyes searched the room as if looking for his dog. The lad’s dark features and sturdy physique, the pure Norse stature, gave proof his grandson would surpass his own six feet. He smiled in welcome and motioned the lad toward a carved chair close to the fire.

Gerek slumped into the seat, asking, “Grandda, do you know who my father was?”

Harald hid his surprise. His self-restrained grandson suffered few trappings of polite society. “I’ll answer ye true, child. I have suspicions but dinna’ know for sure. Because of clan business, I never knew yer mother as well as I might have. After yer grandmother died, I could not deal with either of me daughters. Yer mother was wild, willful, with many secret yearnings.”

What happened to his eldest daughter? She spent nights away even when the lad was in his cradle, forcing Harald to send a deerhound pup for protection. The lad remained quiet, composed, too controlled for twelve. Had he understood the answer? Harald shook his head. It was too late to sorrow over things.

The cracking voice of a twelve-year-old intruded on his thoughts. “How could my mother leave me not knowing the name of my father?”

“She did, laddie. There’s naught to be done for it now.” He hoped the brusque comment would end the conversation. “What’s important now is the danger for ye here with none but meself to protect ye. Ye have enemies who might wish ye dead.”

“Why? Why would anyone want me thus?” Gerek asked. “I’ve done nothing bad to anyone in the clan.”

“Aye, but what if yer father were someone of note? Would he somehow cause trouble for the Gunns? Our clansmen fear things they do not know.”

A wary expression furrowed Gerek’s brow. He slouched in his chair. “But Grandda….”

“I must speak with ye as if ye were full-grown. Yer uncles are dead. Only last week, we lost me youngest in a battle with the Keiths. Yer cousin Baen and ye are the last of the male line. One of ye must become Gunn or our line will die.”

Gerek’s mouth opened but he closed it. His gray eyes widened and he tilted his head toward Harald.

“Laddie, I canna’ keep constant watch over ye. Ye must leave here.”

Gerek flattened himself against the back of the chair. “What am I to do? Where am I to go?” His stomach muscles tightened. Sweat dampened his palms.

“Foster with a man who has recently gained his title. I’ve sent someone to make the arrangements.”

Gerek’s hands, slippery with sweat, were planted on the chair seat. He pushed himself upright and stared at his grandfather. Grandda didn’t look very well. His face was gray, and white hair mixed with black. His eyes were rimmed with sorrow. Why hadn’t he seen all this before? Grandda meant more to him than any other person.

“It pains me, laddie, but I will speak harsh words to ye. Ye came into this world a bastard. Ye’ll need to make yer way in this world. But ye’re brave and determined, a strong, towering lad for yer years. ‘Tis best ye become a warrior. Forge a reputation.”

Gerek scrutinized his grandda whose eyes were shiny from unshed tears, his shoulders bowed from worry. “A warrior?”

“’Tis not what I had in mind fer ye.” His grandda paused. “But if ye make yer name on the battlefield, bastard though ye be, ye’ll be welcomed everywhere in Scotland.” He placed a large hand on Gerek’s head and said softly, “’Tis time to leave, son, to find a place of yer own making. There’s none here can do it fer ye.”

Gerek cocked his head. “A warrior? Well, if you want me to be a warrior, then a warrior I’ll be. A brave one. Then I will be The Gunn.”

His grandfather nodded. “Also, ye are to marry before the end of yer thirtieth year. I’ve pledged with Angus MacFarr, the Earl of Crannog, whose wife we rescued from the Keiths.” He stood, stretched and walked to the windows.

“Marry?” Marrying meant nothing to Gerek. “I don’t understand.”

Glow from the departing sun streamed through the glass onto his grandda’s skin. “Ye dinna’ have to marry tomorrow, son. The child is newly born.” His grandfather smiled as he approached and grasped the back of a chair. “’Tis a promise I made with MacFarr when we rescued his wife this past week, the wee bairn in her arms. Gerek, ye know how I feel about promises. A man must honor them always.” His grandda’s gaze penetrated his own.

Gerek didn’t care about marrying. If he was to be a warrior, he might not live to marry anyone, or be Gunn either. Head down, he vowed, If I live, I will be chief of all the Gunns. Decision made, he laughed for the first time in weeks.

Grandda laughed with him. “Ye need not concern yerself with the pledge now, son. Make yer name and all will be well, I promise ye.”
$16.95
190
Format: 
Saranac Lake Requiem
Saranac Lake Series, Vol. One

by Shel Damsky

When Gabriel Levine punches out a guy who is being rude to a dancer, then learns the next day the guy's name is Dutch Schultz, retreat seems in order.

To avoid a gang war Lucky Luciano sends Gabe to Saranac Lake to recuperate from tuberculosis.…in love with a beautiful woman, and surrounded by people who look up to him, Gabe doesn't know that even in Saranac Lake, tuberculosis is not his most dangerous enemy.

ISBN 978-1-59431-202-2 Historical / Mystery /Romance/ Suspense

Cover Art by Ariana Overton



Chapter 1

New York City

At ten o’clock on a Spring morning, as the noises and smells of the crowded Lower East Side came in the window. Housewives screamed at the pushcart guys; the pushcart guys tried to stop the gangs of kids from stealing their rotten vegetables.

Gabriel Levine sat on the edge of his rumpled bed, not tumbling yet to the idea of how much trouble he was really in. He ran his hand through his light brown hair, lit a Lucky Strike, drank a shot of bad bootleg whiskey, coughed for almost thirty seconds straight and wondered why naked women walked like ducks.

Like the mahogany beauty coming into the bedroom with a cup of coffee for him. Even with her lithe dancer’s body, naked she walked like a duck. In clothes and high heels they walked just great, with everything moving the way it should. But considering everything, Gabe thought, naked ducks had a lot going for them too.

“Here’s your coffee, babe,” she said, putting the mug on the bed table. Like the rest of the room the table was old and scratched. Two books almost evened up the bottom of its broken leg. Other than the railroad flats he had grown up in, until their new country had killed his father and mother, his father from never understanding and his mother from tired, and his sister had married the first luftmensch that promised to take her out of there, this room was the only home Gabriel Levine had ever known.

The girl sat next to him on the sagging mattress. “You’re too skinny,” she said. “You’re almost six feet, and I bet I weigh almost as much as you do. And you’re too pale. Don’t you ever get any sun?”

“I lost some weight,” he answered, “but I’m okay. And how much sun do you get driving a hack?” But he wondered if the coughing had anything to do with it. Doc Horowitz had told him that he was getting worse, that pretty soon he had to get out of the City, go somewhere in the mountains. Wherever they were.

“How you feeling?” she asked, with concern in her voice that puzzled Gabe.

“Pretty good,” he answered. He smiled. “You give a guy a workout. But something’s bothering me, something running around the back of my head. Like when you wake up all of a sudden and you don’t remember all the money you lost playing poker or on the horses. Then it hits you. Only whatever it is, it’s where I can’t reach it.”

“You don’t remember last night?” she asked.

“Sure. I dropped some fares off up in Harlem, the Cotton Club, went in to see if I could scare up some business back downtown, had some drinks and then—”

“And then?” she prodded.

“Jesus, I got in a fight. Now I remember. Some bozo got fresh with you and grabbed your ass and…. A grin pulled up one side of his wide mouth. “And I hit him. I decked him. Son-of-a-bitch, I got in a fight and knocked somebody down. I knocked somebody down.”

She stared at him as if she thought he had missed a cue somewhere.

“Some bozo?” she said, her voice rising, “some bozo? You don’t know who you hit?” Her eyes were so wide all he could see were the whites. Like Ruby Begonia must look like on Amos ‘n’, Andy, he thought.

“No. Should I?”

“You’re goddamned right you should.”

Sounds from the street came into the window. Yelling, screaming, cursing, in Yiddish, Italian, German, and Polish, floated up from the teeming street.

“Because ‘that bozo’ was Dutch Schultz, that’s why. It was wonderful the way you helped me, but you hit Dutch Schultz. The Dutchman was who you hit.”

“Oh my god!” Gabe said. “I don’t do much right, do I? Why didn’t he kill me right there?”

“Oh, he would have, believe me. But there was too much confusion. He was screaming, his bodyguards were trying to get him up off the floor, and I got you the hell out of there.”

There was a loud knock at the door. They looked at each other, and then Gabe put on a robe while the girl ran into the bathroom. Gabe opened the door and stepped back. The man was so big that there didn’t seem to be any light coming in the doorway around him. Gabe started to say something but the man held up a hand the size of a catcher’s mitt.

“Ten minutes,” he said. “Fifteen tops. Downstairs.”

Gabe closed the door and went back into the bedroom. He sat down on the bed and took a pull at the bottle. He looked up at her as she came into the room. She was partly dressed. Her eyes were wide, staring at him.

“You see him?” he asked her. “You see the size of him?”

She nodded. “I was peeking around the bathroom door,” she said.

“He must be one of Schultz’s boys,” he said. “They’re going to kill me, aren’t they?” He stared up at her, his hazel eyes narrowed to slits over his narrow face. She sat down on the bed and took the bottle from him, took a long pull and put it back on the bed table

“I don’t know,” she answered. “I’ve seen him at the Club, but not with Schultz. He’s always with Lucky Luciano. But everybody knows Lucky and Schultz hate each other. So why should Lucky’s goon want to see you?”

“How the hell do I know,” Gabe said, his forehead creased with deep wrinkles. “To kill me, probably. Anyway, I got five minutes to shower and shave and get down there. Can I see you later?”

“Sure. Call me at the Club tonight if everything’s all right. And Gabe—?”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks again for helping me. Maybe we can see each other some more?”

“If I live until tonight, sure,” he answered, going into the bathroom.

He shaved quickly, nicking himself a couple of times because his hands were shaking and rushed through a shower. He splashed Lucky Tiger on his hair and combed it straight back, no part, like Valentino did in The Sheik, dressed and went downstairs. The huge man was leaning against the door of a black La Salle. He opened the front door and motioned Gabe in. Gabe snuck a look in the back seat, wondering if someone was waiting for him there. He knew, hell, everybody knew, that the Jewish gangs used ice picks, the guineas used garrotes, both easy from the back seat of a car.

The back seat was empty. Gabe let out a long breath, and asked the driver where they were going.

“Shut the fuck up,” he responded, the only thing he said the whole trip. He stopped the car in front of the Hotel Astor, which stood high over Times Square like a fat rich lady looking over her estate. Two men in dark suits waited at the curb, not bothering to hide the bulges under their armpits.

“He heeled?” one of the men asked the driver.

The driver laughed. “This punk?” he said, “he never had nothin’ but a water pistol his whole life.”

One of the men opened the door and Gabe got out. They herded him across the lobby to the elevators and rode to the top floor. And into the first hotel suite he had ever seen, where, like in a William Powell movie, the elevator door opened right into the living room. But that was nothing compared to the shock when he saw the two men sitting at a coffee table, drinks in front of them, their faces showing all the expression of wallpaper.

Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano. He had never seen them, just their pictures in the paper, but he knew who they were. Everybody knew who they were.

They were both dressed in dark blue pin striped suits, over white on white shirts and regimental striped neckties. They looked nothing alike, but they were thought of as twins. People said they didn’t have to even talk to each other; from the time they were kids on the street stealing pennies from back alley crap games, they could read each others minds. The dark man with the straight black hair and one droopy eyelid, was Luciano. Charley Lucky, the capo de tutti capi. The little man with the deeply lined face and big ears, his face tanned from all the time he spent in Miami and Havana, was Lansky, the brains behind Charley Lucky.

They said around town that Meyer Lansky trusted only Lucky Luciano and Lucky Luciano trusted nobody.

Besides the two at the cocktail table, a half dozen men ranged around the room. They played gin rummy, stood around, or looked out the windows at Times Square far below. They were interchangeable in dark clothes, expressionless faces and guns in shoulder holsters. They appeared to have no interest in the meeting, but each one was ready on request to serve drinks, open a window, or shoot someone—whatever was required.

When he had walked into the suite, the little man with the big ears got out of his chair and extended his hand. “Good morning, Gabriel,” he said. “Thank you for coming up,” like it had been Gabe’s idea to stop by as long as he was in the neighborhood. “This is Charles,” nodding toward Luciano, who stood, walked over to Gabe and shook hands, like he was meeting his banker, Gabe thought. “Get Mr. Levine a drink,” Luciano said over his shoulder, and one of the gorillas went over to the wet bar and poured some whiskey. He handed the drink to Gabe. “Here, you Jew son-of-a-bitch,” he said, “choke on it.”

“Easy, Salvatore,” the little man said. “Bad temper got us into this mess. Let’s not make it any worse.”

Bad temper, Gabe thought. Then this was about the fight last night. He had relaxed a little when they gave him a drink instead of shooting him. Now he stopped relaxing. Stopped dead, he couldn’t help thinking.

“Tell me Gabriel,” Meyer Lansky said, “what do you know about Saranac Lake?”

The question came from so deep in left field that Gabriel didn’t know what to say at first. Finally, “I don’t know. It doesn’t ring a bell. What is it?”

“It’s not a thing,” Luciano answered, “it’s a place. Upstate. You know upstate?”

”I was in Albany once,” Gabe answered. “Drove a Senator up there. Is it near there?”

Lansky nodded. “Saranac Lake is another couple of hours north of there. It’s mostly for people with TB.” He stopped. “We did some checking. You got TB, don’t you Gabriel?” he asked.

Gabe nodded. He didn’t know how they knew, but they knew.

“Not only a TB place,” Lansky went on, “but I hear there’s a lot of action up there. Somebody told me it’s a cross between a big hospital and a wide-open town. I can’t picture that mix, but that’s what they say.”

“But why would I be interested?” Gabe asked.

“Let’s stop the shit, kid,” Luciano growled. “One, it’s a famous place for getting cured of TB If you don’t do something you could be dead in maybe a couple of years.” He thought for a minute. “And after last night, if you stay here you could be dead in a in a couple of hours. So there might be better.”

Lansky broke in. “Let me put this in perspective, Gabriel,” he said. “You see, there’s lots going on. And suddenly you’re part of it.”

“Oh.” It was all Gabe could think of to say.

“I’ll make this quick. Dutch Schultz wants our okay to kill this new prosecutor. And that would be the dumbest thing we could do. The heat would never let up.”

He paused and without any break, Luciano took up the story. “And we can’t let that happen. Because it would start a war. And if we have a war here, people like Capone look to pick up the pieces, or Longy Zwillman is licking his chops across the river in Jersey, or the Purple Gang in Detroit would love to move in and everybody all of a sudden got his hand on his gun.”

“Schultz wants to kill everybody in sight. Between him and that grizzly bear he’s got for a bodyguard, nobody’s safe,” he went on. “And after last night, they’d be happy to start with you.”

Lansky took up the story. “And Legs Diamond is always looking for an excuse to rub out Schultz. They hate each other.” He paused, sipped his drink, and said, almost sadly, “Now you’re up shit creek, and all just the Dutchman grabs your girlfriend by her black ass.”

“You got to leave town, kid.” This from Luciano, who almost sounded like he really cared what Gabe did. “But it works out for everybody. We’re interested in all the booze that the Bronfmans and their people are sending in from Canada. We know it goes over the border somewhere near this Saranac Lake. You’re a cab driver. You could help a lot.” He looked at Gabe for a minute, lit a cigarette, and then went on.

“If we go into business up there, you can drive for us. Make sure the stuff gets in from Canada, through little places they call Chateaugay and, I think, Chazy and this Saranac Lake to Albany and here in the City. And maybe get your health back at the same time.”

“That sounds great,” Gabe said, not sure at all how it sounded, but at least it sounded better than getting shot right here in this room. “I can be ready to go in just a couple of weeks.”

“You go this afternoon,” Luciano said. He nodded to one of the hoods at the door, who brought an envelope over to him. “Here’s your ticket. Your train leaves Grand Central at 5:30. And here’s everything you need to know, about where you’re staying and like that. And there’s some cash in here.”

Gabe took the envelope and put it in his pocket without looking at it. He didn’t think it would be smart to look like he didn’t trust them. As it was, he didn’t know whether he trusted them or not, because everything was going too fast for him. The last thing you wanted to do, Gabe thought, was make these people think you didn’t trust them. It could really be the last thing you did.

“Look,” he said, “I’m sorry about last night. I’m really sorry I started this mess. I’m sorry I caused so much trouble for you. And I appreciate your helping me like this, instead of, uh, instead of ….” He didn’t finish the thought, because he didn’t want them to start thinking about an instead solution to all this.

“Could I ask you something?” he asked.

“Sure.”

Well,” he started, slowly, “you already know. About the girl, I mean. The dancer. The one I socked Dutch Schultz over, even if I didn’t know it was him.”

“So?” Luciano said.

“Well, she’s pretty swell, and she’s pretty scared about what happened last night. She’s afraid to even go back to work, you know? So I wonder if, maybe, if it’s okay with you, if she could maybe go with me to this Saranac Lake place. Then you wouldn’t have to worry about her. And maybe — “

Lansky put up his hand, stopping Gabe. “Don’t worry kid,” he said. “We already thought about her. We don’t want her getting hurt, so she’s going to be a featured dancer in one of our places. Miami, maybe, or Havana. Anyway, it was important to get her out of town before she got hurt. In fact, she’s on her way south right now. I’m sorry you won’t get a chance to say good-bye.” He looked at Luciano who looked back with no expression at all.

Gabe couldn’t think of anything else to say, and no one seemed to expect anything. He stood up and shook hands with each of them. He started to leave the room when Luciano called him back.

“You carry?” he asked.

“Do I what?”

“A gun,” Luciano said. “You got a gun?” He shook his head in disgust, like he had to ask if Gabe wore shoes.

“No.”

Luciano turned to one of the men looking out the window. “Give him a piece,” he said. The man walked over to Gabe, reached under his left arm, which made Gabe wince, and pulled out a large revolver. He handed it to Gabe. “Here,” he said, “shoot yourself. Save us all the trouble.”

Gabe put the pistol in his coat pocket, surprised at how heavy it was. He nodded at Lansky and Luciano and left the room with the two big men who had brought him there wondering how much trouble having a gun was going to get him into.
$16.95
202-e
Format: 
Murder and the Comprehensive Plan
by Shel Damsky

Two of the most terrifying words in any political district are "Planning and Zoning." Shel Damsky is back with more of his excellent legal high jinks. Prepare for adept lawyers, inept judges, and nefarious politicians—not to mention a corpse or so.

ISBN 1-59431-471-2 Mystery / Legal thriller

Cover Art by Shelley Rodgerson



Chapter 1

“Damn it to hell, that hurt,” Gideon Pomeroy yelled at the passing car, since there didn’t seem to anybody else around at the corner of Dove and Madison.

The wasp, or whatever it was, had stung him on the ear just as he opened the door and went into the restaurant. He was surprised how much it hurt and cupped his hand over it when he kissed her and ordered a Johnny Walker Red.

“What’s the matter?” she asked.

“Got stung. How long you been waiting?”

“Not long. I’ve been watching that game they’re playing at the end of the bar. Everybody yelling and dollar bills passing back and forth. What is it?”

“Liar’s Poker.”

“How do you play it?”

“It’s harder to explain than play. It goes by the serial numbers on the bills and how well you can lie about the poker hand that’s in them.”

“Let me take some bills. I want to play.”

“You’ve never played before. You’ll get killed,” he said as he handed her all the singles he had, together with a couple of fives.

She went down the bar and he started another drink. Philly was behind the bar and he looked at her and shook his head. “That’s something,” he said. “Beautiful and smart as hell. How long you figure it’ll take her to clean them out?”

Gideon looked at his watch. “She’s never played before. Maybe a half-hour.”

The door opened and Duke Mason walked in. Known widely as “Duke the Cop”, nobody, including himself at times, realized that he actually had a first and last name. Big and beefy, he had the confident walk of somebody who had two guns somewhere on him. One in the usual shoulder holster, the other on his ankle, or knee, or wherever, a habit he had picked up back when he was on the Job. It had saved him the time he had gotten stabbed and couldn’t get to the shoulder holster. He didn’t talk much, but people tended to listen.

“What’s she playing?” Duke’s voice always sounded like it was coming from a very deep place.

“Liar’s Poker.”

“She know how?”

“No.”

“How long you figure she needs to clean house?” Philly asked

Duke thought for a minute. “There’s heavy money on the bar. I figure she needs maybe forty, forty five minutes.” He looked at Gideon. “What’s the matter with you? There’s blood running down your face.”

“And he’s running me out of cocktail napkins, trying to stop it” Philly said. “He should go to a doctor.”

“It’s just a bee sting,” Gideon said, when the beautiful woman came back with a fistful of dollar bills. He noticed that the game had broken up.

“Twenty minutes,” Philly said.

“Incidentally,” Gideon said. “I just got a new zoning case. Up North.”

Duke took the napkin off Gideon’s ear and looked at it. “Yeah,” he said, slowly, “we better go.”

“Up North?” Gideon asked.

“To the doctor?” the beautiful woman asked. “Is it that bad?”

“No. To the station. Then maybe the hospital. The stupid-son-of-a- bitch doesn’t even know he’s been shot.”
$16.95
472-p
Format: 
Bird By Any Other Name-p
Alex Masters Series, Vol. 3

by Brenda M. Boldin

In the third of the Alex Masters series, Alex has started a new life yet again. She’s calling herself Lexi now, and working for her brother’s company in Bay City. When a co-worker is found stabbed to death, Lexi is suspect #1. Police Lt. Cole Armstrong finds himself hoping against hope that the clues won’t lead back to his favorite girl-singer.

ISBN 1-59431-411-X Mystery / Romance / Suspense / Series

Cover Art/ Maggie Dix



Alex Masters Series, Vol. 3 by Brenda M. Boldins

Chapter 1

Lexi Masters kept her eyes on the parking lot around her as she slid the ID card through the computerized lock entry system to the Trent Industries, Inc. building. Ears alert to any sound, she turned her attention to the numeric key pad and punched in the top secret code. The door clicked and she yanked it open. As she slipped inside, her stomach tightened and she felt a tremor just beneath her skin.

Security camera lenses followed her path across the lobby like so many eyes of portraits in a haunted mansion.

“Stop thinking like that!” She pressed the elevator button.

“Hol’ it righ’ there, don’ move!”

Lexi screamed at the top of her lungs, her feet actually leaving the floor, her hands flying toward the ceiling. The ID card sailed across the room and landed with a slap at the feet of the security guard. Lexi’s reaction startled the guard, causing his index finger to jerk on the trigger of his .9 millimeter handgun.

It all happened in under five seconds: Lexi’s scream, the guard’s startled response, the gunshot, and Lexi’s instinctive reaction to the sound of weapon fire. She found herself face down on the cold marble floor, arms spread, trembling, and very near tears. In the next instant, however, she reprimanded herself and regained control. As she tried to get to her feet, she felt a knee in the center of her back, pushing her onto the floor.

“I said don’ move!”

“Look,” she turned her head and tried to make eye contact with the guard. He was a hulk of a man. She almost giggled as her mind corrected her opinion. He looked a lot more like The Body Ventura than Hulk Hogan. “Control yourself! He shot once, he could do it again.”

“Sir,” using her most respectful voice. “I have Mr. Trent’s permission to be here. How else could I have gotten into the building? See?” She nodded in the direction of her ID card still lying on the floor. “That’s my ID. I work for my brother, Alexander Masters. He’s head of Team 3 on the Time Warp Project. He forgot some papers for an important meeting and sent me to pick them up.”

The guard didn’t move. “Why didn’ he come get ’em ’imself?”

“He’d have been late for the meeting. Look, you can call him, or Mr. Trent, they’ll tell you it’s true. Mr. Trent was supposed to have already called you.”

At that precise moment the phone at the guard desk rang. The man holding her captive looked at her with great suspicion. Still holding his gun on her, he slowly rose to his feet.

“You stay put.” He backed away, keeping his eyes, and the gun, on her as he made his way to the reception desk and picked up the phone.

“Yes, sir?” He cradled the handset between his ear and shoulder, maintaining his vigilant surveillance of Lexi as he responded to the answer at the other end of the phone line.

“Yes, sir. I see, sir. All righ’, sir.” He nudged the receiver off his shoulder and placed it back on the cradle using his left hand.

Lexi noticed he let his gun hand drop to his side as he crossed the lobby, but he continued to keep his fierce gaze focused on her. When he stood above her, his feet so close she could smell the leather of his boots, he said, “All right get up!”

As Lexi got to her feet he took a few steps away, picked up her ID card and scrutinized it. His gaze shifted from the card to her, back to the card, then settled on her again. The corners of his mouth turned down in an almost angry pout as he handed the card to her.

“Mr. Trent says to let you on up.”

Lexi allowed him to hear her huge sigh of relief as she took the card from him.

“Thank you.” She used the meekest tone she could muster, though inside she wanted the moron to have a piece of her mind. She’d never been one to respect authority figures. Not that this rent-a-cop could in any way, shape or form, be considered to represent authority, at least not in her mind.

Lexi pressed the button, again, for the elevator. To her surprise, the guard spoke.

“An’ I apol’gize about the gun goin’ off. I wasn’ really shootin’ at ya, but ya scared the hell outta of me when ya screamt like that.”

Lexi turned and gave him a small smile. “Think how I felt!”

The elevator doors slid open and she stepped inside and out of his sight. That was the last she ever saw of him.
$16.95
411
Format: 
If Thoughts Could Kill
A Tornado Man Mystery, Vol.2

by Matthew L. Schoonover

Former FBI agent Jack Monosmith survived being sucked into a tornado and thrust into fame. Now Jack has hooked up with Bartholomew, (the butler from A Sense of Endless Woes) to drive long-distance loads in his Peterbilt "Baby." A mysterious load to the palacious home of millionaire Carter Blackwood, leads them to murder and things get more complicated by the minute.

ISBN 1-59431-257-5 Mystery/ Thriller/Locked Room

Cover Art/Maggie Dix



Chapter 1



Bright blackness and blinding light.

The road was quickly disappearing in the night's darkness. The dancing demons of snow that pranced around in front of the Peterbilt reflected my headlights back into my eyes. I felt the snow chains slip momentarily on the icy slope as we inched ever so slowly up the mountain road. One wrong turn, one slip too many, and we wouldn't stop until we hit the ground one thousand feet below.

I tried to think of something else, but the only thing that came to mind was trying to figure out the name of the fellow who dropped two different size balls from some tower in Italy to prove that mass had nothing to do with the rate at which two objects, like the Peterbilt and myself, would fall.

From the corner of my eye I saw Bart sitting quietly in the passenger's seat, trying to read a new book in the afterglow of faint light coming from the sleeper compartment. He looked at me, then leaned up and over me to look out my window, shook his head in a sad, disapproving way, sighed, and sat back down.

"You want to tell me again why we're coming up here?" he asked.

"Galileo," I said. My mind was, after all, elsewhere.

"Jack," He paused to make sure he had my attention. "He's dead."

"Who's dead? Carter Blackwood?"

"No. Galileo."

"What's Galileo got to do with us coming up here to see Carter Blackwood?"

"I don't know. You tell me."

"Nothing," I said. "As long as we don't go over the edge."

Bart sighed deeply. He might as well have said tsk, tsk. "I'll tell you one thing about Carter Blackwood," he said. "If thoughts could kill that guy would've been dead a hundred times over by now."

"You know Carter?"

"I know of him. Never met the man myself."

"Luck of the Irish?"

He shrugged. "You know, back in my truck driving days, I used to drive State Highway 130 all the time, and let me tell you, it was never built with truckers in mind. Potholes and shear drops, no shoulders or road markings to speak of. It's a nightmare to drive on in the best of weather. Right now I wished I was back on 130 instead of this tinker toy truck route Carter calls his entrance road. Carved it out of the bedrock with a kid's beach shovel from the feel of it."

"It's the only road that leads up to his estate."

"Carter's Castle," he said. "Doesn't own a car, does he?" Bart put his book away and turned off the light from the sleeper. That helped my night vision, although not by much.

I said, "He has a helipad at the top of the mountain."

"Doesn't go out much, huh?"

"He's a recluse."

"Eccentric?"

"Agoraphobic. He hasn't left his castle since it was built four years ago. Or so I hear."

The heater in the cab was running full blast. Despite that, I was wrapped in a cold blanket of worry and fear that made me shiver with every few feet we moved up the mountain. The first snow of the season had only just begun to fall, it started shortly after we began our ascent and effectively reduced visibility to minus zero. The air was thinning and rapidly building up force; a force I was even more worried about. A down-draft between the mountain and our rig could push us over the edge without our realizing it. I was also worried about rounding a curve and finding it too sharp to navigate with our trailer. Or finding someone driving down the road in front of us. Backing up was impossible.

It would have been much safer to drive the rig over the side and walk the rest of the way in below freezing temperatures on the icy road, slick as a slippy-slide, with no light to see by and no feeling in hand or foot to warn of cliff or curve, crevasse or crag.
$16.95
257-p
Format: 
Murder on Margin
By Carroll M. Jones When money goes missing from his firm, stockbroker Mike Wolfe, despite his innocence, is convicted of embezzlement. After his release from prison, Mike is determined to set the record straight. Then a man from Mike's old firm is brutally murdered and he finds himself, once again, suspect number one. A great read!

ISBN 1-59431-126-9 Mystery/ Thriller

Cover Art/Maggie Dix



Chapter 1

July 4th, 1986

Dave Lovett, with only minutes to live, was thinking he would not like to be caught dead in a place like this.

The forty-one year old was a stock agent during the day, and a transporter of drugs at night. And the place he didn’t want to get caught dead in was the Naval Shipyards at Long Beach, California, the very place he was driving into in the middle of a dark night.

Under normal circumstances he would not have thought the shipyards oppressive at all, but tonight they were dark, completely abandoned, eerie, quiet …spooky.

He had scouted the area earlier, seen no one, and was all right with that, but now the fog was drifting in, sweeping across the road in front of him like smoke from some forest fire.

Leaning forward and squinting, he slowed the Mercedes to a crawl, barely managing to keep the white shoulder line in view.

A few months earlier Dave Lovett would not have risked any involvement with drugs. He was a cautious man, a simple stock accountant, for Pete’s sake, not at all interested in the danger associated with any covert activities. He had been almost content with what he could steal from trusting clients. But all that had changed when his clients began dropping him and he was forced to actually put the customer’s interest over his own, cutting his take down to a minimum.

Then, one night during a poker game in Las Vegas, he’d met a dentist from Philadelphia with the perfect setup. No money exchanges, just transportation and delivery.

No money, no risk.

All he had to do was find someone dependable to take the merchandise North, and Dave had found the perfect mule.

The fog thickened, rolling in now like dust clouds billowing up from an implosion he’d seen once in Vegas. Dave reached frantically for the half-used roll of TUMS. Driving in fog always gave him heartburn.

He pulled the Mercedes up at the appointed meeting place, still minutes ahead of the scheduled time.

Sporadic bursts of fireworks resounded through the night from across the bay, and multicolored lights flashed briefly through the misty heavens.

He parked on the outside rim of light coming from a single lamppost, the light not more than an orange glow, and exited the car. He was a man of medium build and height, dressed in a sharkskin suit, charcoal in color, with a soft aqua tie he had worn to a pre-fireworks dinner.

Dave checked his watch. One minute past midnight. He thought briefly of Rose, then bitterly of the way she’d left him. “Bitch,” he said to himself. “She’ll never see a dime of this.” The air was heavy with the smell of oil, and damp, and cold.

“Come on. Come on,” he said impatiently.

Fearful the salty fog acid might damage his new wax job, he pulled a handkerchief from a breast pocket and began to wipe the top of his car. He soon gave up, tossed the soiled cloth aside, turned to hold his watch up in the dim light, and squinted at the time.

Then he heard the soft purring sound of the motorcycle approach, heard the purr change to a small muffling halt, and he reached into the car for the kilo of Columbia’s finest.

He popped another Tums into his mouth, and quickly reassured himself this was the beginning of a very safe and profitable distribution. There would be no money transfer, merely the passing on of merchandise, for which he would be rewarded handsomely.

He belched a small hot breath, quickly reminding himself of all the precautions he’d taken.

The would-be “mule” approached dressed in black leathers with something across one shoulder. As he emerged from the darkness and into the circle of light, Dave became aware of the black grease-paint on his face, that thing on his shoulder being a sledge hammer, and a feeling of fear swept over him, swelling as the mall was pitched to the ground at his feet.

“What the—” Dave began, then stopped as he felt the point of a knife at his throat.

Moments later, sensing the life blood draining from him, he became faintly aware of a pinging noise echoing in his brain. He had felt little since the first burning pain of the knife slashing across his throat, only a sense of helplessness as darkness came and went. He opened glazed eyes with an effort to see the dark figure swinging the sledgehammer in high arcs and bringing it down swiftly on his Mercedes. All the windows were smashed, as was the hood, and now the pinging was against the doors. Unable to breathe and too weak to try, he tried desperately to sort things out. His eyes growing evermore tired, focused and set on the tattered remains of his sharkskin suit, now ripped to shreds and strewn on the ground before him. The rags were splattered with blood, his blood, blood that still spilled down his throat and out numerous openings in his chest, running down the length of his belly. His last thoughts were words he couldn’t manage to utter out loud.Oh shit. Oh shi—

***

Some fifteen minutes or so later, on the beach a few hundred yards down from the Queen Mary, where a party was still in progress, a motorcycle hummed softly off the road and down to the rocks in the darkness. A figure in black leathers stumbled frantically to the waters edge, fell to his hands and knees, and regurgitated profusely onto the wet sand. He grabbed his stomach and retched a noisy yell, emptying his insides until only a dry cough issued forth. He crawled toward the incoming rollers, took mouthfuls of the salty brine and spit it back into the outgoing tide.

Soon he arose and went back across the sand, then returned carrying a long handled sledge and a wax covered package. He dropped the package on the sand, and slung the sledge hard out to sea. Dropping to the ground on one knee, he pulled a knife from his leather boot and stabbed the package repeatedly, then rising, tossed it into the water as well. Next he held the stiletto blade to the light, examined it, then began cleaning blood from it by sticking it alternately into the wet sand first, then into the water to rinse it, and again into the sand, pausing occasionally to hold it up to the light.

One down, he thought, two to go. But he didn’t last long enough. It was too fast. He didn’t last long enough to see anything. Next time…next time I’ll use a surgical tool, maybe a scalpel…”

***

3:15 a.m.

Tracy Allen brushed a water glass from her night stand when answering the phone. She snapped the light on, squinted at her watch, and managed, “Hello.”

“Good. You’re awake. There’s been a murder down at Pier Four in Long Beach. Thought you’d like to know. They just reported it ten minutes ago, so you’d best get in high gear if you’re going to be first.”

“A murder! A shooting, or what?”

“Don’t know. They just said it was a messy one, okay?”

“Yeah. Sure,” Tracey said. “Thanks, Joe.”

“Forget it. But this makes us even, right?”

“Right,” agreed Tracy. She hung up, pulled on a pair of jeans and a heavy sweatshirt, grabbed a bag containing her cameras and a new zoom lens that was still a virgin, and left. She was there in less than twenty minutes. Moments later she was escorted to the Lakewood Sheriff’s department for struggling with a lady officer while being forcibly removed from the crime scene.
$16.95
126-p
Format: 
To Kill A Nudist_p
Nudist Series, Vol. 3

By Byron and Kay McAllister

Age and marriage haven’t impaired the brains of Carola Szegy and Ned Nackero, crime solvers of Runaway Nudist and Undercover Nudist. In this adventure, in the middle of a mountain pass snowstorm, they encounter a fellow nudist being stalked by a crooked lawman and his corrupt boss; they lock horns with a well-meaning but sick-minded anti-government “militia”; and, of course, while the cold and snow settle in, they also determine who killed whom, and how, and why.

ISBN 978-1-61386-182-0 Mystery / Suspense

Cover Art Maggie Dix



Chapter One

Mucklestone’s Folly

For Mucklestone, the director of Europa Naturist Colony on the outskirts of Skolville, Montana, trouble began when he showed up at Joe Crousseau’s office carrying the money he expected would get things going for the colony’s new project. Supposedly, before digging could begin for a new lunchroom and dining hall, all Mucklestone had to do was to ask the county for a building permit and pay a token fee. However, for unknown reasons, the county had stalled on granting the permit, and because an early start was needed in order to finish before frost, Mucklestone had become increasingly agitated. One day, somebody mentioned that, “something could probably be accomplished” through the intercession of a local power broker named Joseph V. Crousseau.

“Good,” Telford Mucklestone said, and picked up the telephone.

Crousseau said he could deal with the problem just about any day from eight to five—except that for the rest of that day, a Friday, he would be out.

“Oh, dear, so we can’t get it until Tuesday. The excavators are just waiting for us to confirm that they can start on Wednesday, and we hoped we could call them Tuesday morning and say they can finally go ahead. Well, all right then, it may, somehow, be for the best.”

“I don’t know why it’s for the best,” said Joe Crousseau, “but since it’s a sure thing, you can go ahead and call them. For that matter, can’t you come in on Monday?”

“Monday’s Labor Day,” Mucklestone reminded him.

“So?”

“The county offices aren’t open on Labor Day.”

“I’ll be in my office, though. That’s all you need.”

So on Labor Day Monday, there sat Mucklestone in Crousseau’s office, waiting for the master manipulator to return from his quasi-legal entry into the county offices next door.

Crousseau’s assistance was not exactly cheap. It was costing Europa one thousand dollars. “In cash, you understand,” Crousseau had said.

“On the bright side,” Mucklestone had told himself, “maybe it won’t be necessary to pay the fifteen dollar fee that the county would have charged.” Mucklestone was given to looking “on the bright side,” even when the brightness might be obscure to other people. At any rate, that day there was nobody working at Crousseau Enterprises but Joseph V. Crousseau himself. So it was Crousseau, not some subordinate, who had gone to fetch the permit.

“Easy as pie,” said Joe Crousseau. “I have keys to everything.” He winked, and, still holding Europa’s payment in his hand, visible for anybody to see—if there’d been anybody there to notice—he strolled off down the hall.

Mucklestone sat with nothing to do but stare around the room and listen to a faint buzz from the inactive copy machine. He soon noticed a pile of largish ledgers on the table behind Crousseau’s desk. The odd thing was, little bundles of currency stuck out here and there from each of them.

Given the arrangement for paying Europa Colony’s thousand, Mucklestone wasn’t really surprised to see that Crousseau kept quantities of money in his office, but he thought it careless to leave it lying around. Maybe September was the time when Crousseau Enterprises finished up its books? The demand for “cash only” had already tipped off even naive Telford Mucklestone that he had paid not a fee but a bribe. He had handed over ten new one hundred dollar bills. If the money sticking out of the edges of the ledgers was also in hundreds, it would amount to a much larger sum.

Perhaps it was in smaller bills—but perhaps not.

He figured, that if Crousseau had either brains or presence of mind, he wouldn’t have left anybody in a room where wads of cash were lying around plainly visible. Not even Telford Mucklestone, who knew himself to be completely honest, even if he did sometimes suspect other people of being less so.

Perhaps Crousseau was “setting him up”? He considered the possibility, but decided he thought not: there could be no reason for it.

Still the idea did worry him.

No, most likely the man was just careless. Other people might have walked off with—Mucklestone didn’t know how much. If they dared.

Mucklestone considered it one of his greatest assets that he is unusually curious. Unfortunately, an asset can, at times, be a liability.

“I could just take a quick peek,” he told himself, scooting around the desk and opening the top ledger to a page where some of the money lay. The greenbacks were not much worn, and he thought there might be about fifty of them. Thousand dollar bills.

“Wow!” he said aloud, and then realized that silence could well be an excellent policy.

He knew that hundreds are the largest bills currently in circulation, but, on the bright side—for Crousseau, at least—the date on the top one was not so long ago after all: 1964—only thirty years old. It would very likely still be redeemable, albeit possibly with a certain amount of fuss.

As he fanned through the currency to check his first impression, the same picture of Grover Cleveland showed on every bill in the pile. He put the money back where it had been—on the right-hand ledger page—and read quickly down the page at the left. Then he moved the wad of bills from right to left in order to read the next page, turned the leaf over, read on, and—suddenly remembering that Joe Crousseau could return at any moment—hastily closed the book.

Snooping is sometimes a serious mistake, and Mucklestone had by then realized that what he had seen was strong stuff. So strong that Crousseau might conceivably be putty in the hands of anyone who could prove that the ledgers contained what they contained.

Gosh, he thought, I wish I had a way to copy the pages outright.

As he sat, the copy machine’s buzz penetrated his daze.

He felt he’d been stupid not to think of it instantly. He rushed back to the ledgers, set the money aside, and ran copies of five pages from the top ledger. He would have done more, but he suddenly remembered that, only a year earlier, Crousseau had been acquitted—on a technicality—of a murder most people were sure he had really committed. Suddenly, Mucklestone’s stomach seemed to turn upside down.

He returned the ledger to the pile, inserted the money between pages that were at least near where he had found it, and snatched the ledger copies he had just made out of the bin. He dropped them into his briefcase without so much as looking at them.

He tried to think whether he could do anything with what he had made. The ledger’s oversize sheets had come close to covering the glass top of the copier, but the copies themselves were only standard eight and one-half by eleven. Lots of information from the ledger pages would be missing. Not interested in blackmail as such, he did permit himself the thought that there might be a way to turn to his own advantage whatever fragments of information his copies proved to contain. On the other hand, if Crousseau ever came to realize that those ledgers had so much as been looked into, Telford Mucklestone could be in real danger. Suddenly it struck him that he might have achieved the classic condition of “knowing too much.”

The longer Mucklestone sat and thought, the more frightened he became. His fear centered on the documents in his briefcase. He wished they weren’t there. But how could he get rid of them? He couldn’t ‘un-copy’ them. Could he just drop them into the wastebasket?

He was afraid Crousseau—or somebody who would report to Crousseau—might notice them there. Perhaps Crousseau wouldn’t know who left them? But he would know: because of the holiday, it was quite likely that nobody else would come into the office, and especially that nobody else would be left alone there. The finger would point unambiguously to Telford Mucklestone.

How about taking them back to Europa Colony and burning them? He still hadn’t looked to see what he had. In fact, he was afraid to open the briefcase to check; Crousseau might come back even while he was looking. Anyway, maybe it was just a mish-mash. He tried to remember how the ledger had been positioned on the glass when he pressed the button to copy, trying to visualize what had been copied and what had not. But he couldn’t concentrate well enough for that.

Maybe he should “blow the whistle” on Crousseau Enterprises? It was clear from the ledgers that Crousseau was dishonest—a common criminal. Or, rather, an uncommon criminal. Common criminals evade the law, while Crousseau, to some extent, appeared to control it. However, the few pages of ledger Mucklestone had read suggested it might not be easy to find a listener to whom he could safely tattle.

Obviously, part of the county government, several of the more important contractors and other businesses, and maybe even the local newspaper were all tied in with Crousseau’s graft. There was even one man in the sheriff’s office itself who cooperated with Joe Crousseau: Cliff Wadmis. Mucklestone recalled the entry quite clearly:

9/3 C. Wadmis $11,350 as agent in Cemetery extortion.

He thought, on the bright side, that overt use of the word “extortion” showed a certain firmness of character in the man, Crousseau. Villainous character, but firm villainous character. Mucklestone already knew a bit about this Wadmis person. He had arrived in Skolville practically wallowing in money—threw it around so freely one couldn’t possibly ignore him, bought and paid cash for things like fast cars and fancy clothes and wild parties. When he drank, he bought whiskey for everybody: friends, strangers, everybody!

The house he bought was practically a palace. He had joined expensive clubs; always ate at restaurants, invariably selecting the most expensive thing on the menu, French wines and all. He acted as though he wanted to go right through his money supply, as fast as he could.

Which, apparently was just what he had done.

Broke, Wadmis began to cast about for a way to continue the spree—a difficult project in Skolville, which is not exactly a land of opportunity.

Apparently looking every place for income, one day he even showed up at Europa Colony, asking whether there were any high-paying jobs available there. Mucklestone had thought the man a little thickheaded. The only positions open at the time were for quite menial labor— the only kind they ever have, except for recreation directors and chefs. Wadmis had said he wasn’t suited to scrub-work, nor anything else with a low income. He’d said he’d need at least fifty thousand a year to get by—as much as Mucklestone and his assistant, Fred Cheeberly, earned put together.

“The rest of the staff rack up from fifteen to twenty thousand apiece. We just couldn’t pay anything like the range you’re talking about. I’m afraid in spite of my best intentions, most of my people are underpaid, but it’s hard to come up with more for them. They work hard for a living. ‘Wage-slaves,’ they sometimes call themselves.”

“Hmmm,” Wadmis said. “Any chance of my replacing both of you executives? Your jobs aren’t so hard one person couldn’t do both of them, surely?”

Mucklestone told him, “An unusually capable person, maybe. We wouldn’t resign in your favor, though, because we don’t want to. I’m not exactly enthusiastic about being replaced, and, so far, my assistant seems to be quite content. At any rate I find his performance entirely satisfactory. Besides, Europa is part of a chain, and the regional office is down in Arizona. They appoint me and they appoint Fred, so if one or both of us resigned—or especially if we were fired—I wouldn’t have any influence on choosing the replacement.”

“Well, management is where the money is. What there is of it. You must need more managers of some sort.”

“No,” Mucklestone insisted, “There are only two managerial positions, and, to make fifty grand, you would need both our jobs. And neither of us thinks the place could get along without us.”

Wadmis had left, disappointed—as though he’d expected Europa to be the answer to his financial prayers.

The only thing Mucklestone had seen or heard of him between then and the day he saw the name on Joe Crousseau’s ledgers consisted of a newspaper report describing a raid by the sheriff’s office on a local farmer who had been growing the forbidden weed. Wadmis had led the raid. He assumed that Wadmis must have found out he could get along on less.

But maybe not. Here in Joe Crousseau’s books was evidence that Wadmis was also ‘on the take’ from Crousseau’s evil empire. Prospering after all, then.

* * *

Time dragged by. Crousseau was slow in returning. That gave Mucklestone more time to think. And think. And think some more. Some of his thoughts made more sense than others. He was tempted to wonder, again, whether the money was some sort of trap. Maybe tiny television transmitters were revealing his every move.

No, too unlikely.

Or maybe Crousseau had placed a nearly invisible marker of some sort—a hair, perhaps—on the ledger, something that would be displaced if the book was moved.

That might be possible; besides, Mucklestone wasn’t sure he had put the money exactly where he had found it.

He couldn’t imagine any motive for such an entrapment, but he couldn’t get over considering the possibility, either.

Each scenario he thought of seemed far-fetched, and yet he couldn’t believe any of them was entirely impossible.

Well, what if Crousseau returned to find him gone? What would the man think then? Could being absent be any worse than still sitting in the same chair when the man walked in, if, say, he happened to spot the incursion at once from some subtle clue Mucklestone couldn’t even guess? He tried to remember the exact words Crousseau had uttered before he left the office. The sense had been that he could “go and get the permit” and bring it back to Mucklestone “immediately.” It seemed there would be fewer “complications” if he handed it over himself than if he arranged for a deputy sheriff to drop by Europa Colony and deliver it. But what had been the exact words? If Mucklestone was gone when Crousseau re-entered his office, would the permit simply be delivered?

Under the stimulus of fear, Mucklestone persuaded himself that such would be the case. His thoughts ran like this: what I feel definitely is fear. But, on the bright side, it isn’t yet terror.

Terror, he believed, would have frozen him to his seat—and possibly sealed his doom.

An idea came to him at last. He felt very lucky, with so little time to think, to have hit on anything at all. After a quick look down the hall, he extracted the documents from the briefcase and walked to the bank of filing cabinets. There he opened a bottom drawer as far as it would slide, and thrust all of the papers he had extracted from the copier into the space behind the last hanging file. He closed the drawer, picked up his briefcase, walked out to his automobile, and drove, as calmly as he could, back to Europa Colony. There, his voice breaking only slightly, he informed his assistant, Fred Cheeberly, that the building permit would arrive in the near future, and Fred could get on the phone Tuesday morning—or even over the weekend, if he could find anybody to talk to—and order whatever supplies and labor would be needed. Construction of the addition to the dining rooms could begin as soon as they could persuade the contractors to come to work.

Once that message had been delivered, Mucklestone went into his office, closed the door, and—just in case whiskey really does steady nerves—violated the colony’s “no alcoholic beverages” rule. His nerves certainly needed steadying.
$19.95
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Man's Days Are As Grass
Shel Damsky

Old blood and old money become involved in a power struggle in a small town in upstate New York. Before the dust settles, some of them will learn just how far out of balance the scales of justice can really be tipped. Adult Language. Adult Content.

ISBN 1-59431-437-3 Fiction / Mystery / Legal Thriller

Cover Art/ Maggie Dix



Chapter One

“Nobody f_____ brings me down,” Angie roared, his voice rising close to a scream, his dark face mottled with rage. “I built this city. I took it away from the rich and gave it to the people.” He paused, then, “Nobody takes my city away from me.”

Somebody had said once that getting yelled at by Angie was worse than being hit by anybody else and the small group of lawyers, politicians, judges, businessmen he had made rich, and yes men sitting around the otherwise empty restaurant dining room knew at the moment, if they hadn’t really known before, just what that meant.

Angie paced the room, waving the morning paper, the Daily Press, too fast for any of them to read the headlines, but each one knew what they said: Under the now daily banner of “Sin City” in bold print, the headline below read “Governor Names Special Prosecutor, Special Justice.”

Finally he stopped pacing, threw the paper to the floor like it was so much trash and faced the group. “Stupid son-of-a-bitch has got more money than brains. I’ve made governors,” he said, his voice almost a whisper now. “I made Roosevelt governor and he’s depended on me ever since. I’ve dealt with people like Dan O’Connell in Albany and Daley in Chicago and people like them all over. For chrissakes, the son-of-a-bitch governor who started all this, I got the crazy bastard elected.”

He paused, caught his breath. He pointed at one of the men. “You, call Leo Murphy, in Syracuse. Tell him I want him now. And tell him to get in touch with that kid that used to live here, that Jonathan Abrams, and get him here too.”

He took in each man in the room

“Nobody,” he said again. “Nobody takes Olympia away from me.”
$16.95
437-p
Format: 
Dead Duck_p
Hollis Ball and Sam Westcott Series, Vol. 2

by Helen Chappell

Hollis Ball is back, this time covering the Decoy Jamboree, still smouldering over the light sentence Judge Fish gave a wife-murderer. Then someone bashes Fish on the head with an antique decoy. Hollis is pretty sure it's not suspect #1, so naturally she decides to solve the murder herself, with the help of her dead ex-husband, of course, the charming ghostly Sam.

ISBN 978-1-61386-186-8 Mystery / Paranormal / Suspense

Cover Art by Maggie Dix



Chapter 1

Devaneau County Judge Gives Convicted Wife Murderer 6 Months

"Sorry I Have to Give You Any Jail Time At All," Judge Findley S. Fish Tells Harmon Sneed

By Hollis Ball Staff Writer

BETHEL--Onlookers gasped and a relative of the victim screamed when a Devanau County Circuit Court judge sentenced convicted wife murderer Harmon F. Sneed to six months in jail. "I understand how things can get out of hand," Findlay S. Fish said from the bench as he pronounced sentence, "So I'm going to go light on you. Your wife provoked you with those divorce papers and you just lost it. It's just one of those mistakes a guy can make. I'm sorry that I have to give you any jail time at all," Fish added.

The judge then ordered Sneed to serve six months in the Devanau County Detention Center in a work release program. Under work release, the convicted killer could continue to work at his job at the Chinaberry Poultry Plant. As the judge pronounced sentence, an audible gasp could be heard in the courtroom.

Mrs. Sneed's mother, Wanda Repton Wells, began to scream and Assistant State's Attorney Melissa Hovarth, who had prosecuted the case, rose to her feet. Devanau County Victim Witness Program coordinator Patricia Rodrick and Barbara Hooper of A Safe Place Women's Shelter both exclaimed out loud, as did several others present. Even Devanau County Public Defender Wallston Pitt expressed astonishment at the light sentence.

The convicted murderer was seen to smile at the victim's mother as he heard his sentence pronounced.

Sneed, 32, was convicted last April of the murder of his wife Lucinda Wells Sneed, 28. The couple had been separated for more than a year, according to trial testimony, when Sneed, who has admitted to drug and alcohol problems, broke into the house she shared with her mother and shot Mrs. Sneed in the back three times as she tried to run from him. Sneed then fled the scene in Mrs. Sneed's truck, taking with him a Bethel area female juvenile, then 16. State police later identified the murder weapon as a .44 magnum belonging to the girl's father. The couple was apprehended in an Ocean City motel two days later, and the girl was returned to her parents. Because of her age, her name is being withheld.

It was not Sneed's first brush with the law. Records show that Bethel police had answered seventeen domestic incident calls at the Sneed residence in Patamoke over the past six years. According to trial testimony, Mrs. Sneed sought help from the women's shelter after Sneed had broken her arm, her nose and ruptured a kidney. On the day before Sneed shot her, Mrs. Sneed had initiated divorce proceedings and asked for a restraining order against Sneed….

--Watertown Gazette, July 9th, 1994.

_________________________

On the Associated Press a.m. wire, July 10th, 1994.

Demonstrators Protest Judge's "Slap On The Wrist" Sentence For Wife Murderer, Sneed

By Hollis Ball Staff Writer

BETHEL--Attention was centered outside Devanau County Courthouse yesterday, as anti-domestic violence groups protested, television cameras panned, police sought to maintain order and reporters clamored for a statement, Devanau County Circuit Court Judge Findlay S. Fish refused to defend his six month sentence for convicted wife murderer Harmon Sneed. "I don't owe anyone any explanations," Fish called over the jeers of demonstrators, before being hustled away in a yellow Mercedes Benz …

--Watertown Gazette, July 25, 1994

_____________________

In Maryland, Men Can Get Away With Murder, Say Anti-Domestic Violence Groups

--Washington Post headline, July 26th, 1994

_____________________

Eastern Shore Judge's Sentence Raises Same Questions Mencken Pondered

--editorial headline, Baltimore Sun, July 26th, 1994

___________________

Shore Judges Hold Kangaroo Court?

By Hollis Ball Staff Writer

WATERTOWN--One by one, they emerged from the private dining room at the Chesapeake Bay Country Club. It was enough to make one knowledgeable bystander wisecrack, "Hey Judges! Who's minding the store?"

Acting on a tip from a highly placed source, a Gazette reporter watched as Circuit Court judges from all nine Eastern Shore counties emerged from a closed meeting room. Among those spotted was controversial Judge Findlay S. Fish, whose recent 6 month sentencing of convicted wife murderer Harmon Sneed has drawn nationwide criticism, including calls for his resignation and a judicial review of his record while on the bench. Although none of the judges looked happy, Fish's expression was particularly grim…

"No comment" were the word of the day as the judges fled the reporter, speeding toward their cars, but a source has told the Gazette that the Shore judges had convened a secret ad hocmeeting in order to pressure Fish into stepping down from the bench…

--Watertown Gazette, August 14, 1994

__________________

State Judicial Review Commission Refuses To Censure Fish: Three Women, Two Minority Judges Openly Voice Dissent

The Good Old Boy Network is Alive and Well," says Judge Mary Bruce Hopkins

--headline, Watertown Gazette, November 3, 1995
$19.95
2-186-p
Format: 
Past Imperfect
By Nora Peterson

Romantic suspense with an edge. Casey vows to learn the truth, but the rich and powerful Mason family will do anything to stop her.

ISBN 1-59431-352-0 Romantic Suspense/Mystery

Cover Art by Maggie Dix



Chapter One

Sunday, December 18

A superstitious person might have taken the day’s events as a bad omen. I don’t have a superstitious bone in my body. Neither did I have a warm one, as I hurried toward the queue of taxicabs spewing steamy exhaust at the curb.

Flying off to Boston one week before Christmas had been an impulsive decision. It was also exactly the kind of thing that my mother claimed I did just to drive her nuts—a fact that might go a long way toward explaining why I still refused to admit, even to myself, that it had not been one of my more brilliant ideas.

If I intended to be home for Christmas—which I did—I had exactly seven days to untangle the web of lies that had been Angie Drummond’s life. I had just wasted the first two hours of them shuffling from one customer service desk to another in a futile search for my missing luggage. Meanwhile, the winter storm that had settled over the eastern half of the continent had descended on the city, burying it under a thick blanket of snow.

I slipped into the backseat of the first open door and quickly compared the identification photo on the dashboard with the face checking me out in the rear view mirror. Convinced that cabbie Bob Langley was in fact behind the wheel and not hog-tied in the trunk, I offered him the name of my hotel. The precaution didn’t go unnoticed.

As the cab eased from the curb, the driver voiced his approval. “That’s a smart move, you know. I bet ninety-percent of my fares don’t pay attention to who’s doing the driving.”

“The other ninety-percent don’t have a mother like mine,” I replied. Crediting Mom for the handful of phobias I’d developed in recent years wasn’t entirely accurate, but it was less complicated. “Can you pump a little more heat back here? A polar bear could freeze to death at these temperatures.”

“Sorry about that. Blew the heater core this afternoon. I called the problem in, but dispatch says they can’t get to it until tomorrow and every unit they got is on the street.”

“Well, then how far is it to the hotel?”

“Normally? Ten minutes. Tonight?” He shrugged. “That’s anybody’s guess,” he added, as the heavy sedan skated to an awkward stop inches from the silver Mercedes in front of us. He laughed off the near miss. I didn’t. I pulled the collar of my brand new camel hair coat up over my cheeks and warmed my face with my breath, assuring myself with more hope than certainty that a hot shower and a double cheeseburger would fix everything.

“This ain’t nothing,” he extolled with a cavalier grin and an unspoken hee-hee. “Just bad enough to give folks an Excedrin headache by the time they get home tonight. Now, a Nor’easter—well, that would be a different story. You here on business?”

“Nor’easter?” I echoed, my memory switching into search mode. I was not much of a student of meteorology, but somewhere in the depths of my mental filing cabinet, I did recall something about a severe winter storm dumping two feet of snow on much of New England last year. That, I presumed, was a Nor’easter.

“I knew it,” he chortled with self-satisfaction. “You’re from somewhere out west. I’m guessing somewhere warm. Los Angeles, right?”

I ignored the probe into my personal life and guided him back to the question at hand. “You were telling me what a Nor’easter is.”

“Sorry, Miss. It’s a game I play – trying to guess where people are from. It helps to break the monotony of driving in circles all night. A Nor’easter is when the weather blows in from the northeast. Packs a punch, I guess you could say, ‘cause of all the moisture it picks up over the ocean. But this ain’t no Nor’easter and a little snow don’t do much to slow down folks around here. You watch, life will be back to normal by seven, eight o’clock tops.” Then as an afterthought he added, “Still you must be living right, Miss. I just heard on the radio that Logan’s been shut down ‘till maybe midnight. If your plane had been an hour later, who knows where you’d be spending night.”

It was my turn to laugh, even though his comment struck me as anything but funny. There was one thing I had learned from firsthand experience and that was that any correlation between “living right” and good fortune was tenuous at best and most probably unadulterated hogwash. I would have told him that and a whole lot more, except that I really didn’t want to talk about it and I was equally certain he didn’t want to hear it.

Hoping he would take the hint, I turned my attention to the blur of holiday lights that decorated the rows of quaint shops and stately townhouses that lined the Back Bay boulevards. It must have worked because he allowed me to ride the rest of the way, in a kind of frigid numbness that let the minutes pass uncounted, while he concentrated on the icy streets.

When we rounded the corner onto Commonwealth Avenue he jolted me from my reverie. “That’s the Pembrooke right up there, Miss,” he said, pointing to a brightly-lit portico that stood like a welcoming beacon on an otherwise miserable night.

As the cab slowed to an uneasy stop at the curb in front of the hotel, a uniformed doorman hurried down the steps, opened my door and extended a hand to help me out. He motioned to the cabbie to pop the trunk so he could retrieve my luggage.

I braced myself against a powerful gust of wind and waved him off. “This is it,” I said, holding up my briefcase and a small overnight bag.
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353-p
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Jailbird
Alex Masters Series, Vol. 2

By Brenda M. Boldin

In the sequel to Dead Birds Don't Sing Alex Masters is still awaiting trial for murder after spending a year in the Bay City Jail. Her new lawyer has gotten her out from behind bars, placed under house arrest instead and put into a Work Rehab program. She's doing clerical work at the police station of all places . Her "probation" officer can monitor her movements 24 hours a day on computer through the bracelet she has to wear. Meanwhile, someone is strangling the prostitutes in Bay City, and Alex is being stalked. Cole Armstrong, now a Lieutenant on the Homicide squad wants Alex to use her connections and inside information to help them catch the strangler. Alex wants Cole and his band, Ancient Rebellion, to use some of the music she wrote while in jail. Once again they form a precarious alliance to attain their means and Alex ends up face to face with a killer one more time.

ISBN 1-59431-028-9 Mystery/Romance/ Suspense Cover Art/Maggie Dix



"So, I wonder how she's doing

I hate it when the rumors fly.

They give off such a strange sense of mission,

Wing your helplessness on high.

But she would never run from strangers.

She sang alone like a bell will toll,

way above all the clang and the clatter,

out of fear of her demon soul."

___From Blue Chalk by John Gorka (c)1996 Blues Palace Music (ASCAP) used by permission

Prologue

The slam of a car door broke the peaceful quiet of the tiny ground floor apartment.

"Quick! Your father's home! Hide!" The young woman hustled the small child into the make-shift closet and pulled the sheet that functioned as a door across the opening. "Now don't make a sound. If he can't find you, he can't hurt you."

The child obediently crouched in the far corner of the dark alcove.

A door crashed open followed by the bang as it shut.

"Where are you slut?" came an inebriated voice, full of anger and hatred.

"I'm here." The woman's voice was soft and timid, the child strained to hear it.

Heavy footsteps entered the small bedroom. The man sniffed the air.

"You've had someone here, haven't you?" he demanded.

"No, James, no."

The loud sound of flesh slapping flesh filled the air, followed by a dull thud as the woman landed on the bed.

"You're nothing but a whore. I know it. You have men here when I'm gone. You think I don't bring home enough money to support you and that brat. So you sell yourself. You think I don't know what you do?"

The child in the dark winced and cowered as the sound of the man's fists striking the woman came over and over. The woman did not cry, but the child could hear her timid pleas.

"Please, no. It's not true. Don't hit me, please."

"You get what you deserve woman. Whores and sluts like you don't deserve to live."

There was a strange gurgling noise the child could not recognize. A small, unobserved peek through the curtain was more than enough. Large, thick, strong hands around a slim, delicate neck. Then nothing but the man's heavy breathing.

"You got what you deserved, whore."

Heavy footsteps left the room and there was silence.

Terrified, the child remained in the closet for two days. Demands from the stomach and bladder went unheeded as the child waited. Waited while the room filled with police. Waited while the man was cuffed and taken away. Waited while they placed the woman in a black bag that zipped closed, put her on a long table with wheels, and rolled her away. Waited in the empty silence for darkness to come again and then sun to rise once more.

Then the child darted out of the closet, ran for the door of the apartment and just kept running. Running forever.

Chapter One

"Cole! My man!"

"Well, here comes the man himself."

"Cole! Buddy. How ya doing?"

Cole Armstrong, a well-built six-foot two, dark blond, full-time cop, part-time musician, stopped two steps into the room and looked at his three friends.

Jimmy Carrington, Cole's best friend since elementary school. Five foot eight, close-cropped brown hair and eyes, with the build of a wrestler and a voice like Lindsay Buckingham. Bruce Willoughby, the drummer, reminded Cole of a character in an old television show called Room 222. Tall, blue eyes, with the fair skin of most red heads. Woody Hannaford, keyboardist extraordinaire and the strong silent type. Six foot ten inches tall, Woody could have been a professional basketball player, but he had chosen not to play ball after high school. His one love was the piano, it came before all else. Cole could sit and watch his mahogany fingers run up and down the ivory keys for hours on end.

Now, all three pairs of eyes were focused on Cole and he knew something was brewing.

"All right guys, what's up?" He put his guitar cases carefully on the floor.

The trio looked at him, expressions on their faces he'd seen elsewhere so many times he'd lost count. Usually they were accompanied with the words, "Honest, officer, I didn't do it!"

"Nothing's up." Jimmy smiled. "Why does something have to be up?"

Cole shook his head. "Uh, huh pal. I'm not buying it. I walk in here and find you three with your heads together instead of warming up. Then I'm welcomed like a long lost brother. You guys want something. Spill it."

The three looked at each other, their eyes conveying messages back and forth. No one seemed to want to be the one to confront the leader of Ancient Rebellion.

"That bad huh?" Cole sighed, picked up his gear and moved over to the rehearsal area and started to set up his instruments. "We aren't starting until someone talks." He spoke with his back to them as he plugged in his acoustic guitar with electronic pickup.

"Yeah, well we were just talking." Jimmy shuffled up to his best friend's side. "Of course we read the paper this morning."

Cole looked over his shoulder, eyes wide. "You actually read the paper? You?"

That comment got him a rough slug in the shoulder.

"Okay, look." Woody sauntered up and seated his long legged figure on the stool to Cole's left. "We want to know if you can pull strings to get Alex back in the band."

Cole became still. Alex's face appeared before him as though he'd seen her yesterday. Bleached-out hair, oval face with hazel eyes that flashed green when she was riled, which was most of the time. At length he looked up into Woody's dark brown eyes.

"What do you mean?"

"We figured," Bruce entered the fray. "That you being a cop, well you ought to be able to convince the judge, or whoever, that working with us is good rehabilitation too."

"Now, Cole, before you blow up." Jimmy put out a hand. "We know you may not be comfortable around her right now. But in time that should pass. It's been close to twelve months and we're still getting people asking us when she's coming back."

"She only sang with us that one night!"

Jimmy nodded. "Amazing isn't it? The people really liked her. We need her. She's our ticket to bigger and better things."

Cole shook his head. "I still don't get it. I didn't read the paper this morning."

That drew a chorus of "What?"

Cole held his hands up in surrender. "I've been out of town. Went down to the ocean for a couple days."

"I thought you were in charge of that serial killer case." Woody looked at him in wonder.

"I am. But the damn case is driving us all nuts. Chief practically ordered everyone to take a couple days off and get away from it. So, when it was my turn, I went surfing." He shrugged.

"Tough life," Bruce muttered.

"Anyhow. Someone bring me up to speed here. I thought Alex wasn't going to trial for several weeks yet."

"Right." Jimmy started fingering his electric bass. "This new hot shot lawyer King Marshall finally hired for her seems to be working miracles."

"What do you mean?" Cole's head jerked up and he stared at Jimmy.

"Did you know that guy you've been looking for finally showed up?"

Cole's eyes narrowed. "No."

The Bay City police had been looking for Harry Sheppard for months in connection with the Alex Masters case. No one denied Alex had shot police Lieutenant Anthony Morello, the question to be debated in court was whether it had been in self-defense.

The entire case centered around a robbery at Bay City Central Bank a year ago. At present the prosecution had nothing more than circumstantial evidence tying Alex to the robbery and the murder of Roger Beauregaurd. The state claimed Beau, as he was known, spearheaded the plan to hit the bank on the one day when it would have more than twice its normal amount of cash on hand. Alex claimed that Morello was the mastermind behind the heist and had killed three people to cover his involvement. Harry Shepherd seemed to be the only person who could prove, or disprove, Alex's allegations.

Now, Jimmy filled Cole in on the news.

"Must have been right after you left town then, 'cause it was a day or so ago. Just sort of showed up and said he wanted to talk."

"What!" Cole had been kneeling on the floor, turning dials and knobs on the sound system. This news brought him to his feet.

"Well, he really hasn't said much. Yet. But he said he could clear Alex if the District Attorney would cut him a deal."

"So you're saying they just let her go? Just like that?"

"No way," Woody chimed in. "But it was enough to get her out of jail. She's now under house arrest. The hot shot lawyer arranged for her to get into some kind of job rehabilitation program while she's out."

"Yeah." Jimmy took over once more. "So we figured if they let her out of the house to type all day, surely they should let her practice and perform with us. It's her real career, we all know that."

Cole sighed and shook his head. "You guys are nuts. One: there is no way on this earth any judge or parole officer is going to let her do it. Two: you could probably promise her immediate freedom, all charges against her dropped, and a million dollars. She still wouldn't do it."

Review at SUSPENSE MAGAZINE

The tale revolves around Alex Masters, a former girl of the streets, awaiting trial for murder and currently on house arrest, and a series of murders of prostitutes which take place in the neighborhood where > she used to work. > > Boldin has excellent command of language and dialogue. There were a few typos here and there, but these can be easily forgiven since the writer has done a great job in creating a suspenseful story bound to leave you on the edge of your seat as we try to figure out who is responsible for the killings. This is one of the better mysteries I have read recently. Filled with many twists and turns, as well as a surprise ending, the book is guaranteed to leave you wanting more from this talented author.

> John Raab, Editor

SUSPENSE MAGAZINE
$16.95
287-p
Format: 
Undercover Nudist_p
by Byron and Kay McAllister

Set in 1964, this is the story of world-famous sleuth Tim Rinnissen’s first introduction to detective work. The crime, five years’ old, is an old-fashioned bludgeoning, with traces of attempted poisoning, corruption of officialdom, and an introduction to investigation sponsored by a couple of nudists, locally famous for their gourmet cooking. Tim’s youth and inexperience lead him into trouble, but the nudes rescue him by solving the crime-- feeding him a Malaysian dinner as they analyze how they did it.

ISBN 978-1-61386-181-3 Mystery-Suspense Paperback

Cover Art by Maggie Dix



Unexpected Errand

The “Old Boy Network” looks bad to outsiders, but to those who benefit from it, it’s one of the wonders of the world. Tim’s uncle’s friend, the car rental manager, knew Ned was reliable enough—and had enough money—that letting Tim borrow a car wasn’t a financial risk. What he didn’t mention—and Tim’s uncle didn’t reveal this, either, until several years later—was that no company rules were broken, since the pricey ($2,368 FOB Detroit, but at that time it was a lot of money) little red Ford Mustang convertible “rented” to Tim actually belonged to the agent himself. Tim might have guessed, since he wasn’t asked to sign anything, but of course, with no experience in such matters, he didn’t. He set off happily toward Dotney, the only town on the road between Billings and Motherlode itself.

He drove the whole trip with the Mustang’s top down. Chilly, but he loved it, and as the day gradually warmed, he zipped along, as happy as a clam-and-a-half, gradually reddening from the sun and the wind.

To Midwesterners the scenery along that road appears to be desert. To a Westerner, it just looks like a piece of—oh, maybe central Wyoming. White, sandy soil, if you can call it soil, in which nothing grows but sagebrush. The distant hills show occasional spots of dark scrub juniper. Beyond the hills, one imagines a lot more of the same.

The road he was driving crossed a number of enormous culverts. Tim couldn’t recall ever seeing a rainstorm in Motherlode, nor even any clear indication that rain ever happened there. As he realized the significance of the culverts, he remembered, too, that Motherlode, like most parts of Montana, rarely gets as much as 20 inches of rain in a year—even though “unusual” weather may occasionally produce spring floods.

Flattened fauna—mostly jackrabbits—spattered the wide-shouldered road all the way to Dotney. Since Tim neither met nor passed—nor was passed by—even one car that fine Monday morning, he wondered how the body count of small animals could be so high. He attributed a substantial decrease in the number of rabbit corpses as the road narrowed after Dotney to traffic’s having to slow almost to the legal maximum as the road entered the foothills and began to twist and turn. Not that Montanans have ever been much concerned with speed limits.

As he drew alongside the familiar streambed of Dry Flats Creek, Tim noticed a trickle of water. Did water flow there at the end of every May, he wondered, or had this year started out strangely wet? Only decades later did he learn that it was neither the usual thing, nor particularly unusual. It just happens sometimes. Spring moisture varies tremendously, all over the state.

He drove past an ancient barn, its roof swaybacked, its yard clogged with many years’ worth of thistles. Ruined sheds; an uninviting, gaping old house. “Somebody must have tried to ranch here,” he muttered. The ruins made clear that the attempt had failed.

The road swung to the right, to the left again, and crossed a little rise. Suddenly the narrow basin that holds the town of Motherlode came into view. Tim had always loved being in the town, but until then had never thought of it as beautiful to look at. Today it seemed just as picturesque as his mother had always claimed. He felt he was finally seeing it through her eyes.

Tim had been instructed to call Uncle Ned as soon as he reached town. However, he was carrying very little money. (“Uncle Ned will provide. You don’t need to take chances on having your pocket picked.”) Thus, the only food he’d had up to then had been what the motel called “Free Continental Breakfast,” something of an innovation back then. In order not to take unfair advantage of the management, he’d eaten very lightly—in his own estimation. Four Danish, a couple of doughnuts, a single cup of coffee, and three glasses of orange juice. Now his stomach mentioned that it was nearly eleven, that he did have a little money, that he might or might not get fed if he headed immediately into the canyon toward Oak Grove, and that his uncle wouldn’t know what time he got into town anyway. Therefore, it would be okay to get a meal.

His conscience maintained a discreet silence, even when he stopped near the entrance to the Elkhorn Hotel.

Exactly four vehicles had been parked in that block of Main Street, all directly in front of the hotel. Characteristically, Tim didn’t notice what make they were. He pulled the Mustang into one of the seven remaining empty slots, put the top up, and locked its doors. Unnecessary, in Motherlode, he thought, but the agent had warned him not to take chances.

The hotel restaurant calls itself “The Miners’ Lunch,” and its open doors showed it was ready for business—though Tim had clearly arrived before the crowd. He asked whether he could still get breakfast, and found he could.

“Lucky me,” he said.
$19.95
2-181-p
Format: 
Web Of Fear
By Marie Prato

Marcia wanders the streets of Cracow, Poland searching for the man she once intended to marry ....

She's unaware that her every move is being watched. Is Lazarz still alive? Which side did he spy for? Marcia refuses to give up searching for some kind of closure after the man she loves didappears. Then she finds more than she bargained for.

ISBN 1-59431-124-4 Romance/ Suspense

Cover Art/Maggie Dix



PREFACE



When I began to write this story, the true account of my relationship with Lazarz, I thought I was writing a mystery, or a love story, or both. I worried about where to begin. One can always "begin at the beginning." In my case, the love story began not long after I met Lazarz but it wasn't until almost a year later that I realized I was involved in a conspiracy involving several government agencies.

From the first, Lazarz was a mystery to me. Maybe that was part of the reason I loved him. But the longer I knew him the deeper the mystery became. Was he ever who I thought he was? Will I ever know who he really was?

It wasn't until I found a newspaper clipping that I realized my story is history. It may also be a love story of a strange kind, and it certainly is a mystery, at least it was to me for over ten years. It's still a mystery in many ways, but at last I can put it down as history.

I thought after I returned from Poland that what I found out there was enough to make the story history in my own life, history I could finally lay to rest. But this article showed me that I was living history on a greater scale than I knew and up to my neck in events I had no way of knowing about at the time. I thought I was just a woman in love with a man__a handsome, very intelligent man__perhaps a powerful man in his world, but I had no idea! The danger signs were always there, I just didn't see them. Or maybe I didn't want to see them.

The news article before me answers questions I would have paid a lot to learn about years ago. Trying to solve the mystery of Lazars has cost me a great deal of money, time and heartache. It could and still might cost me my life. I played with fire beyond my wildest dreams. As the paper says, "...FBI agents have already conducted at least one search...for secret stockpiles of everything from nuclear weapons to pistols, radios, maps, and currency."

While they have been looking for the stockpiles of Russian planted weapons in the United States, I have been looking for one of the Russian agents who very likely did the planting.

All along I thought I was looking for my lost love, for our future together and our chance at happiness or, at the very least, the reasons why that could never be. Holding this paper in my hand, I now know why so many people were watching me. I was followed, spied upon, wire tapped, and warned. For over ten years I have had my rights as a citizen of the United States violated. And it apparently is still going on.

How could it be that I, a single, hard_working, mind_my_own_business sort of woman, could find myself involved with being part of a Cold War investigation just by falling in love? Looking at this newspaper and knowing what I know now, I see that maybe this is how history gets made. A woman goes out one evening looking for Mr. Right and finds what appears to be the perfect mate __ a man full of intelligence and old_world charm. Only it turns out that Mr. Right is really living a double or possibly even a triple life. And, in spite of what Mr. Right might want, there is no room in any of those lives for love.

What went wrong to twist my hopes for the future into history? It was 1986. The words Cold War meant nothing to me then. I had a lot to learn.



CHAPTER ONE

Cracow, Poland

Monday, March 18, 1996



Icy fingers of air raked my cheeks as I hurried along a store_studded street near the University of Cracow. Passing in front of a tiny shop with ceramic bowls in its window, I looked at the warm glow from the lights inside the store. Better to move on. I had been walking from store to store for the last two hours. That was enough for this morning. I had gotten the lay of the land, so to speak. It was time to go back to the hotel and decide on the best way to proceed.

Despite the March wind, Cracow's streets were filled with pedestrians. Directly in my path, three teenagers ambled along giggling and talking in Polish. Below their heavy coats, the kids were dressed in the same uniform as teenagers back in the States__jeans and sneakers. As I debated whether to pass the group on the right or the left, I noticed one of the boys handing something to the girl. I saw the girl unwrapping a piece of candy. As she fumbled with the wrapper, the thin covering slipped from her gloved hands and floated down to the icy sidewalk. Stopping so quickly that I almost tripped over her, the girl bent down to pick up the small piece of paper. As I passed the group, I saw the girl clutching the litter in her gloved fist.

What seemed to be Poland's daily dose of snowflakes began falling from the gray sky. I quickened my pace. Another block and I would be at the restaurant. Last night, after arriving on the train from Warsaw and checking into The Old World Inn, I had eaten at the hotel restaurant. The potato pancakes were the best I had ever tasted. And all the tables in the restaurant were covered with immaculate white lace tablecloths. Lazarz hadn't lied about that__almost everything else had been lies__but the tables in the restaurant did have lace cloths on them.

I jabbed a gloved finger in the corner of each eye, trying to halt the tears before they had a chance to flow out and freeze on my face. And Lazarz had told the truth about loving me. Nothing that had happened could make me believe he hadn't loved me. And if I needed reassurance, all I had to do was take a deep breath. The mere fact that I was still alive was proof enough.

If you go to Poland you will never come back, I heard my uncle saying. Then Lazarz's voice whispered to me, "No one will ever hurt you as long as I am alive." How could Lazarz promise that? How could I believe anything he promised?

Spotting the gray stone facade of my hotel, I congratulated myself that I hadn't booked a room at one of the new hotels that recently had sprung up in Cracow since the fall of Communism. While in Poland, I wanted to stay in rooms rich with experiences. Lazarz loved the traditional. In Warsaw I had stayed at The Haven, one of the few hotels that had survived the Nazi occupation. And here, just like in Warsaw, I both feared and hoped for some contact to be made. Contact by whom or what method I didn't know.

Trudging up the concrete stairs, I hurried toward the warm glow of the lights. "Like a moth hurrying toward a light bulb," whispered a taunting voice that seemed to come from somewhere deep inside me. "A light bulb that will turn the moth into a Crispy Critter." Before I could change my mind and run toward the airport, I walked rapidly through the beckoning door.

"Excuse me, Ms. Delmonico," said a fair_haired man, walking toward me. "The hotel manager wants to see you."

"Why?" I asked, a sense of numbness stealing over me as I pulled off my gloves. "Is there a problem?"

"I don't know," stammered the man, looking everywhere but at my face. "Please. Go to manager's office."

"Why?" I asked again.

"Please, go take elevator to third floor and turn right," said the hotel employee in a pleading voice. "Please go. See, the elevator is ready to go up."

He fled back to the safety of the reception desk.

The same elevator that had probably carried Nazis to their beds during World War II and, although I tried to push the thought from my mind, Jews to their doom, groaned and creaked as it took me and a middle_age couple to the floors above. I tried to imagine what James Bond would do in a case like this. 007 always looked smug and confident when he was in danger. Of course, Bond could afford to be detached about his pending doom__after the scene he would be going home to a nice warm bed and a fatter bank book. What might I have at the end of my visit to Poland? If I was very lucky, I would still be alive and allowed to board the plane home. But I had known the danger I could be in when I had decided to use myself as bait. I had been warned years ago by the CIA that if I went to Poland I wouldn't be coming back.

"Are you an American?" asked the woman in the elevator. "Yes," I answered. "I live in New York. Not in the City, though," I quickly added, as if I didn't want to be tainted by the crime and dirt in Manhattan. "I live Upstate, about fifty miles from Manhattan." I was nervous or I wouldn't have been giving out so much information to strangers.

"My wife and I are from Australia," said the man, as if his accent hadn't already given his origin away. "We've been here about a week. But we are leaving tomorrow."

"Have you enjoyed your visit to Poland?" I asked.

"Very much," answered the man.

"I bought such beautiful amber jewelry in Cracow," added his wife. "I feel like a thief paying so little for the many exquisite gifts I bought for myself and our daughters. And the hotels, restaurants, and stores in Poland! They are so desperate for tourism and money that my husband and I have been spoiled splendidly everywhere we go."

"Are you here with a group?" asked the husband.

"No," I answered. "I came alone to see some of the religious shrines."

"Alone?" asked his wife. "Aren't you afraid to travel by yourself?"

"I've been to Lourdes in France, Fatima in Portugal, and other shrines around the world," I answered. "Going alone gives me more time to meditate." I didn't tell her I refused to let myself be afraid.

After saying goodbye to the friendly couple and wishing them a safe trip home, I got off the elevator and turned right. Two doors down was a small brown sign on a half_opened door. In the room, at a long rectangular table, sat two women. The woman at the head of the table facing the door was heavyset with short, frizzy blonde hair. From the door, I could see the top of her white uniform and the yoke of the woman's blue apron. The expression on her pale, round face reminded me of a woodchuck I had seen in Canada. Terrified, its torn leg still caught in a trap, the animal was being hauled by a farmer to a barn across the road. The younger woman sitting at the side of the table had a thin face, framed by straight blonde hair just touching the collar of her navy blue wool suit.

"Sorry," I said, backing out of the doorway. "I was told the hotel manager wanted to see me but I will come back when you are free."

"It is fine," answered the thin, blonde woman as she got up from her seat.

I detected only a slight accent in her English.

"We are waiting for you," continued the blonde. As I entered the room, the woman closed the door behind me.

The blonde woman and I shook hands and smiled at each other. I was proud to see that my hand had been as cool and steady as her own when we shook hands.

"Please sit down," the young woman instructed, pointing toward a wooden chair away from the table and midway between her and the woman in uniform. "This woman is the supervisor on the floor where your room is," said the blonde, nodding in the direction of the older lady.

"Is there a problem?" I asked, feigning a look of puzzlement.

"There is a very big problem, Ms. Delmonico," said the woman, who knew my name but hadn't bothered telling me her name or the name of the supervisor.

"And what is the problem?" I asked, looking directly at the supervisor. The only reaction from the large woman was a twitch on the left side of her face. Aside from that slight movement, the supervisor sat in the chair like a statue.

"What is the problem?" I repeated, turning toward the woman in the suit. Lazarz had told me that in Poland anyone caught stealing had their hand cut off. What would be the punishment for possession of drugs or guns? Maybe someone had already put cocaine or ammunition in my coat pockets. I folded my hands in my lap to keep them from digging through my coat and purse. If their game was to accuse me of being a thief or possessing something illegal in order to arrest me or have me deported, more than likely, whatever I was going to be accused of had already been planted in my room while I was out.

"I have been asked by the hotel to speak to you," said the young woman, her alert blue eyes fastened on me. "We must watch everything. Everything we watch."

I tried to appear calm as I waited to hear the charges against me.

"It is a serious problem the hotel has called me here to handle," continued the woman. "A very serious problem."

"What is the problem?" I asked for the third time. "What have I done that is so serious?"

"I have been told that you dirtied a towel and a rug in the bathroom," answered the pretty blonde. "It is a very big problem. Much work has been done to this hotel. We watch everything. We look at everything."

My mouth dropped open as I stared in surprise at the blonde woman.

"I dirtied a towel and the bathroom rug?" I repeated, purposely emphasizing each word. "Then it is no problem. I will pay for the towel and the rug. How much did they cost new?"

"Big, big problem," again said the manager, locking eyes with me. "We watch everything. We look at everything."

"I will pay," I offered again. "Tell me the amount and I will give you the money."

"A lot of work has been done on this hotel," repeated the manager. "We own most of the old hotels in Poland. We watch everything."

"Do the same people who own this hotel own The Haven Hotel in Warsaw?" I asked.

"Yes," answered the blonde. "We own that one too."

"I stayed there when I arrived in Poland. There are big roaches running around that hotel," I accused. "Do you know what a roach is?"

"I know what a roach is, yes," answered the blonde.

"I didn't complain about roaches running around to the owners of that hotel," I said. "Now, you are complaining about a dirty towel and rug?"

The blonde turned to the woman in uniform and spoke to her in Polish. The elderly woman stammered out a response.

"I am told that the owners of this hotel do not own the hotel you are speaking of," answered the blonde. "Sorry. The owners of this hotel own most of the hotels in Poland so I thought they owned The Haven as you called it. I don't work for the hotel."

She doesn't work for the hotel? I thought, trying my best to maintain the same expression on my face so she wouldn't know I had caught her slip. The man at the front desk had told me the hotel manager wanted to see me. If she doesn't work for the hotel, who does she work for? Would this hotel go out and hire an interpreter to accuse me of dirtying a towel and small rug? Not likely.

"I washed my hair last night and used the towel," I explained. "The towel got dirty. I walked on the rug. Some dirt from my shoes may have gotten on it. Put them in the wash and the towel and rug with be clean. For that matter, use some bleach on all the towels. The linen in this hotel is dingy and gray."

"I am told the towel and rug are very dirty. It is a big problem."

"I'll go to the room and bring them down," I answered, standing up. "Then we can settle this."

"Please, sit," stated the young woman. "I will call and the maid on that floor will bring the towel and rug down."

I took a quick glance at the heavy, elderly woman at the head of the table. She was still sitting straight and stiff in her chair. Her eyes continued to stare at the closed door. We waited in grim silence until the maid knocked on the door.

"It looks clean," the blonde said, surveying the towel and rug that the maid had brought into the office. "Before the towel was dirty so it was a problem. Now it is clean so there is no more problem."

The maid left and Ms. Non_Hotel Employee turned toward me. I looked directly into her eyes and smiled. As I continued to look into her eyes, the phony smile she had maintained throughout my interrogation slowly began to disintegrate. Amazed, I watched the blue eyes turn into slivers and the woman's nostrils flare. With her face contorted by anger, the blonde sneered at me. This was contact__not what I had in mind or the kind I wanted but it was definitely contact.

For a moment I was stunned. Then I realized why she was staring at me with such animosity. I hadn't stopped prying in the United States and, as long as I'm alive, I never will stop. Not this bitch with the cold eyes or anyone else will make me stop looking for answers about the man I love. As long as I am alive, I silently vowed, I will be a thorn in their side until I find out the truth.

For several moments we stayed locked onto each other's eyes. Her face was the first to shift back into a phony smile. Two can play this game, I thought. I smiled back at her. Checkmate.

"The towel and rug are clean," announced the blonde. "You can go now."

"If this is how the hotel owners act over a towel, remind me not to steal anything while I'm here or go out with any spies in Cracow. Have a nice day."

I sauntered down the hall toward the elevator feeling pretty pleased with myself. Move over 007! I had kept my cool and pretended that our little discussion had been about dirty towels when we both knew what the purpose of our meeting had been. "We watch everything. We look at everything," she had warned. So now I knew. Just like in the good old United States, I was being watched and followed. But by whom?

I knew the KGB had been officially dispersed when Communism collapsed in 1989. Although the leaders of the United States and Russia had called an end to the Cold War and, just last year, a Russian space station had its first American visitor, the two great powers, along with all the other nations were still sending agents to steal military, scientific and industrial secrets from each other. And all of these countries were not above using any organization, whether they condemned them publicly or not, to do their dirty work. Lazarz had been in Russia. Uncle Sean had said Lazarz might be connected with the KGB.

Maybe the woman who had interrogated me at the hotel was, like Uncle Sean, from our own home_grown CIA. But I quickly ruled that out. The CIA had never threatened me directly in the United States and I couldn't see them coming out into the open in Poland. They didn't want me__only Lazarz.

What about the Neo_Nazis? When East and West Germany was reunited in 1990, many people feared that revised nationalism would encourage the Neo_Nazis to attempt to form another fascist government. These fanatics needed money and connections if their plan was to succeed. What reason would they have to want Lazarz? Damn Lazarz's secrecy. What couldn't he have trusted me more?

The Russian Mafia was another possibility. But, from what I had read about the violent Russian Mafia which had become home to many displaced KGB agents, the "hotel manager's" threats seemed too subtle to have come from them. My bet was that the woman who had "warned" me came from Polish Intelligence. And I was being told politely, very politely to watch my step. Yes, it had to be Polish Intelligence. This was Poland where teenagers were afraid to drop candy wrappers on the street. Whatever else he was, Lazarz was Polish.

That had been the story of my life since 1986. There had been nothing but problems since I had met Lazarz at a bar near my apartment. Problems for my family and everyone else I turned to for help. Problems that had forced me to seek help from people connected with the Mafia and the Klan. Problems that despite the fall of communism, the turnover in the CIA, and the disbandment of the KGB never seemed to end.

"A very serious problem," I whispered, mimicking the blonde. "We watch everything. You brought me nothing but problems, Lazarz. Nothing but grief."

Taking off my coat, I cursed my miserable luck. Why had this inner voice that had warned me about so many things throughout my life decided to go on vacation when I met Lazarz? "I wish I never met you," I whispered, tears beginning to trickle from my eyes. Yet, even as I wallowed in self_pity, I knew that I was lying to myself. There wasn't one single minute I had spent with Lazarz that I would give up even if I had known on July 4, 1986 what I know now.
$16.95
124-p
Format: 
Gator Hole
by Marjorie Doughty

Deputy Amy Donovan puts her life on the line every day as a law enforcement officer, then she realizes that the danger is coming from within the ranks. Gulf shrimp fishermen, a bunch of their do-gooding wives, and the members of a religious cult add spice to a mystery set in a sleepy Florida town.

ISBN 1-59431-152-8 Mystery/ Suspense/ Romance

Cover Art by Maggie Dix



PROLOGUE



Hot, pulsing, terror was so intense from the four men standing near the edge of the ’gator hole it overrode the smell of damp, rotting vegetation and stagnant backwater. The tall man could feel it radiate toward him as he waited on the bank with his captive close to the edge of the dark brown water. He smiled.

A middle-aged Hispanic man, bound and gagged with electrical tape, rolled his dark eyes wildly in all directions, his long black hair flipping as his head moved from side to side. The tall man pushed him to the ground and took a switchblade knife from his pocket, flicked it open, grabbed the man’s bare foot and sliced open the big toe as easily as if he had been cutting a piece of tender steak on a diner plate. Blood spurted onto the ground, then steadied into a drip.

Effortlessly, using his right hand and arm, the tall man grasped the victim around the waist and held him up and over the water at the edge of the gator hole, while using his left hand to hit the water with a long stick.

“We’re waiting for my pet,” he told the four men. “He shouldn’t be too long because he knows he can depend on me for a meal.”

“Jesus,” one of the men breathed into the humid night air.

The tall man, dressed in black jeans and black T-shirt, eyes the color of old pewter in the uncertain moonlight, turned to stare at the man who had spoken.

“Never let me hear you again take the Lord’s name in vain. If you do, you’ll find yourself in a similar position.” He voice was calm and even. “Is that understood. Justice is mine, said the Lord, and I am his emissary.”

The offender gulped audibly and managed a shaky nod.

What appeared to be a dark stationary log stirred and the snout of an eleven-foot alligator started moving, disturbing a leaf on top of the water. Senses aroused, the ’gator started its hungry way toward the gator hole, piloted by the leaf caught in the movement of the water.

The tall man waited patiently, now using both hands to hold the struggling victim over the dark water, apparently without any strain on his muscles. Drops of blood from the victim’s toe silently hit the water, like polluted raindrops.

Suddenly a prehistoric head made its way around the slight bend in the current the leaf still leading the way. The tall man waited until the beast was directly under him and he lowered the bound victim toward the gator’s open mouth. Intensified breathing of the four spectators filled the small clearing. The man smiled as the ’gator made a gulping sound, then grabbed the victim’s bound ankles and started spinning around in the water. It continued twisting as the tall man pitted his strength against that of the ’gator. The victim’s bones snapped and he hung limp, as the gator continued until flesh began to tear loose from the man’s torso. His muffled moans filled the silence until he fainted. For another few seconds the man and beast struggled for the prize. Laughing out loud, the man released his victim and then ’gator, victim and leaf disappeared beneath the dark surface of the water.

“My friends.” His voice was soft, almost gentle. “You have just witnessed what happens to anyone who is a traitor to our organization. I’ve explained that I will not tolerate any disloyalty and he was foolish enough not to believe it. But do not be too concerned for him. The gator is a very considerate diner. He will not eat him immediately but will let him ripen for a day or two.”

One of the men on the bank vomited.





CHAPTER ONE



Palmetto City, Florida

Taylor, County



On a morning in early fall, the sun was gradually burning off the early morning haze over the inlet from the Gulf of Mexico. Local people were already up and moving. School buses blinked their red and yellow way down the unpaved country roads, picking up half-awake children.

In Dorkey’s Diner, newly appointed Deputy Amy Donovan sipped her coffee and studied the greasy breakfast menu. Sergeant Tom Williams, with whom she was working partnered shifts that week, placed his large index finger on a piece of dried egg stuck to the scratched plastic covering the handwritten limited choice of food. The inked writing had run a little where moisture had leaked under the covering, so the reader had to occasionally guess at some of the dishes.

“Look, you don’t have to read the menu, just look at the bits of food stuck to it and make a decision that way. Then you’ll at least know what color food you’ll get.”

Amy laughed and looked around. The place was crowded with mostly local fishermen eating heavy breakfasts of fried or scrambled eggs, biscuits covered with gravy, grits, hash brown potatoes and thick slices of ham with red-eye gravy. They talked, laughed and drank coffee from old chipped mugs.

The aging waitress, Mazie, her ample hips stretching her brown skirt until it was in danger of bursting at the seams, shuffled toward them. Her feet slapped across the floor, in flat brown shoes with portions cut out on the front insides to allow her bunions freedom from pressure. Mazie’s bunions were the subject of much speculation at Dorkey’s. The local people thought she should go into the Guinness Book of Records because her bunions were grotesque in size and shape. The one on the base of her right foot had a knobby growth on the side.

“Mazie, your bunions have bunions,” one fisherman told her. “Maybe we should cut them off and use them for bait?”

Mazie ignored such remarks and told anyone who would listen, “My daddy and momma had bunions, bad bunions, and I ain’t no different. God gave ’em to me and I gotta accept that.”

“Why don’t you have them cut off?” one sympathetic woman asked.

“No way. I ain’t going through all that pain. ’Sides, I ain’t got the time or money. Gotta work. My old man ain’t able to do nothing since he got hurt on that there shrimp boat. Somebody’s gotta pay them bills.”

But when it came to her hair, she had a different viewpoint. Mazie’s hair balanced her feet. It was the work of a local beautician and each week she had it teased, piled high and covered with hair spray until it was rigid as plastic, impossible to brush or comb. It was the color of shiny egg yolks that had been fried sunny side up. Part of her weekly salary and tips went into this creation. When she was low on cash and couldn’t afford the bleach job, dark roots mingled with some gray hair that showed through, but as soon as she had a few dollars, Mazie was off to the hairdresser.

Now she stood in front of Amy and Williams and shifted her weight to the foot that hurt the least. “What’ll you have?”

Amy was watching Dorkey, the only name she had ever heard the owner called, as he filled orders. His big fleshy hands moved with quick precision from years of practice. Not a movement was wasted. Amy was impressed with his efficiency. Dorkey was a bulky man, who filled most of the space in the cooking area. His totally bald head was shiny with sweat that he wiped away with the back of his right arm. Amy breathed deeply, taking in the heavy smell of fried foods and coffee that hung like a curtain about to drop and smother her.

Williams leaned across the small table in the booth and tapped her hand. “Hey, you gonna wake up and order?”
$16.95
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Format: 
Reenactment
By Marjorie Doughty

What if possession were possible and an errant spirit from another time took over the body and subsequent actions of a living susceptible person. What would happen, especially if an avenging spirit felt the killings were justified? In Re-enactment, this does occur and bewildered law enforcement and others come to a conclusion that the person committing the crimes was chemically imbalanced. This the logical mind can accept; possession it cannot. However, some southern re-enactors, descendants of slave owners, have a foregone destiny with death because of this vengeful ghost that will not die, using the physical body of someone on the edge to commit these crimes.

Could this happen as told in this story? Skeptics say no – others who ask questions, are not that certain.

ISBN 1-59431-095-5 Mystery/Paranormal/Romance

Cover Art/Maggie Dix



Prologue

It was an unusual place to die, on the open field in daylight, able to see from only one eye. Pine trees blurred by heavy white smoke from cannons and muskets lined each side of the open area. The sound of artillery roared into his ears. Above him the sun appeared, gave brief sullen light before dirty clouds closed in and dumped more thin chilling rain on the sandy soil. He didn’t feel the cold or wet.

Men in gray uniforms fired reloaded and surged around him and other fallen comrades, down the field toward the enemy in blue. He became faintly aware of sticky fluid inching down the side of his face. I’m going to be 21 on Saturday.

Then he thought how his grandfather and father would be so disappointed in him, because they had been successful reenactors of the South. He gave a great sigh of bewilderment and died.



Chapter 1

College student, Alice Benton, looked around the basement of the Victorian house where she had been born and raised. She had been cleaning for hours. There was something different in the old basement she couldn’t identify, but it was not threatening. Curious. She stood motionless under the uneven light leaking from three seventy-five watt bulbs hanging haphazardly on sagging black wire that made small inroads into the gloom. The Beatles had finished singing “Hey, Jude” from a small cassette player she had placed on the high windowsill beneath a tiny window. But she didn’t bother to turn the tape over. Instead, she leaned on the broom, wondering about the urgency that drove her to the basement this morning. This feeling of something waiting for her. Something she sensed just out of her reach but silently calling.

The place hadn’t been touched since her mother and father’s deaths three years ago. She had worked all day. Finished with the final sweeping of the cement floor, Alice looked at the shadowed corner of the basement that held all that remained of her parents’ lives. The old huge seagoing chest contained their precious memories. To Alice, that part of the basement was hallowed ground.

Approaching exhaustion, but satisfied with her work, she placed the broom against one of the filled black plastic trash bags. There was one more task to take care of and then she was finished. She glanced around and again felt something different.

“Probably just my imagination,” she said to herself.

“Too much imagination,” her parents had often told her. They had worried about her when she was a child, the fact that she never wanted friends. She tried to make them understand. But that only worried them more. After school she would go straight home to her room and study, or let her mind drift into her own imaginary adventures, adventures she always shared with her twin, Alex, who understood how she felt. He, too, wanted only to be with her. They never felt the need to include outsiders in their play. She smiled as she thought of Alex. She was sorry he had gone to another school when they were younger, but for some reason her parents had felt it was necessary. Now they could be together whenever they wanted to. Soon he would be coming back from a Civil War reenactment in Andersonville and they would talk and talk.

Alice knelt down on the cold cement floor and opened the lid of the remaining chest. She had meant to check it out long before this, but something always interfered. Now she felt the need to know.

It was some kind of dark wood, slightly splintered on the edges, held together with tarnished metal bands. It had belonged to her Aunt Jessie, who was part of a traveling troupe of actors around the turn of the century. As she reached in, a small shiny black spider landed on her hand. She brushed the body to the floor before it could bite, stood up and grabbed the broom, smashing it down on the spider as it tried to run away. The spider's body flipped over and she saw the red markings on the belly. A black widow. She grabbed the dustpan and swept the dead spider into it. Then she dumped the contents of the dustpan into one of the trash-filled bags. After rubbing the palms of her hands against her dirty jeans, Alice looked into the chest to see if there were any more spiders lurking, but she couldn’t see clearly. She closed her eyes and waited for the red spot before her eyes to clear.

After a few minutes, she reached in again. Alice lifted out each costume, shaking it vigorously before spreading it on the floor. The musty smell from the inside of the trunk tickled her nostrils, making her sneeze. She remembered stories her aunt had shared with her of wearing these very costumes back when she was still “treading the boards” as she put it.

A mild envy filled Alice. She sat back on her heels for a moment, holding a long red ruffled dress in her hand, something she could never successfully wear with her tall straight body and barely noticeable breasts. This was a dress that needed filling out, she told herself. She was built too much like her brother, Alex. She knew her parents had wanted only boys. She had lived in Alex’s shadow when they were alive. In fact, sometimes Alice felt as if her whole life had been a sort of shadow existence. But she didn’t blame Alex. He was perfect. She loved him too much to ever do that. It was the fault of the world into which she was born.

Alice lifted out the last piece of clothing and placed it on top of the others, smoothing out the material. It was the uniform jacket of a Union soldier, a lieutenant. For a moment she felt a surge of excitement that quickly died. It was only part of a Civil War uniform used on stage . She glanced at the trunk. The only thing left was a small object wrapped in a piece of age-yellowed linen. When she touched it, it felt like a book. It slipped from her tired fingers onto the floor and a small leather-bound volume fell out. She gingerly picked it up. There were smudges on the outside of the book, but no title or identification of any kind.

Intrigued, she sat down, resting her back against the trunk. The leather cover was cracked in places so she opened it slowly and stared at the date on the inside cover. 1861. Her long, bony fingers carefully turned the brittle pages of the book containing handwritten entries. It was a journal of some kind. She read a few sentences and sat enthralled. The faded writing was difficult to make out, the closely penned letters cramped and some of it had faded. The first entry was legible if she went slowly.

“My name is George Blakely and today I have joined the Union Army. The arrogant, self-serving men who drain the very lifeblood of others have left me no other choice. My destiny has been made known to me. I must restore dignity to those stripped of it.”

Her breathing became rapid. What she had here was a treasure. This truly was the diary of a Union officer during the Civil War. Alice’s gaze riveted on the page with its old-fashioned writing, her fatigue forgotten.
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Sense of Endless Woes
A Tornado Man Mystery Impossible Mystery

by Matthew L. Schoonover

Former FBI agent Jack Monosmith survived being sucked into a tornado and thrust into fame. Now in A Sense of Endless Woes, Jack works for Griselda the Great, astrologer to the stars, and finds himself the major suspect in the murder of her billionaire client.

ISBN: 1-59431-153-6 Mystery/Locked Room

Cover: Maggie Dix



CHAPTER ONE



I wanted a cigarette bad. Yeah, I know it’s not politically correct. They say the last twelve years of a smoker’s life can be a living hell, what with emphysema, heart problems, and about a dozen different kinds of cancer, but why trade on something I probably wasn’t going to have anyway.

This isn’t to excuse my behavior in the following hours but to explain it. When I’m cranky I show it and say it and I’m never at my best. I can apologize later, which I usually do, but people have told me I’m Jekyll and Hyde about my smokes. At least since the tornado I am.

It was almost ten hours—ten waking hours—since my last smoke and I was itching in places I couldn’t scratch. First off, I don’t like flying, and LAX did nothing to alleviate those fears. They have two rules at LAX. No smoking, and don’t do anything today that you can put off until tomorrow. It took forever to get boarded on my flight and then we ended up sitting on the tarmac for an hour and a half, waiting for other planes to take off ahead of us. Then the flight, long and boring. After landing, another forty_five minutes in baggage claims—the airport was kind enough to lose only one of my two bags. All through the terminal I was looking for a place to stop and refresh myself but there were No Smoking signs everywhere.

When I stepped outside my first reflex was to reach for my pack and look for the crowd of guys off in one corner with a cloud for a halo and ecstasy—the short term kind—all over their faces. The night was hot and muggy and I felt sweat climb across my forehead and upper lip immediately. I spotted the crowd across the street under an overhang for a rent_a_car company. I stepped off the curb and damn near got run over. The driver of the taxi was kind enough to suggest ancestral fault and drove on without stopping. And me needing a ride. In return, I was kind enough to wave him good_bye with a special one_finger salute. I made it to the overhang, nodded at my fellow second class citizens, dropped my bag and had the pack out. Of all the second class citizens there, I was probably more second class than all of them. Here I was, thousands of miles from home, doing a job I wasn’t getting paid for. And why? Because of my boss, that’s why.

For those of you who haven’t met her or seen her picture in all those ads she puts out, Griselda the Great is a tall woman (not that you can see that in the ads) of exceptional Mediterranean beauty. She wears black when she’s working or wants to impress people. She has raven black hair and sultry dark eyes that slant ever so slightly to give a hint of Oriental mysticism to her trained look. High cheekbones, aristocratic nose and lips that could invite a man’s temptations in neutral or incite riots at the Vatican when she let it beam. She could also turn her look into something terrible. Most people didn’t know this, but Griselda had complete control over all her facial muscles and many was the time I’ve seen her do something undefined, unidentifiable, that changed her look completely and still left you wondering what was different. She was also a trained ventriloquist, which I guess was important if you were going to be Psychic to the Stars. Rumor had it that she first came to Hollywood with stars in her eyes, but cattle calls and directors’ couches dissuaded her. She always insisted on being her own boss anyway.

Less then twenty_four hours before she had called me into her office. This was the working office, not the show office, where she took clients who wanted to be impressed—she had two of those kind of offices. One was a round room with a crystal ball on a round table and only two chairs on opposite sides of the table. The room was all dark and moody and gave me the creeps. She did a lot of business in there. The other room was on the third and top floor of her mansion. The ceiling had been rebuilt in some kind of glass to let in the night sky and stars. Hidden lights, holographic imaging and state of the art sound effects rounded out the special services. It was a room where you could just turn off the lights and stare up at the night for a long time. A very humbling room. I liked that one much better.

The working office was a white room with a couple of computers, DSL lines and satellite link_up. When I walked in, she was cracking and eating pistachios. She slid a paper—one of those rag mags you can pick up at any convenience store or supermarket—across the table at me. I looked at it briefly. There was a picture of me and some print.

THE TORNADO MAN
$16.95
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Format: 
Wait for Me: Lake District Stories, Vol. 2
Lake District Series, Vol. 2

by Nancy Madison

Claire Stanhope returns to stay at Bowness House, searching for the peace she was denied years ago--instead she finds murder and what might be love. Claire had hoped to put the past, with its dark secrets behind her, but a local newsman seems determined to drag up everything Claire spent years trying to forget.

Then the body of a murdered woman is found and her friend Kate's husband, Nick, is charged with the crime.

ISBN 1-59431-691-0 or 978-1-59431-691-3 Mystery, Suspense, Romanace



CHAPTER ONE

"Stop him! Stop him!" The shrill cry pierced the quiet October morning.

Claire Stanhope had been waiting for a train in that small Devon station near Exeter. She turned and saw a woman running down the platform in her direction, in pursuit of a little boy.

The child darted by Claire and reached the front of the platform where he tottered on the edge then fell onto the tracks.

Each of the other travelers near Claire reacted differently. The withered elderly woman in a wheelchair gasped and her male nurse bent to calm his patient. The woman seated next to them dropped her knitting. While all three seemed to freeze into position, a train appeared around a bend in the track, racing toward the station.

Mindless of her own safety, Claire leaped from the platform onto the tracks below. She grabbed the child. Holding him tightly in her arms, she rolled away from the tracks.

Seconds later, the express train roared past them, missing Claire and the child by mere inches. With the danger past, the boy promptly burst into tears.

The stationmaster appeared out of nowhere to kneel at the platform edge. Holding out his hand, he helped Claire and the child climb back onto the platform.

The child's mother embraced her son and Claire. "Thank you. Thank you." She sobbed, overwhelmed with emotion.

"Mommy, you're hurting me." The little boy cried, pressed between the two women. His mother released his rescuer. Claire wiped at what had been her favorite navy wool pantsuit. As she surveyed the soiled fabric and a small tear in one sleeve, she made a mental note to take the outfit to the cleaners. Then she realized how much worse her condition might have been and wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. Since the Stanhopes frowned on displaying emotion in public, she contented herself with a childhood habit. She sucked in her breath and gnawed her lower lip.

While her pulse slowed toward normal, Claire shivered. Death had come too close for comfort. In an attempt to soothe the other woman, she patted her on the arm. "Please don't thank me," she murmured softly. "You'd have done the same." She managed a shaky smile before stepping away.

A spontaneous burst of applause from a crowd of curious onlookers now gathering on the platform prompted Claire to search for a way to escape the unwanted attention.

The WC signs on the side of the station caught her eye. Without a moment's hesitation, she pushed open the door marked "Ladies" and dove inside.

As luck would have it, the restroom was deserted. She conducted a quick survey of her body in the privacy of a stall and was relieved to find nothing worse than a few minor scrapes and bruises. Soaking a paper towel in cold water, she dabbed at her worst wound, a scrapped left elbow. Hopefully, the little boy had fared no worse.

By the time Claire stepped from the restroom, she was pleased to find the crowd had dispersed. The mother and child had also left. She'd hoped to see them again so she could make certain the lad was all right.

Perhaps the last person to witness what had happened, an old lady with a backpack patted Claire's arm in passing. "Good for you, lass," she said in a thick Scottish brogue.

Like a magical chariot, Claire's own train chose that moment to glide to a halt at the platform. It was a most welcome sight.

No porters appeared to help so she manhandled her trunk aboard and left the heavy suitcase just inside the car marked "1" for First Class. Avoiding the seats marked "Reserved," Claire slumped into an un-ticketed seat.

As the train pulled out of the station, she discovered she was the only passenger in the First Class car. That was fine with her. After what had happened in the Devon station, Claire needed some quiet time. She still couldn't believe she'd acted so boldly. But she had no choice. No one else had moved a finger to rescue the child.

Claire frowned. How surprised her brother would have been if he'd stood beside her on that platform when the child's mother screamed. Most likely Charles would have hung back, waiting for someone else to act.

In her head, Claire could hear her brother's comment as clearly as if he'd been seated beside her. "Dear, you just can't get involved with people. It's really none of our business."

Charles's attitude had been one of indifference to most other living creatures on the earth. If he were still alive, he'd have been the first to admit his concerns were limited.

His list of priorities had been short. He put himself first followed by Claire. With a sigh, she admitted she'd been more than a priority. Her brother had been obsessed with her.

Next came their property and investments then Kings Grant, Uncle Stephen's home. Their deceased father's older brother had promised to leave King's Grant to them. No one and nothing else mattered to Charles.

Looking back over the years, Claire admitted Charles's attitude had never swerved. He had always been selfish.
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Format: 
Patriot Acts
by Steven Clark Bradley

Today, America faces enemies that make the world of the Cold War seem like much brighter times. Islamic forces have declared Jihad on America causing the greatest threat to the life of the United States since World War II. In Patriot Acts, America finds itself under covert nuclear attack from the Islamic Republic of Iran which has linked up with radical American Militia groups. They have set aside their political and religious differences to carry out the widest attack to America in the nation 's history. Colonel Fisher Harrison, the best trained Special Ops killer the military has, is the only one person who can effectively retaliate against their aggression. The only problem is that Colonel Fisher is in a federal prison, framed for a murder he did not commit by his former boss who is now the President of the United States of America. Take an amazing journey from Alaska to the Midwest and to the center of the Islamic Republic of Iran as two enemies unite to save the nation from two adversaries in league to bring the country to its knees. You will be amazed how close to home and to reality Patriot Acts could be!

ISBN 978-1-59431-693-7 Mystery/Suspense

Cover Art by Steven Clark Bradley Dirk A. Wolfe, Cover Award





A View from the Back Seat

Iraq, 1991

Fisher Harrison appraised the land of Iraq that was rushing past him as he peeked out from beneath a blanket shielding him from view in the back seat of the taxi that had brought him into the interior of the besieged land. Here, in what was, unofficially deemed, one of the capitals of Kurdistan, he sensed how grueling a life the oil-rich country had imposed upon its impoverished people.

"Just getting here and finding a "safe" way into the country was a challenge all its own." Harrison thought. "Getting out will be no less stimulating."

Harrison recalled how it all started when he had landed in Izmir on the Turkish West coast and made his way to Istanbul both by train and ferry boat. He didn't have a friend between here and Paris where he had boarded his plane and not a word of Turkish, Kurdish or Arabic to help him in any dangerous situation that would most certainly present itself. That was okay. He liked it that way. He had his comrades over the border though, only he and his commanders back home knew it all...why he had forged his way into Saddam's Iraq. All he knew was that, at the moment, he was lying down in the backseat of a taxi, covered with a blanket and peering out from under it at the mountainous and brown landscape rushing past his hidden eyes through the window above his covered head.

The image in his mind of traveling inland into a country that was currently at war with his own made him both shiver slightly with fear and revel with excitement. The second emotion far outweighed the first, as it always did. It was what drove him…the exhilaration kept him alive. It was what he was trained for, programmed…scripted to do. It didn't matter how you titled it, his was one of stealth, intrigue and death. His French went through his mind.

"C'est mon raison d'être!" he thought it and almost spoke it out loud.

He had been speaking French a lot since he had come this far eastward.

"It's safer to be thought of as French than American, at the moment" he thought. "At any moment, for that matter!" he confirmed for himself.

"The cowardly French never met a war they couldn't manage to lose or capitulate in." Harrison grumbled. "History full of wine, beds full of sex and guns stuffed with roses!" he declared in a whisper.

Still, French appeasement was serving him well just now including the fake French passport. From the beginning to the present, this voyage into peril had captivated him, but it was the beginning of the journey that was flooding his soul and vividly replaying in his mind, just now.

Fisher Harrison had arrived in the Turkish capitol of Ankara, just weeks before. He had not known a soul and was unaware of the surroundings, rendering him ignorant in speech, and though no novice in culture, he was void of friend and encompassed about by foes. The apparent lack of opponents seemed to always resolve itself quite efficiently along the way in each such excursion into chaotic knowledge that he had previously taken. He was sure this one, potentially more chaotic than most, would not disappoint his baser survival instincts.

He knew a lot about Turkey, since knowing was just what he did. This sensible and peaceful nation of forward looking, moderately western-thinking Muslims had been the former Roman province of Asia Minor; the place where the followers of the way had first been called Christians. It was the home of the seven churches of the book of the Revelation. The other thing he discerned was that it was a major center of Islam. In fact, it had been the Caliphate, with the Turkish Sultan serving as the Muslim equivalent of the Catholic Pope in the largest Empire that has ever ruled. That was until Mustapha Kemal Ataturk led his people into the modern world after World War I when he disassembled the dissolving, largest empire the world had ever known.

Harrison was armed with several letters of introduction written by his Kurdish friends, in their own tongue, when he had ended up living at the Besh Yildiz Hotel, which meant to Fisher Harrison that it had to mean the Five Star Hotel, by virture of the five stars next to the name. Harrison stayed there for more than a month before his trudge into the land of Babylon. It had seemed to Harrison that three of the stars had fizzled out of this insect-ridden, human dump some time ago and had never been replaced. It was a dark, dingy place, in the older part of Ankara called Ulus, where most of the radicals made there home and plotted their jihad.

This hotel was filled up with Kurdish refugees who had managed to escape out of Iraq and had somehow helped the US military, in a significant manner, during its fight with Saddam. They had been placed there and told to await permission to come to the States for a new life, as a recompense for their service to the military cause. In the meantime, their lives were abhorrent, but still better than what they had endured in their home land. Though the hotel was infested with roaches, lizards, flies and stunned, frightened people, they were happy and thankful to be out of Saddam's Iraq; the very place where Fisher Harrison would end up in what would certainly be a trip into the unknown.

During his month-long sojourn, Fisher Harrison had gotten to know three families, in particular, surviving in this hotel. Each of these three families had been from the infamous village of Halabcha on Iraq's Eastern border with Iran and were amongst the few who had been able to shield themselves from the poison gas that Saddam had exploded in their village during the Iraq/Iran war before invading and annexing his other neighbor, Kuwait. Like human guinea pigs, Saddam had seen how effective his new weapons of mass destruction were by using them on his own Kurdish population. One of the three families had been expecting a child when Saddam committed this evil form quality control and crime against Humanity.

"I saw their child." Harrison reflected as he lay on the backseat of the dust-filled taxi that was barreling down the dirt road, while he remembered his bed in the dark, musty room in the hotel in Ankara while a fourth star burned-out of the neon light that should illuminate but only flickered. The outside kept his thoughts alive.

The child was beautiful and strong with only one striking result of the chemical attack.

"No eyes! My God, she was born without eyes!" Fisher remembered, having had a tough time exclaiming it silently so as to not make the parents' sorrow deeper than it already was. He felt angry and embarrassed to think that the Americans had really helped Saddam develop the very chemicals that had destroyed their beautiful daughter's future. He had been unable to respond in his own language to such a travesty of trust and was glad to have not known their language at that disconcerting moment. America was now trying to redeem herself, though Fisher Harrison knew that the UN coalition would not finish the job. Fisher Harrison's mind finally left that putrid moment and under the cover of the blanket that now barely covered him at all now he dug his mental fangs into his recollection of that next days events.
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Format: 
Dead Duck_p
Hollis Ball and Sam Westcott Series, Vol. 2

by Helen Chappell

Hollis Ball is back, this time covering the Decoy Jamboree, still smouldering over the light sentence Judge Fish gave a wife-murderer. Then someone bashes Fish on the head with an antique decoy. Hollis is pretty sure it's not suspect #1, so naturally she decides to solve the murder herself, with the help of her dead ex-husband, of course, the charming ghostly Sam.

ISBN 978-1-61386-186-8 Mystery / Paranormal / Suspense

Cover Art by Maggie Dix



Chapter 1

Devaneau County Judge Gives Convicted Wife Murderer 6 Months

"Sorry I Have to Give You Any Jail Time At All," Judge Findley S. Fish Tells Harmon Sneed

By Hollis Ball Staff Writer

BETHEL--Onlookers gasped and a relative of the victim screamed when a Devanau County Circuit Court judge sentenced convicted wife murderer Harmon F. Sneed to six months in jail. "I understand how things can get out of hand," Findlay S. Fish said from the bench as he pronounced sentence, "So I'm going to go light on you. Your wife provoked you with those divorce papers and you just lost it. It's just one of those mistakes a guy can make. I'm sorry that I have to give you any jail time at all," Fish added.

The judge then ordered Sneed to serve six months in the Devanau County Detention Center in a work release program. Under work release, the convicted killer could continue to work at his job at the Chinaberry Poultry Plant. As the judge pronounced sentence, an audible gasp could be heard in the courtroom.

Mrs. Sneed's mother, Wanda Repton Wells, began to scream and Assistant State's Attorney Melissa Hovarth, who had prosecuted the case, rose to her feet. Devanau County Victim Witness Program coordinator Patricia Rodrick and Barbara Hooper of A Safe Place Women's Shelter both exclaimed out loud, as did several others present. Even Devanau County Public Defender Wallston Pitt expressed astonishment at the light sentence.

The convicted murderer was seen to smile at the victim's mother as he heard his sentence pronounced.

Sneed, 32, was convicted last April of the murder of his wife Lucinda Wells Sneed, 28. The couple had been separated for more than a year, according to trial testimony, when Sneed, who has admitted to drug and alcohol problems, broke into the house she shared with her mother and shot Mrs. Sneed in the back three times as she tried to run from him. Sneed then fled the scene in Mrs. Sneed's truck, taking with him a Bethel area female juvenile, then 16. State police later identified the murder weapon as a .44 magnum belonging to the girl's father. The couple was apprehended in an Ocean City motel two days later, and the girl was returned to her parents. Because of her age, her name is being withheld.

It was not Sneed's first brush with the law. Records show that Bethel police had answered seventeen domestic incident calls at the Sneed residence in Patamoke over the past six years. According to trial testimony, Mrs. Sneed sought help from the women's shelter after Sneed had broken her arm, her nose and ruptured a kidney. On the day before Sneed shot her, Mrs. Sneed had initiated divorce proceedings and asked for a restraining order against Sneed….

--Watertown Gazette, July 9th, 1994.

_________________________

On the Associated Press a.m. wire, July 10th, 1994.

Demonstrators Protest Judge's "Slap On The Wrist" Sentence For Wife Murderer, Sneed

By Hollis Ball Staff Writer

BETHEL--Attention was centered outside Devanau County Courthouse yesterday, as anti-domestic violence groups protested, television cameras panned, police sought to maintain order and reporters clamored for a statement, Devanau County Circuit Court Judge Findlay S. Fish refused to defend his six month sentence for convicted wife murderer Harmon Sneed. "I don't owe anyone any explanations," Fish called over the jeers of demonstrators, before being hustled away in a yellow Mercedes Benz …

--Watertown Gazette, July 25, 1994

_____________________

In Maryland, Men Can Get Away With Murder, Say Anti-Domestic Violence Groups

--Washington Post headline, July 26th, 1994

_____________________

Eastern Shore Judge's Sentence Raises Same Questions Mencken Pondered

--editorial headline, Baltimore Sun, July 26th, 1994

___________________

Shore Judges Hold Kangaroo Court?

By Hollis Ball Staff Writer

WATERTOWN--One by one, they emerged from the private dining room at the Chesapeake Bay Country Club. It was enough to make one knowledgeable bystander wisecrack, "Hey Judges! Who's minding the store?"

Acting on a tip from a highly placed source, a Gazette reporter watched as Circuit Court judges from all nine Eastern Shore counties emerged from a closed meeting room. Among those spotted was controversial Judge Findlay S. Fish, whose recent 6 month sentencing of convicted wife murderer Harmon Sneed has drawn nationwide criticism, including calls for his resignation and a judicial review of his record while on the bench. Although none of the judges looked happy, Fish's expression was particularly grim…

"No comment" were the word of the day as the judges fled the reporter, speeding toward their cars, but a source has told the Gazette that the Shore judges had convened a secret ad hocmeeting in order to pressure Fish into stepping down from the bench…

--Watertown Gazette, August 14, 1994

__________________

State Judicial Review Commission Refuses To Censure Fish: Three Women, Two Minority Judges Openly Voice Dissent

The Good Old Boy Network is Alive and Well," says Judge Mary Bruce Hopkins

--headline, Watertown Gazette, November 3, 1995
$19.95
2-186-p
Format: 
Never Love A Stranger -e
By Nancy Madison

Investigating Paul Martin, estranged husband of a missing Richmond architect, undercover detective Julie Taylor finds murder, mayhem and the love of her life. Why does Paul's mother-in-law insist he's done away with his soon-to-be ex-wife? Is he an innocent victim, framed for someone else's crime? Or is Paul a clever monster in disguise?

ISBN 1-59431-036-8 Romance/Suspense

Cover Art/Maggie Dix

Also available in RTF and HTML formats.

Chapter 1

Thunder rumbled and lightning streaked across the late winter skies that morning while rain poured down on Pollard Park, an older suburb of Richmond, Virginia.

Julie Taylor opened the front door and stepped out on the porch. Taking a deep breath, she raised her collapsible umbrella and ventured into the storm. The small umbrella provided little protection, and soon her jeans stuck to her body like a wet, uncomfortable second skin. Her soggy Reeboks swished with every step she took.

“Misty! Misty!” Tired and frustrated, Julie called her elderly Schnauzer until she was hoarse. The dog had wandered away before the storm hit, while Julie was unloading her car.

The last straw came in the form of a strong gust of wind that turned her umbrella inside out. In less than a minute, the rain had plastered her hair to her head and soaked her shoulders.

Despite all of her efforts, Misty didn’t appear. “You should have paid more attention to her.” Julie scolded herself. “You know how she likes to roam.”

Soaked to the skin, Julie gave up, temporarily. With sinking spirits, she turned around and headed back the way she had come. Maybe the dog had found shelter from the storm or returned home.

Julie reentered the rental house, dropped the damaged umbrella in the foyer then kicked off her soggy shoes. Watching where she stepped, she climbed the stairs. Like the rest of the older frame house, the tired burgundy carpet with its ragged edges had been better days. The last thing she wanted to do was catch her foot in the carpet and take a tumble.

In the spacious if dated bathroom, the white tiled walls and old-fashioned footed tub seemed to invite her to take a long, leisurely soak. Relieved to take off her soggy jeans and sweater, she heaped them in a corner then turned on the hot water faucet and waited. Nothing! She frowned and twisted the cold water faucet. That worked fine.

“Damn. I don’t know what’s wrong with this stupid plumbing but the Realtor is going to hear from me. Oh, well. Pretend you’re back at Girl Scout camp. Cold showers never bothered you then.” With a shrug, Julie stepped into the tub and turned on the shower. The icy fingers of cold water didn’t encourage her to linger. Moments later, she got out, dried herself, and slipped on her flannel robe. She hugged the robe to her cold body and walked into the bedroom she had claimed to get dressed.

A lump formed in her throat at the mental image that had haunted her since Misty slipped away—a lost, frightened, little dog out in the rain. Maybe a kindhearted neighbor had found her pet. As soon as the storm passed, she would go out again and conduct a more thorough search.

While Julie stood in front of a wall mirror in the bedroom, trying to unsnarl her wet tangled hair, the doorbell chimed. Who could that be? Experience had taught her to be cautious so she didn’t rush to the door. The bell chimed again and again until she ran barefoot downstairs.

At the front door, she paused. Just two people in Richmond knew she had arrived that day and neither of them would visit her at home. She peered through the peephole on the door but couldn’t see anything. At last, curiosity got the better of her and she pulled the heavy door open. Startled by what she saw, she sucked in her breath and stepped back. A tall, blue-eyed man stood on her front porch with Misty in his arms. His dark auburn hair sparkled with raindrops.

“Hello.” She recognized him right away but gave no sign.

“I’m Paul Martin from next door. Are you the new tenant?” “Why, yes. I’m Julie Taylor.” The good-looking guy whose photograph she had studied more than once was the last person she had expected to find on her doorstep. Later, she would make an excuse to go next door and meet him.

“I found this dog on my front porch. Is she yours?” He patted Julie’s pet and Misty licked his hand.

“She sure is! Thanks for bringing her home.” Julie reached for her soggy canine.

Paul clutched the bedraggled dog against his chest and wagged his finger at her. “You ought to be more careful.

Your pooch could’ve strayed into traffic and been hit by a car. This is a busy street.” As if to prove his point, a ramshackle vehicle raced up the hill, splashing water to the sides of the street.

“Look, I don’t need a lecture.” Who does this jerk think he is? “She slipped out while I was unloading my car. She must have wandered off, then the storm hit and I couldn’t find her.” Julie again reached for her pet and this time he surrendered the Schnauzer.

“Are you okay?” Julie checked her beloved pet’s body for signs of injury and found none.

She must be more tired than she had realized. She had just been rude to the person who rescued Misty. Besides, Paul Martin was the last person she wanted to antagonize. He was the reason she had moved to Richmond. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to be impolite. Thanks for bringing her home.”

“It’s all right.” His voice warmed, became friendlier. “I shouldn’t have scolded you. I can see you care for her. It’s just that so many people neglect their pets.

“Well, if you’ve just arrived, you must have a million things to do. Keep an eye on her, okay?” Brushing wet dog hair from his navy sweater, he patted Misty’s head then stepped off the porch. Before Julie could reply, he had slushed across the soggy lawns and entered the neighboring house.

Closing the door, Julie addressed the wet bundle in her arms. “Well, he sure isn’t what I expected. After I get unpacked, I’ll go over and thank him again. The sooner I get to know him, the better.”

Julie rubbed her pet with a towel and laid her in the dog bed she had brought from her condo outside Washington, D.C. The one-bedroom unit had been her home for four years since she had graduated from college.

“Now stay there and you’ll be dry soon.” A few minutes later, she returned to the den with several dog biscuits and enticed Misty to eat them. With a sigh, the Schnauzer curled up in her bed. The fragrance of wet fur filled the air.

Perched on the brick hearth, her shoulders soaked up the warmth of the fire while Julie studied the room. The worn carpet and the armchair near the television indicated the deceased owner of the house had spent a lot of time here. Of course, it didn’t matter what kind of place it was. She was here to do a job. Still, she was grateful to be somewhere warm, dry, and relatively comfortable on a rainy cold night.

The old man’s son, a State Department employee, had been delighted to lease the house, furnished. Eager to return to his overseas assignment, he had removed his father’s personal effects then turned the house over to her.

Impatient to make a fresh start, she would still use all of her expertise in the days ahead. “Always do your best.” That was one ethic her father had instilled in her, and one she strived to uphold. Thinking of him brought an ache to her heart. Six weeks ago today he had died of a massive heart attack. She missed the man who had been both her father and best friend.

With a sigh, she pushed back the ripple of loneliness that slid into the room and threatened to overcome her. Better get settled in now. This is home until you’re finished here.

She lugged her suitcases upstairs to the bedroom she had claimed and hoisted them onto the four-poster bed. While catching her breath, Julie gazed at the room. A glass case of dolls and the pastel draperies and comforter soothed her, reminded her of her bedroom when she was a child.

Misty wandered into the room and begged until Julie picked her up and placed her on the foot of the bed.

Worn out by her adventure, the old dog wasted no time in falling asleep. Soon, her soft snores broke the silence.

While she unpacked, Julie thought of Paul Martin next door. She had to admit he was the best looking man she had met in a long time. Get a grip on yourself. He’s a good-looking hunk, but you’ve seen handsome men before this. Finding a suspect attractive is just another sign you need to get out of law enforcement. But as she hung her clothes in the large double closet, she remembered her neighbor’s light blue eyes, reserved smile, and the cleft in his chin.
$6.50
036-e
Format: 
Ghost of a Chance
by Elizabeth Eagan-Cox

Shannon Delaney Series, Vol. 1

Shannon Delaney's writing assignment in San Diego opens new doors for her young career. She has no idea that her temporary home, the Victorian-era Blackthorne House mansion is a portal to a century-old mystery. On her first night a ghostly encounter entagles her in the spectral mission of the mansion's original owner-Eric Blackthorne, master magician. Complicating matters is Alex Blackthorne, handsome and charming descendent of the ghostly magician. Also, there's Zach Zavala, who has guy-next-door good looks and a straightforward manner. Plus, Zach's grandfather Francisco is a retired detective and a kindred spirit who appreciates Shannon's apprehension about her paranormal experiences. Things-that-go-bump-in-the-night clues haunt Shannon's sleep. By daylight eerie occurrences make it crystal clear what path Shannon must take. After solving the Blackthorne House mystery, Shannon is left with the biggest question of all… What about Alex and Zach, must she choose between them?

ISBN 978-1-59431-680-5 Romance / Romantic Suspense/ Inspiration

Cover Art: Shelley Rodgerson



Chapter 1

“Are you sure this is the correct address?” I questioned, not believing what I was seeing with my own two eyes.

“You asked for 571 Yorba Lugo Road. Blackthorne House, right?” The driver replied.

“Yes, that’s it.” I paid the fare and stepped out of the taxi to face my new home.

Blackthorne House wasn’t a house, per se. It was a mansion done up in the high-Victorian hues of rose, brown and green. I stared up in wonder at the home’s intricate gingerbread trim and counted seven gables, four recessed porches, three balconies and one turret.

“Stop gawking!”

That command scrambled my thoughts. I turned my attention toward the voice to find the familiar figure of Sister Rosario Santiago waving to me from the mansion’s front porch. Not one to disregard sage advice, I made haste up the front steps and into the inviting warmth of the front parlor.

“Neither this house nor the cold weather is what I expected to find in San Diego,” I remarked as I dropped my luggage and shrugged off my coat.

“I think the chilly wind followed you in from Chicago,” Sister Rosario teased. “Even for February this is unusually cold weather for us. As for Blackthorne House, it is atypical of San Diego architecture. However, it is exemplary of a classic painted lady Victorian house. I’m sure you’ll be comfortable here while working on our project.”

“House? You mean mansion, don’t you?” I teased back. “Does this place come complete with a hidden stairwell and things that go bump in the night?” I was on a roll; “There must be some aura of mystery to this mansion.”

“Now, now,” Rosario deflected my query, “enough of this nonsense. Shannon Delaney, you haven’t changed a bit since you were a little girl. Always looking for a good scare. And such an imagination you have, why, it’s no wonder you’ve become a popular author.”

I couldn’t help noticing that Sister Rosario hadn’t lost her talent for turning a chide into a compliment.

“Okay, you’ve called my bluff. But…” I paused. “There must be some history to this house, it’s just too old not to have a fascinating bit of mystery. And, knowing you, I bet you’ve looked in all the nooks and crannies only to discover a back-door story about Blackthorne’s mansion.”

“Later, Shannon. I promise you can pick my brains over lunch. Which, by the way, is just about ready. Now, go on up to your room and unpack. It’s on the second floor, first room on the right as you enter the corridor. We’ll chat over lunch.”

I rolled my eyes to heaven, made a funny face at my favorite nun and trudged up the stairs thinking—Foiled, again, by the good sister’s quick draw!

Lunch was laid out on a small table at a windowed alcove in the front parlor. I welcomed a cup of Sister Rosario’s Mexican coffee—brewed strong with a touch of cinnamon, every bit as delicious as I remembered it. The coffee revived my jet lag and my appetite. Sister Rosario said a few words of grace and then I dove into the salad and soup. We ate in silence until I looked up and out the window.

“It’s amazing how very different the outside seems from in here. It’s so bright. The only hint of winter weather is in the wind. What a contrast to Chicago! I’ve always associated cold temperatures with an overcast sky.”

“It’s the Santa Ana winds,” Rosario offered. “In winter they bring freezing temperatures and a crystal clear sky. It’s peculiar, though, for the Santa Anas to howl this far south. Usually, it’s the inland area and coastal region north of here that gets the brunt of them. More coffee? More soup? Maybe a few more bites of salad?”

“Yes to the coffee, no thanks to seconds of the chowder and salad. As always with your cooking, everything was scrumptious. I suppose your strategy is to keep me chewing so I won’t pester you about this mansion? But I’ve had enough, so please… tell me everything you know about Blackthorne House. How did it come under the auspices of the local diocese?”

“Long story,” Rosario answered. “I’ll attempt a Readers’ Digest version.”

“I’m all ears.”

“The house was closed and boarded up for nearly two decades and prior to that various members of the Blackthorne family lived here. Last year a relative of Blackthorne’s designated the parish as trustee of the estate with the binding stipulation that the property be put to use to benefit the local parish. After much consideration, it was decided to renovate the mansion and turn it into a bed-and-breakfast inn. I was put in charge of the entire project.”

“I see… and that’s where I come in?”

“Certainly is, what with your writing credentials and passion for history, I was adamant about hiring you to chronicle the project and design the advertising campaign.”

“Rosario, I’m thrilled to be the bard of choice for the Blackthorne House project, but do you mean to say—you didn’t have in mind I needed some place to stay after my home caught fire and burned to the ground?”

“Now, Shannon, I always keep my word and I promised your parents I would look out for you, to the best that a nun can, that is. The fact that you were living out of a suitcase when this project came up is pure coincidence and a great amount of faith. God works in mysterious ways, therefore it’s not for me to question the circumstances that made an award-winning writer available for this project.”

“Amen to that. I’m thankful for this job and a place to live. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined residing in such a grand dame of a Victorian. But, I’m letting you get off track, let’s see… you were about to reveal the history of this place and its mysterious owner?”

Sister Rosario sighed and took a deep breath. She met my gaze with the look of a confidant.

“Near as we can discern, this mansion was built in the late 1880’s, the same era as the great real estate boom in San Diego. That was a period of Old West grandeur. Wyatt Earp lived here, so did a dog named Bum. Who, for lack of a better description, was San Diego’s canine mayor. Anyway, the boom attracted people from all walks of life. Americans, Europeans, Asians and the founding California Hispanics mingled and created their own unique society based on Hispanic and American culture. The original owner, Eric Blackthorne, fit superbly into the social scene of the time. He was quite a charmer, and wealthy to boot.”

“So, he made a killing on the high tide of real estate investments… Is that how he managed to build this mansion?

“No, not at all. Blackthorne the Magician, that’s what he was,” Rosario said with a mischievous smile. “Stories abound about his antics and affairs. Parties ‘til dawn with elaborate entertainment, including tables of faro and poker. He even hosted seances for the traveling circuit of clairvoyants. And then there were the scandalous relationships with San Diego’s most prominent women. Quite a lady’s man he was. Of course, there was a respectable side to the man as well. Blackthorne sponsored numerous charitable organizations and events.”

“Sounds like he was a regular rogue,” I surmised. “Is he buried near here?”

“Shannon! Leave it to you to sniff out the mystery in a man. Not a living soul knows where he is buried, let alone when he died. Blackthorne, the magician that he was, seems to have just vanished from the living.”
$16.95
680
Format: 
Runaway Nudist_p
Nudist Series, Vol. 1

by Byron and Kay McAllister

In a prequel to Undercover Nudist, murder once more turns up at Oak Grove Nudist Camp. Suspect number one is Barbara Bassett, self-proclaimed thief—"not a robber, they're violent!" who turns up at the camp while looking for a place to hideout from a would-be partner in crime. Unaware that Barbara is a "nice" sort of thief who specializes in stealing things people don't really need—like art and jewelry—Ned Nackero and Carola Szegy befriend the self-proclaimed thief and cook for her while seeking a solution to the crime. At Oak Grove, Barbara has found new friends and a safe haven. In fact the only real complication seems to be that she's falling for the local Sheriff—not necessarily a great choice, given her line of work.

ISBN 978-1-61386-180-6 Mystery / Romantic Suspense

Cover Art by Maggie Dix



Chapter One

If it hadn’t been for that nasty murder, I might never have settled in Motherlode, Montana. I like it here, despite my unfortunate introduction to the place, and I intend to stay—especially now that I’m married to a man who grew up here.

I’m Barbara Bassett and, until 1962, I made my living as a burglar. That year, I turned into—more or less—a crime-fighter, although it wouldn’t be accurate to say I solved a crime, unless maybe one I committed myself. They were small potatoes, compared to killing.

The notorious sixties had just started, with all the decade’s calamities, such as hippies, Beatles, and Woodstock. Oh yes, and especially the Vietnam War. A widespread motto among young adults and older teens right then was, “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.” Since I’d just turned thirty-five, and since I didn’t really trust the kids either, I stayed busy taking a little bit here and there to earn my way through life—I already told you how.

On my birthday, I considered throwing a party, but decided not to. What if some invitee, poking around in my room—the only location I could party in for free—figured out how I obtained my small income? One of my great uncles, reminiscing about World War Two, used to say, “Loose lips sink ships.” Wise old guy, I figured.

Besides, I didn’t know anybody within commuting distance to invite.

Meantime, the wonderful, trusting people of Salt Lake City had laid up so much stuff for me to acquire that I ran into storage problems. You can’t keep much loot in a rented room. Unfortunately, I wasn’t acquainted with a reliable local fence, and in ‘62 I still thought of a trip to the west coast as rather time-consuming. My specialty was stealing things people don’t miss, at least not immediately. So if I took off for, say, Oregon—my favorite—and if, while I was gone somebody noticed that things they’d thought of as secure had vanished, the resulting rumors could start everybody checking the security of everything they own. There’d then be too few unprotected resources, and my pickings would be slim. Worse, the danger of my getting caught would increase. On the other hand, if I could somehow solve my superabundance problem and manage to stay put, the fact that I could read and I could listen—eavesdrop, to be precise—would keep me in touch with what people were saying. If things didn’t sound so good, I could take it on the proverbial lam. I had Denver in mind as a next working area.

One day I discovered rental storage units. Silly me—I imagined I’d be the very first thief, ever, to use mini-storage to hide loot. I went out and rented units at several different places. I used fake names, of course. My booty didn’t come close to filling even one of them, but I was nervous about putting all my eggs in one basket.

One morning, as I closed up a locker, a stout, redheaded guy in a green checked suit strolled up to me, offered me his huge hand to shake, and said, “Hi Beautiful. I’m Red Silberhaar.” He didn’t spell his last name, but I know a bit of German, and he pronounced it old world style, the S like an American Z and the AA like A in “far,” and my guess as to the spelling proved perfectly correct. Silberhaar, literally, means “silver hair,” but the nickname “Red” would have come from the actual color of his tresses. Was it Juliet who suggested there’s nothing in a name?

Silberhaar’s accent was slight, and I didn’t think he came from Europe. I worked on a Master’s in linguistics—until I realized I wasn’t good enough to make it pay— and my judgment is fair on such matters. As for his greeting style, a lot of women object to being addressed as “Beautiful,” but the only time it bothers me is when it’s sarcasm.

We met in front of a row of the units, and nobody else was in sight, but instead of running, I shook his paw. I stay fit, so I can be pretty mean if I have to, and I kept my left hand ready to chop his arm—or his neck—if necessary. Fortunately, his gesture was just a handshake, not the first step in an assault.

Testing for the source of the Teutonic in his speech, I told him my name was Rosine von Weissblech. I said it as if reciting a perfectly ordinary German name, but it wouldn’t be. Rosine is not a name, at least not in that language. It means raisin. As for Weissblech, it was simply the first Prussian sounding disyllable I came up with. Not likely as a surname, it’s an alternate word for tin. If Red Silberhaar knew the language—even only as well as I do—a person named Raisin from Tin should have made him ask questions. He didn’t even look at me funny. So, nope, his accent wasn’t brought over from the old country. He’d got it by living among Germans someplace in the US—like, maybe, northeastern South Dakota. All of which told me only irrelevant stuff, such as that he was likely to have done farm work in his youth, and that he probably enjoyed hunting and fishing. Oh, yes—and drinking.

“How’dja like a drink, Rose?” he offered.

I was willing to let him abbreviate my Rosine-the-raisin to Rose, but I turned down the chance to nip at his bottle. Taking illegal possession of other people’s property is a ticklish line of work, and drinking can cause errors.

He said, “I been lookin’ for a partner.”

So he wasn’t a masher. It looked like maybe it was worse than that: like the man had figured me out. I thought it best not to be too talkative.

He leaned close. “Ever hear of Motherlode?” (Whiskey breath.)

“Nope.”

Actually, I’d heard of mines called Motherlode in several western states, because the expression “mother lode” usually refers to what every gold-panner hopes to find, a principal natural deposit of gold from which the local placer deposits had washed free. I’d even lived, briefly, in a town in Nevada named after one such mine. That was before I took up theft, with its guarantee of employment no matter where I went.

“It’s in Montana. Easy drive there—half a day. County seat of Random County.”

I’d lived in Montana, too. In two different places: Havre and Glasgow. Almost a year altogether: a year of very slim pickings. There are 58 counties in the state, and I knew Random County to be one of them, but I’d never been inside its boundaries, much less visited its county seat. Anyway, Silberhaar didn’t know much about geography, because no place in Montana is an easy half day’s drive from Salt Lake City. From Salt Lake across a chunk of Idaho to the Montana border is about six hours—five for young speed demons—but the border isn’t exactly a destination. Places in Montana tend to be more than half a day’s drive even from other places in Montana. It has the fourth largest area among the states, although only about eight or nine hundred thousand people live there. That number may be a slight underestimate, now, because wealthies were beginning to move in—people who think what you do with a beautiful view is build an expensive, ugly house in the exact center of it.

I asked, “So, what’s in Motherlode? Ranches? Mines? Timber?” I tried to recall what people do for a living in Montana, but I could only think of raising grain or cattle, digging for precious metals, and chopping down trees. I’d forgotten catering to tourists—the state is very nice to vacation in, except, maybe, when it’s on fire. But that only happens in drought years—only about one year in five on average. Even their supercooled winters continue to attract skiers in.

“Nah. People just live there. I dunno what they do. I guess out away from town the ranchers ranch and the loggers log. Motherlode itself, people just live there. County seat, but that ain’t worth much. Gotta already have plenty to live in Motherlode. Actors and literary agents and rich people like that’re just starting to find out about it, but it’s gonna turn out like Aspen. Discovered.”

Not an exciting prospect. When a mountain town is “discovered” it goes directly to Hell without passing Go. I’d seen it in both Colorado and California. People will move there to get their kids away from the gangs, unable to comprehend that their unsupervised brats are the gangs. Others come to get away from the big city traffic, but their rat race habits turn small towns—unprepared for population increases like that—into snarls of automobiles. The snarls may aggravate the new arrivals less than the ones back in L.A. or Minneapolis did, but the locals aren’t used to it, and it drives them crazy.

One thing that especially serves to pull folks into Montana is a yearning to get away from nature’s nastiness. Stuff like earthquakes and droughts. Talk about stupid! You might be that lucky for a few years. But even in California you can be that lucky for a few years. In either place, your luck only holds while it holds.

However, I wondered, what if this guy is onto some sort of good thing? Why should I let anti-Aspen prejudices get in the way? After all, people who deliberately move into a “discovered” place are mostly both pretty rich and pretty naive, which makes them sitting ducks for my kind of theft.

“What’s in Motherlode you or I might want?”

“Lotta money in Motherlode,” said Red Silberhaar, whispering now, the whiskey continuing to be perceptible. “Ever’body’s rich. Money lying all over their houses.”

“Lucky them.”

Another paroxysm of introspection was called for. I’ve heard of people who actually do keep stashes of money in the house—under the mattress, say, or on a closet shelf in a pasteboard box. Not usually very big stashes. And I’ve heard, too, about misers who pile up lots and lots of greenbacks; or, preferably, gold coins, but that’s not very common. Those people—whenever they get a private moment—get all that cash out and look at it. And count it. And remember the count. That’s not the sort of situation I try to work with.

Silberhaar went on, “I heard about this one gal—she inherited a pile. Then she took her money to Europe. Bought jewels and paintings.”

That was more to my liking. Not the paintings, because, although some are extremely valuable, people usually hang them on the wall in plain sight. If one gets get stolen, the fact is obvious right away. Jewelry, on the other hand, especially if it’s bought as an investment, can stay in the safe for months or years at a time, and only be brought out for a special social event. Maybe not even then.

“Who’s the crazy person?” I asked, not really expecting him to tell me.

“Kinderlitch, Kinderhook, some name like that. Collects stuff. Jewels, paintings. Million apiece, some of ’em. I got a diagram of the house, shows where it all is. Friend gave it to me.”

“One of your friends gave it to you? How’d he get it?”

“Nah. Not my friend. Family friend of the Kinder-whoosits. Ex-actress. Sleeps with one of ’em. Did anyhow. Said for all she cares I can go over to Motherlode, load up a truck and haul it all away.”

Sure. Everybody’s paramours go around handing strangers maps of the house and inviting them to loot the place. And how come one needs a map of the house to find the valuables? Could it be that big? I doubted it. I said, “Sorry, Mr. Silberhaar. Not interested.”

Actually, I was a wee bit intrigued, but the truth is, I don’t like working with a partner. Why? Well, I hate fights about shares, and I loathe the little failures in communication that endanger the operation. Since I work alone, everybody on the job always has my best interests in mind.

Nevertheless, before I’d realized it, I’d made an appointment to meet Silberhaar the next morning.

It’s not like me to go on considering an opportunity I’d already decided to turn down. I felt so uncomfortable about agreeing to meet him that I decided to take the night off and think about whether to go through with it. I spent the rest of the daytime lolling around, mostly at Liberty Park. In the evening, I gave myself a pedicure, took a shower, and went to a movie, gradually deciding I wouldn’t keep my appointment after all.

Page one of the next morning’s Salt Lake City Tribune included an article that revealed how lucky my indolence had made me. The cops had run surveillance on the exact neighborhood I’d meant to visit. In the process, they’d picked up a “prowler,” one Jakob S. (“Red”) Silberhaar, 42, formerly resident in a small town in northeast South Dakota.

I suspected that when they began to squeeze Silberhaar, he would postpone telling about himself by revealing all he knew about me. That would include directions to at least one of my mini-storage units. Did I dare assume he only knew about the unit where we’d met? Probably not—there was no telling how long he’d had his eye on me.

“Barbara Bassett,” I told myself, “you’d better just abandon everything Red Silberhaar could possibly talk about. It’s time to work on a new town.”

Okay, but where?

Well, I figured Silberhaar would carefully avoid mentioning his Montana prospects to the police, so how about if I went to visit Motherlode and cleaned it out, while my redheaded non-partner waited for his appointment with the judge?

Just so you’ll know, a lady burglar avoids contact with troublesome types. In fact, on the job, we avoid contact with everybody. That applies to male burglars, too, actually, and it’s the difference between a burglar and a robber. Robbery depends on the fear of violence, so a robber is always involved with at least the threat of it. A burglar, on the other hand, sneaks in when nobody is supposed to be around, preferably avoiding even the faintest chance of having to endure—or impart—any kind of bodily harm. It’s a whole lot cleaner profession. Even so, I’ve always jogged, run, and done personal calisthenics enough to stay familiar with the smell of my own sweat. I practice “dirty moves,” too. When your life is in danger, it makes no sense at all to keep the battle so clean that you lose. Still, I try to avoid putting my life in danger. As a burglar, I emphasized not getting caught and I’d always been successful.

I spent the rest of that day at the Salt Lake City Public Library reading up on western Montana—all the stuff that should have interested me when I lived in the state. I would have researched Motherlode specifically, but the only definite reference I could find was a Random County telephone directory from five years before. I don’t know how they even happened to have it, but since that was all I could find, I tried to glean everything I could from the combined white and yellow pages. I actually thought about ripping out the street map of Motherlode for my own use, but I didn’t do it. Some thieves are crude and thoughtless like that, but they’re from bad families.

I tried my darnedest to memorize it, however. The map, not the whole book. Not much of a chore: it showed a mere eight north-south streets and a dozen east-west, including a couple that only run a block or two. I learned them all, plus information like the fact that Motherlode Creek comes out of the mountains from the west, flows eastward between Sluicebox Street and Raki Street and exits onto the surrounding high plains through the same water gap by which the road from Dotney to Motherlode enters.

“Raki Street.” That name intrigued me. It looked Turkish. I pronounced it to rhyme with Rocky. Actually, I know now—I didn’t then—that the Turks would leave the dot off the letter i at the end, indicating a slightly different sound, but all I could think of at the time was that the street was named for a Mediterranean alcoholic drink. In case somebody’s never been to any liquor store but the one on the corner, Raki is sort of a Turkish version of Greek Ouzo, which, in turn, you might compare to a nearly unsweetened anisette. (If you only drink whiskey and only one brand at that, you’re probably not reading this story in the first place.) The point is, I was intrigued. I get intrigued easily.

I had the pleasant thought that perhaps no town in the west is too small to have somebody in it with at least the beginnings of culture—and sometimes with a sense of humor, as well.

Finding out Motherlode had a Raki Street tipped the scale. I would take up temporary residence in the town and find Red Silberhaar’s “Kinder-something,” meantime checking out other portions of the town—and of the rest of Random County—for burglarious possibilities.

Superficial planning, you say? Maybe, but it got me to Motherlode and that ended up okay.
$19.95
2-180-p
Format: 
Whispers
A Novel of Romantic Suspense

by Nancy Madison

In the wee hours of her wedding day, whispering wakes New York heiress Layne Hamilton. Investigating, Layne finds herself in the darkened hall outside her guest room. Through a closed door, she hears her fiance and maid-of-honor planning her death.

Realizing they are in bed together, Layne uses that as her excuse to cancel the wedding and flees south to Virginia. Freddy pursues his runaway bride, but when she rejects his attempts at reconciliation, Freddy loses his self-control and Max Carter, the county sheriff, comes to her rescue.

Max hopes Freddy will give up and go back to New York, but Freddy, desperate due to gambling debts, needs Layne's fortune too much.

ISBN 1-59431-322-9 Romance/Mystery/Suspense

Cover Art by Maggie Dix



CHAPTER ONE



The night before her New York City wedding, heiress Layne Hamilton dreamed she heard someone whispering in her West Central Park apartment. After she opened her eyes, the whispering continued. Puzzled as to who it might be, she raised her head off the pillow, listening.

Straining to hear, she sat up in bed. There it was again. Now she could distinguish two voices. The deeper one sounded like her fiancé Freddy. The higher voice belonged to Trish, her friend and maid-of-honor in tomorrow’s wedding.

There must be an emergency. That was the only reason for Freddy to be in her apartment tonight of all nights.

Turning on a bedside light, Layne put on her robe and slippers and left her bedroom to find out what happened.

The guest room Trish occupied that night was close to the front door. Trish must have heard Freddy’s knock and let him in. Perhaps she didn’t want to disturb Layne. A busy day lay ahead for Layne and Freddy with a morning wedding then a luncheon reception before their flight to Tahiti.

Don’t turn on the hall lights. A silent voice warned her. Aware she was probably overreacting to a situation that would be explained in a few minutes, Layne padded down the dark corridor toward the guest room and the sound of Trish and Freddy’s voices.

Their voices grew louder. Be careful.

Layne stopped to listen outside the guest room before knocking on the door.

Then Freddy said something that froze her in her tracks.

“Don’t look at me like that.” Freddy spoke to Trish. “You know what we agreed. And it must appear to be an accident.”

“Hush. Suppose she heard.” Trish’s low voice replied.

“You worry too much,” he said. “Come here.”

There was a rustling sound followed by silence.

Stunned, Layne managed to stumble back to her own room. Lock the door? Not a good idea. They mustn’t know she was on to them.

Uncertain what to do, she huddled under the covers, shocked and trembling. No wonder. She’d just overheard her bridegroom and her best friend plotting her death.

She wiped away her tears. So that was how it was. Freddy lied. He didn’t love her. He loved tall, curvy Trish.

In the back of her mind, Layne had always wondered how he could possibly want her with Trish around. The gorgeous redhead exuded sexuality the moment she walked into a room.

Layne prided herself on being able to see things as they were. And she knew her own limitations. Five foot four, a heart-shaped face, brown eyes and hair, she was no competition for tall and sexy Trish with her flaming red curls.

The two people she trusted most had deceived her. Well, she wouldn’t fall into their trap. Still, she couldn’t march into Trish’s room and announce she was on to them. If they’d kill her after the wedding, they might be dangerous before it took place.

Yet, if she happened to find them together in bed, that would be a good excuse to cancel the wedding. With that thought in mind, Layne wiped away her tears, climbed out of bed and marched back down the hall.

At the guest room door, she sucked in her breath. She threw open the door, found the light switch on the wall and turned on the ceiling fixture.

The light dazzled her eyes. Blinking hard, she saw Freddy and Trish on the bed. Their heads turned and they were looking in her direction. Layne screamed.

Before Freddy could jump out of bed and stop her, Layne ran back to her own room. This time she slammed the door with all her might then locked it.

Her mind racing, she fought down panic while deciding on a course of action. Then she picked up the phone on the nightstand. Punching in the extension for the guest bedroom, she waited for someone to answer.

Trish picked up the phone. “Hello, hello. Well, talk to me, Layne. I know it’s you.” Sarcasm replaced Trish’s customary sugar-sweet tone, like Layne had done something really stupid.

“I want both of you out of my home. If you’re still here in ten minutes, I’m calling the police.”

“Wait a sec, baby doll…” The voice changed to Freddy’s Southern drawl.

“You heard me.” Hanging up, Layne glanced at the clock. Two-thirty. She’d give them until two-forty. No, be generous. It wasn’t every day you lost a fortune. Make that two forty-five.

Layne dressed while she was waiting. At two-forty, there was a light tap on her bedroom door. She didn’t answer.

Five minutes later the front door slammed. She waited a few minutes to give them a chance to take the elevator. Then she thought of the night watchman downstairs.

The apartment she’d inherited from her grandmother was in the Majestic. With large rooms, hardwood floors, fireplaces and terraces, it had long been considered one of the most prestigious residential addresses in the city. Though her owner’s maintenance fee was steep, it included excellent security.

Layne punched in a number. A man’s voice answered.

“Mr. Jenkins?”

“Yes, Miss. What can I do for you?”

“Did you just see my fiance and girl friend leaving?”

“Want me to catch them? They’re probably in the garage.”

“No, thank you. By the way, Mr. Jenkins?”

“Yes, Miss?”

“Make a note, please. As of right now, those two are not to be allowed access to my floor.”

“Yes, Miss.”

If Jenkins was curious, it didn’t show in his voice.

Relieved to have avoided a face-to-face confrontation, Layne visited the guest room. It stood vacant, the sheets on the bed rumpled, an ashtray full of cigarette butts.

She winced, seeing the crude message Trish left behind. On one wall, in large shiny red letters, presumably lipstick, the word “Bitch” was printed.

That room would need a fresh coat of paint. Layne shook her head. The woman never had any class. She wondered why she hadn’t noticed that earlier. Maybe she was just too grief struck, too lonely after her grandmother died following a long illness.

All of a sudden, she yearned to get away but didn’t know where to go. Not to Tahiti where Freddy and she planned to fly today for their honeymoon.

There must be somewhere you can go. Her grandmother had gently nagged her for years. Go to Virginia and visit your roots. Layne’s great-great-grandfather had migrated from Virginia to New York City after the Civil War. In New York he’d made his fortune in banking. And his family remained in the city.

All at once she made up her mind. Virginia, here I come.

Eager to get away, Layne dialed the airline that Freddy and she would have flown to Tahiti. Explaining there’d been a change in plans, she cancelled the reservations and purchased a seat on a noon flight to Richmond.

With that done, she grabbed her designer silk-and-lace wedding gown off its hanger on the closet door. Stuffing it, veil and all, into a plastic trash bag, she left it, note attached, for the weekly cleaning service. Someone else might enjoy wearing it. She never wanted to see it again.

Moving on, she unpacked her suitcase, shoving her Pacific resort clothes back in the closet and refilling the suitcase with casual outfits suitable for Virginia, jeans and sweaters, a dress or two and some walking shoes. How she’d spend her time down south, she had no idea yet it did not matter. All she wanted was to escape.

Maybe she should consider changing employers. A good suspense editor was always in demand at the publishing houses. That idea she entertained for all of one minute. Then she reminded herself of the four years she’d invested in her firm since college, including many late nights reading manuscripts. And the hours she’d spent with authors, working with them, helping them smooth their novels’ rough spots.

Trish had joined Layne’s firm six months ago as a secretary to one of the publishers.

Layne shrugged, not feeling charitable towards the woman who’d stolen her fiancé and been his accomplice in a hideous scheme. Let Trish change jobs if she felt uncomfortable being around Layne.

One thing was sure, Freddy better keep away from her. If he didn’t, she’d tell the police about his scheme. Of course it would be her word against the two of them. Freddy could always say he’d dropped her for Trish and Layne was trying to strike back at them.

The phone rang, stopped and rang again. She didn’t answer. At daybreak, she couldn’t wait any longer. She checked the apartment once more then took the elevator to the ground floor.

“Good morning Miss Hamilton.” George McGregor, a tall, graying Scot in an immaculate maroon uniform and the building’s senior doorman, greeted her in the front lobby. “Isn’t this the big day?”

Layne hated to spoil her old friend’s fine mood. Still, he needed to know. “There’s been a change in plans, George. I’ve cancelled the wedding.” Hopefully he wouldn’t press her for the details. Her composure was tentative at best.

“I see.” He gazed kindly at her. “Anything I can do?”

A flurry of affection filled Layne, easing her pain. Always available when needed, George had helped her with countless problems since she moved in with her grandmother, following the death of her parents in an automobile accident. Recently George had grieved along with her when Nana, her last surviving relative, died.

“I’m on my way to Virginia for a few days. My family comes from there. Nana always wanted me to go back for a visit.”

“Ah, Virginia should be beautiful right now.” George seemed to be making an effort to lift her spirits. “It’s April so the cherry blossoms should be in bloom.”

She nodded. There was no need to inform the old Scot that the famous cherry trees bloomed around the Reflection Pool in Washington, D.C., not across the Potomac in Virginia.

“Do you have a number where you can be reached in case of an emergency?” George’s furrowed brow indicated his concern.

Layne shook her head. “I’ll call you when I know where I’m staying.” She patted his hand. “Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.”

“The last conversation I had with your grandmother, I promised her to look out for you.” He hesitated. “Excuse me. I don’t mean to intrude. It’s not like I’m part of your family.”

“With Nana gone, I don’t have any family that I know of, except you, George.” She tiptoed and kissed his cheek.

The old man flushed. “Thank you for that.” He heaved a deep sigh. “Well, we don’t want you to miss your flight so let me get that taxi.” He stepped off the curb and blew his whistle. The first of two yellow cabs waiting down the block whizzed to the front of the elegant old building.

Layne stood by while George loaded her suitcase into the vehicle and helped her into the back seat. Leaning into the taxi, he reminded her of her promise. “Don’t forget to let me know where you are.”

“I will.” She waved to him as the taxi driver edged into the morning traffic. “LaGuardia, please. Take me to the American Airlines Terminal.” Sitting back, she tried to relax.

The driver nodded and gave the rush hour traffic his undivided attention. Thank goodness. She wasn’t good at small talk with strangers.

***

A few hours later Layne had checked in at the ticket counter and boarded a Super 80, taking her place by a window. The aisle seat remained vacant until right before takeoff. At the last moment, a large breathless woman squeezed into the space. Meeting Layne’s gaze, the woman flashed a bright smile.

If you were too friendly on a plane, some passengers would talk your ear off. With that in mind, Layne nodded briskly then pulled a manuscript from her shoulder bag and began to read.

The new author’s story caught her attention. Soon she became absorbed in a cleverly woven tale of suspense.

Rustling paper broke her concentration when her neighbor folded the newspaper she brought aboard and Layne braced herself for unwanted conversation. She was relieved when the other woman turned to a crossword puzzle, making no attempt to talk.

In the main cabin, people in business attire prevailed, yet there were a number of passengers dressed more casually. Vacationers, she surmised.

An older gentleman two rows ahead on the aisle bothered her for some reason. He was dressed casually yet his rigid posture and somber manner indicated this was no holiday outing for him. A thick gray beard hid most of his face below a pair of strangely familiar hazel eyes when he passed her once on the way to the restroom. She reminded herself that many people had hazel eyes. Still, whenever she looked his way, he was watching her.

Layne smiled at her own foolishness. That’s what came of reading too many suspense novels. Between her position as an editor of suspense for a large publishing house in Manhattan and her own natural interest in the genre, she spent a lot of time reading suspense and intrigue.

Later she noticed the bearded gentleman chatting pleasantly with the lady seated next to him while he admired her snapshots.

The plane flew over Washington, D.C. with the congenial captain directing the passengers’ attention to the various national monuments. Minutes later the Super 80 crossed the Potomac River into northern Virginia. First they flew over suburban communities. After they’d passed a certain point, settlement was less dense. As the Virginia countryside unfolded below, Layne gazed down on pine forests intersected by highways and small towns and villages.

Marking her place, Layne tucked the aspiring author’s manuscript back in her bag, settled back in her seat and closed her eyes. As long as she’d kept busy, she could avoid thinking of the reason for this solitary flight on what would have been her wedding day. Now her thoughts traveled back to last night.

The rehearsal for the wedding had gone well. Afterwards, Freddy’s three groomsmen, waiters at the restaurant where he worked when not looking for parts in off-Broadway productions, led him off to the traditional bachelor dinner. Layne and Trish shared a quiet supper with her two other attendants in a restaurant near her apartment building.

As soon as they’d finished dining, Layne and Trish returned to Layne’s apartment in the Majestic near the Park. Layne needed to finish packing for the flight to Tahiti.

As she checked her luggage contents, she could hear the muffled sounds of a Survivor show coming from the direction of the guest bedroom.

All was quiet in the apartment by the time Layne took a shower and slipped into bed. Later her safe, normal world began to fall apart.

Hearing that hideous conversation and then finding Freddy and Trish together would have upset Layne even as a nightmare. It was terrifying because it really happened.

When she considered what a close call she had, escaping those two cold-blooded schemers, she became breathless. She was running away as fast as the plane could carry her.
$16.95
323-p
Format: 
Murder on Margin
By Carroll M. Jones When money goes missing from his firm, stockbroker Mike Wolfe, despite his innocence, is convicted of embezzlement. After his release from prison, Mike is determined to set the record straight. Then a man from Mike's old firm is brutally murdered and he finds himself, once again, suspect number one. A great read!

ISBN 1-59431-126-9 Mystery/ Thriller

Cover Art/Maggie Dix



Chapter 1

July 4th, 1986

Dave Lovett, with only minutes to live, was thinking he would not like to be caught dead in a place like this.

The forty-one year old was a stock agent during the day, and a transporter of drugs at night. And the place he didn’t want to get caught dead in was the Naval Shipyards at Long Beach, California, the very place he was driving into in the middle of a dark night.

Under normal circumstances he would not have thought the shipyards oppressive at all, but tonight they were dark, completely abandoned, eerie, quiet …spooky.

He had scouted the area earlier, seen no one, and was all right with that, but now the fog was drifting in, sweeping across the road in front of him like smoke from some forest fire.

Leaning forward and squinting, he slowed the Mercedes to a crawl, barely managing to keep the white shoulder line in view.

A few months earlier Dave Lovett would not have risked any involvement with drugs. He was a cautious man, a simple stock accountant, for Pete’s sake, not at all interested in the danger associated with any covert activities. He had been almost content with what he could steal from trusting clients. But all that had changed when his clients began dropping him and he was forced to actually put the customer’s interest over his own, cutting his take down to a minimum.

Then, one night during a poker game in Las Vegas, he’d met a dentist from Philadelphia with the perfect setup. No money exchanges, just transportation and delivery.

No money, no risk.

All he had to do was find someone dependable to take the merchandise North, and Dave had found the perfect mule.

The fog thickened, rolling in now like dust clouds billowing up from an implosion he’d seen once in Vegas. Dave reached frantically for the half-used roll of TUMS. Driving in fog always gave him heartburn.

He pulled the Mercedes up at the appointed meeting place, still minutes ahead of the scheduled time.

Sporadic bursts of fireworks resounded through the night from across the bay, and multicolored lights flashed briefly through the misty heavens.

He parked on the outside rim of light coming from a single lamppost, the light not more than an orange glow, and exited the car. He was a man of medium build and height, dressed in a sharkskin suit, charcoal in color, with a soft aqua tie he had worn to a pre-fireworks dinner.

Dave checked his watch. One minute past midnight. He thought briefly of Rose, then bitterly of the way she’d left him. “Bitch,” he said to himself. “She’ll never see a dime of this.” The air was heavy with the smell of oil, and damp, and cold.

“Come on. Come on,” he said impatiently.

Fearful the salty fog acid might damage his new wax job, he pulled a handkerchief from a breast pocket and began to wipe the top of his car. He soon gave up, tossed the soiled cloth aside, turned to hold his watch up in the dim light, and squinted at the time.

Then he heard the soft purring sound of the motorcycle approach, heard the purr change to a small muffling halt, and he reached into the car for the kilo of Columbia’s finest.

He popped another Tums into his mouth, and quickly reassured himself this was the beginning of a very safe and profitable distribution. There would be no money transfer, merely the passing on of merchandise, for which he would be rewarded handsomely.

He belched a small hot breath, quickly reminding himself of all the precautions he’d taken.

The would-be “mule” approached dressed in black leathers with something across one shoulder. As he emerged from the darkness and into the circle of light, Dave became aware of the black grease-paint on his face, that thing on his shoulder being a sledge hammer, and a feeling of fear swept over him, swelling as the mall was pitched to the ground at his feet.

“What the—” Dave began, then stopped as he felt the point of a knife at his throat.

Moments later, sensing the life blood draining from him, he became faintly aware of a pinging noise echoing in his brain. He had felt little since the first burning pain of the knife slashing across his throat, only a sense of helplessness as darkness came and went. He opened glazed eyes with an effort to see the dark figure swinging the sledgehammer in high arcs and bringing it down swiftly on his Mercedes. All the windows were smashed, as was the hood, and now the pinging was against the doors. Unable to breathe and too weak to try, he tried desperately to sort things out. His eyes growing evermore tired, focused and set on the tattered remains of his sharkskin suit, now ripped to shreds and strewn on the ground before him. The rags were splattered with blood, his blood, blood that still spilled down his throat and out numerous openings in his chest, running down the length of his belly. His last thoughts were words he couldn’t manage to utter out loud.Oh shit. Oh shi—

***

Some fifteen minutes or so later, on the beach a few hundred yards down from the Queen Mary, where a party was still in progress, a motorcycle hummed softly off the road and down to the rocks in the darkness. A figure in black leathers stumbled frantically to the waters edge, fell to his hands and knees, and regurgitated profusely onto the wet sand. He grabbed his stomach and retched a noisy yell, emptying his insides until only a dry cough issued forth. He crawled toward the incoming rollers, took mouthfuls of the salty brine and spit it back into the outgoing tide.

Soon he arose and went back across the sand, then returned carrying a long handled sledge and a wax covered package. He dropped the package on the sand, and slung the sledge hard out to sea. Dropping to the ground on one knee, he pulled a knife from his leather boot and stabbed the package repeatedly, then rising, tossed it into the water as well. Next he held the stiletto blade to the light, examined it, then began cleaning blood from it by sticking it alternately into the wet sand first, then into the water to rinse it, and again into the sand, pausing occasionally to hold it up to the light.

One down, he thought, two to go. But he didn’t last long enough. It was too fast. He didn’t last long enough to see anything. Next time…next time I’ll use a surgical tool, maybe a scalpel…”

***

3:15 a.m.

Tracy Allen brushed a water glass from her night stand when answering the phone. She snapped the light on, squinted at her watch, and managed, “Hello.”

“Good. You’re awake. There’s been a murder down at Pier Four in Long Beach. Thought you’d like to know. They just reported it ten minutes ago, so you’d best get in high gear if you’re going to be first.”

“A murder! A shooting, or what?”

“Don’t know. They just said it was a messy one, okay?”

“Yeah. Sure,” Tracey said. “Thanks, Joe.”

“Forget it. But this makes us even, right?”

“Right,” agreed Tracy. She hung up, pulled on a pair of jeans and a heavy sweatshirt, grabbed a bag containing her cameras and a new zoom lens that was still a virgin, and left. She was there in less than twenty minutes. Moments later she was escorted to the Lakewood Sheriff’s department for struggling with a lady officer while being forcibly removed from the crime scene.
$16.95
126-p
Format: 
Past Imperfect
By Nora Peterson

Romantic suspense with an edge. Casey vows to learn the truth, but the rich and powerful Mason family will do anything to stop her.

ISBN 1-59431-352-0 Romantic Suspense/Mystery

Cover Art by Maggie Dix



Chapter One

Sunday, December 18

A superstitious person might have taken the day’s events as a bad omen. I don’t have a superstitious bone in my body. Neither did I have a warm one, as I hurried toward the queue of taxicabs spewing steamy exhaust at the curb.

Flying off to Boston one week before Christmas had been an impulsive decision. It was also exactly the kind of thing that my mother claimed I did just to drive her nuts—a fact that might go a long way toward explaining why I still refused to admit, even to myself, that it had not been one of my more brilliant ideas.

If I intended to be home for Christmas—which I did—I had exactly seven days to untangle the web of lies that had been Angie Drummond’s life. I had just wasted the first two hours of them shuffling from one customer service desk to another in a futile search for my missing luggage. Meanwhile, the winter storm that had settled over the eastern half of the continent had descended on the city, burying it under a thick blanket of snow.

I slipped into the backseat of the first open door and quickly compared the identification photo on the dashboard with the face checking me out in the rear view mirror. Convinced that cabbie Bob Langley was in fact behind the wheel and not hog-tied in the trunk, I offered him the name of my hotel. The precaution didn’t go unnoticed.

As the cab eased from the curb, the driver voiced his approval. “That’s a smart move, you know. I bet ninety-percent of my fares don’t pay attention to who’s doing the driving.”

“The other ninety-percent don’t have a mother like mine,” I replied. Crediting Mom for the handful of phobias I’d developed in recent years wasn’t entirely accurate, but it was less complicated. “Can you pump a little more heat back here? A polar bear could freeze to death at these temperatures.”

“Sorry about that. Blew the heater core this afternoon. I called the problem in, but dispatch says they can’t get to it until tomorrow and every unit they got is on the street.”

“Well, then how far is it to the hotel?”

“Normally? Ten minutes. Tonight?” He shrugged. “That’s anybody’s guess,” he added, as the heavy sedan skated to an awkward stop inches from the silver Mercedes in front of us. He laughed off the near miss. I didn’t. I pulled the collar of my brand new camel hair coat up over my cheeks and warmed my face with my breath, assuring myself with more hope than certainty that a hot shower and a double cheeseburger would fix everything.

“This ain’t nothing,” he extolled with a cavalier grin and an unspoken hee-hee. “Just bad enough to give folks an Excedrin headache by the time they get home tonight. Now, a Nor’easter—well, that would be a different story. You here on business?”

“Nor’easter?” I echoed, my memory switching into search mode. I was not much of a student of meteorology, but somewhere in the depths of my mental filing cabinet, I did recall something about a severe winter storm dumping two feet of snow on much of New England last year. That, I presumed, was a Nor’easter.

“I knew it,” he chortled with self-satisfaction. “You’re from somewhere out west. I’m guessing somewhere warm. Los Angeles, right?”

I ignored the probe into my personal life and guided him back to the question at hand. “You were telling me what a Nor’easter is.”

“Sorry, Miss. It’s a game I play – trying to guess where people are from. It helps to break the monotony of driving in circles all night. A Nor’easter is when the weather blows in from the northeast. Packs a punch, I guess you could say, ‘cause of all the moisture it picks up over the ocean. But this ain’t no Nor’easter and a little snow don’t do much to slow down folks around here. You watch, life will be back to normal by seven, eight o’clock tops.” Then as an afterthought he added, “Still you must be living right, Miss. I just heard on the radio that Logan’s been shut down ‘till maybe midnight. If your plane had been an hour later, who knows where you’d be spending night.”

It was my turn to laugh, even though his comment struck me as anything but funny. There was one thing I had learned from firsthand experience and that was that any correlation between “living right” and good fortune was tenuous at best and most probably unadulterated hogwash. I would have told him that and a whole lot more, except that I really didn’t want to talk about it and I was equally certain he didn’t want to hear it.

Hoping he would take the hint, I turned my attention to the blur of holiday lights that decorated the rows of quaint shops and stately townhouses that lined the Back Bay boulevards. It must have worked because he allowed me to ride the rest of the way, in a kind of frigid numbness that let the minutes pass uncounted, while he concentrated on the icy streets.

When we rounded the corner onto Commonwealth Avenue he jolted me from my reverie. “That’s the Pembrooke right up there, Miss,” he said, pointing to a brightly-lit portico that stood like a welcoming beacon on an otherwise miserable night.

As the cab slowed to an uneasy stop at the curb in front of the hotel, a uniformed doorman hurried down the steps, opened my door and extended a hand to help me out. He motioned to the cabbie to pop the trunk so he could retrieve my luggage.

I braced myself against a powerful gust of wind and waved him off. “This is it,” I said, holding up my briefcase and a small overnight bag.
$16.95
353-p
Format: 
To Kill A Nudist_p
Nudist Series, Vol. 3

By Byron and Kay McAllister

Age and marriage haven’t impaired the brains of Carola Szegy and Ned Nackero, crime solvers of Runaway Nudist and Undercover Nudist. In this adventure, in the middle of a mountain pass snowstorm, they encounter a fellow nudist being stalked by a crooked lawman and his corrupt boss; they lock horns with a well-meaning but sick-minded anti-government “militia”; and, of course, while the cold and snow settle in, they also determine who killed whom, and how, and why.

ISBN 978-1-61386-182-0 Mystery / Suspense

Cover Art Maggie Dix



Chapter One

Mucklestone’s Folly

For Mucklestone, the director of Europa Naturist Colony on the outskirts of Skolville, Montana, trouble began when he showed up at Joe Crousseau’s office carrying the money he expected would get things going for the colony’s new project. Supposedly, before digging could begin for a new lunchroom and dining hall, all Mucklestone had to do was to ask the county for a building permit and pay a token fee. However, for unknown reasons, the county had stalled on granting the permit, and because an early start was needed in order to finish before frost, Mucklestone had become increasingly agitated. One day, somebody mentioned that, “something could probably be accomplished” through the intercession of a local power broker named Joseph V. Crousseau.

“Good,” Telford Mucklestone said, and picked up the telephone.

Crousseau said he could deal with the problem just about any day from eight to five—except that for the rest of that day, a Friday, he would be out.

“Oh, dear, so we can’t get it until Tuesday. The excavators are just waiting for us to confirm that they can start on Wednesday, and we hoped we could call them Tuesday morning and say they can finally go ahead. Well, all right then, it may, somehow, be for the best.”

“I don’t know why it’s for the best,” said Joe Crousseau, “but since it’s a sure thing, you can go ahead and call them. For that matter, can’t you come in on Monday?”

“Monday’s Labor Day,” Mucklestone reminded him.

“So?”

“The county offices aren’t open on Labor Day.”

“I’ll be in my office, though. That’s all you need.”

So on Labor Day Monday, there sat Mucklestone in Crousseau’s office, waiting for the master manipulator to return from his quasi-legal entry into the county offices next door.

Crousseau’s assistance was not exactly cheap. It was costing Europa one thousand dollars. “In cash, you understand,” Crousseau had said.

“On the bright side,” Mucklestone had told himself, “maybe it won’t be necessary to pay the fifteen dollar fee that the county would have charged.” Mucklestone was given to looking “on the bright side,” even when the brightness might be obscure to other people. At any rate, that day there was nobody working at Crousseau Enterprises but Joseph V. Crousseau himself. So it was Crousseau, not some subordinate, who had gone to fetch the permit.

“Easy as pie,” said Joe Crousseau. “I have keys to everything.” He winked, and, still holding Europa’s payment in his hand, visible for anybody to see—if there’d been anybody there to notice—he strolled off down the hall.

Mucklestone sat with nothing to do but stare around the room and listen to a faint buzz from the inactive copy machine. He soon noticed a pile of largish ledgers on the table behind Crousseau’s desk. The odd thing was, little bundles of currency stuck out here and there from each of them.

Given the arrangement for paying Europa Colony’s thousand, Mucklestone wasn’t really surprised to see that Crousseau kept quantities of money in his office, but he thought it careless to leave it lying around. Maybe September was the time when Crousseau Enterprises finished up its books? The demand for “cash only” had already tipped off even naive Telford Mucklestone that he had paid not a fee but a bribe. He had handed over ten new one hundred dollar bills. If the money sticking out of the edges of the ledgers was also in hundreds, it would amount to a much larger sum.

Perhaps it was in smaller bills—but perhaps not.

He figured, that if Crousseau had either brains or presence of mind, he wouldn’t have left anybody in a room where wads of cash were lying around plainly visible. Not even Telford Mucklestone, who knew himself to be completely honest, even if he did sometimes suspect other people of being less so.

Perhaps Crousseau was “setting him up”? He considered the possibility, but decided he thought not: there could be no reason for it.

Still the idea did worry him.

No, most likely the man was just careless. Other people might have walked off with—Mucklestone didn’t know how much. If they dared.

Mucklestone considered it one of his greatest assets that he is unusually curious. Unfortunately, an asset can, at times, be a liability.

“I could just take a quick peek,” he told himself, scooting around the desk and opening the top ledger to a page where some of the money lay. The greenbacks were not much worn, and he thought there might be about fifty of them. Thousand dollar bills.

“Wow!” he said aloud, and then realized that silence could well be an excellent policy.

He knew that hundreds are the largest bills currently in circulation, but, on the bright side—for Crousseau, at least—the date on the top one was not so long ago after all: 1964—only thirty years old. It would very likely still be redeemable, albeit possibly with a certain amount of fuss.

As he fanned through the currency to check his first impression, the same picture of Grover Cleveland showed on every bill in the pile. He put the money back where it had been—on the right-hand ledger page—and read quickly down the page at the left. Then he moved the wad of bills from right to left in order to read the next page, turned the leaf over, read on, and—suddenly remembering that Joe Crousseau could return at any moment—hastily closed the book.

Snooping is sometimes a serious mistake, and Mucklestone had by then realized that what he had seen was strong stuff. So strong that Crousseau might conceivably be putty in the hands of anyone who could prove that the ledgers contained what they contained.

Gosh, he thought, I wish I had a way to copy the pages outright.

As he sat, the copy machine’s buzz penetrated his daze.

He felt he’d been stupid not to think of it instantly. He rushed back to the ledgers, set the money aside, and ran copies of five pages from the top ledger. He would have done more, but he suddenly remembered that, only a year earlier, Crousseau had been acquitted—on a technicality—of a murder most people were sure he had really committed. Suddenly, Mucklestone’s stomach seemed to turn upside down.

He returned the ledger to the pile, inserted the money between pages that were at least near where he had found it, and snatched the ledger copies he had just made out of the bin. He dropped them into his briefcase without so much as looking at them.

He tried to think whether he could do anything with what he had made. The ledger’s oversize sheets had come close to covering the glass top of the copier, but the copies themselves were only standard eight and one-half by eleven. Lots of information from the ledger pages would be missing. Not interested in blackmail as such, he did permit himself the thought that there might be a way to turn to his own advantage whatever fragments of information his copies proved to contain. On the other hand, if Crousseau ever came to realize that those ledgers had so much as been looked into, Telford Mucklestone could be in real danger. Suddenly it struck him that he might have achieved the classic condition of “knowing too much.”

The longer Mucklestone sat and thought, the more frightened he became. His fear centered on the documents in his briefcase. He wished they weren’t there. But how could he get rid of them? He couldn’t ‘un-copy’ them. Could he just drop them into the wastebasket?

He was afraid Crousseau—or somebody who would report to Crousseau—might notice them there. Perhaps Crousseau wouldn’t know who left them? But he would know: because of the holiday, it was quite likely that nobody else would come into the office, and especially that nobody else would be left alone there. The finger would point unambiguously to Telford Mucklestone.

How about taking them back to Europa Colony and burning them? He still hadn’t looked to see what he had. In fact, he was afraid to open the briefcase to check; Crousseau might come back even while he was looking. Anyway, maybe it was just a mish-mash. He tried to remember how the ledger had been positioned on the glass when he pressed the button to copy, trying to visualize what had been copied and what had not. But he couldn’t concentrate well enough for that.

Maybe he should “blow the whistle” on Crousseau Enterprises? It was clear from the ledgers that Crousseau was dishonest—a common criminal. Or, rather, an uncommon criminal. Common criminals evade the law, while Crousseau, to some extent, appeared to control it. However, the few pages of ledger Mucklestone had read suggested it might not be easy to find a listener to whom he could safely tattle.

Obviously, part of the county government, several of the more important contractors and other businesses, and maybe even the local newspaper were all tied in with Crousseau’s graft. There was even one man in the sheriff’s office itself who cooperated with Joe Crousseau: Cliff Wadmis. Mucklestone recalled the entry quite clearly:

9/3 C. Wadmis $11,350 as agent in Cemetery extortion.

He thought, on the bright side, that overt use of the word “extortion” showed a certain firmness of character in the man, Crousseau. Villainous character, but firm villainous character. Mucklestone already knew a bit about this Wadmis person. He had arrived in Skolville practically wallowing in money—threw it around so freely one couldn’t possibly ignore him, bought and paid cash for things like fast cars and fancy clothes and wild parties. When he drank, he bought whiskey for everybody: friends, strangers, everybody!

The house he bought was practically a palace. He had joined expensive clubs; always ate at restaurants, invariably selecting the most expensive thing on the menu, French wines and all. He acted as though he wanted to go right through his money supply, as fast as he could.

Which, apparently was just what he had done.

Broke, Wadmis began to cast about for a way to continue the spree—a difficult project in Skolville, which is not exactly a land of opportunity.

Apparently looking every place for income, one day he even showed up at Europa Colony, asking whether there were any high-paying jobs available there. Mucklestone had thought the man a little thickheaded. The only positions open at the time were for quite menial labor— the only kind they ever have, except for recreation directors and chefs. Wadmis had said he wasn’t suited to scrub-work, nor anything else with a low income. He’d said he’d need at least fifty thousand a year to get by—as much as Mucklestone and his assistant, Fred Cheeberly, earned put together.

“The rest of the staff rack up from fifteen to twenty thousand apiece. We just couldn’t pay anything like the range you’re talking about. I’m afraid in spite of my best intentions, most of my people are underpaid, but it’s hard to come up with more for them. They work hard for a living. ‘Wage-slaves,’ they sometimes call themselves.”

“Hmmm,” Wadmis said. “Any chance of my replacing both of you executives? Your jobs aren’t so hard one person couldn’t do both of them, surely?”

Mucklestone told him, “An unusually capable person, maybe. We wouldn’t resign in your favor, though, because we don’t want to. I’m not exactly enthusiastic about being replaced, and, so far, my assistant seems to be quite content. At any rate I find his performance entirely satisfactory. Besides, Europa is part of a chain, and the regional office is down in Arizona. They appoint me and they appoint Fred, so if one or both of us resigned—or especially if we were fired—I wouldn’t have any influence on choosing the replacement.”

“Well, management is where the money is. What there is of it. You must need more managers of some sort.”

“No,” Mucklestone insisted, “There are only two managerial positions, and, to make fifty grand, you would need both our jobs. And neither of us thinks the place could get along without us.”

Wadmis had left, disappointed—as though he’d expected Europa to be the answer to his financial prayers.

The only thing Mucklestone had seen or heard of him between then and the day he saw the name on Joe Crousseau’s ledgers consisted of a newspaper report describing a raid by the sheriff’s office on a local farmer who had been growing the forbidden weed. Wadmis had led the raid. He assumed that Wadmis must have found out he could get along on less.

But maybe not. Here in Joe Crousseau’s books was evidence that Wadmis was also ‘on the take’ from Crousseau’s evil empire. Prospering after all, then.

* * *

Time dragged by. Crousseau was slow in returning. That gave Mucklestone more time to think. And think. And think some more. Some of his thoughts made more sense than others. He was tempted to wonder, again, whether the money was some sort of trap. Maybe tiny television transmitters were revealing his every move.

No, too unlikely.

Or maybe Crousseau had placed a nearly invisible marker of some sort—a hair, perhaps—on the ledger, something that would be displaced if the book was moved.

That might be possible; besides, Mucklestone wasn’t sure he had put the money exactly where he had found it.

He couldn’t imagine any motive for such an entrapment, but he couldn’t get over considering the possibility, either.

Each scenario he thought of seemed far-fetched, and yet he couldn’t believe any of them was entirely impossible.

Well, what if Crousseau returned to find him gone? What would the man think then? Could being absent be any worse than still sitting in the same chair when the man walked in, if, say, he happened to spot the incursion at once from some subtle clue Mucklestone couldn’t even guess? He tried to remember the exact words Crousseau had uttered before he left the office. The sense had been that he could “go and get the permit” and bring it back to Mucklestone “immediately.” It seemed there would be fewer “complications” if he handed it over himself than if he arranged for a deputy sheriff to drop by Europa Colony and deliver it. But what had been the exact words? If Mucklestone was gone when Crousseau re-entered his office, would the permit simply be delivered?

Under the stimulus of fear, Mucklestone persuaded himself that such would be the case. His thoughts ran like this: what I feel definitely is fear. But, on the bright side, it isn’t yet terror.

Terror, he believed, would have frozen him to his seat—and possibly sealed his doom.

An idea came to him at last. He felt very lucky, with so little time to think, to have hit on anything at all. After a quick look down the hall, he extracted the documents from the briefcase and walked to the bank of filing cabinets. There he opened a bottom drawer as far as it would slide, and thrust all of the papers he had extracted from the copier into the space behind the last hanging file. He closed the drawer, picked up his briefcase, walked out to his automobile, and drove, as calmly as he could, back to Europa Colony. There, his voice breaking only slightly, he informed his assistant, Fred Cheeberly, that the building permit would arrive in the near future, and Fred could get on the phone Tuesday morning—or even over the weekend, if he could find anybody to talk to—and order whatever supplies and labor would be needed. Construction of the addition to the dining rooms could begin as soon as they could persuade the contractors to come to work.

Once that message had been delivered, Mucklestone went into his office, closed the door, and—just in case whiskey really does steady nerves—violated the colony’s “no alcoholic beverages” rule. His nerves certainly needed steadying.
$19.95
2-182-P
Format: 
Undercover Nudist_p
by Byron and Kay McAllister

Set in 1964, this is the story of world-famous sleuth Tim Rinnissen’s first introduction to detective work. The crime, five years’ old, is an old-fashioned bludgeoning, with traces of attempted poisoning, corruption of officialdom, and an introduction to investigation sponsored by a couple of nudists, locally famous for their gourmet cooking. Tim’s youth and inexperience lead him into trouble, but the nudes rescue him by solving the crime-- feeding him a Malaysian dinner as they analyze how they did it.

ISBN 978-1-61386-181-3 Mystery-Suspense Paperback

Cover Art by Maggie Dix



Unexpected Errand

The “Old Boy Network” looks bad to outsiders, but to those who benefit from it, it’s one of the wonders of the world. Tim’s uncle’s friend, the car rental manager, knew Ned was reliable enough—and had enough money—that letting Tim borrow a car wasn’t a financial risk. What he didn’t mention—and Tim’s uncle didn’t reveal this, either, until several years later—was that no company rules were broken, since the pricey ($2,368 FOB Detroit, but at that time it was a lot of money) little red Ford Mustang convertible “rented” to Tim actually belonged to the agent himself. Tim might have guessed, since he wasn’t asked to sign anything, but of course, with no experience in such matters, he didn’t. He set off happily toward Dotney, the only town on the road between Billings and Motherlode itself.

He drove the whole trip with the Mustang’s top down. Chilly, but he loved it, and as the day gradually warmed, he zipped along, as happy as a clam-and-a-half, gradually reddening from the sun and the wind.

To Midwesterners the scenery along that road appears to be desert. To a Westerner, it just looks like a piece of—oh, maybe central Wyoming. White, sandy soil, if you can call it soil, in which nothing grows but sagebrush. The distant hills show occasional spots of dark scrub juniper. Beyond the hills, one imagines a lot more of the same.

The road he was driving crossed a number of enormous culverts. Tim couldn’t recall ever seeing a rainstorm in Motherlode, nor even any clear indication that rain ever happened there. As he realized the significance of the culverts, he remembered, too, that Motherlode, like most parts of Montana, rarely gets as much as 20 inches of rain in a year—even though “unusual” weather may occasionally produce spring floods.

Flattened fauna—mostly jackrabbits—spattered the wide-shouldered road all the way to Dotney. Since Tim neither met nor passed—nor was passed by—even one car that fine Monday morning, he wondered how the body count of small animals could be so high. He attributed a substantial decrease in the number of rabbit corpses as the road narrowed after Dotney to traffic’s having to slow almost to the legal maximum as the road entered the foothills and began to twist and turn. Not that Montanans have ever been much concerned with speed limits.

As he drew alongside the familiar streambed of Dry Flats Creek, Tim noticed a trickle of water. Did water flow there at the end of every May, he wondered, or had this year started out strangely wet? Only decades later did he learn that it was neither the usual thing, nor particularly unusual. It just happens sometimes. Spring moisture varies tremendously, all over the state.

He drove past an ancient barn, its roof swaybacked, its yard clogged with many years’ worth of thistles. Ruined sheds; an uninviting, gaping old house. “Somebody must have tried to ranch here,” he muttered. The ruins made clear that the attempt had failed.

The road swung to the right, to the left again, and crossed a little rise. Suddenly the narrow basin that holds the town of Motherlode came into view. Tim had always loved being in the town, but until then had never thought of it as beautiful to look at. Today it seemed just as picturesque as his mother had always claimed. He felt he was finally seeing it through her eyes.

Tim had been instructed to call Uncle Ned as soon as he reached town. However, he was carrying very little money. (“Uncle Ned will provide. You don’t need to take chances on having your pocket picked.”) Thus, the only food he’d had up to then had been what the motel called “Free Continental Breakfast,” something of an innovation back then. In order not to take unfair advantage of the management, he’d eaten very lightly—in his own estimation. Four Danish, a couple of doughnuts, a single cup of coffee, and three glasses of orange juice. Now his stomach mentioned that it was nearly eleven, that he did have a little money, that he might or might not get fed if he headed immediately into the canyon toward Oak Grove, and that his uncle wouldn’t know what time he got into town anyway. Therefore, it would be okay to get a meal.

His conscience maintained a discreet silence, even when he stopped near the entrance to the Elkhorn Hotel.

Exactly four vehicles had been parked in that block of Main Street, all directly in front of the hotel. Characteristically, Tim didn’t notice what make they were. He pulled the Mustang into one of the seven remaining empty slots, put the top up, and locked its doors. Unnecessary, in Motherlode, he thought, but the agent had warned him not to take chances.

The hotel restaurant calls itself “The Miners’ Lunch,” and its open doors showed it was ready for business—though Tim had clearly arrived before the crowd. He asked whether he could still get breakfast, and found he could.

“Lucky me,” he said.
$19.95
2-181-p
Format: 
Reenactment
By Marjorie Doughty

What if possession were possible and an errant spirit from another time took over the body and subsequent actions of a living susceptible person. What would happen, especially if an avenging spirit felt the killings were justified? In Re-enactment, this does occur and bewildered law enforcement and others come to a conclusion that the person committing the crimes was chemically imbalanced. This the logical mind can accept; possession it cannot. However, some southern re-enactors, descendants of slave owners, have a foregone destiny with death because of this vengeful ghost that will not die, using the physical body of someone on the edge to commit these crimes.

Could this happen as told in this story? Skeptics say no – others who ask questions, are not that certain.

ISBN 1-59431-095-5 Mystery/Paranormal/Romance

Cover Art/Maggie Dix



Prologue

It was an unusual place to die, on the open field in daylight, able to see from only one eye. Pine trees blurred by heavy white smoke from cannons and muskets lined each side of the open area. The sound of artillery roared into his ears. Above him the sun appeared, gave brief sullen light before dirty clouds closed in and dumped more thin chilling rain on the sandy soil. He didn’t feel the cold or wet.

Men in gray uniforms fired reloaded and surged around him and other fallen comrades, down the field toward the enemy in blue. He became faintly aware of sticky fluid inching down the side of his face. I’m going to be 21 on Saturday.

Then he thought how his grandfather and father would be so disappointed in him, because they had been successful reenactors of the South. He gave a great sigh of bewilderment and died.



Chapter 1

College student, Alice Benton, looked around the basement of the Victorian house where she had been born and raised. She had been cleaning for hours. There was something different in the old basement she couldn’t identify, but it was not threatening. Curious. She stood motionless under the uneven light leaking from three seventy-five watt bulbs hanging haphazardly on sagging black wire that made small inroads into the gloom. The Beatles had finished singing “Hey, Jude” from a small cassette player she had placed on the high windowsill beneath a tiny window. But she didn’t bother to turn the tape over. Instead, she leaned on the broom, wondering about the urgency that drove her to the basement this morning. This feeling of something waiting for her. Something she sensed just out of her reach but silently calling.

The place hadn’t been touched since her mother and father’s deaths three years ago. She had worked all day. Finished with the final sweeping of the cement floor, Alice looked at the shadowed corner of the basement that held all that remained of her parents’ lives. The old huge seagoing chest contained their precious memories. To Alice, that part of the basement was hallowed ground.

Approaching exhaustion, but satisfied with her work, she placed the broom against one of the filled black plastic trash bags. There was one more task to take care of and then she was finished. She glanced around and again felt something different.

“Probably just my imagination,” she said to herself.

“Too much imagination,” her parents had often told her. They had worried about her when she was a child, the fact that she never wanted friends. She tried to make them understand. But that only worried them more. After school she would go straight home to her room and study, or let her mind drift into her own imaginary adventures, adventures she always shared with her twin, Alex, who understood how she felt. He, too, wanted only to be with her. They never felt the need to include outsiders in their play. She smiled as she thought of Alex. She was sorry he had gone to another school when they were younger, but for some reason her parents had felt it was necessary. Now they could be together whenever they wanted to. Soon he would be coming back from a Civil War reenactment in Andersonville and they would talk and talk.

Alice knelt down on the cold cement floor and opened the lid of the remaining chest. She had meant to check it out long before this, but something always interfered. Now she felt the need to know.

It was some kind of dark wood, slightly splintered on the edges, held together with tarnished metal bands. It had belonged to her Aunt Jessie, who was part of a traveling troupe of actors around the turn of the century. As she reached in, a small shiny black spider landed on her hand. She brushed the body to the floor before it could bite, stood up and grabbed the broom, smashing it down on the spider as it tried to run away. The spider's body flipped over and she saw the red markings on the belly. A black widow. She grabbed the dustpan and swept the dead spider into it. Then she dumped the contents of the dustpan into one of the trash-filled bags. After rubbing the palms of her hands against her dirty jeans, Alice looked into the chest to see if there were any more spiders lurking, but she couldn’t see clearly. She closed her eyes and waited for the red spot before her eyes to clear.

After a few minutes, she reached in again. Alice lifted out each costume, shaking it vigorously before spreading it on the floor. The musty smell from the inside of the trunk tickled her nostrils, making her sneeze. She remembered stories her aunt had shared with her of wearing these very costumes back when she was still “treading the boards” as she put it.

A mild envy filled Alice. She sat back on her heels for a moment, holding a long red ruffled dress in her hand, something she could never successfully wear with her tall straight body and barely noticeable breasts. This was a dress that needed filling out, she told herself. She was built too much like her brother, Alex. She knew her parents had wanted only boys. She had lived in Alex’s shadow when they were alive. In fact, sometimes Alice felt as if her whole life had been a sort of shadow existence. But she didn’t blame Alex. He was perfect. She loved him too much to ever do that. It was the fault of the world into which she was born.

Alice lifted out the last piece of clothing and placed it on top of the others, smoothing out the material. It was the uniform jacket of a Union soldier, a lieutenant. For a moment she felt a surge of excitement that quickly died. It was only part of a Civil War uniform used on stage . She glanced at the trunk. The only thing left was a small object wrapped in a piece of age-yellowed linen. When she touched it, it felt like a book. It slipped from her tired fingers onto the floor and a small leather-bound volume fell out. She gingerly picked it up. There were smudges on the outside of the book, but no title or identification of any kind.

Intrigued, she sat down, resting her back against the trunk. The leather cover was cracked in places so she opened it slowly and stared at the date on the inside cover. 1861. Her long, bony fingers carefully turned the brittle pages of the book containing handwritten entries. It was a journal of some kind. She read a few sentences and sat enthralled. The faded writing was difficult to make out, the closely penned letters cramped and some of it had faded. The first entry was legible if she went slowly.

“My name is George Blakely and today I have joined the Union Army. The arrogant, self-serving men who drain the very lifeblood of others have left me no other choice. My destiny has been made known to me. I must restore dignity to those stripped of it.”

Her breathing became rapid. What she had here was a treasure. This truly was the diary of a Union officer during the Civil War. Alice’s gaze riveted on the page with its old-fashioned writing, her fatigue forgotten.
$16.95
132-p
Format: 
Saranac Lake Requiem
Saranac Lake Series, Vol. One

by Shel Damsky

When Gabriel Levine punches out a guy who is being rude to a dancer, then learns the next day the guy's name is Dutch Schultz, retreat seems in order.

To avoid a gang war Lucky Luciano sends Gabe to Saranac Lake to recuperate from tuberculosis.…in love with a beautiful woman, and surrounded by people who look up to him, Gabe doesn't know that even in Saranac Lake, tuberculosis is not his most dangerous enemy.

ISBN 978-1-59431-202-2 Historical / Mystery /Romance/ Suspense

Cover Art by Ariana Overton



Chapter 1

New York City

At ten o’clock on a Spring morning, as the noises and smells of the crowded Lower East Side came in the window. Housewives screamed at the pushcart guys; the pushcart guys tried to stop the gangs of kids from stealing their rotten vegetables.

Gabriel Levine sat on the edge of his rumpled bed, not tumbling yet to the idea of how much trouble he was really in. He ran his hand through his light brown hair, lit a Lucky Strike, drank a shot of bad bootleg whiskey, coughed for almost thirty seconds straight and wondered why naked women walked like ducks.

Like the mahogany beauty coming into the bedroom with a cup of coffee for him. Even with her lithe dancer’s body, naked she walked like a duck. In clothes and high heels they walked just great, with everything moving the way it should. But considering everything, Gabe thought, naked ducks had a lot going for them too.

“Here’s your coffee, babe,” she said, putting the mug on the bed table. Like the rest of the room the table was old and scratched. Two books almost evened up the bottom of its broken leg. Other than the railroad flats he had grown up in, until their new country had killed his father and mother, his father from never understanding and his mother from tired, and his sister had married the first luftmensch that promised to take her out of there, this room was the only home Gabriel Levine had ever known.

The girl sat next to him on the sagging mattress. “You’re too skinny,” she said. “You’re almost six feet, and I bet I weigh almost as much as you do. And you’re too pale. Don’t you ever get any sun?”

“I lost some weight,” he answered, “but I’m okay. And how much sun do you get driving a hack?” But he wondered if the coughing had anything to do with it. Doc Horowitz had told him that he was getting worse, that pretty soon he had to get out of the City, go somewhere in the mountains. Wherever they were.

“How you feeling?” she asked, with concern in her voice that puzzled Gabe.

“Pretty good,” he answered. He smiled. “You give a guy a workout. But something’s bothering me, something running around the back of my head. Like when you wake up all of a sudden and you don’t remember all the money you lost playing poker or on the horses. Then it hits you. Only whatever it is, it’s where I can’t reach it.”

“You don’t remember last night?” she asked.

“Sure. I dropped some fares off up in Harlem, the Cotton Club, went in to see if I could scare up some business back downtown, had some drinks and then—”

“And then?” she prodded.

“Jesus, I got in a fight. Now I remember. Some bozo got fresh with you and grabbed your ass and…. A grin pulled up one side of his wide mouth. “And I hit him. I decked him. Son-of-a-bitch, I got in a fight and knocked somebody down. I knocked somebody down.”

She stared at him as if she thought he had missed a cue somewhere.

“Some bozo?” she said, her voice rising, “some bozo? You don’t know who you hit?” Her eyes were so wide all he could see were the whites. Like Ruby Begonia must look like on Amos ‘n’, Andy, he thought.

“No. Should I?”

“You’re goddamned right you should.”

Sounds from the street came into the window. Yelling, screaming, cursing, in Yiddish, Italian, German, and Polish, floated up from the teeming street.

“Because ‘that bozo’ was Dutch Schultz, that’s why. It was wonderful the way you helped me, but you hit Dutch Schultz. The Dutchman was who you hit.”

“Oh my god!” Gabe said. “I don’t do much right, do I? Why didn’t he kill me right there?”

“Oh, he would have, believe me. But there was too much confusion. He was screaming, his bodyguards were trying to get him up off the floor, and I got you the hell out of there.”

There was a loud knock at the door. They looked at each other, and then Gabe put on a robe while the girl ran into the bathroom. Gabe opened the door and stepped back. The man was so big that there didn’t seem to be any light coming in the doorway around him. Gabe started to say something but the man held up a hand the size of a catcher’s mitt.

“Ten minutes,” he said. “Fifteen tops. Downstairs.”

Gabe closed the door and went back into the bedroom. He sat down on the bed and took a pull at the bottle. He looked up at her as she came into the room. She was partly dressed. Her eyes were wide, staring at him.

“You see him?” he asked her. “You see the size of him?”

She nodded. “I was peeking around the bathroom door,” she said.

“He must be one of Schultz’s boys,” he said. “They’re going to kill me, aren’t they?” He stared up at her, his hazel eyes narrowed to slits over his narrow face. She sat down on the bed and took the bottle from him, took a long pull and put it back on the bed table

“I don’t know,” she answered. “I’ve seen him at the Club, but not with Schultz. He’s always with Lucky Luciano. But everybody knows Lucky and Schultz hate each other. So why should Lucky’s goon want to see you?”

“How the hell do I know,” Gabe said, his forehead creased with deep wrinkles. “To kill me, probably. Anyway, I got five minutes to shower and shave and get down there. Can I see you later?”

“Sure. Call me at the Club tonight if everything’s all right. And Gabe—?”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks again for helping me. Maybe we can see each other some more?”

“If I live until tonight, sure,” he answered, going into the bathroom.

He shaved quickly, nicking himself a couple of times because his hands were shaking and rushed through a shower. He splashed Lucky Tiger on his hair and combed it straight back, no part, like Valentino did in The Sheik, dressed and went downstairs. The huge man was leaning against the door of a black La Salle. He opened the front door and motioned Gabe in. Gabe snuck a look in the back seat, wondering if someone was waiting for him there. He knew, hell, everybody knew, that the Jewish gangs used ice picks, the guineas used garrotes, both easy from the back seat of a car.

The back seat was empty. Gabe let out a long breath, and asked the driver where they were going.

“Shut the fuck up,” he responded, the only thing he said the whole trip. He stopped the car in front of the Hotel Astor, which stood high over Times Square like a fat rich lady looking over her estate. Two men in dark suits waited at the curb, not bothering to hide the bulges under their armpits.

“He heeled?” one of the men asked the driver.

The driver laughed. “This punk?” he said, “he never had nothin’ but a water pistol his whole life.”

One of the men opened the door and Gabe got out. They herded him across the lobby to the elevators and rode to the top floor. And into the first hotel suite he had ever seen, where, like in a William Powell movie, the elevator door opened right into the living room. But that was nothing compared to the shock when he saw the two men sitting at a coffee table, drinks in front of them, their faces showing all the expression of wallpaper.

Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano. He had never seen them, just their pictures in the paper, but he knew who they were. Everybody knew who they were.

They were both dressed in dark blue pin striped suits, over white on white shirts and regimental striped neckties. They looked nothing alike, but they were thought of as twins. People said they didn’t have to even talk to each other; from the time they were kids on the street stealing pennies from back alley crap games, they could read each others minds. The dark man with the straight black hair and one droopy eyelid, was Luciano. Charley Lucky, the capo de tutti capi. The little man with the deeply lined face and big ears, his face tanned from all the time he spent in Miami and Havana, was Lansky, the brains behind Charley Lucky.

They said around town that Meyer Lansky trusted only Lucky Luciano and Lucky Luciano trusted nobody.

Besides the two at the cocktail table, a half dozen men ranged around the room. They played gin rummy, stood around, or looked out the windows at Times Square far below. They were interchangeable in dark clothes, expressionless faces and guns in shoulder holsters. They appeared to have no interest in the meeting, but each one was ready on request to serve drinks, open a window, or shoot someone—whatever was required.

When he had walked into the suite, the little man with the big ears got out of his chair and extended his hand. “Good morning, Gabriel,” he said. “Thank you for coming up,” like it had been Gabe’s idea to stop by as long as he was in the neighborhood. “This is Charles,” nodding toward Luciano, who stood, walked over to Gabe and shook hands, like he was meeting his banker, Gabe thought. “Get Mr. Levine a drink,” Luciano said over his shoulder, and one of the gorillas went over to the wet bar and poured some whiskey. He handed the drink to Gabe. “Here, you Jew son-of-a-bitch,” he said, “choke on it.”

“Easy, Salvatore,” the little man said. “Bad temper got us into this mess. Let’s not make it any worse.”

Bad temper, Gabe thought. Then this was about the fight last night. He had relaxed a little when they gave him a drink instead of shooting him. Now he stopped relaxing. Stopped dead, he couldn’t help thinking.

“Tell me Gabriel,” Meyer Lansky said, “what do you know about Saranac Lake?”

The question came from so deep in left field that Gabriel didn’t know what to say at first. Finally, “I don’t know. It doesn’t ring a bell. What is it?”

“It’s not a thing,” Luciano answered, “it’s a place. Upstate. You know upstate?”

”I was in Albany once,” Gabe answered. “Drove a Senator up there. Is it near there?”

Lansky nodded. “Saranac Lake is another couple of hours north of there. It’s mostly for people with TB.” He stopped. “We did some checking. You got TB, don’t you Gabriel?” he asked.

Gabe nodded. He didn’t know how they knew, but they knew.

“Not only a TB place,” Lansky went on, “but I hear there’s a lot of action up there. Somebody told me it’s a cross between a big hospital and a wide-open town. I can’t picture that mix, but that’s what they say.”

“But why would I be interested?” Gabe asked.

“Let’s stop the shit, kid,” Luciano growled. “One, it’s a famous place for getting cured of TB If you don’t do something you could be dead in maybe a couple of years.” He thought for a minute. “And after last night, if you stay here you could be dead in a in a couple of hours. So there might be better.”

Lansky broke in. “Let me put this in perspective, Gabriel,” he said. “You see, there’s lots going on. And suddenly you’re part of it.”

“Oh.” It was all Gabe could think of to say.

“I’ll make this quick. Dutch Schultz wants our okay to kill this new prosecutor. And that would be the dumbest thing we could do. The heat would never let up.”

He paused and without any break, Luciano took up the story. “And we can’t let that happen. Because it would start a war. And if we have a war here, people like Capone look to pick up the pieces, or Longy Zwillman is licking his chops across the river in Jersey, or the Purple Gang in Detroit would love to move in and everybody all of a sudden got his hand on his gun.”

“Schultz wants to kill everybody in sight. Between him and that grizzly bear he’s got for a bodyguard, nobody’s safe,” he went on. “And after last night, they’d be happy to start with you.”

Lansky took up the story. “And Legs Diamond is always looking for an excuse to rub out Schultz. They hate each other.” He paused, sipped his drink, and said, almost sadly, “Now you’re up shit creek, and all just the Dutchman grabs your girlfriend by her black ass.”

“You got to leave town, kid.” This from Luciano, who almost sounded like he really cared what Gabe did. “But it works out for everybody. We’re interested in all the booze that the Bronfmans and their people are sending in from Canada. We know it goes over the border somewhere near this Saranac Lake. You’re a cab driver. You could help a lot.” He looked at Gabe for a minute, lit a cigarette, and then went on.

“If we go into business up there, you can drive for us. Make sure the stuff gets in from Canada, through little places they call Chateaugay and, I think, Chazy and this Saranac Lake to Albany and here in the City. And maybe get your health back at the same time.”

“That sounds great,” Gabe said, not sure at all how it sounded, but at least it sounded better than getting shot right here in this room. “I can be ready to go in just a couple of weeks.”

“You go this afternoon,” Luciano said. He nodded to one of the hoods at the door, who brought an envelope over to him. “Here’s your ticket. Your train leaves Grand Central at 5:30. And here’s everything you need to know, about where you’re staying and like that. And there’s some cash in here.”

Gabe took the envelope and put it in his pocket without looking at it. He didn’t think it would be smart to look like he didn’t trust them. As it was, he didn’t know whether he trusted them or not, because everything was going too fast for him. The last thing you wanted to do, Gabe thought, was make these people think you didn’t trust them. It could really be the last thing you did.

“Look,” he said, “I’m sorry about last night. I’m really sorry I started this mess. I’m sorry I caused so much trouble for you. And I appreciate your helping me like this, instead of, uh, instead of ….” He didn’t finish the thought, because he didn’t want them to start thinking about an instead solution to all this.

“Could I ask you something?” he asked.

“Sure.”

Well,” he started, slowly, “you already know. About the girl, I mean. The dancer. The one I socked Dutch Schultz over, even if I didn’t know it was him.”

“So?” Luciano said.

“Well, she’s pretty swell, and she’s pretty scared about what happened last night. She’s afraid to even go back to work, you know? So I wonder if, maybe, if it’s okay with you, if she could maybe go with me to this Saranac Lake place. Then you wouldn’t have to worry about her. And maybe — “

Lansky put up his hand, stopping Gabe. “Don’t worry kid,” he said. “We already thought about her. We don’t want her getting hurt, so she’s going to be a featured dancer in one of our places. Miami, maybe, or Havana. Anyway, it was important to get her out of town before she got hurt. In fact, she’s on her way south right now. I’m sorry you won’t get a chance to say good-bye.” He looked at Luciano who looked back with no expression at all.

Gabe couldn’t think of anything else to say, and no one seemed to expect anything. He stood up and shook hands with each of them. He started to leave the room when Luciano called him back.

“You carry?” he asked.

“Do I what?”

“A gun,” Luciano said. “You got a gun?” He shook his head in disgust, like he had to ask if Gabe wore shoes.

“No.”

Luciano turned to one of the men looking out the window. “Give him a piece,” he said. The man walked over to Gabe, reached under his left arm, which made Gabe wince, and pulled out a large revolver. He handed it to Gabe. “Here,” he said, “shoot yourself. Save us all the trouble.”

Gabe put the pistol in his coat pocket, surprised at how heavy it was. He nodded at Lansky and Luciano and left the room with the two big men who had brought him there wondering how much trouble having a gun was going to get him into.
$16.95
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Format: 
Saranac Lake Revisited: Saranac Lake Series, Vol 2
Saranac Lake Series, Vol. 2

by Shel Damsky

Hangovers were nothing new to Tony Flanders, but this time he didn't wake up on the wrong side of the bed—he woke up on the wrong side of the century.

Tony Flanders went up to Saranac Lake for a few days fishing—a little R&R from his job as a police detective in 2001 Albany. He didn't expect to wake up in 1927. He didn't expect to help Legs Diamond find out who was trying to murder a beautiful woman, and he certainly didn't expect to fall in love.

ISBN 1-59431-204-4 Period Mystery /Romance /Suspense

Cover Art by Ariana Overton



Chapter 1

“Why in hell,” Jacob Rosen asked Katherine Schwartz, “would anybody try to kill you? In a town where everybody dies of TB? Why would anybody try to kill anybody? Especially you?”

“That’s stupid, Jake, and you know it. I hate it when you talk like that.”

Jake enjoyed watching Katherine when she got mad. She was beautiful to look at any time. But when she got mad the blue eyes turned to a kind of violet and she kept blowing a loose strand of hair off her forehead. Black as black could be, that hair. Even with her left arm in a sling and the bandage wrapped around her head just above her eyes and the crutch, she still looked lovely.

“C’mon,” he said, “It’s not stupid and you know it. The whole town is devoted to sickness. Doctors trying to find a cure and hundreds, hundreds hell, thousands of people coming here hoping to get well, and a lot of them not making it. So I repeat my question, why in hell would anybody jump the gun and kill somebody? And you’re not even a patient. You take care of patients. You’re a damn institution in this town. So again, why would someone want to kill you?”

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, a long sigh, the sound the wind makes when it’s caressing the tops of the trees. Just watching her take the breath was enough to make Jake forget what they were talking about. With the long knit dresses she usually wore, reaching almost to her ankles, and her slim, graceful body, a deep breath could make any conversation veer away from where it had started. She wasn’t young, maybe early to middle forties. About ten years short of him. But time, he thought, never told her body she wasn’t young.

“I suppose you came here to die?”

Jake looked at her. He didn’t answer for a time. “Okay, maybe I was too flip. Maybe nobody goes anyplace just to die, not on their own anyway. No matter how bad you are you always think that someplace there’s some hope, there’s maybe someone who can help you. That’s one thing I learned as a criminal lawyer, listening to cops tell stories while we were waiting for court to open. Whether somebody’s standing on the top of a bridge over the Hudson, or staring at a bottle of pills in their hand, or even pressing a gun to their head, they really hope somebody will step in and stop them. I guess even at the end you don’t stop hoping.”

She put her hand on his arm. “And in spite of the hard boiled talk, you think that way, don’t you Jake?”

Jake pulled the blanket away and started to get out of the cure chair. “Let me get up, okay, Kat?” he asked her. “I get antsy when I been down too long. I just want to get up and have a smoke.”

“All right,” she said. “But not too long. Doctor Kaplan was pleased with you at the weigh-in last week. Your temperature was finally down and you gained a pound. Your face is long and bony enough without your cheekbones sticking out making you look like you were an Indian. Don’t overdo now. The last time you started getting better you went downtown and got drunk and played poker for three straight days. You have to take better care of yourself. You can’t do those things and get well.”

“Why the hell didn’t you tell me that before,” Jake shot back. “Those country boys took me pretty good.” He got out of the chair and walked over to the porch railing. He leaned against it and took a pack of Luckies out of his bathrobe pocket. Katherine held her hand out so he lit two and handed one to her. He took a deep drag, hoping he could blow these thoughts away along with the smoke. A shiver went through him, making his shoulders tremble.

“I told you,” Katherine said. “It’s too cool for you. Get back under the blanket.”

“No, it’s all right. It’s not that. I guess it’s the way our conversation was going. I don’t know what the hell got me on that kick, that’s all. I don’t think I’ll ever believe that I’ve been here for almost two years and that I spent the first few months in bed. In bed for chrissakes.” He smiled at her. “But it’s a nice thought, Kat, you wanting me to get back under a blanket.” He held a hand up, as if to ward off her next remark. “Sorry,” he said, “I couldn’t resist. Let’s get back to what you wanted to ask me.”

”If you could, no, if you would help.”

“Help who?”

“Me.”

“How?”

“I don’t care what you say, somebody tried to kill me that night. I had a week in the hospital to think about it and I’m sure. That big black car was waiting for me to cross the street.”

Jake lit another cigarette. “All right, let’s say you’re right. Just what can I do?”

“I heard last night that somebody’s in town. He was a patient some years ago. We were—” She hesitated. “We were friends. His name is Flanders—Tony Flanders.”

Jake wondered why the hesitation, but didn’t ask.

“He was a detective. In Albany. I imagine he still is. Anyway, I’d like to see him.”

“If you know where he’s staying, why not call him?”

“I don’t know if he’d remember me. I was thinking that maybe someone could go downtown this morning and look him up. Ask him to come for dinner tonight.”

“I’ll go, if you want me to.”

“No, not you. I don’t like the way you look. I want you to rest. I thought maybe John Michael would go. He told me about Tony being in town.”

“How did he know?”

“I don’t know. I think he said someone mentioned it at O’Rourke’s when he was having a drink there.”

As if summoned by thought, the screen door opened and John Michael Xavier Muldowney, who had dropped the ‘Xavier’ somewhere along the line, came out onto the porch, as if he was entering from stage left to an adoring audience. He nodded to Jake Rosen then took Katherine’s hand and pressed to his lips. He was dressed, as always, in the height of fashion. A blue striped seersucker jacket over a neatly pressed pair of white ducks with a dark blue cravat at his throat. Tall, lean, dark of countenance, he looked like Abe Lincoln in pictures taken during the Civil War. Time worn, but with kindness and humor coming through.

“Top of the mornin’ to you, lovely one,” he said to Katherine. “You don’t just walk in beauty like the night, child, you surround yourself in it all the day long. Get me out of this place, lass. Let me show you the greater world out there.”

Katherine started to look stern but gave it up and laughed. “Thank you, John Michael,” she said, drawing her hand away. “I was just going to tell you breakfast would be ready in a little while, but I can smell that you’ve already had your juice. Isn’t it a little early for that, especially when you’re not feeling well?”

“Who isn’t feeling well?” Muldowney asked. “Who is spreading that calumny? Tell me his name, just tell me that, and I’ll give him enough of a thrashing to stop him from doing it again.”

Katherine laughed again. “Stop it, fool,” she said. “You know it’s Doctor Kaplan who said it. Last week your temperature was almost a hundred and one and you had lost over a pound and a half from the week before. He’s worried about you. So am I. You won’t take care of yourself, you won’t stay in bed. This is a cure cottage, damn it. Why won’t you try to cure? You’re a hell of an example for him,” pointing to Jake, who was trying not to laugh too hard at the scene before him, which he should have been used to by now, but could never watch enough.

Muldowney looked over his shoulder at Jake. “You’re telling me, Madam,” he said, making a show of pointing one foot out at an angle and putting a hand high on his hip, “He said that? That it is I who is leading him down the garden path? It is I who causes him to stray, him who was born with a deck of cards in one hand, a tattered law book in the other and a gloomy view of the world over all? He who doesn’t spare one kind thought to any of mankind?” He spun around to Jake, taking care not to alter the pose.

“Good morning, Mr. Pot,” he said. Every word dripped with acid. “My name is Kettle. I’ve heard so much about you.”

In spite of trying to hold it, Jake started to laugh again and knew it was getting away from him. He started to cough and could taste a bitter warmth in the back of his throat. He pulled a handkerchief from his bathrobe pocket and held it to his lips. Katherine and Muldowney rushed over to the railing, but Jake turned away from them. Katherine gently turned him around and looked at the handkerchief.

“No,” she said. “No blood. But not far from it. You get back in the chair. And you,” she said to Muldowney, “go easy on the music hall humor. He’s doing all right. The last thing he needs is a hemorrhage.” They walked Jake over to the cure chair and eased him into it. Muldowney spread the blanket over him and patted his hand. “Sorry lad,” he said, gently. “I get a bit carried away. Are you all right? Anything?”

“A glass of juice,” Jake answered. “That would help. I’m okay, really. I got as carried away by your routine as you did.” Muldowney went into the house and came back out in a minute with a glass of orange juice and handed it to Jake. Jake sipped it slowly, trying to hide a look of surprise. Katherine shot a look at Muldowney. “You put something in it, didn’t you?”

“A spot of gin,” Muldowney answered. “A touch, at that. It can’t hurt. Gin is one of the few things of worth the British ever created. It won’t hurt him.”

Katherine started to say something, but Jake stopped her. “I’m okay, honest,” he said. He looked his thanks to Muldowney, then turned to Katherine. “Can we get back to what we were talking about before?” he asked. “John Michael might be interested.”

“What’s this?” Muldowney asked. “A plot? No, not a plot, a play.” He framed Jake with his hands, as if he was readying a bit of stage business. “A play, of course. The tough criminal lawyer, the king of night court, the scourge of law enforcement citizens everywhere, now a consumptive, lying pale and wan in his chair. Slightly graying hair, lean frame, prominent bones under eyes dark as Queen Vic’s soul, eyes showing a Mongol stopping by the village a long time ago.” He turned to Katherine. “Barrymore, Kat, we’ll get Barrymore, to play him. No, better Gielgud.”

Jake controlled his laughter this time, but waited a minute before he spoke. “Katherine was telling me her accident was no accident. At least that’s what she thinks.”

Muldowney turned serious. “Really, Katherine? That’s what you think?”

“I guess,” Jake said. “Is that it, Kat?”

“Yes.” Katherine Schwartz said. As the owner of one of the largest cure cottages in Saranac Lake, New York, a little village which had become over the past fifty years almost solely devoted to the care of those afflicted with the White Plague, and the head nurse, friend and confidante of those who desperately sought some sort of return to health under her care, she was more than used to death and suffering. But she had never thought about it in reference to herself.

She turned to Muldowney. “Yes,” she said finally. “I’m sure of it. And I was going to ask you to help out.”

“Help out how?”

“Nothing special. Really. I was just telling Jake that an old friend of mine is in town. I thought you’d go downtown, look him up and ask him over.”

“What’s his name?”

“Flanders. Tony Flanders.”

She walked back to the door, stopping only to say over her shoulder, “Come into breakfast.”

John Michael Muldowney helped Jacob Rosen out of the chair, his questioning look reassured by Jake’s nod, and they walked into breakfast, in the cure cottage known as Red Gables, at 4 McCarthy Terrace, Saranac Lake, New York.

It was June 26, 1927.
$16.95
203-p
Format: 
Gator Hole
by Marjorie Doughty

Deputy Amy Donovan puts her life on the line every day as a law enforcement officer, then she realizes that the danger is coming from within the ranks. Gulf shrimp fishermen, a bunch of their do-gooding wives, and the members of a religious cult add spice to a mystery set in a sleepy Florida town.

ISBN 1-59431-152-8 Mystery/ Suspense/ Romance

Cover Art by Maggie Dix



PROLOGUE



Hot, pulsing, terror was so intense from the four men standing near the edge of the ’gator hole it overrode the smell of damp, rotting vegetation and stagnant backwater. The tall man could feel it radiate toward him as he waited on the bank with his captive close to the edge of the dark brown water. He smiled.

A middle-aged Hispanic man, bound and gagged with electrical tape, rolled his dark eyes wildly in all directions, his long black hair flipping as his head moved from side to side. The tall man pushed him to the ground and took a switchblade knife from his pocket, flicked it open, grabbed the man’s bare foot and sliced open the big toe as easily as if he had been cutting a piece of tender steak on a diner plate. Blood spurted onto the ground, then steadied into a drip.

Effortlessly, using his right hand and arm, the tall man grasped the victim around the waist and held him up and over the water at the edge of the gator hole, while using his left hand to hit the water with a long stick.

“We’re waiting for my pet,” he told the four men. “He shouldn’t be too long because he knows he can depend on me for a meal.”

“Jesus,” one of the men breathed into the humid night air.

The tall man, dressed in black jeans and black T-shirt, eyes the color of old pewter in the uncertain moonlight, turned to stare at the man who had spoken.

“Never let me hear you again take the Lord’s name in vain. If you do, you’ll find yourself in a similar position.” He voice was calm and even. “Is that understood. Justice is mine, said the Lord, and I am his emissary.”

The offender gulped audibly and managed a shaky nod.

What appeared to be a dark stationary log stirred and the snout of an eleven-foot alligator started moving, disturbing a leaf on top of the water. Senses aroused, the ’gator started its hungry way toward the gator hole, piloted by the leaf caught in the movement of the water.

The tall man waited patiently, now using both hands to hold the struggling victim over the dark water, apparently without any strain on his muscles. Drops of blood from the victim’s toe silently hit the water, like polluted raindrops.

Suddenly a prehistoric head made its way around the slight bend in the current the leaf still leading the way. The tall man waited until the beast was directly under him and he lowered the bound victim toward the gator’s open mouth. Intensified breathing of the four spectators filled the small clearing. The man smiled as the ’gator made a gulping sound, then grabbed the victim’s bound ankles and started spinning around in the water. It continued twisting as the tall man pitted his strength against that of the ’gator. The victim’s bones snapped and he hung limp, as the gator continued until flesh began to tear loose from the man’s torso. His muffled moans filled the silence until he fainted. For another few seconds the man and beast struggled for the prize. Laughing out loud, the man released his victim and then ’gator, victim and leaf disappeared beneath the dark surface of the water.

“My friends.” His voice was soft, almost gentle. “You have just witnessed what happens to anyone who is a traitor to our organization. I’ve explained that I will not tolerate any disloyalty and he was foolish enough not to believe it. But do not be too concerned for him. The gator is a very considerate diner. He will not eat him immediately but will let him ripen for a day or two.”

One of the men on the bank vomited.





CHAPTER ONE



Palmetto City, Florida

Taylor, County



On a morning in early fall, the sun was gradually burning off the early morning haze over the inlet from the Gulf of Mexico. Local people were already up and moving. School buses blinked their red and yellow way down the unpaved country roads, picking up half-awake children.

In Dorkey’s Diner, newly appointed Deputy Amy Donovan sipped her coffee and studied the greasy breakfast menu. Sergeant Tom Williams, with whom she was working partnered shifts that week, placed his large index finger on a piece of dried egg stuck to the scratched plastic covering the handwritten limited choice of food. The inked writing had run a little where moisture had leaked under the covering, so the reader had to occasionally guess at some of the dishes.

“Look, you don’t have to read the menu, just look at the bits of food stuck to it and make a decision that way. Then you’ll at least know what color food you’ll get.”

Amy laughed and looked around. The place was crowded with mostly local fishermen eating heavy breakfasts of fried or scrambled eggs, biscuits covered with gravy, grits, hash brown potatoes and thick slices of ham with red-eye gravy. They talked, laughed and drank coffee from old chipped mugs.

The aging waitress, Mazie, her ample hips stretching her brown skirt until it was in danger of bursting at the seams, shuffled toward them. Her feet slapped across the floor, in flat brown shoes with portions cut out on the front insides to allow her bunions freedom from pressure. Mazie’s bunions were the subject of much speculation at Dorkey’s. The local people thought she should go into the Guinness Book of Records because her bunions were grotesque in size and shape. The one on the base of her right foot had a knobby growth on the side.

“Mazie, your bunions have bunions,” one fisherman told her. “Maybe we should cut them off and use them for bait?”

Mazie ignored such remarks and told anyone who would listen, “My daddy and momma had bunions, bad bunions, and I ain’t no different. God gave ’em to me and I gotta accept that.”

“Why don’t you have them cut off?” one sympathetic woman asked.

“No way. I ain’t going through all that pain. ’Sides, I ain’t got the time or money. Gotta work. My old man ain’t able to do nothing since he got hurt on that there shrimp boat. Somebody’s gotta pay them bills.”

But when it came to her hair, she had a different viewpoint. Mazie’s hair balanced her feet. It was the work of a local beautician and each week she had it teased, piled high and covered with hair spray until it was rigid as plastic, impossible to brush or comb. It was the color of shiny egg yolks that had been fried sunny side up. Part of her weekly salary and tips went into this creation. When she was low on cash and couldn’t afford the bleach job, dark roots mingled with some gray hair that showed through, but as soon as she had a few dollars, Mazie was off to the hairdresser.

Now she stood in front of Amy and Williams and shifted her weight to the foot that hurt the least. “What’ll you have?”

Amy was watching Dorkey, the only name she had ever heard the owner called, as he filled orders. His big fleshy hands moved with quick precision from years of practice. Not a movement was wasted. Amy was impressed with his efficiency. Dorkey was a bulky man, who filled most of the space in the cooking area. His totally bald head was shiny with sweat that he wiped away with the back of his right arm. Amy breathed deeply, taking in the heavy smell of fried foods and coffee that hung like a curtain about to drop and smother her.

Williams leaned across the small table in the booth and tapped her hand. “Hey, you gonna wake up and order?”
$16.95
218
Format: 
Obsession
By Marie Prato

The psychic warned Theresa the man would haunt her for the rest of her life ... and her dark prediction was becoming true.

For Theresa the dating scene is bleak as all the best young men are being called up for active duty in Vietnam. She's interested in three, but is warned by a psychic she will love one, marry the wrong one, and be haunted all her life by the third. Soon, all three men are dead and the dark predictions are coming true.

1-59431-236-2 Romance/ Suspense

Cover Art/Maggie Dix



Chapter One

New York, January 11, 1998

I parked near the woods that surrounded the funeral home. Wind shook the thin trees. Long shadows were beginning to move across the asphalt. It would be dark in a few minutes.

Sighing, I laid my head on the steering wheel. When my friend had called me two days ago, I had managed to keep my voice steady until Linda and I said good-bye. Rita had been run over while taking her evening walk! The police were looking for the driver. I had sat for hours rocking back and forth in my small apartment wondering what to do.

“Rita’s dead,” I whispered. I had always believed she was invincible.

“What will happen to me now?” I whispered, knowing I was being selfish. But I was too frightened to care. “Please don’t let it start again.”

It can’t happen again, I vowed. I won’t let it. I was eighteen-years-old and vulnerable in 1967. That was the year I had been terrorized. I’m a grown woman now. I’ve been married, became a widow before I was twenty, and have taken care of myself for years. People are always telling me how independent and gutsy I am. They can’t all be wrong. Besides, the man who was the source of my terror has probably forgotten all about me.

A car pulled into the empty space next to where I was parked. I moved as far away from the driver’s door as my seat belt would allow. Through the foggy windows, I saw the car was a station wagon with two people in it. I sighed in relief. I watched the elderly couple get out and walk hand and hand to the building. Several other vehicles circled the parking lot. Their headlights flickered in and out as they drove through the lanes, looking for a place to park.

I took a tissue from my purse and wiped the tears from my eyes. Then I used the tissue to get rid of the condensation that had accumulated on the car’s front windshield. I peered upwards through the partially cleared glass. The clouds looked as if they would burst any minute. I couldn’t procrastinate any longer. I had to go inside and pay my last respects to Rita.

Funeral homes always give me the creeps. Glancing up as I walked toward the entrance, I saw what looked like an apartment on top of the white building. I’d rather live on the streets than a penthouse apartment in a funeral home, I thought, shivering.

I opened the heavy front door and stood in the carpeted hall. The walls were the color of fresh cream. Along the edge of the mauve rug, three overstuffed armchairs in mauve print were positioned in strategic places. Tasteful, but still a funeral home.

People in dark clothing milled around the hall. Several woman were heading toward the stairs where a sign said the restrooms were located. Walking down the long hall, I saw that there were two other occupied rooms. It appeared to be a busy day for wakes. At the end of the hall I found Rita. In the front row with his head bowed sat her husband. The other chairs in the row were empty. Rita didn’t have any children.

Sitting in wooden chairs in back of Gene were a sprinkling of people. In Rita’s line of work people weren’t too eager to acknowledge that they had gone to her for help.

Rita’s husband looked at me with red-rimmed eyes. I hadn’t seen him in over thirty years. Many things had changed in those years but Gene’s hair had stayed the same. His too-full toupee sat like a Cheshire cat on top of his head.

I never liked Rita’s husband. It wasn’t anything that he did or said that turned me off. It’s just that the man always reminded me of a parasite living off Rita’s talents. I wondered what he would do now that his meal-ticket was gone.

I nodded to him and knelt in front of Rita’s coffin. Near the closed casket sat a small table with several pictures on it. One photograph was of the couple on their wedding day. Gene looked smug and pleased with himself. Rita looked homely.

Rita had married late in life. She must have been close to forty in the picture. Rita’s billowing lilac dress made her look heavy and ungainly. Resting on her shoulders were several strands of limp black hair. The camera caught all the bulges and hollows that had made up Rita’s face. But in between the folds and wrinkles shone two bright blue eyes—eyes that could see the past and the future.

“I’m sorry you were killed,” I whispered, bowing my head. “I wish I could have helped you the way you helped me.” Don’t let him harm me, I silently begged. Keep protecting me from him and myself. I knelt there for several minutes, hoping Rita could hear my thoughts. Could she still help me beyond the grave?

I made the sign of the cross and stood up. Rita’s husband still sat with his head bowed. Gene’s palms were turned upwards and hung between his knees. He probably wouldn’t remember me but I had to at least say a few words to him. “I’m Theresa Fortunado,” I said, leaning down to touch his shoulder. “I knew Rita years ago. I’m so sorry she died.”

“She cancelled her insurance policy six months ago,” Gene said, looking around the room as if he were in a daze. “I just found out when she died.”

“That’s too bad,” I said, withdrawing my hand before it actually made contact with him. I turned away before he could see the look of disgust on my face. I found a seat near the back of the room and sat down. In another fifteen or twenty minutes I would say good-bye for the last time to the woman who had saved my sanity and my life.

Staring at Rita’s casket, I thought of myself as the teenager who had gone to her for help in 1967. Rita had told me then that, if I allowed my psychic ability to develop, I could do everything she did and more.

Since my first meeting with Rita, I had grown from a naive girl who thought marriage was the only option she had to a woman who not only could take care of herself but enjoyed being free and independent. I had also grown to accept the psychic ability she had sensed in me.

But there was one thing I had never accomplished. Even after all these years I couldn’t forget the dark things that had happened to me when I was eighteen. And I couldn’t be sure they wouldn’t happen again.

Rita’s death brought it all back. Suddenly I was eighteen again.

$16.95
229-p
Format: 
Jailbird
Alex Masters Series, Vol. 2

By Brenda M. Boldin

In the sequel to Dead Birds Don't Sing Alex Masters is still awaiting trial for murder after spending a year in the Bay City Jail. Her new lawyer has gotten her out from behind bars, placed under house arrest instead and put into a Work Rehab program. She's doing clerical work at the police station of all places . Her "probation" officer can monitor her movements 24 hours a day on computer through the bracelet she has to wear. Meanwhile, someone is strangling the prostitutes in Bay City, and Alex is being stalked. Cole Armstrong, now a Lieutenant on the Homicide squad wants Alex to use her connections and inside information to help them catch the strangler. Alex wants Cole and his band, Ancient Rebellion, to use some of the music she wrote while in jail. Once again they form a precarious alliance to attain their means and Alex ends up face to face with a killer one more time.

ISBN 1-59431-028-9 Mystery/Romance/ Suspense Cover Art/Maggie Dix



"So, I wonder how she's doing

I hate it when the rumors fly.

They give off such a strange sense of mission,

Wing your helplessness on high.

But she would never run from strangers.

She sang alone like a bell will toll,

way above all the clang and the clatter,

out of fear of her demon soul."

___From Blue Chalk by John Gorka (c)1996 Blues Palace Music (ASCAP) used by permission

Prologue

The slam of a car door broke the peaceful quiet of the tiny ground floor apartment.

"Quick! Your father's home! Hide!" The young woman hustled the small child into the make-shift closet and pulled the sheet that functioned as a door across the opening. "Now don't make a sound. If he can't find you, he can't hurt you."

The child obediently crouched in the far corner of the dark alcove.

A door crashed open followed by the bang as it shut.

"Where are you slut?" came an inebriated voice, full of anger and hatred.

"I'm here." The woman's voice was soft and timid, the child strained to hear it.

Heavy footsteps entered the small bedroom. The man sniffed the air.

"You've had someone here, haven't you?" he demanded.

"No, James, no."

The loud sound of flesh slapping flesh filled the air, followed by a dull thud as the woman landed on the bed.

"You're nothing but a whore. I know it. You have men here when I'm gone. You think I don't bring home enough money to support you and that brat. So you sell yourself. You think I don't know what you do?"

The child in the dark winced and cowered as the sound of the man's fists striking the woman came over and over. The woman did not cry, but the child could hear her timid pleas.

"Please, no. It's not true. Don't hit me, please."

"You get what you deserve woman. Whores and sluts like you don't deserve to live."

There was a strange gurgling noise the child could not recognize. A small, unobserved peek through the curtain was more than enough. Large, thick, strong hands around a slim, delicate neck. Then nothing but the man's heavy breathing.

"You got what you deserved, whore."

Heavy footsteps left the room and there was silence.

Terrified, the child remained in the closet for two days. Demands from the stomach and bladder went unheeded as the child waited. Waited while the room filled with police. Waited while the man was cuffed and taken away. Waited while they placed the woman in a black bag that zipped closed, put her on a long table with wheels, and rolled her away. Waited in the empty silence for darkness to come again and then sun to rise once more.

Then the child darted out of the closet, ran for the door of the apartment and just kept running. Running forever.

Chapter One

"Cole! My man!"

"Well, here comes the man himself."

"Cole! Buddy. How ya doing?"

Cole Armstrong, a well-built six-foot two, dark blond, full-time cop, part-time musician, stopped two steps into the room and looked at his three friends.

Jimmy Carrington, Cole's best friend since elementary school. Five foot eight, close-cropped brown hair and eyes, with the build of a wrestler and a voice like Lindsay Buckingham. Bruce Willoughby, the drummer, reminded Cole of a character in an old television show called Room 222. Tall, blue eyes, with the fair skin of most red heads. Woody Hannaford, keyboardist extraordinaire and the strong silent type. Six foot ten inches tall, Woody could have been a professional basketball player, but he had chosen not to play ball after high school. His one love was the piano, it came before all else. Cole could sit and watch his mahogany fingers run up and down the ivory keys for hours on end.

Now, all three pairs of eyes were focused on Cole and he knew something was brewing.

"All right guys, what's up?" He put his guitar cases carefully on the floor.

The trio looked at him, expressions on their faces he'd seen elsewhere so many times he'd lost count. Usually they were accompanied with the words, "Honest, officer, I didn't do it!"

"Nothing's up." Jimmy smiled. "Why does something have to be up?"

Cole shook his head. "Uh, huh pal. I'm not buying it. I walk in here and find you three with your heads together instead of warming up. Then I'm welcomed like a long lost brother. You guys want something. Spill it."

The three looked at each other, their eyes conveying messages back and forth. No one seemed to want to be the one to confront the leader of Ancient Rebellion.

"That bad huh?" Cole sighed, picked up his gear and moved over to the rehearsal area and started to set up his instruments. "We aren't starting until someone talks." He spoke with his back to them as he plugged in his acoustic guitar with electronic pickup.

"Yeah, well we were just talking." Jimmy shuffled up to his best friend's side. "Of course we read the paper this morning."

Cole looked over his shoulder, eyes wide. "You actually read the paper? You?"

That comment got him a rough slug in the shoulder.

"Okay, look." Woody sauntered up and seated his long legged figure on the stool to Cole's left. "We want to know if you can pull strings to get Alex back in the band."

Cole became still. Alex's face appeared before him as though he'd seen her yesterday. Bleached-out hair, oval face with hazel eyes that flashed green when she was riled, which was most of the time. At length he looked up into Woody's dark brown eyes.

"What do you mean?"

"We figured," Bruce entered the fray. "That you being a cop, well you ought to be able to convince the judge, or whoever, that working with us is good rehabilitation too."

"Now, Cole, before you blow up." Jimmy put out a hand. "We know you may not be comfortable around her right now. But in time that should pass. It's been close to twelve months and we're still getting people asking us when she's coming back."

"She only sang with us that one night!"

Jimmy nodded. "Amazing isn't it? The people really liked her. We need her. She's our ticket to bigger and better things."

Cole shook his head. "I still don't get it. I didn't read the paper this morning."

That drew a chorus of "What?"

Cole held his hands up in surrender. "I've been out of town. Went down to the ocean for a couple days."

"I thought you were in charge of that serial killer case." Woody looked at him in wonder.

"I am. But the damn case is driving us all nuts. Chief practically ordered everyone to take a couple days off and get away from it. So, when it was my turn, I went surfing." He shrugged.

"Tough life," Bruce muttered.

"Anyhow. Someone bring me up to speed here. I thought Alex wasn't going to trial for several weeks yet."

"Right." Jimmy started fingering his electric bass. "This new hot shot lawyer King Marshall finally hired for her seems to be working miracles."

"What do you mean?" Cole's head jerked up and he stared at Jimmy.

"Did you know that guy you've been looking for finally showed up?"

Cole's eyes narrowed. "No."

The Bay City police had been looking for Harry Sheppard for months in connection with the Alex Masters case. No one denied Alex had shot police Lieutenant Anthony Morello, the question to be debated in court was whether it had been in self-defense.

The entire case centered around a robbery at Bay City Central Bank a year ago. At present the prosecution had nothing more than circumstantial evidence tying Alex to the robbery and the murder of Roger Beauregaurd. The state claimed Beau, as he was known, spearheaded the plan to hit the bank on the one day when it would have more than twice its normal amount of cash on hand. Alex claimed that Morello was the mastermind behind the heist and had killed three people to cover his involvement. Harry Shepherd seemed to be the only person who could prove, or disprove, Alex's allegations.

Now, Jimmy filled Cole in on the news.

"Must have been right after you left town then, 'cause it was a day or so ago. Just sort of showed up and said he wanted to talk."

"What!" Cole had been kneeling on the floor, turning dials and knobs on the sound system. This news brought him to his feet.

"Well, he really hasn't said much. Yet. But he said he could clear Alex if the District Attorney would cut him a deal."

"So you're saying they just let her go? Just like that?"

"No way," Woody chimed in. "But it was enough to get her out of jail. She's now under house arrest. The hot shot lawyer arranged for her to get into some kind of job rehabilitation program while she's out."

"Yeah." Jimmy took over once more. "So we figured if they let her out of the house to type all day, surely they should let her practice and perform with us. It's her real career, we all know that."

Cole sighed and shook his head. "You guys are nuts. One: there is no way on this earth any judge or parole officer is going to let her do it. Two: you could probably promise her immediate freedom, all charges against her dropped, and a million dollars. She still wouldn't do it."

Review at SUSPENSE MAGAZINE

The tale revolves around Alex Masters, a former girl of the streets, awaiting trial for murder and currently on house arrest, and a series of murders of prostitutes which take place in the neighborhood where > she used to work. > > Boldin has excellent command of language and dialogue. There were a few typos here and there, but these can be easily forgiven since the writer has done a great job in creating a suspenseful story bound to leave you on the edge of your seat as we try to figure out who is responsible for the killings. This is one of the better mysteries I have read recently. Filled with many twists and turns, as well as a surprise ending, the book is guaranteed to leave you wanting more from this talented author.

> John Raab, Editor

SUSPENSE MAGAZINE
$16.95
287-p
Format: 
Bird By Any Other Name-p
Alex Masters Series, Vol. 3

by Brenda M. Boldin

In the third of the Alex Masters series, Alex has started a new life yet again. She’s calling herself Lexi now, and working for her brother’s company in Bay City. When a co-worker is found stabbed to death, Lexi is suspect #1. Police Lt. Cole Armstrong finds himself hoping against hope that the clues won’t lead back to his favorite girl-singer.

ISBN 1-59431-411-X Mystery / Romance / Suspense / Series

Cover Art/ Maggie Dix



Alex Masters Series, Vol. 3 by Brenda M. Boldins

Chapter 1

Lexi Masters kept her eyes on the parking lot around her as she slid the ID card through the computerized lock entry system to the Trent Industries, Inc. building. Ears alert to any sound, she turned her attention to the numeric key pad and punched in the top secret code. The door clicked and she yanked it open. As she slipped inside, her stomach tightened and she felt a tremor just beneath her skin.

Security camera lenses followed her path across the lobby like so many eyes of portraits in a haunted mansion.

“Stop thinking like that!” She pressed the elevator button.

“Hol’ it righ’ there, don’ move!”

Lexi screamed at the top of her lungs, her feet actually leaving the floor, her hands flying toward the ceiling. The ID card sailed across the room and landed with a slap at the feet of the security guard. Lexi’s reaction startled the guard, causing his index finger to jerk on the trigger of his .9 millimeter handgun.

It all happened in under five seconds: Lexi’s scream, the guard’s startled response, the gunshot, and Lexi’s instinctive reaction to the sound of weapon fire. She found herself face down on the cold marble floor, arms spread, trembling, and very near tears. In the next instant, however, she reprimanded herself and regained control. As she tried to get to her feet, she felt a knee in the center of her back, pushing her onto the floor.

“I said don’ move!”

“Look,” she turned her head and tried to make eye contact with the guard. He was a hulk of a man. She almost giggled as her mind corrected her opinion. He looked a lot more like The Body Ventura than Hulk Hogan. “Control yourself! He shot once, he could do it again.”

“Sir,” using her most respectful voice. “I have Mr. Trent’s permission to be here. How else could I have gotten into the building? See?” She nodded in the direction of her ID card still lying on the floor. “That’s my ID. I work for my brother, Alexander Masters. He’s head of Team 3 on the Time Warp Project. He forgot some papers for an important meeting and sent me to pick them up.”

The guard didn’t move. “Why didn’ he come get ’em ’imself?”

“He’d have been late for the meeting. Look, you can call him, or Mr. Trent, they’ll tell you it’s true. Mr. Trent was supposed to have already called you.”

At that precise moment the phone at the guard desk rang. The man holding her captive looked at her with great suspicion. Still holding his gun on her, he slowly rose to his feet.

“You stay put.” He backed away, keeping his eyes, and the gun, on her as he made his way to the reception desk and picked up the phone.

“Yes, sir?” He cradled the handset between his ear and shoulder, maintaining his vigilant surveillance of Lexi as he responded to the answer at the other end of the phone line.

“Yes, sir. I see, sir. All righ’, sir.” He nudged the receiver off his shoulder and placed it back on the cradle using his left hand.

Lexi noticed he let his gun hand drop to his side as he crossed the lobby, but he continued to keep his fierce gaze focused on her. When he stood above her, his feet so close she could smell the leather of his boots, he said, “All right get up!”

As Lexi got to her feet he took a few steps away, picked up her ID card and scrutinized it. His gaze shifted from the card to her, back to the card, then settled on her again. The corners of his mouth turned down in an almost angry pout as he handed the card to her.

“Mr. Trent says to let you on up.”

Lexi allowed him to hear her huge sigh of relief as she took the card from him.

“Thank you.” She used the meekest tone she could muster, though inside she wanted the moron to have a piece of her mind. She’d never been one to respect authority figures. Not that this rent-a-cop could in any way, shape or form, be considered to represent authority, at least not in her mind.

Lexi pressed the button, again, for the elevator. To her surprise, the guard spoke.

“An’ I apol’gize about the gun goin’ off. I wasn’ really shootin’ at ya, but ya scared the hell outta of me when ya screamt like that.”

Lexi turned and gave him a small smile. “Think how I felt!”

The elevator doors slid open and she stepped inside and out of his sight. That was the last she ever saw of him.
$16.95
411
Format: 
Swan Song
Alex Masters Series, Vol. 4

by Brenda M. Boldin

Alex Masters is back for the forth and final episode in this popular mystery series. This time she's a suspect in a drug deal gone wrong? This time it looks an awful lot like she might be guilty. Will Cole Armstrong lose his favorite songbird forever? For before it's over, Alex's/Lexi's life is on the line again? Will it be wedding bells for Alex and Cole at last? Will she even survive?

ISBN 1-59431-294-X Mystery/Romantic Suspense Cover Art by Maggie Dix



Prelude

Alex Masters ducked into the alley. She peeked around the corner, trying to make sure she'd just seen what she thought she'd seen. Her heart rate had suddenly tripled at the sight of him. Just one more look to be sure.

No. It wasn't him, too young. She let out a sigh of relief. That ghost wasn't back to haunt her at least. At first glance the resemblance had been amazing. She watched him walk by the alley and saw the difference in build, gait.

When she caught her breath once more and her heart stopped pounding, she slipped back onto the sidewalk and continued on her way to Jellyroll's.

He answered at her first knock and ushered her inside. Alex stepped through the doorway a bit warily. This was her normal time, her normal day. He should have been ready with her stuff and just given it to her. She stayed just inside the entrance.

"What's going on? Where's my stuff?"

Jelly gave her a big smile, suspicious in and of itself. "Just a little mix up. I didn't get a delivery last night. I have something else though. Do the same thing. Just keep your energy up."

Alex eyed him suspiciously as he reached under a sofa cushion and pulled out a small packet of white powder.

"No. I'm not going on the hard stuff. I told you when I started coming here, I just need a little pick me up because the pain meds drag me down so much."

"Easy girl. Easy. This is the same thing, just in a powder. I swear. It's just this one time." He eyed her. "Of course if you'd rather go home empty-handed."

Alex dropped her head back and it smacked against the wall. Shit, that hurt.

Maybe this was a sign she was supposed to stop. She needed to cut back at the very least. If she could only kick the painkillers it'd all be fine. But she couldn't sleep without them.

A shiver of cold went through her and her body trembled, begging to be fed what it needed.

"Just this once?"

"Sure. I'll have your regular stuff next time, I promise."

"Same price?"

He grinned. "Same price." He handed it to her as she handed him the wad of bills.

Chapter One



Homicide Lieutenant Cole Armstrong followed the sound of raised voices. At the closed door to Vice Lieutenant Steve Miller's office stood four detectives, with their ears to the wall. When they saw Cole they straightened and had the decency to look slightly embarrassed.

Cole indicated Steve's office with his chin. "What's going on? I heard it all the way down the hall."

"The Loot and Alex are going at it."

Cole raised an eyebrow. "Alex Masters?" They all nodded in unison. Cole sighed. "How long has this been going on?"

To a one, they looked at their watches. "More'n five minutes." Butch Gordon replied.

Cole debated almost a full minute, still the arguing continued. It didn't sound like they were going to wind up any time soon. With another heavy sigh he stepped to the door and quietly opened it.

Alex Masters had both hands flat on the desk and she was leaning into Steve's face. Steve, normally a very placid man, had a complexion the color of Bing cherries.

"This is useless," Alex was bellowing. "I quit. Do everyone a favor Miller: go shoot yourself." She pushed herself off the desk, started to turn away, then whirled back. "Better yet, tell me when you're ready and I'll do it for you!"

She brushed past Cole without seeing him or any of the men standing around the doorway.

Steve sank back into his chair with a sigh of relief. "I was beginning to think I was going to have to throw her out bodily." He glanced at Cole. "What a law suit that would've been, huh?"

Sensing that as an invitation Cole closed the door, much to the disappointment of the rest of the Vice squad. Taking a seat across from Steve he asked, "What the hell was that about?"

"Your girlfriend's using Armstrong. You know that?"

"Whoa. Back the train up. In the first place, she's not my girlfriend." At his colleague's skeptical expression, he felt the need to defend himself. "We're friends. She sings in my band, but that's as far as it goes."

"Whatever you say."

"What makes you think she's using drugs?" Cole tried to shift the topic.

Steve gave a short burst of laughter and pointed at the door. "That wasn't proof?"

"Some people have tempers."

The Vice detective leaned back in his chair and looked at Cole. "In denial are we?"

Choosing not to answer, Cole asked another question. "So that's what all the shouting was about? You accused her of using and she denied it?"
$16.95
575-p
Format: 
If Thoughts Could Kill
A Tornado Man Mystery, Vol.2

by Matthew L. Schoonover

Former FBI agent Jack Monosmith survived being sucked into a tornado and thrust into fame. Now Jack has hooked up with Bartholomew, (the butler from A Sense of Endless Woes) to drive long-distance loads in his Peterbilt "Baby." A mysterious load to the palacious home of millionaire Carter Blackwood, leads them to murder and things get more complicated by the minute.

ISBN 1-59431-257-5 Mystery/ Thriller/Locked Room

Cover Art/Maggie Dix



Chapter 1



Bright blackness and blinding light.

The road was quickly disappearing in the night's darkness. The dancing demons of snow that pranced around in front of the Peterbilt reflected my headlights back into my eyes. I felt the snow chains slip momentarily on the icy slope as we inched ever so slowly up the mountain road. One wrong turn, one slip too many, and we wouldn't stop until we hit the ground one thousand feet below.

I tried to think of something else, but the only thing that came to mind was trying to figure out the name of the fellow who dropped two different size balls from some tower in Italy to prove that mass had nothing to do with the rate at which two objects, like the Peterbilt and myself, would fall.

From the corner of my eye I saw Bart sitting quietly in the passenger's seat, trying to read a new book in the afterglow of faint light coming from the sleeper compartment. He looked at me, then leaned up and over me to look out my window, shook his head in a sad, disapproving way, sighed, and sat back down.

"You want to tell me again why we're coming up here?" he asked.

"Galileo," I said. My mind was, after all, elsewhere.

"Jack," He paused to make sure he had my attention. "He's dead."

"Who's dead? Carter Blackwood?"

"No. Galileo."

"What's Galileo got to do with us coming up here to see Carter Blackwood?"

"I don't know. You tell me."

"Nothing," I said. "As long as we don't go over the edge."

Bart sighed deeply. He might as well have said tsk, tsk. "I'll tell you one thing about Carter Blackwood," he said. "If thoughts could kill that guy would've been dead a hundred times over by now."

"You know Carter?"

"I know of him. Never met the man myself."

"Luck of the Irish?"

He shrugged. "You know, back in my truck driving days, I used to drive State Highway 130 all the time, and let me tell you, it was never built with truckers in mind. Potholes and shear drops, no shoulders or road markings to speak of. It's a nightmare to drive on in the best of weather. Right now I wished I was back on 130 instead of this tinker toy truck route Carter calls his entrance road. Carved it out of the bedrock with a kid's beach shovel from the feel of it."

"It's the only road that leads up to his estate."

"Carter's Castle," he said. "Doesn't own a car, does he?" Bart put his book away and turned off the light from the sleeper. That helped my night vision, although not by much.

I said, "He has a helipad at the top of the mountain."

"Doesn't go out much, huh?"

"He's a recluse."

"Eccentric?"

"Agoraphobic. He hasn't left his castle since it was built four years ago. Or so I hear."

The heater in the cab was running full blast. Despite that, I was wrapped in a cold blanket of worry and fear that made me shiver with every few feet we moved up the mountain. The first snow of the season had only just begun to fall, it started shortly after we began our ascent and effectively reduced visibility to minus zero. The air was thinning and rapidly building up force; a force I was even more worried about. A down-draft between the mountain and our rig could push us over the edge without our realizing it. I was also worried about rounding a curve and finding it too sharp to navigate with our trailer. Or finding someone driving down the road in front of us. Backing up was impossible.

It would have been much safer to drive the rig over the side and walk the rest of the way in below freezing temperatures on the icy road, slick as a slippy-slide, with no light to see by and no feeling in hand or foot to warn of cliff or curve, crevasse or crag.
$16.95
257-p
Format: 
Murder and the Comprehensive Plan
by Shel Damsky

Two of the most terrifying words in any political district are "Planning and Zoning." Shel Damsky is back with more of his excellent legal high jinks. Prepare for adept lawyers, inept judges, and nefarious politicians—not to mention a corpse or so.

ISBN 1-59431-471-2 Mystery / Legal thriller

Cover Art by Shelley Rodgerson



Chapter 1

“Damn it to hell, that hurt,” Gideon Pomeroy yelled at the passing car, since there didn’t seem to anybody else around at the corner of Dove and Madison.

The wasp, or whatever it was, had stung him on the ear just as he opened the door and went into the restaurant. He was surprised how much it hurt and cupped his hand over it when he kissed her and ordered a Johnny Walker Red.

“What’s the matter?” she asked.

“Got stung. How long you been waiting?”

“Not long. I’ve been watching that game they’re playing at the end of the bar. Everybody yelling and dollar bills passing back and forth. What is it?”

“Liar’s Poker.”

“How do you play it?”

“It’s harder to explain than play. It goes by the serial numbers on the bills and how well you can lie about the poker hand that’s in them.”

“Let me take some bills. I want to play.”

“You’ve never played before. You’ll get killed,” he said as he handed her all the singles he had, together with a couple of fives.

She went down the bar and he started another drink. Philly was behind the bar and he looked at her and shook his head. “That’s something,” he said. “Beautiful and smart as hell. How long you figure it’ll take her to clean them out?”

Gideon looked at his watch. “She’s never played before. Maybe a half-hour.”

The door opened and Duke Mason walked in. Known widely as “Duke the Cop”, nobody, including himself at times, realized that he actually had a first and last name. Big and beefy, he had the confident walk of somebody who had two guns somewhere on him. One in the usual shoulder holster, the other on his ankle, or knee, or wherever, a habit he had picked up back when he was on the Job. It had saved him the time he had gotten stabbed and couldn’t get to the shoulder holster. He didn’t talk much, but people tended to listen.

“What’s she playing?” Duke’s voice always sounded like it was coming from a very deep place.

“Liar’s Poker.”

“She know how?”

“No.”

“How long you figure she needs to clean house?” Philly asked

Duke thought for a minute. “There’s heavy money on the bar. I figure she needs maybe forty, forty five minutes.” He looked at Gideon. “What’s the matter with you? There’s blood running down your face.”

“And he’s running me out of cocktail napkins, trying to stop it” Philly said. “He should go to a doctor.”

“It’s just a bee sting,” Gideon said, when the beautiful woman came back with a fistful of dollar bills. He noticed that the game had broken up.

“Twenty minutes,” Philly said.

“Incidentally,” Gideon said. “I just got a new zoning case. Up North.”

Duke took the napkin off Gideon’s ear and looked at it. “Yeah,” he said, slowly, “we better go.”

“Up North?” Gideon asked.

“To the doctor?” the beautiful woman asked. “Is it that bad?”

“No. To the station. Then maybe the hospital. The stupid-son-of-a- bitch doesn’t even know he’s been shot.”
$16.95
472-p
Format: 
Web Of Fear
By Marie Prato

Marcia wanders the streets of Cracow, Poland searching for the man she once intended to marry ....

She's unaware that her every move is being watched. Is Lazarz still alive? Which side did he spy for? Marcia refuses to give up searching for some kind of closure after the man she loves didappears. Then she finds more than she bargained for.

ISBN 1-59431-124-4 Romance/ Suspense

Cover Art/Maggie Dix



PREFACE



When I began to write this story, the true account of my relationship with Lazarz, I thought I was writing a mystery, or a love story, or both. I worried about where to begin. One can always "begin at the beginning." In my case, the love story began not long after I met Lazarz but it wasn't until almost a year later that I realized I was involved in a conspiracy involving several government agencies.

From the first, Lazarz was a mystery to me. Maybe that was part of the reason I loved him. But the longer I knew him the deeper the mystery became. Was he ever who I thought he was? Will I ever know who he really was?

It wasn't until I found a newspaper clipping that I realized my story is history. It may also be a love story of a strange kind, and it certainly is a mystery, at least it was to me for over ten years. It's still a mystery in many ways, but at last I can put it down as history.

I thought after I returned from Poland that what I found out there was enough to make the story history in my own life, history I could finally lay to rest. But this article showed me that I was living history on a greater scale than I knew and up to my neck in events I had no way of knowing about at the time. I thought I was just a woman in love with a man__a handsome, very intelligent man__perhaps a powerful man in his world, but I had no idea! The danger signs were always there, I just didn't see them. Or maybe I didn't want to see them.

The news article before me answers questions I would have paid a lot to learn about years ago. Trying to solve the mystery of Lazars has cost me a great deal of money, time and heartache. It could and still might cost me my life. I played with fire beyond my wildest dreams. As the paper says, "...FBI agents have already conducted at least one search...for secret stockpiles of everything from nuclear weapons to pistols, radios, maps, and currency."

While they have been looking for the stockpiles of Russian planted weapons in the United States, I have been looking for one of the Russian agents who very likely did the planting.

All along I thought I was looking for my lost love, for our future together and our chance at happiness or, at the very least, the reasons why that could never be. Holding this paper in my hand, I now know why so many people were watching me. I was followed, spied upon, wire tapped, and warned. For over ten years I have had my rights as a citizen of the United States violated. And it apparently is still going on.

How could it be that I, a single, hard_working, mind_my_own_business sort of woman, could find myself involved with being part of a Cold War investigation just by falling in love? Looking at this newspaper and knowing what I know now, I see that maybe this is how history gets made. A woman goes out one evening looking for Mr. Right and finds what appears to be the perfect mate __ a man full of intelligence and old_world charm. Only it turns out that Mr. Right is really living a double or possibly even a triple life. And, in spite of what Mr. Right might want, there is no room in any of those lives for love.

What went wrong to twist my hopes for the future into history? It was 1986. The words Cold War meant nothing to me then. I had a lot to learn.



CHAPTER ONE

Cracow, Poland

Monday, March 18, 1996



Icy fingers of air raked my cheeks as I hurried along a store_studded street near the University of Cracow. Passing in front of a tiny shop with ceramic bowls in its window, I looked at the warm glow from the lights inside the store. Better to move on. I had been walking from store to store for the last two hours. That was enough for this morning. I had gotten the lay of the land, so to speak. It was time to go back to the hotel and decide on the best way to proceed.

Despite the March wind, Cracow's streets were filled with pedestrians. Directly in my path, three teenagers ambled along giggling and talking in Polish. Below their heavy coats, the kids were dressed in the same uniform as teenagers back in the States__jeans and sneakers. As I debated whether to pass the group on the right or the left, I noticed one of the boys handing something to the girl. I saw the girl unwrapping a piece of candy. As she fumbled with the wrapper, the thin covering slipped from her gloved hands and floated down to the icy sidewalk. Stopping so quickly that I almost tripped over her, the girl bent down to pick up the small piece of paper. As I passed the group, I saw the girl clutching the litter in her gloved fist.

What seemed to be Poland's daily dose of snowflakes began falling from the gray sky. I quickened my pace. Another block and I would be at the restaurant. Last night, after arriving on the train from Warsaw and checking into The Old World Inn, I had eaten at the hotel restaurant. The potato pancakes were the best I had ever tasted. And all the tables in the restaurant were covered with immaculate white lace tablecloths. Lazarz hadn't lied about that__almost everything else had been lies__but the tables in the restaurant did have lace cloths on them.

I jabbed a gloved finger in the corner of each eye, trying to halt the tears before they had a chance to flow out and freeze on my face. And Lazarz had told the truth about loving me. Nothing that had happened could make me believe he hadn't loved me. And if I needed reassurance, all I had to do was take a deep breath. The mere fact that I was still alive was proof enough.

If you go to Poland you will never come back, I heard my uncle saying. Then Lazarz's voice whispered to me, "No one will ever hurt you as long as I am alive." How could Lazarz promise that? How could I believe anything he promised?

Spotting the gray stone facade of my hotel, I congratulated myself that I hadn't booked a room at one of the new hotels that recently had sprung up in Cracow since the fall of Communism. While in Poland, I wanted to stay in rooms rich with experiences. Lazarz loved the traditional. In Warsaw I had stayed at The Haven, one of the few hotels that had survived the Nazi occupation. And here, just like in Warsaw, I both feared and hoped for some contact to be made. Contact by whom or what method I didn't know.

Trudging up the concrete stairs, I hurried toward the warm glow of the lights. "Like a moth hurrying toward a light bulb," whispered a taunting voice that seemed to come from somewhere deep inside me. "A light bulb that will turn the moth into a Crispy Critter." Before I could change my mind and run toward the airport, I walked rapidly through the beckoning door.

"Excuse me, Ms. Delmonico," said a fair_haired man, walking toward me. "The hotel manager wants to see you."

"Why?" I asked, a sense of numbness stealing over me as I pulled off my gloves. "Is there a problem?"

"I don't know," stammered the man, looking everywhere but at my face. "Please. Go to manager's office."

"Why?" I asked again.

"Please, go take elevator to third floor and turn right," said the hotel employee in a pleading voice. "Please go. See, the elevator is ready to go up."

He fled back to the safety of the reception desk.

The same elevator that had probably carried Nazis to their beds during World War II and, although I tried to push the thought from my mind, Jews to their doom, groaned and creaked as it took me and a middle_age couple to the floors above. I tried to imagine what James Bond would do in a case like this. 007 always looked smug and confident when he was in danger. Of course, Bond could afford to be detached about his pending doom__after the scene he would be going home to a nice warm bed and a fatter bank book. What might I have at the end of my visit to Poland? If I was very lucky, I would still be alive and allowed to board the plane home. But I had known the danger I could be in when I had decided to use myself as bait. I had been warned years ago by the CIA that if I went to Poland I wouldn't be coming back.

"Are you an American?" asked the woman in the elevator. "Yes," I answered. "I live in New York. Not in the City, though," I quickly added, as if I didn't want to be tainted by the crime and dirt in Manhattan. "I live Upstate, about fifty miles from Manhattan." I was nervous or I wouldn't have been giving out so much information to strangers.

"My wife and I are from Australia," said the man, as if his accent hadn't already given his origin away. "We've been here about a week. But we are leaving tomorrow."

"Have you enjoyed your visit to Poland?" I asked.

"Very much," answered the man.

"I bought such beautiful amber jewelry in Cracow," added his wife. "I feel like a thief paying so little for the many exquisite gifts I bought for myself and our daughters. And the hotels, restaurants, and stores in Poland! They are so desperate for tourism and money that my husband and I have been spoiled splendidly everywhere we go."

"Are you here with a group?" asked the husband.

"No," I answered. "I came alone to see some of the religious shrines."

"Alone?" asked his wife. "Aren't you afraid to travel by yourself?"

"I've been to Lourdes in France, Fatima in Portugal, and other shrines around the world," I answered. "Going alone gives me more time to meditate." I didn't tell her I refused to let myself be afraid.

After saying goodbye to the friendly couple and wishing them a safe trip home, I got off the elevator and turned right. Two doors down was a small brown sign on a half_opened door. In the room, at a long rectangular table, sat two women. The woman at the head of the table facing the door was heavyset with short, frizzy blonde hair. From the door, I could see the top of her white uniform and the yoke of the woman's blue apron. The expression on her pale, round face reminded me of a woodchuck I had seen in Canada. Terrified, its torn leg still caught in a trap, the animal was being hauled by a farmer to a barn across the road. The younger woman sitting at the side of the table had a thin face, framed by straight blonde hair just touching the collar of her navy blue wool suit.

"Sorry," I said, backing out of the doorway. "I was told the hotel manager wanted to see me but I will come back when you are free."

"It is fine," answered the thin, blonde woman as she got up from her seat.

I detected only a slight accent in her English.

"We are waiting for you," continued the blonde. As I entered the room, the woman closed the door behind me.

The blonde woman and I shook hands and smiled at each other. I was proud to see that my hand had been as cool and steady as her own when we shook hands.

"Please sit down," the young woman instructed, pointing toward a wooden chair away from the table and midway between her and the woman in uniform. "This woman is the supervisor on the floor where your room is," said the blonde, nodding in the direction of the older lady.

"Is there a problem?" I asked, feigning a look of puzzlement.

"There is a very big problem, Ms. Delmonico," said the woman, who knew my name but hadn't bothered telling me her name or the name of the supervisor.

"And what is the problem?" I asked, looking directly at the supervisor. The only reaction from the large woman was a twitch on the left side of her face. Aside from that slight movement, the supervisor sat in the chair like a statue.

"What is the problem?" I repeated, turning toward the woman in the suit. Lazarz had told me that in Poland anyone caught stealing had their hand cut off. What would be the punishment for possession of drugs or guns? Maybe someone had already put cocaine or ammunition in my coat pockets. I folded my hands in my lap to keep them from digging through my coat and purse. If their game was to accuse me of being a thief or possessing something illegal in order to arrest me or have me deported, more than likely, whatever I was going to be accused of had already been planted in my room while I was out.

"I have been asked by the hotel to speak to you," said the young woman, her alert blue eyes fastened on me. "We must watch everything. Everything we watch."

I tried to appear calm as I waited to hear the charges against me.

"It is a serious problem the hotel has called me here to handle," continued the woman. "A very serious problem."

"What is the problem?" I asked for the third time. "What have I done that is so serious?"

"I have been told that you dirtied a towel and a rug in the bathroom," answered the pretty blonde. "It is a very big problem. Much work has been done to this hotel. We watch everything. We look at everything."

My mouth dropped open as I stared in surprise at the blonde woman.

"I dirtied a towel and the bathroom rug?" I repeated, purposely emphasizing each word. "Then it is no problem. I will pay for the towel and the rug. How much did they cost new?"

"Big, big problem," again said the manager, locking eyes with me. "We watch everything. We look at everything."

"I will pay," I offered again. "Tell me the amount and I will give you the money."

"A lot of work has been done on this hotel," repeated the manager. "We own most of the old hotels in Poland. We watch everything."

"Do the same people who own this hotel own The Haven Hotel in Warsaw?" I asked.

"Yes," answered the blonde. "We own that one too."

"I stayed there when I arrived in Poland. There are big roaches running around that hotel," I accused. "Do you know what a roach is?"

"I know what a roach is, yes," answered the blonde.

"I didn't complain about roaches running around to the owners of that hotel," I said. "Now, you are complaining about a dirty towel and rug?"

The blonde turned to the woman in uniform and spoke to her in Polish. The elderly woman stammered out a response.

"I am told that the owners of this hotel do not own the hotel you are speaking of," answered the blonde. "Sorry. The owners of this hotel own most of the hotels in Poland so I thought they owned The Haven as you called it. I don't work for the hotel."

She doesn't work for the hotel? I thought, trying my best to maintain the same expression on my face so she wouldn't know I had caught her slip. The man at the front desk had told me the hotel manager wanted to see me. If she doesn't work for the hotel, who does she work for? Would this hotel go out and hire an interpreter to accuse me of dirtying a towel and small rug? Not likely.

"I washed my hair last night and used the towel," I explained. "The towel got dirty. I walked on the rug. Some dirt from my shoes may have gotten on it. Put them in the wash and the towel and rug with be clean. For that matter, use some bleach on all the towels. The linen in this hotel is dingy and gray."

"I am told the towel and rug are very dirty. It is a big problem."

"I'll go to the room and bring them down," I answered, standing up. "Then we can settle this."

"Please, sit," stated the young woman. "I will call and the maid on that floor will bring the towel and rug down."

I took a quick glance at the heavy, elderly woman at the head of the table. She was still sitting straight and stiff in her chair. Her eyes continued to stare at the closed door. We waited in grim silence until the maid knocked on the door.

"It looks clean," the blonde said, surveying the towel and rug that the maid had brought into the office. "Before the towel was dirty so it was a problem. Now it is clean so there is no more problem."

The maid left and Ms. Non_Hotel Employee turned toward me. I looked directly into her eyes and smiled. As I continued to look into her eyes, the phony smile she had maintained throughout my interrogation slowly began to disintegrate. Amazed, I watched the blue eyes turn into slivers and the woman's nostrils flare. With her face contorted by anger, the blonde sneered at me. This was contact__not what I had in mind or the kind I wanted but it was definitely contact.

For a moment I was stunned. Then I realized why she was staring at me with such animosity. I hadn't stopped prying in the United States and, as long as I'm alive, I never will stop. Not this bitch with the cold eyes or anyone else will make me stop looking for answers about the man I love. As long as I am alive, I silently vowed, I will be a thorn in their side until I find out the truth.

For several moments we stayed locked onto each other's eyes. Her face was the first to shift back into a phony smile. Two can play this game, I thought. I smiled back at her. Checkmate.

"The towel and rug are clean," announced the blonde. "You can go now."

"If this is how the hotel owners act over a towel, remind me not to steal anything while I'm here or go out with any spies in Cracow. Have a nice day."

I sauntered down the hall toward the elevator feeling pretty pleased with myself. Move over 007! I had kept my cool and pretended that our little discussion had been about dirty towels when we both knew what the purpose of our meeting had been. "We watch everything. We look at everything," she had warned. So now I knew. Just like in the good old United States, I was being watched and followed. But by whom?

I knew the KGB had been officially dispersed when Communism collapsed in 1989. Although the leaders of the United States and Russia had called an end to the Cold War and, just last year, a Russian space station had its first American visitor, the two great powers, along with all the other nations were still sending agents to steal military, scientific and industrial secrets from each other. And all of these countries were not above using any organization, whether they condemned them publicly or not, to do their dirty work. Lazarz had been in Russia. Uncle Sean had said Lazarz might be connected with the KGB.

Maybe the woman who had interrogated me at the hotel was, like Uncle Sean, from our own home_grown CIA. But I quickly ruled that out. The CIA had never threatened me directly in the United States and I couldn't see them coming out into the open in Poland. They didn't want me__only Lazarz.

What about the Neo_Nazis? When East and West Germany was reunited in 1990, many people feared that revised nationalism would encourage the Neo_Nazis to attempt to form another fascist government. These fanatics needed money and connections if their plan was to succeed. What reason would they have to want Lazarz? Damn Lazarz's secrecy. What couldn't he have trusted me more?

The Russian Mafia was another possibility. But, from what I had read about the violent Russian Mafia which had become home to many displaced KGB agents, the "hotel manager's" threats seemed too subtle to have come from them. My bet was that the woman who had "warned" me came from Polish Intelligence. And I was being told politely, very politely to watch my step. Yes, it had to be Polish Intelligence. This was Poland where teenagers were afraid to drop candy wrappers on the street. Whatever else he was, Lazarz was Polish.

That had been the story of my life since 1986. There had been nothing but problems since I had met Lazarz at a bar near my apartment. Problems for my family and everyone else I turned to for help. Problems that had forced me to seek help from people connected with the Mafia and the Klan. Problems that despite the fall of communism, the turnover in the CIA, and the disbandment of the KGB never seemed to end.

"A very serious problem," I whispered, mimicking the blonde. "We watch everything. You brought me nothing but problems, Lazarz. Nothing but grief."

Taking off my coat, I cursed my miserable luck. Why had this inner voice that had warned me about so many things throughout my life decided to go on vacation when I met Lazarz? "I wish I never met you," I whispered, tears beginning to trickle from my eyes. Yet, even as I wallowed in self_pity, I knew that I was lying to myself. There wasn't one single minute I had spent with Lazarz that I would give up even if I had known on July 4, 1986 what I know now.
$16.95
124-p
Format: 
Warping The Mind: Arbiter Series, Vol. 1
Arbiter Series, Vol. 1 By Matthew L. Schoonover

Agustus Pilot, a detective assigned to Special Services, is not a new kid on the block. in fact, he’s an Arbiter, a supernatural being assigned to solve any paradox between God and Satan for the disposition of contested souls. He’s not your average cop. These aren’t your average criminals.

ISBN 1-59431-041-6 Mystery/Horror/ Thriller Cover Art/Maggie Dix Our Price $ 5.50
$16.95
207-p
Format: 
Tortured Souls: Arbiter Series, Vol. 2
Arbiter Series By Matthew Schoonover

Incubus-detective Gus Pilot is back in a paranormal police procedural that pits mortals and supernaturals alike against the Arbiter. When body gases escaping from a corpse start killing people Pilot is put on a timetable that pits him against wise guys, vampires, the FBI and a bodiless sylph. Side-stepping the Secret Service and a Presidential appointee he's supposed to be guarding, he must stop a plague and keep his friends from suspecting supernatural interference. But time is running out …

ISBN 1-59431-208 Science Fiction / Mystery / Police / Paranormal

Cover Art/Maggie Dix



Chapter 1

"[T]here ariseth another priest, Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life." __Hebrews 7:15,16

Webster was the first to meet the stranger, although later, when people started asking questions, he kept his mouth shut.

Webster wasn't a young man, he knew, but he didn't consider forty-nine as old as he once had. He had been in good health all his life and even though he was going bald (no graying, no thinning, just straight to bald) and had about twenty pounds too much around his mid-section, he had thought himself worldly and able to take care of himself.

He had been wrong. So terribly wrong.

Leaning against the wall of a honky-tonk, Webster was on his knees, vomiting, when the hand came down softly on his shoulder. "Are you all right?" the stranger asked.

He turned to see a face shrouded in shadows. The weak light from the parking lot lamp was behind the stranger and too far away to do anything but throw shadows on already existing shadows. Even with that thin light, he could tell the man was black. A black man in a black shirt, shadow on shadow. At this realization came a thought; a thought that made Webster lean his head against the brick wall and laugh hoarsely through split lips. His head reverberated with the sounds of country music coming from the other side of that wall. "Great!" he thought, "I must have a neon sign on my back that says SUCKER." He had already been used and thrown away once tonight, and now this guy, obviously seeing an easy mark, had come to scavenge.

The stranger wiped blood from his face with a handkerchief. He raised a hand to ward the man off. "I'm fine," he said, his voice a whisper filled with pain. His nose was broken, he had one swollen eye, and one cracked rib for sure, maybe more. For all that, he still felt lucky.

"Who did this?" the stranger asked.

"I did," he said. "It was my own damn fault. I should have known better."

Hands began probing his body; gentle, knowing fingers that seemed to know where each sore spot was; brushing over those areas without touching hard enough to cause pain. Even though he knew what those fingers were doing he still misunderstood their intent, still clung to his first impression. "You're too late," he said through split lips. "They already took it."

"Who did?" the stranger asked. "What did they take?"

For answer, he tapped the wall behind his head and said, "Everything that was of any worth to me."

"You're still alive."

"You're wrong, Mister. I'm dead. Or at least I will be when I get to Benny's."

He was about to tell the stranger to mind his own business, to find someone else to mug, when he caught sight of something in the weak parking lot lamp. The stranger turned sideways while probing his body and the dark shirt he was wearing suddenly took on a minor glow of its own. It was centralized, localized, singular, and Webster had to stare for a minute before he understood what it was.

"You're a priest?"

He caught a partial smile on the black man's face, ironic, almost impish. And then he noticed the black man's eyes.

They were gray-green.

"Who are you?"

"Someone on a mission," the stranger answered.

I must be going into shock, Webster thought as a cold finger ran down his spine. "Mission? What kind of mission?"

The priest started to speak and then stopped. "I was going to say a mission of mercy, but there is no mercy in what I've set out to do. Call it a mission of justice. I am looking for a man named Red Hurly. Truck driver. I'm told he frequents this bar on occasion."

Webster tried to stand. "He's in there," he said. "Him and his friends did this to me."

"How come?"

The words jumbled out, "Playing pool… money for Sharon… sick, real bad…needed chemotherapy and the insurance ran out. Was winning too. Red didn't like it." For the rest, he showed the priest his right hand, now a mangled heap of flesh and bone at the end of his wrist. "He didn't like it at all."

"How much," the priest asked.

"About two hundred dollars."

"No. I mean, how much do you need for the Chemo?"

Webster stared in disbelief. "Too much," he answered. "Besides, the two hundred is for Benny. He's the loan shark I borrowed money from to pay for the Chemo."

The priest helped him into a fairly comfortable sitting position. "Wait here," the priest said.

Webster reached up with his good left hand and took hold of the shirt. The priest pulled gently but Webster wouldn't let go. "You've helped me some, Father, and I'd like to repay you if I can. You can't go in there. The last black man who went in there hasn't been seen since." The priest looked at him with mild surprise. "You would help me?" An impish smile spread across his face. He patted Webster's hand in a comforting manner, dislodging it from his shirt. "Trust in the Lord," he said.

"Only if he's got a forty-five."

"Better than that." the priest chuckled.

Webster watched in stunned disbelief as the black man with the priest's collar and eerie gray-green eyes walked into the bar.
$16.95
208-p
Format: 
Shape of Fear
Arbiter Series, Vol. 3

By Matthew L. Schoonover

Detective/Incubus Augustus Pilot meets the vampire Moineau at last in Shape of Fear, another thriller from Matthew Schoonover.

This time Internal Affairs is after the Special Services Squad in general and Pilot in particular. His new partner, a georgeous black woman known as Danny Rodriquez, is supposed to get under his skin and search out his secrets. But Danny, victim of a blood ritual plot, is more attracted to the vampire …

ISBN 1-59431-002-5 Mystery / Horro / Thriller

Cover Art/Maggie Dix





"I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood. How shall I say what wood that was! I never saw so drear, so rank, so arduous a wilderness! Its very memory gives a shape to fear. Death could scarce be more bitter than that place!" ___Dante, THE INFERNO



"Show me the world's desire and I will show you the shape of fear." ___ Santiago Weneslau Ortega

Chapter 1

Night came on owl's wings; thick and heavy, swift and silent. The sky darkened as lights winked on in buildings across the metropolis, eyes of yellow and white, some shaded and curtained in reds and blues and greens like the mascara-covered lids of harlots. It was hot and humid, and sweat came as readily to those venturing out into the somber night as from the heavy sloughing whine of air conditioners.

Angelina shook her head at these thoughts. "I've got to stop reading those Romance novels," she griped to herself. The black man beside her stopped looking at the sky and turned his attention to her. She shook her head to indicate the unimportance of her thoughts. He smiled.

He was a strong and healthy-looking young man, self-importance written all over his demeanor, with close-cropped hair and sharp copper eyes. Angelina knew that her own ebony, seductive good looks went well beside the man's. They could have been companions, perhaps lovers. But one look in her watery brown eyes told the real story. He was the candyman and she had a sweet tooth.

"Satan Black," he said.

Angelina shifted nervously from foot to foot, feigning attention. He smiled patiently. "My dad used to call nights like this Satan Black," he explained.

"Whatever," she said, shrugging her shoulders.

"I didn't want you to misunderstand," he added. "What I said wasn't meant as an insult."

She didn't bother to shrug. "Do you have it, Milo?"

Headlights flashed up the far side of the alley. Milo slipped back between dumpsters and disappeared expertly into the shadows. The car pulled in a short distance and stopped, splashing Angelina with its Halogens. She stared into the headlights like a doe caught in mid-leap. There was a pause as the driver shifted gears and then the car backed into the street and drove off the way it had come.

Milo emerged from between the dumpsters and snagged the woman's attention with a hand that swung leisurely by his side. It held a cellophane packet with a whitish-yellow powder in it.

Angelina began salivating and impulsively reached for it.

Milo pulled it away, placed his other hand on her shoulder to ward her off. "What you got to trade?" he asked.

She looked shocked. "You never asked for anything before," she protested.

"I'm asking now."

"Bastard!"

"Now, now." He brought the packet up so she could see it. "Reminding me of my good qualities won't get you what you want."

"I don't have any money," she cooed, trying to look sexy.

Although he didn't show it, Milo found her ploy working quite well. No wonder she was so good at her profession, he thought. He forced himself to laugh and shake his head.

Pissed, she said, "What do you want?"

"A trade," he answered. "One Bliss for another."

She eyed him eagerly, desperately.

"I want you to meet someone."

"Who, where, when?" The questions leaped over each other as she eyed the packet.

Milo slapped her. She rocked on fragile feet and bounced against one of the dumpsters. He caught her before she could fall and held her tightly by both shoulders, forcing her to look into his eyes. "Pay attention," he hissed, suddenly serious and emitting an aura of danger Angelina had never before experienced around him.

There was satisfaction in his eyes at the fear on her face. Milo laughed harshly. "Only a week and already hooked. Ready to sell your soul yet?" His smile was wolfish, predatory. "Are you listening?"

She nodded, her eyes never leaving his.

"Good! I'm going to give this to you—" he waved the packet at the corner of her eye—"but I don't want you to use it yet. Do you understand?" She nodded eagerly, her eyes shifting to the packet. "If you use it now, I won't give you any more. Ever. Do you understand?"

Again she nodded vigorously.

"There is a door at the end of this alley, a metal door with a neon yellow stripe on it. It's not locked. You will take this packet and you will go through that door. Go straight through that room and you will find a set of stairs. Take those down to the basement. You will find a small room to the left of the stairs. Go in there and sit on the bed. Do you understand so far?"

She moved her head in the affirmative, but he made her repeat everything just to make sure. She repeated the instructions almost word for word.

"Good. There's a large box with a shaded window to one side of the room. Don't look at it. Ignore it. Once you're on the bed you can take your Bliss."

Unexpectedly, she felt herself being pushed away. She tripped on her own heel and fell hard to the ground, landing in a puddle of dubious origin. It reeked. She removed her hand from the puddle and forced herself to her feet. Milo laughed and tossed the packet at her.

She reached for it frantically but missed. It bounced off her forehead and fell into the puddle.

"Go!" he snarled.

She bent quickly, retrieved the packet. Wiping it across her blouse she hurried to the metal door, eager to get where she had to be to take her fix.

It took her mere seconds to find the door and open it. It opened on oiled hinges, making hardly a sound. From the backwash of a street light she could see the door on the far side of the room. She stepped inside and was half across the room when the door closed, engulfing her in darkness. Her steps faltered. She hit something metallic with her foot and stopped. She squeezed the packet in her fist tightly and scrunched her eyes shut, trying to pull up a memory of the room as she had seen it seconds before. She reached out the hand that wasn't holding the packet and moved it around in front of her. She stepped forward slowly, cautiously, unsure of where the door was.

Something brushed her cheek and she shivered, barely holding back a scream. She forced herself forward—too quick! First her hand and then her face rammed up against the door. She could feel her heart pounding madly in her chest and a warmth grow on the side of her face where she had smacked the door—felt blood pulsing to the area that would soon sport a bruise. She flailed for the doorknob, found it and pushed the door open.

Stepping into the stairwell, she was relieved to see a small light at the bottom, glowing a path that showed shadowy steps in a darker, more shadowy realm. The handrail was missing and she put one hand against the wall to support herself as she moved downward.

Her steps weren't as quick as they had been.

Her heart was still beating madly and she felt a chill run up her spine, but she didn't shiver until her hand ran through something wet and thick on the wall. It felt like melted Jello.

To her mind, that equated to blood.

She shook her head, knowing that it couldn't be. Besides, it didn't matter. She squeezed the packet to her breast, feeling the smoothness of the cellophane against her sweaty skin. Her heart still beat wildly but some sense came back to her mind and she moved down the steps as one moves to the front of a firing squad. "What does it matter," she mumbled. "It's not my blood. And as long as I get mine, what else really matters."

When she reached the basement Angelina saw the room that Milo had told her about. She paused at the door, feeling the packet in her hand, pressed against her breast, wishing she could go back, wanting to leave almost as much as she wanted the drug. Almost. Taking a deep, long breath, holding it, and finally letting it out, she said, "What the hell," and turned the knob.

The room surprised her. After everything she had gone through to get here, she expected it to be in no better condition than the rest of the building. It wasn't.

Unlike the hot, sticky outside and the stuffy stairwell, this room was cold with air conditioning. It caressed her like a welcoming hand, inviting her in.

Once she was in, she looked around. The entire room was lit with candles, some black, some red and some a peculiar shade of purple. The walls were covered in soft brown paneling and the ceiling was painted a gentle shade of pink. It was spotlessly clean, spacious and held an aura of comfort. She saw the bed against the far wall, a king size mattress with red satin sheets, four fluffy pillows and a teddy bear sitting in the middle, staring at her with black button eyes.

Angelina smiled with a remembrance of her own childhood. Of course, she didn't have satin sheets or a king-size mattress, and instead of a teddy bear she had a furry, nose-tickling stuffed rabbit named Noonie. Despite the differences, there was much about this room that reminded her of better times.

She remembered the packet in her hand and moved eagerly toward the bed.

On the nightstand she found a mirror and a razor, both spotlessly sterile, and a straw still in its paper wrapper. She carefully opened her packet and spread it across the flat mirror, then used the razor to build four lines of whitish-yellow powder. Removing the straw from its wrapper and cutting it down to size, she began to snort the drug. When she finished she lay down on the sheets, closing her eyes and feeling the rush of blood to her heart and head; the sense of euphoria washing over her brain, dropping like a chiffon curtain across her worries and fears, her wasted, desperate thoughts.

When the initial rush was gone and she floated in a sea of calm, she opened her eyes and looked around.

She saw the box. It looked like a confessional booth, like she'd seen in church as a child. The dark wood of the box was polished brightly and the screened window was black and open.

As she stared at it, she picked up on the noise she'd been hearing since she'd entered the room. It was the raspy breathing of someone. Someone watching from the box.

She smiled at the little window and moved her body around on the sheets, enjoying the feel of them. "Hi," she said and let her head drop back against the pillows.

The room was silent except for the breathing.

"You going to join me," she asked.

Still nothing.

"Suit yourself."

The lights in the room began to soften even more as candle after candle went out in a pantomime of air where none was present, dimming until everything was in shadows.

The door to the confessional opened and a figure emerged. Even in the shadows and at that distance, she could see the boyish figure—no surprise there—and that the youth was wearing a black cassock.

A priest! she thought. She couldn't help but giggle. It was starting to make sense. "Milo, you pimp," she breathed to herself. "You set me up with a holy man!" Holy or not, she thought, he's still a man. And that was something she knew how to handle. And, thanks to Bliss, could now look forward to enjoying it.

She patted the bed beside her, inviting him to join her.

The shadow moved toward the bed hesitantly.

Shy, Angelina thought. She knew how to encourage that kind too. She smiled and closed her eyes. "Whenever you're ready," she cooed, and waited, expecting him to drop on the bed any second. Maybe even paw at her. Right now, under the circumstances, she found herself actually looking forward to it.

The time passed where she expected him to drop on the bed, forcing her to open her eyes out of curiosity.

He stood at the foot of the bed, a silhouette with white eyes and white teeth in a black shadow. For a split second, Milo's words came back to her: "Satan Black." Then the drug reminded her of Bliss and she let the thought float away.

One hand reached out to her and she saw it shake. She giggled. "Don't be shy," she murmured in a deep-throated way. "Join me."

The shaking hand moved forward, caressing her leg, massaging foot and ankle, and she was shocked to realize that her skin tingled pleasantly under those fingertips. She closed her eyes and leaned back against the pillows, floating in a euphoric world of dreams and pleasures where all was good and there was no evil. She felt his fingers move up her body . . . exploring . . . seducing her flesh . . . probing . . . and resting, finally, on her neck, tickling one ear lobe.

Even as she was enjoying the sensations a disturbing thought crept into her mind, one that she tried desperately to ignore, fighting and losing a mental battle to stay in the world where all was good and wonderful. She felt his presence, just as she felt his hand on her neck, his fingertips on her ear lobe, but she hadn't felt any pressure on the mattress as his body climbed on the bed.

Her body remained relaxed, no visible sign that the thought was winning, except that her eyes began to scrunch tight.

Her sensory perception increased even as an idea embedded itself in her psyche; feeling the hand and fingertips with a new awareness—how cold they were and how sharp and ragged the nails felt --; the sudden awareness of odor, the foul smell of his breath as it washed against her cheek and the taste of his presence like bitter aluminum at the back of her throat. She moved her head, shaking it the way a dreamer might shake away a nightmare.

But the nightmare would not go away.

She was forced to open her eyes. The world had lost all color and everywhere she looked was in shades of black and white.

Her eyes continued to open, wider and wider as she saw the shadow floating over her body, one hand at her throat. It was a black shadow, hiding the man behind a darkness that should not have been there. She saw the white of his eyes clearly—pupilless eyes!—and the glistening shimmer of light off his yellow-white teeth, yet she could not see the man!

The caressing hand abruptly changed to a vengeful claw. It clamped down hard on her throat.

Her eyes widened even more as she saw the glittering reflection of herself in the blade of the machete in his other hand.

He laid the machete on the bed, out of sight, and his free hand deftly stripped her of all her clothing. Then it began doing things to her body, things that made it respond in a way her brain would not, could not respond to in its terror stricken state. Part of it, she knew, was the drug in her system; part was a strange charismatic power that this man must possess, and part was an intangible something that escaped her consciousness. Despite her fear and terror she heard and felt herself responding to his caresses.

She was engulfed in a cocoon of ecstasy and horror, loving and hating every bit of it, her mind split and floating in a swirling, Sargasso sea of pleasure that knew no right or wrong. Her eyes, beyond her control now, focused on the one aspect of the man that was clear to her.

The white teeth parted as if in laughter but she could hear nothing. She found herself mesmerized by that mouth, looking through and around the teeth. The mouth was as black inside as out, revealing nothing but bodiless canines and incisors. And as the pleasure cresendoed, the inference to laughter ceased and the teeth shifted. They moved closer to her face, a fiery furnace of breath spewing across her nostrils and lips. . .

She tried to scream, in horror or ecstasy she didn't know, but it was too late.
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Sense of Endless Woes -e
A Tornado Man Impossible Mystery

by Matthew L. Schoonover

Former FBI agent Jack Monosmith survived being sucked into a tornado and thrust into fame. Now in A Sense of Endless Woes, Jack works for Griselda the Great, astrologer to the stars, and finds himself the major suspect in the murder of her billionaire client.

ISBN: 1-59431-287-6 Mystery/Locked Room

Cover: Maggie Dix

Also available in RTF and HTML formats.



CHAPTER ONE



I wanted a cigarette bad. Yeah, I know it’s not politically correct. They say the last twelve years of a smoker’s life can be a living hell, what with emphysema, heart problems, and about a dozen different kinds of cancer, but why trade on something I probably wasn’t going to have anyway.

This isn’t to excuse my behavior in the following hours but to explain it. When I’m cranky I show it and say it and I’m never at my best. I can apologize later, which I usually do, but people have told me I’m Jekyll and Hyde about my smokes. At least since the tornado I am.

It was almost ten hours—-ten waking hours—-since my last smoke and I was itching in places I couldn’t scratch. First off, I don’t like flying, and LAX did nothing to alleviate those fears. They have two rules at LAX. No smoking, and don’t do anything today that you can put off until tomorrow. It took forever to get boarded on my flight and then we ended up sitting on the tarmac for an hour and a half, waiting for other planes to take off ahead of us. Then the flight, long and boring. After landing, another forty_five minutes in baggage claims—the airport was kind enough to lose only one of my two bags. All through the terminal I was looking for a place to stop and refresh myself but there were No Smoking signs everywhere.

When I stepped outside my first reflex was to reach for my pack and look for the crowd of guys off in one corner with a cloud for a halo and ecstasy—the short term kind—all over their faces. The night was hot and muggy and I felt sweat climb across my forehead and upper lip immediately. I spotted the crowd across the street under an overhang for a rent-a-car company. I stepped off the curb and damn near got run over. The driver of the taxi was kind enough to suggest ancestral fault and drove on without stopping. And me needing a ride. In return, I was kind enough to wave him good-bye with a special one-finger salute. I made it to the overhang, nodded at my fellow second class citizens, dropped my bag and had the pack out. Of all the second class citizens there, I was probably more second class than all of them. Here I was, thousands of miles from home, doing a job I wasn’t getting paid for. And why? Because of my boss, that’s why.

For those of you who haven’t met her or seen her picture in all those ads she puts out, Griselda the Great is a tall woman (not that you can see that in the ads) of exceptional Mediterranean beauty. She wears black when she’s working or wants to impress people. She has raven black hair and sultry dark eyes that slant ever so slightly to give a hint of Oriental mysticism to her trained look. High cheekbones, aristocratic nose and lips that could invite a man’s temptations in neutral or incite riots at the Vatican when she let it beam. She could also turn her look into something terrible. Most people didn’t know this, but Griselda had complete control over all her facial muscles and many was the time I’ve seen her do something undefined, unidentifiable, that changed her look completely and still left you wondering what was different. She was also a trained ventriloquist, which I guess was important if you were going to be Psychic to the Stars. Rumor had it that she first came to Hollywood with stars in her eyes, but cattle calls and directors’ couches dissuaded her. She always insisted on being her own boss anyway.

Less then twenty-four hours before she had called me into her office. This was the working office, not the show office, where she took clients who wanted to be impressed—she had two of those kind of offices. One was a round room with a crystal ball on a round table and only two chairs on opposite sides of the table. The room was all dark and moody and gave me the creeps. She did a lot of business in there. The other room was on the third and top floor of her mansion. The ceiling had been rebuilt in some kind of glass to let in the night sky and stars. Hidden lights, holographic imaging and state of the art sound effects rounded out the special services. It was a room where you could just turn off the lights and stare up at the night for a long time. A very humbling room. I liked that one much better.

The working office was a white room with a couple of computers, DSL lines and satellite link_up. When I walked in, she was cracking and eating pistachios. She slid a paper—one of those rag mags you can pick up at any convenience store or supermarket—across the table at me. I looked at it briefly. There was a picture of me and some print.

"THE TORNADO MAN"
$6.50
287-e
Format: 
Man's Days Are as Grass -e
Shel Damsky

Old blood and old money become involved in a power struggle in a small town in upstate New York. Before the dust settles, some of them will learn just how far out of balance the scales of justice can really be tipped.

ISBN 1-59431-358-5 Fiction / Mystery / Legal Thriller

Cover Art/ Maggie Dix

Also available in RTF and HTML formats

Chapter One

“Nobody fucking brings me down,” Angie roared, his voice rising close to a scream, his dark face mottled with rage. “I built this city. I took it away from the rich and gave it to the people.” He paused, then, “Nobody takes my city away from me.”

Somebody had said once that getting yelled at by Angie was worse than being hit by anybody else and the small group of lawyers, politicians, judges, businessmen he had made rich, and yes men sitting around the otherwise empty restaurant dining room knew at the moment, if they hadn’t really known before, just what that meant.

Angie paced the room, waving the morning paper, the Daily Press, too fast for any of them to read the headlines, but each one knew what they said: Under the now daily banner of “Sin City” in bold print, the headline below read “Governor Names Special Prosecutor, Special Justice.”

Finally he stopped pacing, threw the paper to the floor like it was so much trash and faced the group. “Stupid son-of-a-bitch has got more money than brains. I’ve made governors,” he said, his voice almost a whisper now. “I made Roosevelt governor and he’s depended on me ever since. I’ve dealt with people like Dan O’Connell in Albany and Daley in Chicago and people like them all over. For chrissakes, the son-of-a-bitch governor who started all this, I got the crazy bastard elected.”

He paused, caught his breath. He pointed at one of the men. “You, call Leo Murphy, in Syracuse. Tell him I want him now. And tell him to get in touch with that kid that used to live here, that Jonathan Abrams, and get him here too.”

He took in each man in the room

“Nobody,” he said again. “Nobody takes Olympia away from me.”
$6.50
358-e
Format: 
Dead Duck-e
Hollis Ball and Sam Westcott Series, Vol. 2

by Helen Chappell

Hollis Ball is back, this time covering the Decoy Jamboree, still smouldering over the light sentence Judge Fish gave a wife-murderer. Then someone bashes Fish on the head with an antique decoy. Hollis is pretty sure it's not suspect #1, so naturally she decides to solve the murder herself, with the help of her dead ex-husband, of course, the charming ghostly Sam.

ISBN 1-59431-355-2 Mystery / Paranormal / Suspense

Cover Art by Maggie Dix.

Also available in HTML and RTF format.



Chapter 1

Devaneau County Judge Gives Convicted Wife Murderer 6 Months

"Sorry I Have to Give You Any Jail Time At All," Judge Findley S. Fish Tells Harmon Sneed

By Hollis Ball Staff Writer

BETHEL--Onlookers gasped and a relative of the victim screamed when a Devanau County Circuit Court judge sentenced convicted wife murderer Harmon F. Sneed to six months in jail. "I understand how things can get out of hand," Findlay S. Fish said from the bench as he pronounced sentence, "So I'm going to go light on you. Your wife provoked you with those divorce papers and you just lost it. It's just one of those mistakes a guy can make. I'm sorry that I have to give you any jail time at all," Fish added.

The judge then ordered Sneed to serve six months in the Devanau County Detention Center in a work release program. Under work release, the convicted killer could continue to work at his job at the Chinaberry Poultry Plant. As the judge pronounced sentence, an audible gasp could be heard in the courtroom.

Mrs. Sneed's mother, Wanda Repton Wells, began to scream and Assistant State's Attorney Melissa Hovarth, who had prosecuted the case, rose to her feet. Devanau County Victim Witness Program coordinator Patricia Rodrick and Barbara Hooper of A Safe Place Women's Shelter both exclaimed out loud, as did several others present. Even Devanau County Public Defender Wallston Pitt expressed astonishment at the light sentence.

The convicted murderer was seen to smile at the victim's mother as he heard his sentence pronounced.

Sneed, 32, was convicted last April of the murder of his wife Lucinda Wells Sneed, 28. The couple had been separated for more than a year, according to trial testimony, when Sneed, who has admitted to drug and alcohol problems, broke into the house she shared with her mother and shot Mrs. Sneed in the back three times as she tried to run from him. Sneed then fled the scene in Mrs. Sneed's truck, taking with him a Bethel area female juvenile, then 16. State police later identified the murder weapon as a .44 magnum belonging to the girl's father. The couple was apprehended in an Ocean City motel two days later, and the girl was returned to her parents. Because of her age, her name is being withheld.

It was not Sneed's first brush with the law. Records show that Bethel police had answered seventeen domestic incident calls at the Sneed residence in Patamoke over the past six years. According to trial testimony, Mrs. Sneed sought help from the women's shelter after Sneed had broken her arm, her nose and ruptured a kidney. On the day before Sneed shot her, Mrs. Sneed had initiated divorce proceedings and asked for a restraining order against Sneed….

--Watertown Gazette, July 9th, 1994.

_________________________

On the Associated Press a.m. wire, July 10th, 1994.

Demonstrators Protest Judge's "Slap On The Wrist" Sentence For Wife Murderer, Sneed

By Hollis Ball Staff Writer

BETHEL--Attention was centered outside Devanau County Courthouse yesterday, as anti-domestic violence groups protested, television cameras panned, police sought to maintain order and reporters clamored for a statement, Devanau County Circuit Court Judge Findlay S. Fish refused to defend his six month sentence for convicted wife murderer Harmon Sneed. "I don't owe anyone any explanations," Fish called over the jeers of demonstrators, before being hustled away in a yellow Mercedes Benz …

--Watertown Gazette, July 25, 1994

_____________________

In Maryland, Men Can Get Away With Murder, Say Anti-Domestic Violence Groups

--Washington Post headline, July 26th, 1994

_____________________

Eastern Shore Judge's Sentence Raises Same Questions Mencken Pondered

--editorial headline, Baltimore Sun, July 26th, 1994

___________________

Shore Judges Hold Kangaroo Court?

By Hollis Ball Staff Writer

WATERTOWN--One by one, they emerged from the private dining room at the Chesapeake Bay Country Club. It was enough to make one knowledgeable bystander wisecrack, "Hey Judges! Who's minding the store?"

Acting on a tip from a highly placed source, a Gazette reporter watched as Circuit Court judges from all nine Eastern Shore counties emerged from a closed meeting room. Among those spotted was controversial Judge Findlay S. Fish, whose recent 6 month sentencing of convicted wife murderer Harmon Sneed has drawn nationwide criticism, including calls for his resignation and a judicial review of his record while on the bench. Although none of the judges looked happy, Fish's expression was particularly grim…

"No comment" were the word of the day as the judges fled the reporter, speeding toward their cars, but a source has told the Gazette that the Shore judges had convened a secret ad hocmeeting in order to pressure Fish into stepping down from the bench…

--Watertown Gazette, August 14, 1994

__________________

State Judicial Review Commission Refuses To Censure Fish: Three Women, Two Minority Judges Openly Voice Dissent

The Good Old Boy Network is Alive and Well," says Judge Mary Bruce Hopkins

--headline, Watertown Gazette, November 3, 1995
$6.50
355e
Format: 
Music Room:Lindsey Gale Series, Vol. 2
by Judith C. Reveal

Life in Greensboro, MD changes for Conrad Trent when his landlady, Caroline Tinker, dies and leaves her estate worth five million dollars to him, with the request that as he discovers the ghosts that inhabit her home, he treat them with Extreme Delicacy. The request sets Conrad, the managing editor of the Greensboro Press and his good friend and publisher, Linsey Gale, off on a search for the answers to a mysterious murder that occurred over 70 years earlier.

As they unpeel each new layer of that crime, a new murder occurs until the final event leads directly to Conrad's home. But the truth of the crime of seven decades earlier is not discovered until the perpetrator of today's murders is revealed. And conrad and Lindsey must treat that truth with Extreme Delicacy.

ISBN 978-1-59431-702-X Mystery / Suspense



Chapter 1

Miss Caroline Tinker--Miss Carrie to the town of Greensboro--lay back on the sofa, her hair damp with perspiration; her breathing shallow. The summer was proving to be hotter than normal, with no relief in sight.

Miss Carrie wiped the sweat off of her forehead with a moist lace handkerchief. She turned toward the open window and listened. The air was heavy and still, when a breeze suddenly wafted through the tops of the cedar trees that surrounded the old farm house.

The shuffling noise of the air moving through the leaves had an oddly calming affect on her. And yet, her mind seemed to be grasping for some memory that she could not bring forward. The sound of the car driving away from the house; the crackling of tires on dry gravel, these drew her attention back to the present for a moment.

Getting old is hell, she thought. So many people wandering through my house, bringing me food that tastes terrible; pretending to clean my house, while they really only want to snoop. And all of them complainers in their own way. She turned and looked out the window toward the cottage at the back of her property. Except for Conrad, of course. She smiled at the thought of Conrad Trent, her tenant.

Conrad Trent kept to himself. Middle-aged, openly gay, he had arrived several years before to help run the local newspaper with his friend Lindsey Gale. Conrad had moved into the small cottage behind the main house with his partner, Marshall, and they were very open about their relationship from the beginning. Miss Carrie liked their honesty. Conrad lost his partner to death not long after they moved in, and he remained alone except for his friendship with Lindsey. Miss Carrie liked them both.

She strained to see if Conrad's car was parked in the driveway. Her vision had become blurred. She picked up her glasses and placed them on her face, but they didn't seem to help. She saw no movement from the cottage; heard no sounds to indicate that Conrad was there. She had hoped he might be able to take her to see Dr. O'Shaughnessy, but perhaps this weakness would fade shortly.

Her mind returned to its nagging search through decades and decades of her history, trying to grasp at a fleeting thought. There was a familiarity of some unnamed memory, but what, exactly, was it? The sound of the leaves rustling high above the house floated through the open window.

It was when she finally let her mind wander and stopped picking at it that the picture arose across the mist of time. She turned away from the window and scanned the parlor. The picture of the face raced through her memory. She could see it as clear as if it were yesterday. Where are those pictures? She asked herself. She slowly rose and shuffled out of the parlor and down the hall toward the door that had not been opened in over sixty years. She reached into her apron pocket and removed a set of keys. Fumbling, she found an old skeleton key and placed it in the lock. The sound of metal grating against metal, rust against rust, sent a shiver up her spine. She struggled with the key until she heard the snap of the lock turning. She nudged the door open and peeked around the corner.

Dust swirled up from the carpet as fresh air blew into the room, disturbing recollections that had been laid to rest years ago. Miss Carrie slipped past the door, barely opening it. She stepped lightly across the carpet until she arrived at the far end of the room. Several sheets of yellowed music sat on the old piano as if they expected to be read and played once again. She fingered the sheet music, moving one page at a time. In the middle of the stack she found an old picture. She lifted it and tucked it in her apron pocket; turned and shuffled out of the room, relocking the door, wishing not to disturb the memories any further.

She returned to the parlor and her place on the sofa before she removed the picture from her pocket. "Of course. I should have seen it before this." She ran her hand across the picture and removed the dust. "I remember that day as if it were yesterday."

Her breathing became shallow once again. She was unable to lift her legs onto the sofa. The sound of the cottage door opening caught her attention and as she turned to call out of the window, her voice failed. She tried to rise from the sofa--she needed to get to Conrad, to tell him what had happened. But she could not move her legs, and it was becoming difficult to move her arms. The picture fell out of her hand and onto the floor.

She heard the quiet rapping at the back door and knew that Conrad was coming to check on her. She tried to call to him, but again, no sound. She turned and looked out the window. The quiet breeze slipped through the window and caught the picture, lifting it slightly and carrying it across the room to where it blew under a chair at the far side of the room. Miss Carrie lay back on the sofa and closed her eyes. The last thing she heard was the wind rustling through the top of the cedar trees.

Review from SUSPENSE MAGAZINE

The Music Room:



After the wonderful debut novel Cheating Death by Judy Reveal, she is back with another winner! The Music Room includes her characters from Cheating Death Lindsey Gale and Conrad Trent. This time they are thrown in a mystery neither one of them expected. She goes a little different from the classic “who dunnit” genre, into a more thrill / mystery experience. She expands on her characters again in a way that make you want more and more. We see the growth that Judy has made in creating such a complex story that is extremely easy to read. Judy is an author that we will hear from in the future and she deserves to be mentioned with top authors of this genre.
$16.95
702-p
Format: 
Slow Dancing-p
Hollis Ball and Sam Wescott Series, Vol. 1

by Helen Chappell

Newspaper reporter Hollis Ball is shocked to find herself shedding a tear when she learns her ex-husband, Sam Wescott, was killed in a boating accident. She is even more shocked when Sam's ghost shows up, asking her to find out who murdered him. LiFE Award from Literature for the Environment.

ISBN o78-1-61386-185-1 Mystery / Humor / Paranormal

Cover Art Maggie Dix



CHAPTER ONE

Just to Make Sure He Was Dead

If you were Sam Wescott's ex-wife, you'd go to his funeral, too.

Just, you understand, to make sure that he was really dead.

Actually, I was part of the cluster of mourners because my editor told me that I had to be there. It seemed my former father-in-law had personally requested my presence. And what H.P. Wescott wants, H.P Wescott gets.

At the Watertown Gazette, where the motto is Don't Offend the Advertisers, Wescott Real Estate and Development Corp. is a major advertiser. In a small place like Santimoke County, H.P. Wescott is a 900 pound gorilla, as in where does a 900 pound gorilla sit? Anywhere he wants to, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

So, there I was, on the hottest day of the summer, standing beside Chesapeake Bay, dressed in basic black and dark sunglasses, doing my best to be invisible, lurking in the background beneath some scraggly old willow trees wishing I were somewhere else, anywhere else.

H.P. must have been calling in his chips everywhere, I thought, looking around and taking notes. It must have taken some intense maneuvering to get this bunch to come to the Eastern Shore on a day like this.

I scanned the skies for some sign of clouds, but they were blue and empty; we were in the midst of a long summer drought.

There were some well-known faces here, slowly burning red in the blazing August sun. I spotted our governor checking his watch and looking impatient. Our congressperson alternately played with her pearls and her beeper, doubtless annoyed that her hair helmet was melting in the heat. Annapolis was represented in force. I noted the Speaker of the House of Delegates of the Maryland General Assembly, a Good Ole Boy from up the Shore, mopping his forehead with a handkerchief. The Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources glared at me in concert with the State's Attorney General. I had the feeling they disliked the media even more than they despised each other.

And of course, all of the Daughters of Santimoke Lineage were here; when a Wescott dies, they troop the colors. A fluttering flock of blue- haired old ladies more interested in studying the old Wescott tombstones than the services for the more recently departed.

But I knew I wasn't going to escape unscathed when I saw Jason.

State Delegate Jason Hemlock, looking absurdly handsome and absurdly cool, glanced once at me, then quickly fixed his attention firmly on the casket. After that quick, stabbing recognition, I preferred not look at him again. Too much baggage, you understand, even though almost a year had passed since we'd parted company under less than amicable circumstances, to say the least.

Idly, I picked out several other prominent types, both political and social, some of them breathtakingly famous. None of them looked like they were thrilled to be here, even to pay their respects to the son of the man who owned a good chunk of the state and regional action. In fact, I doubted if many of them even knew Sam, who had left the Eastern Shore a more than decade ago, to, as they say, pursue other interests. Like being a boat bum in the Caribbean and the Keys and staying the hell away from the Eastern Shore and his family and the whole worlds of trouble he'd caused from Cape Charles to Harve de Grace and all points in between.

Sam's had not been a useful life, all things considered.

Having made my findings on who was there, I tucked my notebook into my bag and focused on the enormous mahogany coffin about to be lowered into the open grave. The Wescotts were one of the few old families left in Santimoke County who could afford to maintain their own private cemetery on the ancestral estate. It had a better waterfront vista than anything I'd ever be able to afford. From this lovely point on Mandrake Creek, you could look across Chesapeake Bay all the way to the Western Shore. If Sam and I had stayed married, eventually I too could have been buried here among the historically prominent dead. Postmortem waterfront is not a good reason to stay married.

See, on the Eastern Shore, there are three types of Society with an up S. There's old blood and old money, old blood and no money, and then there are the ten- cent millionaires, whom everyone deplores. Their money is welcome; everyone just wishes they'd stay home in Washington or Philadelphia or wherever. The Wescotts are old blood and old money and all the new money H.P. has spent his life accumulating, which is considerable.

Me? I'm neither blood nor money. Look back far enough to the family of Hollis Ball and all you'll see is generation after generation of dirt poor but church honest watermen from Beddoe's Island. When I married Sam Wescott, it was the m‚salliance from hell, according to both sets of parents.

Well, Sam was dead now. The obituary that had been faxed into the paper from Dreedle's Funeral Home said he'd been back in Santimoke County for thirty- six hours when his propane galley stove had exploded, blowing him and a hundred thousand dollars worth of sailboat very high and quite wide.

The investigating cops I'd spoken to this morning said you could hear the explosion all the way into the next county. What was left, and I understood it wasn't much, was being lowered into the ground in that mahogany and brass coffin. But I heard that the watermen were still bringing up bits and pieces of boat and Sam from all over Mandrake Creek. I preferred not to contemplate the improvement in the crabbing in that body of water.

Sam had gone out in a blaze of glory, and there were no wet eyes here.

I was not surprised that the VIP's were not exactly prostrate with grief. They were here to pay honor to H.P.

God help them, if they weren't. Lack of respect for H.P. could be fatal. Care must be taken, attention should be paid where H.P. Wescott's ego was concerned.

But it was the Wescotts--my former in-laws--who interested me. None of them seemed to be grieving Sam's unfortunate demise, either. And so soon after the Prodigal Son had returned, too!

I wasn't terribly surprised. For all of his charm, Sam had left a trail of careless damage everywhere he went. And someone else had always cleaned up the mess. Usually it was his father, wielding his battalion of lawyers, his flotilla of influential friends and his fat checkbook. It's amazing how much damage can be smoothed out with money. It's always in style, it's always the correct size and the right color and it soothes and silences and placates like nothing else. Himself sat there with his arms crossed looking like Big Daddy's evil twin in a bus and truck tour of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, without so much as a tear marring his once handsome face. He had not aged well. Still, the aura of power clung to him like an expensive cologne.

And it made him look virile, even though he must have been about seventy. He was tall and bulky, with sharp blue eyes beneath bristling brows, eyes that took in everything, missed nothing, like an old hawk. Truth to tell, I'd always been slightly afraid of him. Unlike most people, I'd always done my best never to let it show. I could even feel a grudging amount of sympathy for the Old Man, for his having lost his only son. Not that Sam had been much of a son.

All that remained was H.P.'s daughter Claire.

Draped in expensive black, Sam's sister twisted her good Republican pearls and lifted her sunglasses so that I could see the displeasure snapping in her eyes as the service droned on. If she'd been paying attention to the service instead of counting the house, she never would have noticed my humble presence.

Now, Claire is a woman who gives new depth to the word bitch. Butter would freeze in her mouth. Money and social position are her twin obsessions, and oh, how she enjoys being a large fish in the Eastern Shore's small social pond. Her face, so much like Sam's, turned up with depressing regularity on the social page of the Gazette. The Daughters of Historical Santimoke, of the American Revolution, the Confederacy, Blitis, it mattered not as long as it was Social; Country Clubs, Yacht Clubs, Garden Clubs, the Junior League; they were her natural habitat. She was a leading light in the Daughters of Santimoke, a group dedicated to worshipping their ancient connections to blackbirders, criminals and Tories, the founders of this county. Historical ( read: Hysterical) Societies, Preservations, Heritages were all hers. Something known nebulously as The Arts (but God forbid, not any artists, so undependable and unpredictable and likely to be unimpressed by her mighty position) knew her all too well as a one woman steamrolling committee. The Historical Arts Preservation Benefit Ball for Distressed and Genteel Interior Designers at the Santimoke County Yacht Club was hers to kill, but Habitat for Humanity or Eastern Shore Fuel Fund or Head Start would have gone into shock if she'd as much as peeled a dollar out of her Gucci wallet for them.

If you guessed that I cannot stand my former sister-in-law, you get 25 points. The feeling is mutual, fear not.

Unfortunately for both of us, her passion for publicity brought us into more contact than either one of us really wanted. God help the Gazette if every single event she graced with her presence failed to show up in our pages, with photo, written up in fawning terms worthy of a ball at Versailles.
$19.95
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Format: 
Spirit of Earth
Spirt Series, Vol. 1

By Arline Chase

The story is fiction, but the volcano was real. Psychic, Jill Abercrombie's family consider her stone mad. They're so intent that she mustn't embarrass them at their "musical evening" they ignore the corpse in the garden. The new scullery maid understands that Jillian only has "the sight" Her brother, Jon, is so intent on his affair with a notorious actress that he pays little attention to solving the crime that may, or may not, be linked to a number of serial killings in the city.

ISBN 1-59431-158-3 Mystery Romantic Suspense Paranormal

Cover Art by Maggie Dix



Prologue

Death of a Showgirl

July 14, 1901

“It’s not the champagne!” Showgirl Eliza Hammond whirled around and danced down the street, while her escort hurried after her. “I’m alive with power and getting higher by the day. I’ve got ’em right where I want ’em, hon, and I’m gonna be sooooo rich! Not a thing they can do but pay me off, either. From now on, I’m going to have fun. And never a worry ahead.”

“Champagne, my foot!” The gentleman with her wore a Derby hat, a gray suit, and a pearl stickpin in his cravat. He leaned down and gave her a squeeze. “You’d better be careful who you’re messing with, girl! Rich folks got their own ways o’ doing things. If you take my advice, you’ll back off.”

Eliza giggled, looked up at him and laughed. “Not on your life, Willie. I know a fancy gentleman who’ll pay and pay good, to keep me from telling what-all I know. Count on it, hon. That money’s in the bank!”

He pulled her close and kissed her, so that she barely felt the knife that slid up under her breast bone and into her heart. Eliza gasped and fell forward, unable to breathe, her weight dragging at his arm, her face an agony of confusion before it went slack.

The man dropped her in the gutter and pulled out a monogrammed silk handkerchief to wipe a drop or two of blood off his hands. Then he dropped the scrap and walked away, without a backward glance.

Behind him, a figure knelt beside the body, felt for a pulse, then picked up the handkerchief and followed.





Chapter One

A Premonition of Evil

Mid-August, 1901

Jillian Abercrombie stared across the morning room at her older brother, Jack, who whistled as he poured almost-cold coffee at the sideboard. Their parents’ newly purchased home on Eutaw Place was much larger than the old one, and boasted a ballroom upstairs, a music room with pocket doors that opened from the drawing room, a billiard room that did the same, and a two-story cast iron and glass conservatory at the back. With a big smile, Jonathan Abercrombie III came and sat at the table.

Jon, she mentally corrected herself. He hated to be called “Jack” —their father’s idea of a joke. Jill could see why everyone commented on their resemblance, for she and her brother had the same broad brow, straight nose, deep-set eyes, and brown hair, though Jill’s eyes were darker and her hair was tawny and streaked with gold highlights. But Jon’s chin was square and strong, though his cheeks were dimpled, a feature he shared with their father. Jill’s own chin was pointed, and gave her a heart-shaped face. Even so, people often asked if they were twins on first acquaintance. Jack was nearly six years her senior, though at twenty-three he didn’t look all that much older.

Mamá hadn’t come down that morning. Their lawyer father had already left and Jon had been very late to rise. But Jill had waited at the table, refusing to let the staff clear away the breakfast things. Her brother was a second-year law student at Temple, or would be when he returned in the fall. Jill shook off a feeling of dread that attached itself to Jack and school, and tried not to think about the young actress who was keeping him out nights. She had heard her brother come in at four in the morning. Again.

“You won’t forget the dinner party on Saturday, will you, Jack? Promise me. You have to be here. ”

Jon smiled and took a seat. “I’ll be here for dinner, Jilly. I promised, didn’t I?”

“Yes...” Jill blinked. “But you’ve hardly spared a thought for anything but Miss Desmond since that dreadful night at the theater a few weeks ago...” Jill got up and poured herself more coffee that she didn’t want. Acid rose in the back of her throat. “You do remember that Papá has invited the Bucklands and their son. And he’s having a musical open house, after dinner. Half the city will be dropping by for that. The Bucklands will stay, too, of course.”

“Good Lord. That could go on half the night.”

“Exactly.”

“Dinner, yes.” Jon rubbed a hand over his eyes. “The whole evening? I can’t promise...”

“Jack! You have to.” Jill knew Papá had been thinking of nothing but young John Buckland, Jr. for weeks. “I can’t face seeing Sonny Buckland again by myself. Papá keeps trying to set up social engagements between us, because there’s a big deal cooking between Buckland Shipping and the B&O. Papá wants to be sure Buckland won’t try to back out of it later. Jack, I don’t want to marry anyone just to help Papá cement a business deal. Anyway, I can’t marry— not with my illness…”

“However ill you are, my being here won’t stop Papá, Jilly. You know that.”

Ill? Crazy as a loon is more like it. Jill heard her brother’s thoughts as clearly as if he had spoken aloud. She blinked back tears and tried to pretend she didn’t hear the voice in her head that screamed in French that her brother was right. Her father would do as he wished and she had no way to stop him. Non. Non. Non!

“Jack, I’m not crazy! I’m just—not like other people.” Jill got up and paced around the table. “Do you think I want to be this way? When I was a child, everyone pretended I was playing games. But the older I get, the harder it is to pretend nothing is happening. I’ll soon be eighteen. Papá wants me safely married and off his hands before my behavior becomes too much of an embarrassment to him. I don’t expect any more from him. But do you have any idea how uncomfortable it is to know that you think I’m ‘crazy as a loon?’”

“I never said that, Jill.”

“You thought it!” Jill took a shaky breath. “And I heard you.”

“That’s impossible! No one can read another person’s thoughts.” Jon bit into a piece of cold toast, ignoring the red-haired scullery maid who peeked from the hall to see if it was safe to clear the table. “Papá’s right. It’s time you got yourself under control.”

“If I could control it, don’t you think I would? Miss Desmond likes you, Jack, but you’re not the only man in her life. She’s told you about the other men she sees. You don’t like that, not at all. She’s rehearsing right now for a revival of Mazeppa at the Holiday, and it worries you that she’ll be appearing all but naked on the stage.”

“She’ll be wearing tights— pink ones—that cover her whole body. She won’t be naked”

“Pink tights and a long, long wig, but whatever she wears, people will think she’s naked. Other men will think she’s naked and you can’t bear it, Jack!” Jill shouted.

Jon swallowed and turned his head away. Jill barely heard him when he mumbled, “How can you know that?”

“Because I do hear your thoughts, whether you believe it or not.”

“Impossible. You’re just guessing.”

Jill covered her face with both hands. “Something is going to happen Saturday. Something bad. I don’t know what it is, but it will be awful! Please stay home, at least for that one night.”

“How did you know I had a date—?” Jon’s face went red, then white. “Jillian, please do me the favor of not mentioning my friendship with Miss Desmond to Papá.”

“You’re worried that he’d be angry?” Jill raised her chin. “You’re probably right. Papá wouldn’t like it. But Miss Desmond was never much interested in him, I can tell you.”

“How can you say that? You don’t know her, so there’s no way you could possibly know whom she’s interested in, either now or in the past.”

“Heloise told me,” Jill whispered the name of the Frenchwoman who most often spoke inside her head. There were other voices, but Heloise had always been with her.

“For god’s sake, Jillian. There is no Heloise! She’s a figment of your imagination!” Jon threw down his napkin and got to his feet. “Oh, all right. If it’s that important to you, you can count on me. Desmond will just have to understand—at least I hope to god she will.”

Jill gave him a brief good-bye smile. “Don’t forget your raincoat.”

“Raincoat? It’s a beautiful day.”

“It’s going to storm all afternoon. Heloise said so.”

Jon rolled his eyes and left.

Figment of your imagination, ma chou? Silly boy! Heloise whispered inside Jill’s head. Let him get wet, then. He deserves a soaking.

* * *

Police Commissioner Harry Burke spent little time in the expensively appointed office provided for him at City Hall, but today he had a meeting with a precinct captain from a quarter of the city that was best known for the creativity of its vice.

Hauptmuller, the captain, was late and Burke glanced through the newspapers. The Flag had again questioned his ability to deliver public safety in the city, pointing out a rise in the number of murders in the past year. The mayor would be on his back about that, he supposed. Well, maybe not. The mayor didn’t plan to run again.

When the captain was finally shown in, Burke didn’t take to him. He looked like a cartoon of a Prussian officer. He wore a full dress uniform with his brass buttons shining and his mutton chop whiskers framed a wide florid face. Burke shook his hand, got him seated, then asked, “What can I do for you?”

“Well, sir, we’ve got trouble in my district. There’s been a nasty murder done and I’m not sure what to do about it.”

“Find the bastard, get him tried and hung.” Burke glared at him. “What else would you do with a murderer? And do it before the honest citizens in your district start talking to the press.”

“It’s not that simple, Commissioner. There are no clues, no leads and—” Hauptmuller leaned forward. “The victim was Marietta Harkness—one of Nellie Russell’s girls.”

Burke knew that Russell ran a house in Hauptmuller’s district. She served what was often referred to as “rough trade.” Though he’d never been near the place himself. Burke had nothing against sex, but his own inclinations ran more to a willing lass and a glass, than to whips and pain.

“Customer went too far, huh?”

“It didn’t happen at the house. She was found stabbed two streets away, in an alley.”

“Oh, to be sure. You have the madam’s word on that, am I right?”

Hauptmuller stiffened. “Miss Russell has never lied to me. But it was the way the woman died that worries me. She’d been tortured, Commissioner. Deliberately, and for quite some time, before she died.”

Burke listened and tried to keep his face blank, while Hauptmuller recited the sick details. When the captain had finished, Burke asked, “Any idea who did it?”

“No I haven’t. And neither does Miss Russell. But she wasn’t the first. A girl was knifed back in July over in another precinct. I’m afraid it may be the same man.”

“If it wasn’t your precinct, what business is it of yours?”

“The girl used to work for Miss Russell, before she joined the chorus in a burlesque house. All the whores…”

“Spit it out, man.”

“There’s talk among them and they’re all afraid. I think we may have a man who kills repeatedly. If he moved around, from one precinct to another, there’d be no reason for us to connect the crimes, Commissioner.” He sighed. “But the women who work the streets, and the women who run the houses, they mostly know each other, and they talk. Ask yourself, sir, how often someone like Miss Russell would come to me for help.”

“You do have a point. All right, I’ll look into it, Hauptmuller.”

The captain looked unconvinced as he got to his feet. “I was asked to come, and I have come. But to be frank, even if it’s true, I doubt there is much we can do. Nobody cares about women like that.”

“I’ll do what I can. Put out an alert, ask that all stabbing cases anywhere in the city be referred to me.” Burke gave the heavy man a narrow-eyed look. “In the meantime, keep your mouth shut. This is just the kind of thing Fitzgibbons would love to turn into a crusade in his damned newspaper. He’s after my job as it is.”
$16.95
158-p
Format: 
Music: Steve Music Mystery Series, Vol. 1
Music Mystery Series, Vol. 1

by C. M. Albrecht

Detective Steve Music is a disillusioned cop with problems. Shelly Lambert is a woman who lost her son to a predator eight years ago. Continuing to suffer from grief and feelings of guilt, Shelly works with a coalition that helps locate missing childresn. When eleven-year old Jerry Beakey goes missing, Shelly and Steve join forces in their search for Jerry. That is, until Steve begins to unravel lies about Shelly's past, lies that rip them apart. Now, each separately continues to search for Jerry, but Shelly and steve have to overcome their own demons if they hope to find Jerry—and catch a murderer.

ISBN 978-1-59431-621-0 Mystery/Suspense

Cover Art by Shelley Rodgerson



Chapter 1

The place was just a storefront between a wig store and a real estate office in a neglected strip mall on Florin Road. Shelly Lambert shaded her eyes in the percolating heat of the parking lot and squinted at the cloth banner stretching across the inside of the show window:

MISSING AND EXPLOITED CHILDREN COALITION

The sign shimmered and danced in the heat and, like shards of broken glass, bits and pieces of stabbing pain flashed brightly into Shelly's inner eye. Cubby. Police.

It all crashed back down on her. Her husband yelling at her. Scenes. Bitter fights. Despair. And flashes of her indecision, anger and defiance-but mostly flashes of her grief and pain, her constant suffering; the panic that even now welled up without warning and engulfed her in helpless anguish.

It had been eight long years, yet to Shelly it was only yesterday. If Cubby were alive today, he would be a nineteen-year old, fresh out of high school, driving a car…Shelly caught herself and shook her head. She took a deep breath and closed the door to her car.

Inside the store the temperature was as hot as the parking lot outside, maybe hotter. Electric fans blew molten air around the dozen busy volunteers who worked at long folding tables piled with documents and ringing telephones. The volunteers wore name tags pinned to their chests.

Most of the workers only had electric typewriters, but one table held a fax machine and a computer. Both looked outdated. A police scanner next to the computer sputtered and crackled at intervals.

The dusty suffocating air smelled of stale powder and perfume with an undertone of burgers and fried chicken. The walls of the former store had been plastered with hundreds of notes, sketches and photographs, mostly photographs of children. Although the staff was almost exclusively composed of women, Shelly noted that there were no plants or flowers, nor had there been any attempt at all to make the place look homey. That did not surprise her; she knew the feeling.

A slender middle-aged woman approached Shelly. Her hair was dark, threaded with strands of white. Behind designer glasses the woman's eyes crinkled with kindness.

"Hi, could I help you?" Her voice was surprisingly booming and echoed through the room above the hollow murmur of other voices.

Shelly extended a well-groomed hand and introduced herself. "I was looking for Mrs. Bloss…"

The woman gripped Shelly's hand, "Irene. Just call me Irene. Well, as I told you on the phone, Shelly, we can never get enough help." She tossed her head and chuckled. "If you come back tomorrow, I'll say, welcome aboard!" She paused and slowly appraised Shelly's trim figure, dark straight bob and intelligent gray eyes. She did not miss the diamond solitaire on Shelly's right ring finger or her clothing. "That outfit didn't come from Wal-Mart," she observed.

Shelly laughed disarmingly. She made a deprecating gesture. "I'm a careful shopper."

Irene Bloss introduced Shelly around to the other volunteers. Their ages ranged from seventeen or so to over sixty. They all wore dedicated and harassed expressions on their faces. Their dedication displayed itself in their body language as well.

There was only one man in the room, a thin bespectacled fellow in his late fifties. Later Shelly would learn that he had lost a grandson the year before.

Phones rang intermittently. Voices, some soft, some shrill, chattered and echoed against the bare walls.

A table bore a small sign that read:

SE HABLA ESPAÑOL.

From behind the table a slab-sided young woman rose to her feet.

"I'm Vera Rosaria." She smiled warmly, showing her strong white teeth. She squeezed Shelly's hand. "The things that go on--you just wouldn't believe. I could tell you about Thailand--"

"Oh, I believe you, all right," Shelly said. "I believe. That's why I'm here." But inside she quaked. Maybe it had been a big mistake to come here after all. Part of her wanted to turn around and get away from here, run right now, run away from the heat, the dust, the chattering women--she wanted to crawl back into her shell where she belonged. But before Shelly could formulate a plan, an excuse, Irene Bloss had hustled her into the back room that served as a snack room and storage area for the volunteers.

Cardboard file boxes covered one wall, stacked together in jumbled piles. Suspended from the ceiling, a fan slowly stirred the hot air.

"Sometimes it overwhelms me. It overwhelms all of us," Irene said. She smiled. "Expect that. Like poor Vera there. Just don't get her started." Irene poured coffee. "Sorry, we haven't got the money so far to get the air conditioning fixed."

The two women sat down at a 50's dinette table. A pink box, still half full of doughnuts, sat on the table.

"Okay, so tell me, what made you decide to become a volunteer, Shelly? I mean, forgive me for being so blunt, but you'd be surprised how many volunteers come in here all gung ho only to disappear after a day or two, people who just can't deal with the pain and depression this place brings with it...or the work."

Shelly shrugged, faintly hurt that Irene had struck so close to home. Then she stiffened. No, not hurt. She was angry. What does she think I am, some sort of society girl out slumming?

"I think I can stick it out," she said, making a decision. "I've been thinking about volunteering for some time, actually." She bit her lip and looked closely at Irene. "You probably wouldn't remember, but eight years ago my son--" Her voice caught and she had to stop for a moment. She regained control of the wash of emotion that nearly overcame her, and then went on as it came suddenly gushing out. "My little boy was playing just outside our apartment. I mean--I was right there. I hardly took my eye off him for a minute. And suddenly he was just--gone." The tears she had held back abruptly filled her eyes and she dabbed at them with a handkerchief. "He was gone," she finished, "just like that. Gone…"

Irene Bloss's expression had changed, softened. She reached across the table and patted Shelly's free hand. "Of course--Lambert. I should've connected the name." She remained silent for a moment, and then said, "They found him…"

"Yes, they found him--what was left of his little body." The glass shards of memory stabbed into her mind again. Brief, violent glittering flashes. Shelly took a sip of her coffee and winced at its bitterness. She leaned forward. "Well, we had to go back to square one. We not only lost our baby; we lost our marriage. I don't know. Things just began to build up. Resentments. We began to blame each other. My husband always acted as if the whole thing was my fault. That I was somehow solely responsible. In fact for a long long time, I did believe it was all my fault. I even had to go into analysis. It's been eight years now. The pain…I began to think I'd never recover. I guess I won't really, but I suddenly realized that I can't help Cubby or myself, or anyone else by spending the rest of my life in mourning." She sighed. "In the end the marriage broke up. It didn't really break up; it just died. Maybe it would've happened anyway.

"I tried going back to school. That helped. I'm a paralegal now. That's what I do. I--well, finally, after all this time I got tired of feeling sorry for myself and decided to do something. I know nothing I can do will ever bring Cubby back, but I thought maybe I could do something…I thought it might give me a chance to sort of redeem myself…"

Irene patted her hand. "I don't think you have to redeem yourself, Shelly, but there certainly is something you can do. You can do a lot.

"Everyone in here has lost a loved one, including me, but I'm tired of telling my story. I'll tell you about it some other time." She leaned back. "Personally, I believe this is the best kind of therapy in the world, my dear. You're right about one thing. We can't bring back our loved ones, and we really don't bring back but a fraction of the people who go missing. But at least by being here we can show people that somebody cares--that they're not alone, that someone shares their pain and suffering.

"You know--" she went on, "--sometimes I think the scariest thing of all is having that feeling that nobody cares. Most people don't really pay attention to those pictures on milk cartons and flyers. I know that. I know that in the public mind, it's not--"

One of the women, a dark eighteen-year old with the name tag, LaVonna, stuck her head through the door.

"We just got the word on another missing child," she announced, "and not far from here, either."

Irene Bloss frowned and stood up. She went into the front and came back a moment later.

"This could make an interesting start for you, Shelly. Come on. Let's get out there. You can get a first-hand look at what goes on when something like this happens."

They got into Irene's cranberry Pontiac. The searing heat inside the car closed in on them.

"When did this happen," Shelly yelled over the whine of the air-conditioning fan.

"The report just came in. We may get there before the police." Irene smiled, casting a sidelong glance at Shelly. "It wouldn't be the first time."

Shelly's eyes widened. "How on earth do you do that?" But even as she spoke, her mind flashed to the police scanner she had seen back in the office.

Irene's smile revealed her satisfaction.

"Our spies are everywhere. The police have always been slow getting started on these things, but they're getting better. I understand their problem. The old story: too few police and too much crime to handle." She shrugged. "Besides, in a case like this, it's hard for them to drop everything when, nine times out of ten, the child just stopped to visit a friend on the way home from school or something." She drove in silence for a moment, then took a breath and started talking again.

"A few years ago, a girl disappeared while she was washing the family car. Right here in Sacramento. Her mother came out to call her in for dinner and there was the wet car, the bucket of water, the soapy sponge on the ground--but no daughter. Well that definitely looked serious and everybody swung into action: us, the FBI--everybody. And then a couple of days later we found out the girl had run off with her boy friend. Dropped her sponge and hopped in his car with him. Just like that." Irene Bloss sighed, braking for a traffic light. "No wonder the police are cautious.

"But for every case like that, how many abductions are the real thing? So to me the important thing is, if that girl had been abducted, somebody was doing something about it. The first few hours can be so critical. Memories are fresh. Witnesses are still around. If we can get a good description of the abductor--or his car--we're halfway home, because most sex offenders aren't new to the game. They're already known to the police. We don't often get that lucky…"

"But offenders have to be registered now, don't they?"

"Sure, they're supposed to be."

The car was much cooler now and Shelly leaned forward and enjoyed the frosty air that blew across her face. Irene turned down the air conditioning fan so that she might lower her voice.

"Anyway, that's where we come in. We try to get out to the scene as quickly as possible and gather what information we can. And get pictures of the missing subject. That way, while the police are trying to decide whether this is a legitimate kidnapping or just a runaway, we start getting the message out."

"But if it does turn out to be a false alarm?"

Irene smiled. "We start the wheels rolling anyway, Shelly. Sure, we just spin them sometimes, lots of times in fact, but that one time when it counts--" her eyes darkened, "--that one time, Shelly, we could make the difference between life and death."
$16.95
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Format: 
Ghost from the Shadows
by Elizabeth Egan-Cox

Shannon Delaney Series, Vol. 2

Talented publicity writer Shannon Delaney rebounds from a failed romance and takes refuge in an assignment at 1920's-era Magic Manor Dinner Theater on California's Catalina Island, Avalon resort. Assured of quiet surroundings as the only lodger at the renovation-in-process Magic Manor, Shannon soon discovers she is not alone! Portentous events, haunting clues and spectral visitations draw Shannon into separate, yet interwoven, mysteries: The hunt for nineteenth-century pirate treasure, and a decade-old tragic death that reeks of dark intentions.

Avalon, fabled as Hollywood's getaway, is ideal as A Ghost From the Shadows location and for Shannon's continuing adventures as she builds her career and strengthens her intuitive powers to speak to the past. Returning characters include: Alex Blackthorne, Aunt Dora, Francisco Zavala, Zach Zavala and Shannon's personal spirit guide: Eric Blackthorne, master magician from the 1800's.

ISBN 987-1-59431-722-4 Romance / Paranormal / Mystery / Suspense

Cover Art Shelley Rodgerson

Chapter One

The taxi pulled up to 2892 Sunrise Drive. I got out, paid the fare and turned to face what would be my temporary home for the next few weeks. Standing on the sidewalk in front of the bungalow with its wide porch and heavy broad beam supported by massive square columns at both ends I was in awe of its size. Somehow, the word bungalow had brought to mind a cottage-size home and what I was looking at was a manor house. I gazed at expansive front steps flanked by river stone buttresses and immediately fell in love with the MacArdle Bungalow.

My eyes pored over the craftsman exterior of dark teal green wood siding and golden tan trim. Leaded windows divided into small triangular panes lent an unexpected European flare. The second story was every bit as impressive as the first, practically a piggyback mirror image of the ground floor, except for the steeply pitched roof. The builders weren't stingy with the windows on the second floor; they were as plentiful and as beautiful as the main story. At the very top of the red tile roof my eyes latched onto a glint of sparkling metal. Could it be? I stepped back about four feet to the curb to get a better look. Yes, indeed, it was a weather vane, slowly rotating in the island breeze. I laughed to myself. Zach told me the MacArdle family is of Scottish ancestry. But really--the last thing I expected on Santa Catalina Island was to find a house with a weather vane that was unmistakably a whimsical interpretation of the beloved water horse, none other than Nessie the mythological Loch Ness Monster. Unable to contain my amusement, I giggled out loud.

"Good to hear you laugh, again."

That voice shattered my enchantment! "What are you doing here?" I demanded. I held my head high and stepped up on to the front porch. I stopped within arm's reach and stood perfectly composed, arms at my side. I glared at Alex Blackthorne.

"I'm surprised you didn't see me, it's not as if I was hiding from you. Shannon, I was standing right here the whole time. I saw you exit the cab and stand in awe examining the home. It's a great bungalow, I guess you just didn't notice me," Alex said with an awkward smile.

I wasn't deterred, "You have not answered my question?" I did not smile. Alex stepped back a little. I could tell I had caught him off guard.

"Uh, the owner, Shelly MacArdle, well actually she is Mrs. Tabor, but for this house, she uses her maiden name. Anyway, she asked that I stop by and take a look at the layout, ah, inside that is. She wants my opinion about how to set up the place for the dinner theater she and her husband Roy are turning it into," Alex explained. He gave me such a sincere look, I was almost taken in. He stepped in front of me and pushed open the front door and then stepped back and gestured for me to enter first. "Shall we?"

I stepped over the threshold and instantly forgot about Alex, thankfully! The front door opened directly into the living room: a massive room that took up the entire width of the front of the house. I guessed it to be about twenty-four feet wide by sixteen feet deep. The ceiling was ample too, at least ten feet high. Light shimmered in from eight large sash windows, two from the front on each side of the door and three along each side. I stood in the center of the living room and studied the pencil-sketched floor plan that the owner had mailed to me. Across the expanse of the living room and directly facing the front door, a double doorway wide cased opening led into a dining room on the left and a hall on the right that divided the house down the center.

I started my tour with the dining room. I guessed the dining room to be a little more than half the square footage of the living room. Through a pocket door at the back left corner of the dining room was a large country style kitchen that would be easy to convert for commercial food preparation. On the other side of the kitchen was an open doorway that emptied into a short hallway that made a right angle and met up with the front hall. From each end of the hall there was access to the stairs up to the second story. My notes indicated there's a full bathroom, four bedrooms, and a small nursery up there. I gave a cursory look up the broad wooden staircase and then continued on the main floor following the hall to the other rooms. A large bathroom, a den and a small room, what would have been a sewing room in the era the bungalow was built, comprised the rest of the main floor. Returning to the center of the living room I turned around and looked at Alex, who had quietly followed me as I explored the MacArdle Bungalow.

"Alex, what do you know about this house?"

He looked at me with a sense of relief; evidently the anger had left my voice. "Shelly inherited the place from her grandfather, it was his father who built it, I think that was about 1924. The MacArdles are members of a Scottish clan that migrated to America in or about 1900. Angus MacArdle, the builder of this house, made his money in theatre promotions, vaudeville and that kind of thing. His son Graham, Shelly's grandfather, was the first MacArdle born in America. Very proud the family is of that fact, anyway he, meaning Angus, not Graham, came west to vacation here in Avalon and enjoyed it so much that he built this summer home. Most of the time Angus MacArdle and his family stayed in New York."

I nodded, "Thanks. I know that Zach has the entire history, but it's good to get some preliminary information about whom I'll be working for."

Alex smiled. "Any time that I can be of help. Just call," he fidgeted a bit. I stood there and let him. "Guess I'll be on my way, for now. How about you?"

I peeked at my wristwatch and nonchalantly replied, "Oh, Zach should be here any minute. Don't let me keep you." I stepped over to the door and opened it for Alex.

Was I surprised!

"Come here you tall dark and handsome fellow," I said with great fondness as I knelt down to give my favorite Irish Wolfhound a big hug. "Atlas, I've missed you so very much," I cooed.

"Atlas missed you, too," Alex interjected. "When you arrived, he was sleeping under that bougainvillea tree over in the side yard. Ever since we got back from Hawaii, he's been lethargic."

I looked up at Alex. "It was seasickness that had him down. Remember Alex? I l know, I was there. Having a dog on a yacht rolling about on the open sea is not a good idea," I couldn't help reminding him that I was right on this issue and I wasn't budging.

"Yeah, I admit you were right." Alex stepped around us, out the front and onto the porch. When he reached the bottom of the steps, he turned and whistled for Atlas. Atlas ignored the whistle and gave me a big sloppy kiss on my nose. Alex whistled a second time and Atlas obeyed. Wagging his tail he turned and followed the voice of his master. I closed the door and went upstairs to settle into my guest bedroom.
$16.95
722
Format: 
Where Roses Bloom: Mike Wolfe Series, Vol. 2
Mike Wolfe Series, Vol. 2

by Carroll M. Jones

In this sequel to Murder on Margin, Mike Wolf takes on his first murder investigation as a private detective, one that leads him and Tracy into a puzzling mystery of cold case arson, blackmail, the underground pornography industry, and multiple murders. It proves that Mike's old friend George's advice of "in a murder case, one is seldom who or what they say they are, when all else fails, follow the money."

Where Roses Bloom will have you on your toes trying to guess what will happen next?

ISBN 1-59431-694-9 Mystery / Romance

Cover Art: Shelley Rodgerson



CHAPTER 1

Boston, MA

Monday

June 10, 1985

9:30 p.m.

Buddy and Jessie, were drinking beer while watching the sports review of Sunday's game. The Lakers had snatched victory in the last few minutes of the game with the Celtics, 111 to 100, and the National Championship.

Behind them a young girl, nude, tied up and gagged, laying on a broken down couch, moaned as she regained consciousness, then began crying through the cloth stuffed in her mouth and kicking her legs helplessly.

"Shut up, bitch!" Buddy yelled at her. "Wait 'til Eddie gets back to take some more pictures. We still got some more shots to do, you know, if you want to make it big time in this business you got to start cooperating a little. Oh, that's right. You didn't want to, did you?"

"He will be back in an hour or so, babe. Let me finish this beer and we'll start rehearsing, maybe both of us at the same time. Don't that sound like fun? I'll know you're going to like it." Jessie said, looking at her soft white breast, then down the rest of her trim body, marked now with bruises beginning to darken. "Eddie will powder all those up, and you'll look re-e-e-al go-o-o-o-od."

"What's keeping him," Buddy asked. "I thought we had it all set. Ray said it was."

"It's a long drive, clear across the Pike. Besides, he just wants to make sure it all goes off together. That's the way he planned it. The best investigator in the whole world couldn't tell the difference."

Buddy gurgled out a drunken laugh. "He's pissed about the mirror part, broke that thing in a million pieces."

Jessie smiled a crooked grin. "I told you he's not the only smart one. We got him on film now, just in case he decides to cut us out."

"You think we'll really get a lot of-- "

"The girl had loosened the gag enough to scream, and she did so at the top of her lungs.

"Damn it!" Jessie said, as he whirled around and hit her across the forehead with his beer bottle.

"Now see what you've done!" Buddy yelled. "You've knocked her out and made her bleed again. Eddie's going to be mad when he sees that."

"I don't care. He's out burning everything up and left us here with her."

The girl slowly regained consciousness and began again to cry softly.

"I think instead of knocking her out again I might just knock her up. Ha. What would Eddie think about that?" Jessie said, and threw his empty against the broken mirror.

Both were beyond their limit with the beers, but Jessie could still stand. He did so, turned and began striping off what clothes he still had on. She could only moan as he ripped the bindings from her ankles

Buddy watched long enough to finish his own beer then joined him, taking the empty bottle with him. The girl's eyes, red, swollen, and wide with fear, closed tightly as he approached.

An hour later both men were sprawled out on the floor, completely wasted, and the girl, still nude left un-shackled, lay watching them until they began to snore.

Ten minutes later she was stumbling barefoot through tangled bushes and dodging trees, afraid to take the road leading back to town for fear Eddie would discover her on his return. All she had to protect her from the biting cold was a small throw they used for a backdrop, but it was enough. She would have run using nothing if she had been forced to.

A long half hour later she stumbled through a thick hedge way onto a county road and fell helplessly to the ground. A local farmer, returning home late from a prayer meeting found her and rushed her to a hospital.
$16.95
694-p
Format: 
Evidence: Steve Music Series, Vol. 2
Steve Music Mystery Series, Vol.2

by C. M. Albrecht

Detective Steve Music is back and boy are we glad. Dr. Haddon Dainsbury's bedroom is saturated in blood and his wife is missing. Detectives Steve Music and Kanietha Gerta are sure that Mrs. Dainsbury's body is missing because DNA evidence on "or in"her body will name her killer, but ... If they hope to catch this killer, they'll have to rethink everything they thought they knew about the collection and interpretation of evidence.

ISBN 978-1-59431-727-4 Mystery/Suspense

Cover Art by Shelley Rodgerson



Chapter 1

At ten o’clock at night a rusty black pickup edged to the curb before a stately white Colonial house. Earlier, on that bright fall morning, Artis Browne had targeted the property. There was only one car in the driveway, a shiny black Lincoln Navigator.

No wife kissing the man good-bye, no dog trying to get out as he opened the front door. Artis watched the man lock the door and pull a suitcase that bounced down the steps behind him. He wheeled the suitcase over to the driveway and loaded it into the rear of the Navigator. The man got into the driver’s side and Artis watched while the man fumbled around for a moment. He started the engine and the Navigator moved smoothly out of the driveway and headed south toward Folsom.

Artis slapped his hand on the steering wheel. He licked his lips and smiled broadly. This was going to be easy. Well, maybe—if, like so many people, the homeowner did not bother to set his alarm.

Now, in the moonless night, two dark figures descended from the pickup and headed up the leaf strewn driveway toward the rear of the house.

The only illumination at the rear fell in a yellow ring from a small coach light above the back door. A cricket’s chirp stopped abruptly as the two young men came to a halt just outside the ring of light. The men stood looking up, listening.

Artis, taller and thinner, flexed sinewy fingers on the screwdriver he carried in his right hand. He nodded to his buddy, Leon Curtis. With Leon close at his heels, Artis moved up the five steps to the door.

“Why didn’t we just back up here in the first place?” Leon whispered.

Artis sighed, speaking slowly and distinctly, as if talking to an idiot child: “Because if there’s somebody in the house, Leon, they might hear the fucking engine.” Artis pulled his lips into his mouth, moistening them. “Get ready now,” he cautioned. He shifted his grip on the screwdriver.

With their dark skins and clothing, the men had been nearly invisible until they mounted the five steps and stepped into the pool of light by the back door. They might have been brothers.

Leon shot a nervous glance into the shadows around him. He sniffed. “Smells like a graveyard.” He moved closer to Artis.

“How would you know?” Artis said. He peered through the window set in the door, but it was too dark inside to see clearly. He tested the doorknob. Both the men glanced nervously about again and Artis wedged the screwdriver into the jamb. The door ceded to the screwdriver with barely a whimper.

Immediately the men took off, racing around the corner of the home and down the driveway. By the time they reached the pickup, sweat popped from their skin despite the coolness of the evening. Their faces shone in the weak light that fell from the street light half a block away.

They hopped into the vehicle and Artis deftly inserted the key into the ignition. Then they waited, listening.

“When you going to get that nasty white tailgate painted?” Leon asked.

“Maybe tonight’s the night, my man,” Artis said. “I’ll get the whole fucking truck painted. Maybe purple with racing stripes.” He stared into space for a moment. “Yeah…green racing stripes.” He smiled.

After a moment of silence, Leon said, “I don’t hear anything.” He sniffed. “Man, smells worse than a locker room in here.”

“Yeah, well you half deaf anyways,” Artis told him, ignoring the remark about the smell of the truck’s interior. “We’ll wait ten minutes.”

“I ain’t deaf,” Leon protested without conviction. “I hear just fine.” Then in a more contemptuous tone, “Hah, half the time these rich people don’t set their alarms anyway.”

“I’m the one told you that,” Artis reminded him.

Leon’s eyes shown white in the darkness. “Oh yeah,” he said. He fell silent for a moment, then: “Are you sure about this, Artis? I never did anything like this before.”

“I have,” Artis boasted. “I just never told you about it before. That’s how these mothers get caught; they go around bragging about what they did. You got to learn to keep your mouth shut.”

“Oh—no you didn’t,” Leon said. “You didn’t tell me about that.” He glanced through his window at the house. It looked much like most of the homes on this street, big and luxurious. He noted how the house sat well back on the beautifully manicured lawn, the drive curving gracefully around toward the garage at the right rear of the house. “Looks like there’s a light on upstairs there,” he said, noticing the pale light that illuminated one of the upstairs windows.

“That’s just a night light,” Artis said in exasperation. “It was on when we drove up here.”

Leon nodded and looked back at Artis. “Oh,” he said. As he glanced back at Artis, Leon just missed the faint passage of a shadow across the softly lighted upstairs window.

After a moment Leon moved his shoulders. “What are we looking for, exactly?”

Artis arched his eyebrows at Leon. “Whatever, man. Jewelry, DVD player, silver shit. Just small shit. Money would be nice.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Leon murmured. “And bling bling…or a laptop. Everybody wants laptops.”

Artis screwed up his face. Had the man been carrying a laptop? “Yeah, maybe. Maybe he left a laptop up in there.”

“And DVDs, CDs,” Leon said.

Artis threw Leon a contemptuous look. “Man…that shit don’t bring nothing.”

“Maybe not,” Leon conceded. “But we could use them.” He sat silent for a moment and then brightened. “You really think you going to hump Alvin’s sister?”

“Shit yes,” Artis told him. “I already been through all that with you. I told you: Anybody be dumb enough to pay her, she’d be a ho’. You know that. I can hump that girl anytime the urge hits me.”

“She’s not a ho’,” Leon said. “Least I don’t think so. I mean…man, she’s talking about going to college next year and she goes to church regular as clockwork.”

“Going to church, that don’t mean nothin’. Lots of ho’s go to church. That don’t mean nothin’…” Artis studied his Geneva watch closely.” He sighed. “All right. It must be about ten minutes. Let’s go, man.”

Artis shifted into reverse and slowly backed the truck around and up the driveway toward the garage. He braked near the back door.

“Nobody hardly can see us from the street,” he murmured. Leon nodded, and they descended from the truck with small flashlights in their hands. They closed the doors quietly.

“Don’t forget the bag,” Artis instructed.

Leon fumbled around behind the seat and brought up a large canvas bag. He rolled it up and stuffed it under his jacket.

On the back porch again, Artis gently pushed the door open. He briefly flashed a light about a mudroom. The flashlight’s pale beam touched on a utility sink; a chair and a small table with a couple of gardening tools. Yellow rain jackets on hooks at the side. He passed that and tried the actual back door. It too was locked. But this time Artis did not waste time. He popped the door quickly. Inside the kitchen, he hesitated for one beat.

“Okay,” he breathed. He shoved the screwdriver down into his belt beneath his jacket and moved forward with Leon at his heels.

“Wow,” Leon whispered as his eyes roved over a large stainless restaurant type range that stood against the left wall, and a stainless built-in refrigerator that took up another large space nearby. He stared in admiration at the granite island with a sink in the center of the room, and above that, pots and pans that gleamed in the jumping beam of his flashlight.

“Man, could my mama cook up some shit in this kitchen,” Leon whispered.

“Well,” Artis grumbled, “your mama ain’t fixing to cook nothing up in here tonight. Come on.”

Leon snickered.

Artis moved forward through a small pantry filled with shelves of foodstuffs and on into a dining room. Beneath a heavy crystal chandelier, a long table gleamed in the darkness. Chairs surrounded the table and to one side a wide hunt board held vases and a silver tea service.

“See if they’s any silverware or something in those drawers,” Artis commanded.

While Artis continued into the central hall, Leon dutifully pulled out drawers and smiled widely at the sight of heavy silverware laid out in dark felt compartments.

“Yeah, we got us some shit here,” he breathed, smiling broadly. Suddenly he jerked and hurried out into the hall. He touched Artis’ arm. “Artis. You hear something?”

Artis froze, listening. He turned back to Leon. “Don’t you go getting antsy on me, man.”

Leon sighed and grinned. “We got some silver in there,” he said, “but—”

“Keep it down, stupid” he admonished, “or you’ll be hearing something from me. Maybe we’ll pick up some of that silver shit on the way back.”
$16.95
727-p
Format: 
Cheating Death: Lindsey Gale Series, Vol. 1 -p
by Judy Reveal

Lindsey Gale Series, Vol. 1

Just as recently divorced Lindsey Gale begins to bring balance into her personal life, she discovers that her new role as publisher of the Greensboro Press is anything but stable. Lindsey is asked to investigate the death of a friend who had been staying at The Writers’ Bloc, a writers’ retreat located on Maryland’s rustic Eastern Shore. Lindsey reluctantly takes on the assignment and soon finds herself face to face with the retreat’s reclusive owner and noted author, Odious Clay. With the help of Conrad Trent, her managing editor and closest confidant, she digs into the background of the retreat, Odious Clay and the eclectic group of residents and attendees and soon finds herself facing a publisher’s greatest nightmare –– plagiarism peppered with a dash of murder.

ISBN 978-1594315923 Mystery / Suspense

Dedication

To my father, Gordon Reveal, for introducing me to reading.

Chapter 1

Miss Caroline Tinker--Miss Carrie to the town of Greensboro--lay back on the sofa, her hair damp with perspiration; her breathing shallow. The summer was proving to be hotter than normal, with no relief in sight.

Miss Carrie wiped the sweat off of her forehead with a moist lace handkerchief. She turned toward the open window and listened. The air was heavy and still, when a breeze suddenly wafted through the tops of the cedar trees that surrounded the old farm house.

The shuffling noise of the air moving through the leaves had an oddly calming affect on her. And yet, her mind seemed to be grasping for some memory that she could not bring forward. The sound of the car driving away from the house; the crackling of tires on dry gravel, these drew her attention back to the present for a moment.

Getting old is hell, she thought. So many people wandering through my house, bringing me food that tastes terrible; pretending to clean my house, while they really only want to snoop. And all of them complainers in their own way. She turned and looked out the window toward the cottage at the back of her property. Except for Conrad, of course. She smiled at the thought of Conrad Trent, her tenant.

Conrad Trent kept to himself. Middle-aged, openly gay, he had arrived several years before to help run the local newspaper with his friend Lindsey Gale. Conrad had moved into the small cottage behind the main house with his partner, Marshall, and they were very open about their relationship from the beginning. Miss Carrie liked their honesty. Conrad lost his partner to death not long after they moved in, and he remained alone except for his friendship with Lindsey. Miss Carrie liked them both.

She strained to see if Conrad's car was parked in the driveway. Her vision had become blurred. She picked up her glasses and placed them on her face, but they didn't seem to help. She saw no movement from the cottage; heard no sounds to indicate that Conrad was there. She had hoped he might be able to take her to see Dr. O'Shaughnessy, but perhaps this weakness would fade shortly.

Her mind returned to its nagging search through decades and decades of her history, trying to grasp at a fleeting thought. There was a familiarity of some unnamed memory, but what, exactly, was it? The sound of the leaves rustling high above the house floated through the open window.

It was when she finally let her mind wander and stopped picking at it that the picture arose across the mist of time. She turned away from the window and scanned the parlor. The picture of the face raced through her memory. She could see it as clear as if it were yesterday. Where are those pictures? She asked herself. She slowly rose and shuffled out of the parlor and down the hall toward the door that had not been opened in over sixty years. She reached into her apron pocket and removed a set of keys. Fumbling, she found an old skeleton key and placed it in the lock. The sound of metal grating against metal, rust against rust, sent a shiver up her spine. She struggled with the key until she heard the snap of the lock turning. She nudged the door open and peeked around the corner.

Dust swirled up from the carpet as fresh air blew into the room, disturbing recollections that had been laid to rest years ago. Miss Carrie slipped past the door, barely opening it. She stepped lightly across the carpet until she arrived at the far end of the room. Several sheets of yellowed music sat on the old piano as if they expected to be read and played once again. She fingered the sheet music, moving one page at a time. In the middle of the stack she found an old picture. She lifted it and tucked it in her apron pocket; turned and shuffled out of the room, relocking the door, wishing not to disturb the memories any further.

She returned to the parlor and her place on the sofa before she removed the picture from her pocket. "Of course. I should have seen it before this." She ran her hand across the picture and removed the dust. "I remember that day as if it were yesterday."

Her breathing became shallow once again. She was unable to lift her legs onto the sofa. The sound of the cottage door opening caught her attention and as she turned to call out of the window, her voice failed. She tried to rise from the sofa--she needed to get to Conrad, to tell him what had happened. But she could not move her legs, and it was becoming difficult to move her arms. The picture fell out of her hand and onto the floor.

She heard the quiet rapping at the back door and knew that Conrad was coming to check on her. She tried to call to him, but again, no sound. She turned and looked out the window. The quiet breeze slipped through the window and caught the picture, lifting it slightly and carrying it across the room to where it blew under a chair at the far side of the room. Miss Carrie lay back on the sofa and closed her eyes. The last thing she heard was the wind rustling through the top of the cedar trees.
$16.95
593-p
Format: 
Crimson Need
by Andy Nunez

An eerie, hair-raising story of everyday people who become both the prey and preditor. Handsome young men were dying in the dark alleyways, expressions of bliss on their faces. Old women, prostitutes, and policemen, all were disappearing in a reign of terror, blood drained from their bodies. The problem was, they wouldn't stay dead. Police Sergeant Junior Gale was caught up in a web of deceit and destruction as two powerful forces battled in the dark streets and sewers of his city. Who was the mysterious High One unleashing a wave of undead creatures in a small town, where bored adulteresses and powerful businessmen mixed with evangelical revivalists and the dregs of society? Junior Gale had an eclectic mix of allies, but any one of them could be the High One, or the next victim. No place was secure from the evil that pervaded the city at night, not homes, not prisons, not even churches! Love, lust, revenge and murder mix in this tale of vampires and victims, all to satisfy the High One's Crimson Need.

ISBN 978-1-59431-360-8 Horror / Suspense / Vampires

Prologue

IT BEGINS--THE PROPHETESS

Darkness had completely enveloped Mary Copeland's house. She carefully removed her powder blue suit and pillbox hat with veil. Her prayer meeting had been long and exhausting. Next, she took off her white ruffled blouse. It was stained with sweat and would need cleaning. "Mom Mary", as she was better known to her fellow church members, was a devout woman whose main excitement at the age of sixty-seven was the joy she experienced from her relationship with God. She put on her night clothes, then sat in her favorite easy chair to read the Bible in order to relax before going to bed.

She opened the window a bit because it was getting stuffy in the oncoming summer weather. Then she opened her leather-bound Bible to find a comforting passage. As she did, a chill ran through her, emanating from the open window. Her gauzy curtains rustled like restless snakes, and the pages of her Bible fluttered, causing her to struggle to hold them down. The lights flickered, then went out for a few heartbeats before coming back on. Mom Mary shut the window with a nervous quickness, then went back to her Bible. She found it turned to the Book of Daniel, Seventh Chapter, Seventh Verse: "After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and broke in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it."

Fear sent its chilling probes into her soul. She looked up to God, pulse throbbing.

"The Beast is coming!" She wailed. "Dreadful and terrible! Help us Lord!"

From somewhere in the dark thickness of the woods came the howl of an animal. It was not the mournful howl of a dog, but the heralding call of a hungry predator, its stomach empty, warning its competition. Mom Mary hurriedly checked all the doors and windows to make sure they were secure, then turned out the lights and went to bed.

Sleep eluded her. She filled the scary voids between nightmares of stalking, red-eyed creatures by praying to God. The Beast was coming.



CHAPTER 1

Police Sergeant Junior Gale hadn't puked in a long time, and certainly not since he had gotten this position after his stint as a deputy sheriff over in neighboring Somerset County, Maryland. There, Junior had been a big fish in a little pond, and when he helped break the Miguel Ramirez case, dubbed the "Migrant Mutilator" by media hacks, he had also garnered enough notice to land a cushier berth in Salisbury's larger, more efficient force.

Salisbury wasn't a bad place in Junior's opinion. It was growing rapidly, but still kept its small-town charm. Recently, it had earned its nickname: Hub of Delmarva. Salisbury was a crossroads for all traffic, commercial, recreational, and criminal. Luckily for Junior, though, criminal had, until now, not caught up with those other sorts, and big-city ills seldom plagued Salisburians.

Murder of course, was becoming more familiar. Crimes of passion, they were usually called by a still unsophisticated local media. A man found his wife in the arms of another, etc.--this was the usual case of murder on "the good old Eastern Shore."

Dawn turned Salisbury's cloudy sky ashen, shot through with orange and white streaks. Occasional drizzle pelted Junior's windshield, just enough to make him use his wipers and have them annoy him with their squeaking. Added to the strobe effects of his warning lights, the situation was giving him a colossal headache.

Garbage men had discovered a body in an alley behind the medical center on Riverside. Evidently it had been there a couple of hours, and Junior had been instructed to coordinate with the medical examiner upon his arrival at the scene. An ambulance had also been dispatched. He arrived to find all the pieces in place: an orange-striped white ambulance with another damn blinking light, and the M.E.'s car nearby, a beat-up 1980's Chevy with oil dripping through worn-out gaskets.

Junior got out, slipped his nightstick into its loop and snatched up his Stetson. He paused to check its rakish angle in his side mirror, then sauntered past the other vehicles and into the alley. It was a narrow passage, sided not only by the medical center, but several abandoned waterfront warehouses that were home to colonies of rats, mice, and seagulls, not to mention their predators. Junior had been here before, rousting out drunks and crack-heads.

The alley was still dim and shadow-draped, except for one pool of glaring white light projecting from a hand lantern held by an assistant to the medical examiner. The M.E., Amos Gantry, knelt like a votary within that pool. Beyond him, partially hidden by Gantry's ample body, was the corpse. From Junior's vantage, it looked like a twisted wad of cloth.

Amos Gantry half-turned. He was drawing the familiar chalk line around his discovery.

"Kinda reminds me of one of those sorcerers when they draw chalk figures and circles to call up devils and demons and such," Junior said.

Amos grunted, but his jowly face didn't change. He had grizzled hair that matched his metallic eyes, flat and shiny. He shoved his chalk into a wide coat pocket and wobbled to his feet. His gangling assistant continued to bathe the corpse with light.

"Well, what do we have here?" Junior asked.

"Take a real good look before I explain, so you'll be sure and believe me."

Junior stood beside Amos with hands on his wide hips and stared at the corpse. It was a man, that was for sure, and somebody that looked like he could handle himself in a fight. Junior wished he was in so good a shape. Junior didn't see any obvious marks on the corpse, and he didn't see any blood or torn clothes. Harsh lighting gave the body an even paler bleaching, so that its flesh looked paper white. The man had been handsome in a rugged sort of way, with short, curly black hair over wide olive-tinted eyes. His expression was what got to Junior the most. The man's face seemed permanently set with joy.

Junior shook his head. "What can you tell me?"

"He's been dead for about three hours, and he was killed right here by the car." Amos gestured at a black'99 Dodge Prowler about twenty feet away.

"Nice set of wheels," Junior said. "Way out of my budget."

He went over and glanced inside the car, admiring its many options.

Junior turned back to Amos. "This doesn't make sense. It can't be robbery. Nobody would mug somebody and leave a car like this lying around."

"His wallet is intact," Amos said. "This is a Mister Ian Carter. Lives in a nice condo by the park."

"That limits the jealous husband theory. If he had a condo, he probably would have taken care of business there, or would have been caught at his lover's bedchamber and killed there. Cause of death?" Junior looked around again.

"Loss of blood," Amos said.

"I don't see any. You said he was killed here?"

"Oh, he died here, all right. His footprints are perfect from his car to here. I found a set of footprints coming from that warehouse to meet him. I think they might be a woman's, but I'm not sure."

"Leave that stuff for forensics. I'll get their report later. You explain to me how he could die of loss of blood and there not be any on him, or any wound that I can see."

"Wound's on his neck. Look here."

Amos stooped over the corpse and indicated its pale throat with a stubby forefinger. Junior could see two tiny slits, as if somebody had made two incisions only an eighth of an inch long with a razor blade. Junior removed his Stetson, smoothed back his uneven blonde hair and put his hat back in place.
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Murderous Roots
By Virginia Winters

Canadian doctor and amateur genealogist Anne McPhail finds a murdered woman on the floor of the library in Culver's Mill's, a small town in Vermont. Jennifer Smith, the dead librarian was a gifted genealogical researcher who had been collecting information about her clients, and using it to blackmail them. She had extorted money from all kinds of people: local wealthy families; Russian criminals, and quiet, unassuming grandmothers. Anne takes a dangerous journey, retracing Jennifer’s steps through the small-town family histories find the murderer amongst her victims.

978-1-59431-839-9 Suspense/Mystery



Chapter 1

The phone she held beat an erratic tattoo on her thigh. She steadied it, and breathed. Blood thickened where it oozed from the body's nose and out onto the carpet. The pale blue eyes stared into the spreading pool. A long navy skirt covered the body's legs to just above a pair of black flats. Anne knelt beside it, pushing back her own jacket to keep it out of the blood. The hand was cold and the only pulse she could feel was her own.

The skull was crushed in just above the right ear. She ran her fingers over the sharp indentation. How she hated trauma. Nausea threatened to overwhelm her and she sat for a moment, before making the call. The receiver of a telephone dangled from the desk. Best not to touch that, she thought.

Outside, she pushed 911 on her cell. "Operator, please send the police to the Culver's Mills Public Library. A death."

She went back inside and sat on one of those thick pale oak chairs that are supplied to libraries. The large clock on the wall ticked on - five minutes, fifteen, twenty. Perhaps she hadn't reached the right operator. Perhaps the police had to come from Burlington. She put the phone in her purse and leaned back against the wall and breathed and thought about why she had come here.

Three days ago she had slammed the trunk of her new Honda and taken a last look round her house. The cat was looked after. Eloise, her nearest neighbor on the lake and dear friend had promised faithfully to drop in and talk to Albert, her Siamese, as well as to feed him. The young woman who had come to take over her practice had fit in well with her staff (not an easy task) and was interested in the kind of patients she had. She was calling this retirement to the world, but she wasn't sure how long she would last without the daily rewards of medical practice.

She was tired. Her husband, Michael, had died 2 years ago. They had no children and she hoped carrying on in the routine of life would help her with her grief. It hadn't. Looking after so many children with behavioral and emotional problems took more than she had to give. She realized that she was only crawling through her days.

So she was through. Photography, painting, writing, and most recently, genealogy were interests she turned to. Her own doctor had encouraged her to take a long leave, try a different life-style. She had no money worries. She and her husband had both inherited wealth, in her case quite unexpectedly from a heretofore-unknown great aunt. That discovery had sparked her interest in genealogy and brought her to sitting on this chair, staring at a body. How long had it been? She checked her watch - 20 minutes.

Enough, she thought, as she stood up and walked to the door intending to call again. A police car stopped at the curb and a young man ran up the steps of the library, pushed open the main door, and stopped as he reached her at the entrance to the adult section.

"Hello," she said.

"Who are you?" he demanded.

"Dr. Anne McPhail."

"Could I see some identification, please?" Anne handed him her passport and Canadian driver's license.

"What are you doing here?"

"Genealogy research," she answered, knowing that he likely didn't understand.

"What?"

"I am looking for my roots, constable."

"Deputy Graham, ma'am.

"Deputy", she acknowledged.

"Could you just stay here?" He walked to the corpse without waiting for an answer.

"Was this exactly as she was? You didn't touch anything?" he asked.

"Nothing."

"I'll have to see your purse and search your car, ma'am."

"That's fine." He could search her car and her purse all he wanted, she thought, as long as he didn't want to search her. Her dark blue jeans and casual yellow shirt didn't leave room to conceal any sort of weapon. She hoped he wouldn't insist that she be searched. At least he wouldn't do that himself. Or so she hoped. The deputy found only the usual assortment her purse contained: car keys, old Master-Card receipts, too many coins, and a lipstick.

More waiting and then came the arrival of several more men, some wearing Sheriff's Office jackets. Crime scene crew, she supposed. A stocky man, dressed in wrinkled khaki pants and a red plaid jacket hurried in. A medical bag proclaimed his profession.

"Hello, Adam. What do you have for me?" the doctor said to one of the men in plain clothes.

Adam moved aside and showed the medical examiner the body on the carpet. The examination was brief but thorough. The real work would be done at the autopsy. The ME turned the head gently to reveal the deep depression in the skull that she had seen before. Odd, Anne thought, no real breaks in the skin. She shuddered again, imagining the blood and macerated brain that must lie just below the skin and broken bone.

"What do you think the weapon was, doc?" the detective asked.

"Heavy and smooth, other than that, I'll tell you after the autopsy. Didn't you say a doctor found the body? Where is he?"

"She." Adam turned towards Anne who stood up and put out a hand to the medical examiner.

"Anne McPhail, Doctor."

"Donald Roase." He shook her hand. "Any thoughts?"

"None whatever," she said. "I'm a pediatrician. I don't do much trauma, day to day."

The doctor nodded as the stretcher arrived for the body. "I'll let you know."

Adam turned to her. "Dr. McPhail, I'm Lieutenant Davidson." Medium height, tanned, thin, dark eyes, dark hair, straight nose and attractive, but with an edge to it, she thought.

"Hello. Could you tell me, Lieutenant, how much longer you might need me here? I told the deputy what I saw." As usual, Anne's nervousness made her sound curt and a little abrasive. Knowing her face was flushing a brilliant scarlet didn't help either.

"Could you tell me?"

"Sure." With a sigh, she went over it again.

The detective probed a bit. "Did you come here by chance?"

"No. I wrote to the librarian here, a woman called Nancy Webb. She told me that her assistant was very good at archival research and would be available today. The lady's name was Jennifer Smith. She is not by any chance…?"

"Yes she is. You've never been here before; never written to the deceased?"

"Yes, that's right." Anne could hear the anxiety in her own voice. He was asking another question.

"How did you find out about the library and Culver's Mills and the records?"

"Internet. The library is listed as one of the premiere sources for early French and aboriginal research in the Northeast. Ms. Webb's name is on the site. My fourth great grandmother was possibly aboriginal, married to a French Canadian. My third cousin in Elliott Lake found evidence that he had spent time in this area."

She stopped talking as the familiar, to her, glazed look came into the policeman's eyes. Not everyone shared her enthusiasm for the minutiae of family relationships.

"Yes, yes." Adam said impatiently.

Irritated by his tone, she stood up. "Lieutenant, I've had it. I'm tired, and I've been sitting on this hard chair for long enough and I am leaving." She had also had it with hard-eyed policemen.

"Where are you going?

"I'm going to Catherine's Bed and Breakfast where a very kind lady is waiting for me. I told her I'd be there before noon. So, if you will excuse me?"

"Dr. McPhail, don't leave town." Hard to believe but he really said it.

"I still have my research to do, lieutenant." Deliberately she made it left-tenant and got the look of disbelief that she expected.

The yellow tape, familiar from too many cop shows and too many newscasts, surrounded the building entrance. Her Honda was parked in the library parking lot, across from the fire station. She drove off, feeling the stares of the few people attracted by the commotion.

A five-minute drive brought her to a grey clapboard house, set back in a flower-filled front yard surrounded by low privet hedges.

A youngish woman, mid-thirties, with tied-back brown hair and intelligent dark eyes answered her knock. Somewhere inside a dog was barking an exuberant warning.

"Maggie, be quiet," the lady called back over her shoulder. "Hello," she said, opening the screened front door, and taking Anne's suitcase. She took one look at Anne's face and trembling hands, walked her into her large sunny kitchen and prescribed strong tea with sugar.

"I'm Catherine LaPlante," she introduced herself as she put a cup of fragrant hot tea into Anne's shaking hand. "You're Anne McPhail?" Catherine had the kind of thinness that comes from long hours of hard work, but her smile was sunny and her dark eyes welcoming.

"Yes," Anne answered. "Thanks for the tea. I started to get the shakes on the way over here."

"You're welcome. What on earth happened?"

"I found a body at the library. I feel so cold. Usually death doesn't affect me this way."

"I am sure the deaths you usually see aren't violent ones." She poured more tea into Anne's cup. "Who has died?'

"A woman called Jennifer Smith. Someone has murdered her, I think. Did you know her?"

"Oh yes, of course." Catherine was too shocked to go on.

"I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have been so abrupt in telling you."

"No, what else could you do? You're still shaking," Catherine said, as she got up and put a throw around Anne's shoulders.

"How well did you know her?" Anne asked, her gaze moving around the room from the yellow walls and cheerful botanical prints to the dog who watched her intently from her corner under the window.

"Just casually, at the library. I haven't had anything to do with her socially. Do you want to talk about it?"

"Not much. That policeman, Davidson? Is he an intelligent guy? I think he thinks I had something to do with it." Anne shuddered again.

"Don't worry about his intelligence. He's a bright guy and really fair."

"I hope so," Anne's voice slurred a little and her eyelids drooped. Reaction, she supposed.

"Perhaps a nap?"

"Oh, yes." A nap was just what she needed. Odd, how exhausting this all was. The horror of it and her own anxiety, she supposed, as she followed Catherine up the stairs to her room.

She woke from her nap with a startled memory of the woman's body lying still on the library floor. Thoughts of leaving immediately filled her mind. Fleeing across the border. She laughed at herself. She had come all this way to do some research and if they would let her in the library that is exactly what she was going to do.

The smell of fresh coffee led her from her lovely little room to the kitchen where Catherine was baking.

"Feel better?" she asked. "Would you like some coffee?"

"Oh, yes thanks. Much better, and I would love some coffee. Just milk, please."

As she sipped her coffee, she asked Catherine about restaurants in town for lunch and dinner and explained that she hoped she could still do her research.

Catherine directed her to Lil's Diner and suggested that if she liked, she could have dinner with Catherine and her sons.

They agreed on six thirty and Anne left for Lil's and the library. The short walk in the sunshine under the bright blue autumn sky lifted her mood until she saw the steps of the library. Nonetheless, this is why I came here, she told herself. Get on with it.

The main section was still taped off, but the stairs to the reference section seemed to be open. Her first stop was to speak to the librarian at the reference desk. Both the women behind the long counter seemed to be quite calm, in spite of the terrible event downstairs. Quite odd, she thought.I expected the staff to be too upset to work.

However, one of the ladies directed her back into the stacks to some books on local history. She wanted to learn what had been happening in Culver's Mills at the time her ancestor was supposed to have been living there.

Her own ancestor, the French-Canadian fifth great-grandfather was a voyager, a fur-trader and a soldier. He commanded a fort near the border and acted as a liaison between the French and the Indians. But Anne thought he had also spent time here in Vermont and had married here.

She knew that census and church records existed but were scanty for the years she was searching. The librarian had directed her to a tiny old book, the diary of a young French woman who had followed her soldier-husband to the area. She struggled with the archaic French, turning pages slowly, looking for proper names that might be a clue to the people living in Culver's Mills, at that time called Bon Chance.

Many Beauchamp names filled the pages, but in one entry, written in capitals with exclamations was the word scandale. She found the name of a Beauchamp man, Daniel, the word marriage, and what the writer had called a sauvage. The woman must have been baptized because her name was Marie.

However carefully she went over the tightly written pages, she could find no record of LaRonde. I wonder what happened to the Beauchamps, she thought as she closed the little volume and handed it back to the librarian.

After her lunch at Lil's she strolled back to Catherine's. She found her down on her knees in front of a long perennial border.

"Hi, Anne," she called. "I finally had to do something with these. I neglect them, I'm afraid, in favor of the vegetable gardens."

"Oh, let me help," Anne offered and went upstairs to change.

When she came downstairs she found the policeman waiting for her.
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Death on Appeal
Gideon Pomeroy Series, Vol. 2 by Shel Damsky

Attorney Gideon Pomeroy's Adirondack zoning case takes a bad turn when local officials become belligerent, local zoning hearings adopt astonishing procedures, and local judges give new meaning to the word "hostile."

When people start to die, Gideon wonders if he made an unwise decision in coming to what has become a very dangerous place.

ISBN 978-1-59431-841-2 Mystery / Suspense / Legal Thriller



Sample.

Prologue

Gideon Pomeroy finished his packing by putting two bottles of single malt in his suitcase and zipped it closed. This new zoning case up north in a little town called Golconda sounded challenging. The fee was enormous. It would be good working with Frederick Stuart again.

“It sounds pretty interesting,” he said aloud, rubbing the arm crippled by a gunshot during that last zoning case with Frederick Stuart.

“But who knows what can happen.”

* * *

Hubert Kingsley washed his hands again and walked across the office to one of the French windows. He looked out at the sloping lawns of Kingsley Hall and at the dense forest which ringed Golconda.

It was almost deer season, he thought.

He knew what could happen.

Chapter 1

Hubert Kingsley finished washing his hands at the small sink hidden in the corner of his magnificent office “I’m sorry, Aunt Margaret,” he said. “I didn’t hear you.”

“I said that you shouldn’t go getting yourself all upset, Hubert,” she said. “Why, you’re as good as any lawyer anyplace. Probably better. And never forget that you’re a Kingsley.”

“I know, Aunt Margaret,” Hubert Kingsley said. “Except this Gideon Pomeroy is an expert at zoning cases. Smooth as silk, I heard someone say. And he knows every twist and turn of the law.”

He looked over at the small sink.

“I’m just uneasy about all this.”

“You’ll do just fine, Hubert,” his aunt said. She turned and left the room.

Hubert Kingsley lit a cigarette and drew deeply before crushing it out in an ashtray on the large conference table. He went over to the corner of his office to wash his hands. He looked in the mirror over the sink and started to sing to himself, softly.

“Oh, What A Beautiful Morning”
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Royalty statements. All sales data will be compiled and forwarded to Author quarterly, not more than 45 days after the end of the calendar quarter (March 31, June 30, September 30, December 31). All due payment shall take place contemporaneously with the statements.

Please initial _____. No statements will be issued unless a payment is due. (If you don’t hear from the publisher, it usually means you had no sales. Though you may feel free to inquire at the end of any quarter.) The quarterly statements will serve as due notice of earnings unless the yearly total is large enough to require official IRS documentation.

Please be aware that for tax purposes, income taxes are due in the year when you are actually paid, not at the time of sale. Due to the payment practices of the various venues, these may not be the same calendar year.

Please initial _____. Payment of taxes on royalty earnings is the sole responsibility of the Author whether or not a 1099 is issued.

Payments to authors may be made by either physical check or electronic funds transfer through PayPal, but 1099s will always be delivered by US Mail.

Please initial ______. Author understands that royalties will be paid in the quarter after payment is received by the Publisher. If distributors or vendors delay payment to the Publisher, said Publisher is not obligated to pay the royalty on sales until after the funds have been received from the distributor venue, or sales vendor.

Please initial_____. It is the Author’s responsibility to communicate with the Publisher any change in Taxpayer Identification Number, Social Security Number, Postal Mailing Address, telephone number(s), and Electronic Mail address if royalties are paid by Electronic Funds Transfer.

If the Author fails to advise Publisher of any changes in the above that prevents the timely payment of royalties, the Publisher is authorized to hold, without penalty, payment of royalties until updated information is received. If a check sent by regular post is returned by the post office or express delivery service as undeliverable or an Electronic Funds transfer is rejected for an invalid address, the Publisher shall first attempt to contact Author by all existing contact information before unilaterally withholding payment of royalties until the author contacts the publisher. Please Remember: Always to send us your change of address if you move. Even if you fill out a forwarding order, the post office will only forward your mail for six months, after that, they send it back.

VII: Term of contract: Contract shall be in force from the date it is signed by all parties until five years from the actual release date that is printed in the front of the book. The contract will then automatically self-renew until one or both of the parties decides to cancel.

Publisher may, at its discretion, remove the Work from publication or distribution for reasons of poor sales, or any other reason deemed by the Publisher to be injurious to the Publisher’s or Author’s best interests. Publisher shall give due notice to Author of any removal from distribution. If the publisher removes the Work from sale, this contract shall terminate and all rights granted herein shall revert immediately to the Author.

After the first five years, contract may be terminated by either the author or publisher with a 90-day written, certified mail notice or other receipted or traceable delivery service, and all rights granted the publisher will revert to Author at the time of the termination. Upon this termination, Publisher will remove listing of the Work from its web site and all distributor sales venues, and shall advise Books in Print the ISBN and title is no longer in print. (ISBNs are publisher specific and may not be used by any private party.) The exception to this termination of contract is that Publisher may continue to sell existing stock of physical formats (diskettes, CD’s, cassette tapes, print books) but may not create any new physical copies upon depletion of its existing stock.

Should Royalty payments from sales that took place before cancellation come in after a book is withdrawn, the Author shall receive due payment.

IX. PSEUDONYMS

The author’s legal name must appear on the copyright page unless s/he has a “Doing Business As” license registered at their local county courthouse. The Author has the exclusive right to the use of his/her name or pseudonym listed as the author in connection with this Work. Publisher cannot prevent Author from using the same name or pseudonym for any other publisher or for any other book genre.

Publisher will have a nonexclusive right to use Author’s name, likeness and biographical material for the purposes of advertising, web site listings, publishing and promoting the Work itself.

X. OWNERSHIP OF CHARACTERS AND SERIES BOOKS Except as allowed under the sections of this agreement governing promotion of the work, Author owns the characters and controls their use in sequels or series books. Publisher will have a nonexclusive right to use the title, and all material, including characters in the Work, for the purpose of advertising, publishing and promoting the Work.

Please initial_____. If the author writes another Work that is a sequel or in series to the Work covered in this agreement, using an identical theme and/or major characters from the contracted Work, Publisher retains a right of first refusal of the subsequent work. Such subsequent works will not need to be evaluated by the Book Committee, but should be submitted upon completion, ready for publication. Publisher may ask for revisions if necessary. All rights and earnings on subsequent series books shall be subject to the terms of this contract.

Nothing in this agreement shall obligate the Author to submit any additional, unrelated works to Publisher.

XI. Publisher’s Name and Trademark. The Author will not have rights to, or in, any trademark, service mark, trade name or logos used by Publisher, unless expressly permitted to do so in writing. The Author may, with Publisher’s permission, have limited use of Publisher’s marks, symbols or names for use in approved promotional material. Author may use the cover art in his/her promotional materials or on his or her personal web site, and may link his or her personal web site to sales links, etc.

Publisher’s designed and/or copyrighted cover art may not be used by other publishers producing the Work in formats not listed in Section I without permission of Publisher.

XII. PROMOTION AND PROMOTIONAL MATERIALS

Author’s biographical information. Author will provide Publisher with a short (250 words or less) biography and suggested advertising blurb(s) for use on book cover, web site and promotional literature.

An author’s photograph, in either digital (.jpg preferred) or hard copy, is optional. Publisher reserves the right to edit or rewrite blurb(s) as necessary for length or content.

Author’s copies. Publisher will provide the Author will one copy of each format, download or 1 copy of any print proof and .jpg copies in large or small .jpg formats for promotional purposes.

No royalties will be paid on extra promotional copies purchased by authors for promotional purposes. Authors may feel free to distribute copies of the digital books as review copies and to post the covers on personal web sites or social media sites and to attach them to e-mailed press releases. If printable quality images are needed for advertising purposes, authors may request them at any time.

Publisher and Author agree to supply each other with copies of any professional reviews. When feasible, Publisher will promote the Work through its web site, other Internet avenues of promotion, social media, blogs, etc.

Publisher will make every effort to maintain an attractive, updated sales web site and to distribute files though as many web sites and sales channels as feasible. Publisher will not be liable for site downtime or interrupted transmission.

AUTHOR-PUBLISHER INDEMNIFICATION Author shall indemnify, defend and hold harmless Publisher and its owners and affiliates, editors, shareholders, officers, directors, partners, associates, agents and representatives and the Publisher shall indemnity, defend and hold harmless the Author from any and all claims, debts, demands, suits, actions, liens, proceedings and/or prosecutions (“Claims”) based on allegations which, if true, could constitute a breach of any of the foregoing warranties, and any and all liabilities, losses, damages and expenses including, but not limited to, attorney’s fees and court costs. Each party to this Agreement shall give prompt notice to the other party of any Claims. No compromise or settlement of any Claim shall be made or entered into without the prior written approval of the Author and Publisher. If a Claim if filed, Publisher shall have the right to suspend payments otherwise due to Author under the terms of this Agreement as security for Author’s obligations under this section.

XIV. INSOLVENCY OR SALE OF PUBLISHER

Please initial_____. Insolvency: If the Publisher files for protection under the Bankruptcy Laws, all rights delineated in Section I shall immediately revert to the Author. If the bankruptcy filing involves a reorganization and Publisher continues to operate during the reorganization, Author and Publisher may agree in writing to continue this agreement under the same or revised terms.

If the Publisher suspends operations, other than a temporary suspension for technical difficulties such as a loss of Web Server, all rights delineated in Section I shall immediately revert to the Author.

If the Publisher’s operations are ordered suspended by any governmental or police entity, or by Injunction or Restraining Order, all rights shall immediately revert to the author. If the suspension is lifted and operations resume, Author and Publisher may agree in writing to continue this agreement under the same or revised terms.

If the Publisher sells its assets to another publisher who does, or plans to, market and promote books of the type and genre of the Work, the successor publisher will be bound, as a minimum, to the same terms delineated in this agreement. If the successor publisher does not or does not plan to market and promote books of the type and genre of the Work, all rights delineated in Section I shall revert to the Author not more than thirty days after the sale of Publisher.

If, within 6 months of the release of the digital format delineated in Section I, the Publisher has taken no action toward exercising the other rights; (such action may include but not be limited to assigning an ISBN, format/layout preparations, setting an estimated release date, producing or contracting for production of salable paper copies of the Work in that form, the Author may withdraw the print rights by sending a written notice of withdrawal by traceable means. Withdrawal of these rights will not automatically nullify the remainder of the agreement regarding those rights the Publisher has already executed and placed in the stream of commerce.

Reversion of withdrawn rights shall come into effect 90 days after Publisher receives the notice of withdrawal unless satisfactory proof of action execution of those rights is presented to the Author by Publisher.

XV. COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT

Publisher is not obligated to initiate legal proceedings should a Claim arise regarding a third party infringing the Author’s or Publisher’s rights. If such a Claim arises, Author and Publisher may sue either jointly or severally. Publisher shall not be held liable for failing to take action upon a Claim.

XVI. AUDIT ACCOUNTING

Publisher will keep accounts of all receipts and expenditures regarding the Work, and these accounts will be available for Author’s inspection. Author may, on reasonable notice, through his/her designated representative, examine Publisher’s records that relate to the Work. Such examination shall be at the Author’s expense. If any errors are found, publisher shall pay Author any sums due, up to the amount owed Author by Publisher, within thirty (90) days.

XVII. APPLICABLE LAW

The Publisher is a corporation organized under the laws of the State of Maryland. Regardless of the place of its physical execution, all interpretations of the terms of this agreement shall be governed by the laws of the State of Maryland, in the United States of America.

Should there be a lawsuit between Publisher and Author related to the terms of this agreement, the proper venue shall be in Dorchester County, State of Maryland, USA. If it becomes necessary for any lawsuit to be filed in the Federal District Court rather than the primary level Trial Courts of Dorchester County, Maryland, the proper venue for that lawsuit would be the closest Federal District Court in whose jurisdiction Dorchester County falls.

XVIII. RIGHTS

Please initial_____. Under this agreement, both worldwide digital e-book rights and POD print rights are covered by the terms. No second contract is needed to do both.

Nothing in this agreement is intended to conflict in any way with the provisions of any other agreement between the parties. If there is an apparent conflict, it will be negotiated between parties. If no resolution is reached, this agreement shall be null and void.

XIX. Signatures:

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, Author and Publisher have executed this agreement on the day and year below, to be effective immediately if the dates are the same, or on the date of the later signature if the dates are not the same. If either Author or Publisher have electronic signature capabilities and both agree to accept an electronic signature as valid, that electronic signature will be considered of identical weight to a handwritten signature.

Author_____________________________________ Date:_________________ signature

Print Name_____________________________________________________

Pseudonym (if applicable) ______________________________________________

Address ___________________________________________________________

City, State, __________________________________________________

Postal Code, Country________________________ ___________________

Author’s Social Security or Tax Id Number____________________________________

Daytime telephone number _______________________________

Evening telephone number _______________________________

E-mail address: _____________________@____________________________ WRITE WORDS, INC. _____________________________________________ Date:________________ Signature

Print Name: Arline Chase, Publisher, or Shelley Rodgerson Chase, Editor

Corporate Name: Write Words, Inc. 2934 Old Route 50 Cambridge, MD 21613 USA

E-mail address, Arline: arline@mail.com E-mail address, Shelley: raz@bikerider.com

* Ideally, galleys should be returned within three weeks. Ideally all print books should go to press between three and five months BEFORE the official publication date listed in the front, in order for the authors to provide review sources with “advance review copies.”

PLEASE INITIAL_____. The Timely release of your book entirely depends upon your timely return of the galley proofs and correction lists.
1001
Format: 
Hierarchy of Terror
Arbiter Series, Vol 4.

By Matthew Schoonover

Incubus-Detective Gus Pilot is pitted against a demon. Can his vampire friend, Moineau, help him in a battle against evil? In the forth Arbiter, Matthew L. Schoonover again prooves he's master of cross-genre thrills. Mystery, suspense, police-procedural, horror—tale your pick. When the demons of the Third Heirarchy descend on Gus's town, Pilot is determined to put an end to their evil.

ISBN 978-1-59431-826-9 Horror/Mystery/Paranormal/Science Fiction

Cover Art/Maggie Dix.

Prologue

Washing down the gutter between his legs, lapping against his left ankle, was the last of his meager meal for the day, carried on rain water already black with city dirt and grime to the nearest drain.

He looked up. The rain hit his face causing streaks of dirt and grime to etch it like a macabre mask. He opened his mouth and took in some water, gargled and spat it out. He wiped his mouth on the torn remnants of his shirt sleeve and forearm.

The sky rumbled and he looked up again, staring against the rain to see beyond the lights of tenement windows which surrounded him. The sky was black, black as pitch. Black as a void. Black with their rain; gorged, and now disgorging.

Black as he felt his soul must be.

A sound, not unlike the rumble of the sky, came from the alley behind him. He heard ash cans tumble, a dumpster shift against its metal wall, and the squeal of a cat caught suddenly by surprise. He looked down the street both ways. Nothing.

And no one.

He knew his van was nearby and was tempted for one desperate second to flee. But where could he go that he would not be found?

No answer came to mind.

He stood slowly, steadying himself on wobbly legs.

As he pulled his Glock from its holster and turned, the cat--a gray streak in the blacks and grays splashed on the walls by the weak light from nearby windows and the stronger darkness around him--tore from the alley, ignored him, and shot across the street.

He pulled back on the Glock's breech and verified that a round was still in the chamber. Snapping it shut, he faced the alley, arms now down by his side, pistol gripped expertly in his right fist, safety off, finger on the trigger.

"Life or death," he said, surprised by the sound of his own voice. "What the hell. I've had enough of life."

Slowly, he walked into the alley. "Let pain be your guide," he said in a mocking tone. Then laughed. "Lead on, 0 faithful companion."

The sky rumbled again, but still no lightning flashed.

And the alley swallowed him up.

CHAPTER 1

"No pain, no gain, ladies. Keep it moving!"

Danny Rodriguez continued the steps, up and down and up and down, until she thought her legs were going to fall off. Already, she could see the lady to her left, a slightly overweight woman of middle-age with teenage makeup, slowing down. She watched the woman, trying to keep her mind off her own throbbing legs, the muscles protesting with every fiber of movement.

"We're almost there, ladies!"

The Tammy Faye wannabe slowly collapsed to the floor.

No one stopped to help her. Music continued to blare an upbeat, cheerful kind of music from the CD player.

Danny looked around. The wide floor space, bright with overhead lighting and sparkling from a mirror finish, was awash with leotard-clad women of varying shapes and sizes. If she looked beyond the instructor, she could see the whole class in the wall mirrors behind him. There were a couple of others who had slowed but no one was giving up.

She caught Kathy Devereaux smiling at her through gritted teeth. The look in Kathy's sapphire blue eyes was far from sympathetic but, she admitted to herself, Kathy wasn't the sympathetic kind. She was competition oriented, just like Danny herself. But that was where the similarity ended.

Kathy was more the buxom beauty kind. Her tall, lithe frame flowed to the motions of the music and her flaming red hair bounced with a body and exercise all its own. Kathy was swinging sweat and arms with equal vigor, her white, almost alabaster skin showing no blemish or irregularity--not even a damn freckle! After twenty grueling minutes, Kathy's flaming red curls still held their body.

Danny felt as if her own dark tresses were flat and stringy. She knew she was good looking--had been told so many times in the past but had never been able to accept such compliments on their face value (considering the sources). For one thing, she was too short; only five-six, whereas Kathy stood a good six-one. Her dark skin--a strange mulatto combination of her mother's Black heritage and her father's Hispanic origins, gave her a tone that was neutral brown (she'd never have to worry about a tan), and pleasing to any eye.

Her one drawback, Danny told herself, was her tummy. She had a small pooch-belly that she could never get rid of, no matter how hard she tried. Men told her it was perfect; that it was hers and fit her like a hand and a glove, but none of that mattered. To Danny, that was her one flaw in a body men called gorgeous; a body any other woman would have been envious of.

Anyone except Kathy.

From their inseparable teenage years to their companionable college years, Kathy had never stopped reminding her who was the more perfect in stature; who was the most desired of the two. Sometimes, Kathy could become competitive beyond all reason.

Like now.

Kathy wants me to quit, she realized, looking at the redhead's smug face. Anger flared. It was always the same with Kathy. Just because her own father knew Kathy's father, Adrian Devereaux, they had been associated with each other for years. There once was a time when she thought of Kathy as a friend. But that time had passed.

Kathy took great pleasure in considering Danny her rival, ever since college when they roomed together and were known as the salt and pepper team. Kathy loved to compete. Danny knew from experience that Kathy could be as ruthless with beaus as her father was said to be in business. In college, Kathy had once boasted that her goal was to be the female Errol Flynn, a great actress and a great lady with the men. Danny stopped thinking of men as objects d'art around her college years, but she suspected that Kathy never would. Kathy was nothing but a--

She shook her head to clear the thoughts.

Danny concentrated on her breathing, on the beat of the music, on anything and everything except Kathy. She tried to make her mind a blank, but that only brought the pain in her legs and chest to the fore. She looked at the instructor instead. He was a svelte young man with blond curly hair and ocean blue eyes. She tried to think about him. His name was Henri. Henri Something. She shook her head and watched the muscles on his buff frame flow under the tanned skin. Even the thin layer of sweat on his limbs looked good; a thin veneer of moisture, almost a stratum of oil, glistening and rippling. God, she thought, I'm starting to think like one of those women who read Romance Novels.

Still, he was handsome in a Grecian sort of way.
$16.95
826-p
Format: 
No Accounting for Taste: A Nick Schaevers Mystery, Vol.1
by Newton Love

When Nick Schaevers takes the case, his client is already in prison, convicted of murdering a business partner. If ever there was a need for St. Jude--the Patron Saint of desperate situations--to intercede, this was it. To discover who framed his client, Nick must break laws, both statute and spiritual, and wager his life in a dangerous bet before he is through. What's a good Catholic boy doing in the killing business anyhow? Can Nick stay in the business without irreparably staining his soul? In the course of the investigation, Nick meets Wendy Crooks, who may be the soul-mate he had almost given up on meeting. The psychological strain of his life and work circumstances crossed with a new woman causes him to grow but develop new neurosis, too.

ISBN 978-1594318603 Format Paper

Mystery, Thriller, Suspense

Chapter 1

Thursday, 14 April

"Jim said I would probably find you here."

I looked up at the mention of my lawyer's name. A woman blocked the light that tried to enter the bar. She was an eyeful, in her early fifties, five foot four, and petite. Her hair was ash blond streaked with silver. It was no dye job; she was a natural beauty. Her gray eyes had the look of recent weeks of crying. Behind her pain, she looked new to the Blues. The rock on her left ring finger was probably worth more than last year's income.

I stood, and offered my hand. "Nick Schaevers. What can I do for you?"

Her soft hand shook mine. The contrast between the warm palm and ice-cold fingertips told me that she was scared. "My name is Margaret Stapleton."

I tried to pull my hand away but her grip was like a vice.

"I need your help."

I heard panic in her voice. I guided her to the chair across from mine.

She scanned the dim interior from the safety of her seat. Patrick's is a big club; at night it's crowded with everyone getting real cozy. For all of the dark wood and decorations, it lacked the stale smoke smell of an R&B bar. The air was fresh even if the atmosphere was old.

I had come to Patrick's to meditate and self-medicate. I didn't know where to start to tell a priest my personal problems. I wasn't ready for a shrink, but I knew how to drink. I'd kept my appointment with the three wise men: Johnny, Jack, and Jim. They dispensed emotional tonic in ounces or fifths depending on the depths of your troubles.

The fear that flickered across Margaret's face amused me. She didn't need to be afraid in here, but she didn't know that. "It's okay. Patrick's is a nice joint. The food's great, and the bouncers are better. You're safe here. Trust me."

"Jim said that I could."

Little Milton's "Grits Ain't Grocery" started playing over the sound system and Patrick's was again alive with mirth. Margaret appeared to have spent her last ration of bravery to find me in the dark south side bar. I'd have covered bets on whether Margaret's wildest night was her debutante ball.

I suspected my first task was to pry the story out of her. "So, how do you know Jim?"

"He is my husband's lawyer."

Her eyes were wetter than my throat. I eyed my empty glass.

She pulled an embroidered handkerchief from a purse that matched her pumps, and managed to blurt out "Alan's in jail." before descending into barely controlled sobs.

I signaled Bob the bartender. He looked over and twirled two fingers. I nodded. Bob would send over a Jameson's, and a Black Russian. By the time Margaret was quiet, the drinks were on the table.

I put the concoction in front of her. "Here, drink this."

"What is it?"

"A Black Russian. You looked like you could use one."

Margaret took a sip. The ice thawed a little.

I didn't want to rush a timid woman, so I asked a stupid question. "Alan's your husband?"

Margaret nodded from behind her glass.

I looked around the room for a thesaurus. No luck. I'd have to pick my words carefully. Patrick's patrons wouldn't appreciate a wailing woman without a blues band backing her. Maybe the swing-shift group would start playing early tonight. "What was the charge?"

"Murder, but he didn't do it." was all she managed to get out.

"Jim must agree, or he wouldn't have sent you. If Jim believes Alan's innocent then that's good enough for me. He's been my lawyer for years, and my friend for a lot longer."

An ancient wound opened, complete with video quality memories of Mom's blood dripping down a black metal table leg. Now Margaret needed help. I had failed Mom. Maybe she was watching from heaven.

I took the case. "I can't promise you anything, except that I'll try. Nothing's impossible, unless Alan's dead."

"No, he's not dead, but he's in prison." Her lip trembled like a bad Elvis impersonation.

"You need to be brave."

Margaret managed a thin and teary smile. She didn't look stable enough to tell the tale without creating an embarrassing scene. I moved the conversation to a safer subject. "Tell me about Alan: who he is and what he does."

She almost resembled a proud wife on familiar ground. "Alan and I have been married thirty-two years. He owns Bottom Line, a small accounting firm with his partner…He's dead. Alan didn't do it. He couldn't have." The waterworks flowed again.

I put my hand on hers and looked directly into her eyes. "Give me a break. All I know is a few names. We have to get me up to speed. We don't want to waste any time, so let's play a game: you aren't Margaret Stapleton. You're an actress, playing the wife of a wronged man. Can you do that? You're just an actress starring in someone else's drama, okay?"

She appeared to muster her courage behind the liquor. "Okay."

I gave her a place to start. "Who died?"

"Frank Gunston, Alan's partner. They were partners for eighteen years."

"Where did it happen?"

"Las Vegas. The trial was horrible. Everyone in the hotel was laughing and partying. I of course was not in a festive mood."

She was focused on her own emotional ordeal, perhaps too much to answer questions. I sat quietly waiting for the facts.

"Our regular attorney recommended Jim, who found a Nevada firm to perform the courtroom duties. We thought we had a great legal team, but we lost." She was crying again.

Like a Jehovah's Witness at her door, I pressed her button. "How did the murder happen?"

"Frank was suffocated in his hotel room. The police went after my Alan. How could they?"

Sobs like big prairie thunder shook her small frame. I could see that I'd have to talk to Jim to get the details. I changed the subject. "I'll need a list of friends and acquaintances. Get me the invitation lists from your last three parties before Vegas. I also need you to set up a tour of the accounting firm. Can you do that for me?"

"Does this mean that you'll help Alan and me?"

"Yes, I'll help you. I like challenges. If Alan's innocent, we have to get him out of jail. My fee is $150 per hour, plus expenses. You only pay for the hours I work. Okay?"

Talking about money stopped her tears. "Jim said you were expensive, but also that you are the only one likely to free my husband. I will pay you to do that."

"Try to do that, you mean."

Margaret gave a small nod.

You should wring out that wet hankie. "Could you bring the lists to my office tomorrow afternoon around two? I'll have an outline of the investigation and a standard contract for you to sign."

"I don't know if I have the guest lists you want."

"Just do the best you can. I know, make a new guest list for the welcome home party you'll throw for Alan. Be sure to make me a list of who you won't invite."

"Okay, I will meet you at your office at two. Where is it?"

"Fifty Maryland Plaza. It's the building behind the Chase Park Plaza in the Central West End. Could you also check on when we can visit the Bottom Line office?"

"Yes, I will set up an appointment." She started to dig in her purse.

I stopped her. "The first round's always on me."

She thanked me as we stood together. I walked her to the door, and we stepped outside into the April twilight. I waited until her tan Lexus left the parking lot, heading uptown. Returning inside, I signaled Bob. "Put it on my tab, will ya?"

"She must be a client. Way too classy for you."

"She's my mother, and all broke up over me wasting my life in cheap dives. I gotta go."

I pushed through the door into the moist St. Louis air. I heard Bob say "See ya, Nick." as the door closed.

Leaving Patrick's, I climbed into my pearl gray BMW Z-3. I own several cars to tail people and to do stakeouts, with makes and models chosen to blend into selected neighborhoods. The Z-3 is mine. It stands out in any neighborhood. A horrible detective car, but a great single guy car. Some folks love classic roadsters. Not me. I like art from the past, but cars from the present.

Leaving Patrick's I swung right on Jefferson, heading for Jim's law firm in Clayton. I called his office.

"Meecham, McCracken & Bonesteel, Mr. Walkins' office."

"Hi Sally. It's Nick. Is Jim in?"

"Hi Sweetie. I'll put you through."

Mozart's Third Horn Concerto in E-flat played on the line and I vaguely wondered if it was a Dennis Brain recording with the Philharmonia. Just as I began to get with the beat, Jim came on the line, killing the orchestra. That's okay, they were probably in the ground already.

"Hi Nick. Is this about the Stapletons, or a re-match at handball?"

"Hi, Jim. No, no re-match. My elbow is still sore from where you whacked me. It's the Stapleton case; Thanks, I took it. Margaret was too distraught to give me any useful information. When can we get together?"

"Not tonight. I've got daddy duties. You should stop by to see Joanne and the kids." I heard pages turning. "I have nine o'clock free tomorrow."

"Okay, I'll stop by."

After a pause, we ended the call. We never say good-bye to each other. We never started that stuff as twenty-somethings.

I had time to kill, so I took the scenic route home, going east through upscale Clayton neighborhoods that I could afford but didn't want to, crossing into North St. Louis where nobody wanted to live. It looked like a huge plywood bomb had exploded and blown shutters onto every door and window for miles. I passed through the war zone into the new loft district.

On the southern edge, the swing-shift crowd at Schlafley's Brewery and Taproom was already a few beers ahead of me. The TapRoom is in a converted fire house dating from the era when fire-trucks were pulled by horses. The spring daffodils in the center courtyard were visible from the interior of the main room of the tavern. My forebears were Belgian, so my taste buds prefer European styles of ale over the beer that made the city famous. I had one of my TapRoom growlers along for a refill. I grabbed the half gallon re-sealable glass bottle and went inside.

After settling the bill, I left for home a few blocks away. I pulled into the parking lot of the former Levine Hat Factory on Washington and punched the garage entry code into the transmitter. The beacon on the rear of my building blinked green then became solid orange. The entry cameras were tracking the Z-3. If anything else moved the door wouldn't open. As usual, nothing happened, and I drove into my building.

I was back in my lair, where I didn't have to be on good behavior.
$16.95
860-p
Format: 
Remora
By Charles Wilson

The Russian military is trying to perfect a secret system that will make their submarines virtually immune to attack, and secure them control of the world's seas. An American working in Russia as a spy for Israel is trying to uncover the secret. In The U.S.A. an unsuspecting family has developed a product that is capable of solving the one problem preventing the Russians from achieving their goal. russian agents, led by the country's top female operative, Olga Andreyeva, are dispatched to steal the product's formula.

978-1-59431-859-7 Mystery, Thriller, Suspense, Espionage, Submarines

Chapter 1

Tver-Migalovo Airbase

One hundred and sixty kilometers

Northwest of Moscow

All incoming flights had been ordered to stay clear of the base until the big Tupelov-154 passenger airliner left the ground. A pair of Mig-29 fighter escorts had already taken off.

Now, its jet engines whining, the 154 lunged forward. Passing between mounds of snow piled off to the sides of the long runway, it rapidly gained momentum.

Inside the craft, the pilot, a colonel with over thirty years experience in the Russian Air Force, watched the air speed indicator. While the Tupelov-154 series had originally been copied from the Boeing-747 design, he knew the 154's were able to take flight much sooner than the American version, if a shorter runway dictated a quicker takeoff. He had already passed the point where he could have taken off, but he continued to wait.

Still watching the air speed indicator, he allowed the airliner's momentum to increase until it had reached an absolutely safe level for lift off, then turned his eyes back toward the wide windshield in front of him. With fine particles of wind-driven snow whipping through the air ahead of the plane and the end of the runway now only a few hundred meters away and rapidly growing closer, he pulled back on the yoke, and the big, swept-wing craft lifted smoothly off the ground.

The co-pilot nodded his satisfaction at how even the takeoff had been in the face of the strong crosswinds sweeping the runway. The colonel felt pleased, too. The dignitaries in the passenger cabin were accustomed to being treated gently.

In seconds, the plane passed through the heavy cloud cover hanging over the base and emerged into bright sunshine.

On the ground, the security forces standing in front of the hanger where the airliner had been housed, began to relax. Russian soldiers dressed in long overcoats and helmets and carrying Kalashnikov rifles slung over their shoulders, mingled with Israelis clad in dark trench coats and carrying Uzis at their sides. Two of the British MI-5 agents struck up a conversation with the lone representative from the American Embassy. Only the Jordanian intelligence detail remained aloof. Dressed in heavy ankle length robes and headdresses, they stayed in a group off to themselves, quiet and hardly moving as fine flakes of falling snow drifted slowly down across them.

At a faint, echo-like boom coming from above, everyone's faces jerked toward the clouds.

***

In the air, the sound that had been heard on the ground had been magnified a thousand times within the confines of the Tupelov-154. The cloud of acrid smoke that had instantly filled the passenger cabin was as quickly gone, sucked out through a jagged, massive hole in a side of the airliner. The two Israeli embassy members sitting near the middle of the cabin had ducked at the sound of the explosion. Now they stared over the seats in front of them at the gaping opening, only a few feet away. In the forward cabin, the startled co-pilot looked back over his shoulder. The colonel sat unmoving, in shock, the controls in his hands suddenly useless. The first scream came from a Jordanian political aide sitting near the rear of the airliner.

The bomb had done its work in two ways. Expertly placed, it had taken out the flight control system. That alone doomed the airliner. But the explosion had also done enough structural damage to start a deadly domino effect on the fuselage.

The buckled panels surrounding the jagged hole having lost their aerodynamic configuration, they peeled back and were torn off by the intense velocity of the jet's slip stream. The next nearest panels, weakened by the explosion and having lost the support of adjacent panels, also ripped loose. An empty seat, torn free from the floor by the explosion, added its destructive force to that of the slip stream, smashing into the crumpling frame of the fuselage and careening out into empty space. Panel by panel, in a rapidly accelerating fashion, the plane was disintegrating in midair.

Inside the passenger section, the terrified Jordanian aide clung to his seat's armrests and stared in wide-eyed, open-mouthed horror as he watched the two Israelis slide sideways seats and all out through the side of the airliner into the bright sunlight beyond the opening.

Now, with the big craft rotating out of control toward its side, the aide felt his seat lurch, lean over and begin to accelerate toward the swiftly widening gap. Before he reached it, the plane buckled, the nose and the tail of the craft angling down at the same time as the center of the cabin rose. The floor fell away beneath him and, still strapped into his seat, he was sucked down below the plane.

***

On the ground below, a small, army vehicle, a UAZ 469, similar in appearance to a Chrysler Jeep Renegade, sat on the snow-covered shoulder of a road outside the airbase. A young woman dressed in the uniform of a Russian Army Captain, stood next to the vehicle. She had her head leaned back, looking into the sky. The clouds were dark and thick and nothing could be seen above them. But it was time.

A tiny object suddenly broke through the clouds. Appearing to grow larger as it fell, it rapidly turned into an airliner seat hurdling toward the ground. In seconds, other pieces of the plane rained down. Without waiting any longer, she turned back to the old vehicle and slipped inside it behind the steering wheel.

A few minutes later, driving at a moderate speed, she reached to the small suitcase lying on the seat beside her and pulled out a red wig.

After putting it on, and pushing her short, straight black hair up underneath the hairpiece, she gazed at her reflection in the vehicle's rearview mirror. She was no less attractive than she had been with her own hair. She knew she would still look good if it had been a purple carnival wig, or any other, or if she had no hair at all.

And she hated that thought.

***

It took only minutes for word of the airliner going down to reach the small group of military officers involved in a meeting on the outskirts of Moscow. The home in which they met had belonged to a highly-regarded member of the Politburo during the time before democracy came to the country. The floors were a mixture of shining hardwood and marble. The furniture was imported English antique. Big glass chandeliers hung from the ceilings in the dining room and living room.

Under the bright light of the chandelier in the dining room, six of the participants in the meeting sat around a long mahogany table, able to seat twelve. Their expressions were solemn.

One of them, a tall man in his mid-sixties with an angular, weathered face and dressed in the uniform of a Russian Admiral, voiced what all of them had been thinking.

"It's going to turn out to be a bomb," he said.

A graying colonel in army intelligence nodded his head. "But how could anyone have penetrated the security?" he wondered aloud. "Orbokovsky's protective unit is the most elite in the country. I would feel more secure with them than with the Prime Minister's guard."

The seventh man in the room, General Viktor Aleksev, wasn't seated with the rest. His tall frame clad in winter dress uniform with rows of medals across its tunic, he stood at a big picture window he had walked slowly to after they had received news of the airliner. He had pulled the heavy drapes in front of him open and stared outside across the snow-covered grounds for several seconds, obviously taking the news of Admiral Orbokovsky's death even harder than the rest.

Now he turned from the window toward the others and said, "We will mourn Admiral Orbokovsky further at his funeral. For the present, the Motherland's business must continue. We will resume the meeting." He walked toward the table.

"Yes," a short, overweight man in his late sixties acknowledged. He was partially bald and, unlike the others, was not wearing a uniform, but instead was dressed in a brown business suit with rumpled trousers and a coat that fit him too tightly. The expression on his face and the way he immediately came up from his chair to his feet at Aleksev's words told that he was eager to get on with the discussion. He waited though, until Alexsev made his way to the head of the table and settled into the tall, straight-back chair there.

And then Aleksev spoke first. "As I stated previously, Dr. Kotov has been the scientist in charge of research on the project since its inception. There is nothing about the new propulsion system that he can't discuss in detail. But that is not why you are here. You will be the ones whose duty it will be to head the teams that teach the new crews how to run the system and maintain it. To that end, the only knowledge you need to possess is what the crews will need to do. Not the reason they do it, nor how the propulsion system works. The specific information you need to assist you in your task is in the folders."

Two of the officers glanced down at the folders lying in front of them on the table. The rest kept their attention directed solely on General Aleksev as he continued speaking.

"Dr. Kotov will give you a general overview of the system, but he will take no questions. As explained to all of you when you were instructed to come here, this is to be considered the most highly guarded project that any of you have ever engaged in. In that regard, you will not only refrain from asking any questions, but will answer none from your eventual team leaders, other than in answering what is specifically needed for them to carry out their duties."

Aleksev paused for a moment, then nodded toward Dr. Kotov.

The doctor quickly rolled out on the table the blueprint he had been prepared to explain before they received the news of the explosion. Displayed was what appeared to be a drawing of a large, elongated turbine engine.

"It looks little different than what you would normally see propelling our fast-attack Alfa submarines," he said. "In part because the new system is a marriage between the pressurized water reactor cycles and steam turbines of the Alphas and our new superconductivity based system. A very important marriage in more ways than one," he added, running his gaze around the faces of the men at the table. "First, for morale of the crews. We are all aware of how many of the Alfas we have lost because of their engines having to be run at the critically high levels it took to make us possessors of the fastest submarines in the world. That was not acceptable. However, at the time the Alfa engines were first utilized we had no choice but to accept it as a price for the edge the speed gave us in undersea warfare."

He pointed at the drawing of the engine. "But not anymore" he exclaimed. "Not with this engine. As General Aleksev stated, I am not allowed to go any further at this time with the specific reasons why this system will be much safer to operate. In other words, the intricacies of how the system works. But I can assure you it will be safer. As for the overall concept behind the system, superconductivity is basically the virtual elimination of power loss through electrical resistance. The world has long been aware of the theoretical possibilities of superconductivity as a means of high-speed propulsion. The Western military has mostly concentrated on superconductivity with its high power densities and low noise as a means of producing motors that would be nearly silent, leaving their submarines and even surface vessels with almost no acoustical signature. But we never varied from our concentration on high speed propulsion."

As the doctor paused, a proud smile came to his face.

"And now we have achieved what others are still calling only a theoretical possibility. An engine able to generate many times the power a like sized conventional system is capable of. Under optimum conditions, the marriage of the two systems in combination with the new drive mechanisms my colleagues at the Academy Of Sciences first envisioned will afford the new Remora submarines a submerged speed the computers predict will reach sixty-seven knots."

The two Admirals in attendance looked at each other. They had heard the doctor refer to increased speed when he had started his earlier opening remarks. They hadn't even remotely imagined a speed of this magnitude.

Dr. Kotov continued with, "The new class of Remora submarines will be the ultimate weapon in the defense of the Motherland. Any invading army would wither and die because no aircraft carriers would be able to support it, no convoy would be able to deliver the kinds and numbers of heavy equipment that transport planes aren't capable of delivering. No sizable reinforcements or sufficient supplies, no vessel of any kind will be able to get pass the Remora. And it will be virtually impervious to attack. No surface-based submarine hunter in the world will be able to catch it, get close enough for even a torpedo with the speed of a Shkval to be within striking range."

The general across the table spoke now. "A weapon that could well be used for offense, too," he remarked. "With such submarines at our command, what country could come to the aid of any of the Republics if we decide they should have not separated from the Union?"

Dr. Kotov looked at the general. Aleksev looked at him, too. It was Aleksev who spoke: "The Republics are sovereign nations now-and they will remain that way. This weapon is solely intended for the defense of the Motherland."

While he had spoken, Aleksev's voice had been no louder than it had been when he had announced the resumption of the meeting. His tone, though, had a finality to it.

The general turned his eyes from Aleksev's stare.

There was an awkward moment of silence. Then Dr. Kotov leaned forward and rolled the blueprint to the side, revealing another one beneath it.

The second print detailed a longitudinal section of a submarine showing its aft third filled with a drawing of the same type of engine as on the first blueprint. Dark lines outlined the bulkheads surrounding much of the engine.

"There had been one problem," he said. "These series of lines represent the borders of heat containment chambers."

He pressed his index finger to one of the lines. "Here," he said. "And here, and here and here," he added as he moved his finger from dark line to dark line. "In the methods we had to use to combine the elements of superconductivity with our current system, the by-product is the immense heat given off. So much so there was no way it could be contained on board for long after the Remora went to flank speed. The heat would quickly reach the point that it would begin melting the very bulkheads containing it. We estimated thirty to thirty-five minutes when the danger point would be reached. The engine couldn't be cooled with on board water. The heat would rapidly turn it into such high-pressure steam it would blow a submarine apart.

"So our only choice until lately was to plan on a massive venting of the heat by high pressure pumps into the ocean. Yet in doing that, the Remora would leave a heat signature for any enemy. Though no ocean going vessel could follow this trail as rapidly as the sub could speed away, an antisubmarine aircraft could."

The general who had made the remark about an 'offensive weapon' spoke again: "You said until lately? That there had been a problem."

The scientist nodded, and looked toward Aleksev, giving him the floor.

Aleksev leaned forward, placing his thick forearms on the table as he spoke. "Dr. Kotov brings this to your attention only because I told him to mention it as an example of what the working together of all our forces has been able to achieve."

As he paused, he looked toward the admiral who had earlier speculated that a bomb had been what brought the airliner down. "It was from information collected by one of your intelligence gathering ships that we first got a hint of a possible solution to our problem," Aleksev said. "It brought to our attention a new heat retardant. The Remora has its former problem no longer. Or, more accurately," Aleksev added, "It won't have the problem much longer."
$16.95
859-p
Format: 
Inside Information - p
by Michael E. Field

Almost all criminals believe they are capable of executing the perfect crime while escaping detection and capture. A group of individuals believe they have devised the perfect plan to make a large profit of impending stock price movements.

But due to an unforeseeable event, the plan is thrown into disarray and during an attempt to cover up their mistakes a police officer is gunned down and a witness killed.

Detectives Greg Hawkins and Kathy Sear are assigned this investigation and almost immediately they realize this is not a simple break-in gone wrong but something much more elaborate.

The more the Detectives investigate the crime the more elaborate the plan appears, with the mastermind of the plot willing to do anything to avoid detection and cover their tracks.

Detectives Hawkins and Sear realize quickly they are in a race against time in determining the identity of the mastermind before evidence is destroyed and all links to the criminals are forever erased.

ISBN 978-1-59431-858-0 Mystery / Action Adventure

Chapter 1

Richard put down his luggage and hung up his coat, debating whether to get a beer from the refrigerator or just head upstairs and put an end to a very long day. But then again, Dana might have alternate plans, depending on her work schedule the next day. A long and sustained yawn quickly settled that argument,and Richard wandered up the stairs.

He could just make out a dim light beneath the bedroom door once he reached the second floor hallway. The sound of quiet voices coming from the room usually meant she had fallen asleep with the television on again. Maybe he’d watch a late night talk show and then hit the sack. He quietly turned the doorknob but froze in place as he stared at the sight before him.

Two naked bodies intertwined on the mattress, thrashed before him. Barely visible from the flames of two small candles on the night stand, the fire flickered in response to the air being disturbed by opening of the door. Dana kneeled on the bed, her hands tightly gripping the brass railings of the headboard, her eyes closed, panting and groaning in pleasure. Her long hair clung to her back and forehead, drenched with sweat. The man positioned behind her thrust deep inside, matching her groans with his own, both oblivious to everything around them.

Richard stepped back into the hallway as he extended his arm to brace himself from falling into a large bookcase. As he steadied himself his hand came in contact with a stone gargoyle bookend.

At the same time, the grunts and groans coming from the room raised in volume and intensity, snapping Richard out of his daze. Rage swept over him and his fingers closed and tightened around the gargoyle. A primal scream began, deep within his core, tossing and turning before it erupted as he burst through the doorway.
$16.95
858-0
Format: 
Facepainter Murders: A Dangerous Journeys Mystery-p
by Virginia Winters

Dangerous Journeys Series, Vol. 2

Anne McPhail is back in Culver’s Mills, Vermont for a quiet holiday. But Culver’s Mills is an unlucky spot for her vacation. She finds the dead body of a naked man, and is soon helping her friend Adam Davidson to investigate the murder. Who is the dead man and what was his involvement with the theft of a painting and a sampler from the art gallery? Who owns the art, James Trevelyan, an elderly man whose genealogy may hold the key, or the owners of Evan’s, the restaurant where they were found? More bodies turn up as the murderer kills the others in his criminal gang. Then he turns his attention to Anne.
$18.95
6-003p
Format:: 
Night Undone
Agent Night Cover Me Series

by K. S. Brooks

Former Special Agent Kathrin Night is not adjusting to civilian life. More than a year after her career-ending injury, she still can’t get the hang of it. This is wearing thin on her lover, Russian FSB Agent Aleksey Khovechkin, who tricks Kathrin into seeing a psychiatrist specializing in post-military/espionage patients.

The therapy doesn’t go exactly as Aleksey hopes, but before he can react, Russia recalls him to make him an offer he can’t refuse. Before his departure, Aleksey reveals his deepest, darkest secret to Kathrin. Had he, in fact, used her to escape his duties in Russia, or was his allegiance to her?

Determined to see justice served, Kathrin hatches a scheme to help Aleksey while at the same time reviving her career in espionage. The Vancouver Winter Olympics could be the perfect venue for her plan, but can she pull it off without destroying their relationship, causing an international incident, or getting either of them killed?

ISBN 978-1-61386-007-6 Action Adventure, Espionage



CHAPTER 1

Kathrin was awakened by the warmth of Aleksey’s mouth on her pelvis. His hand cradled her right buttock, pulling her toned body against his face. He alternated kisses with the gentle gnawing of her firm abdomen. She smiled at his passionate and insatiable desire.

Three times that night he’d initiated carnal activity. For months they’d been sharing the pleasures of the flesh, but never like this. She thought, perhaps, it was because it was their first night in the new house. Maybe shacking up for real was a big turn-on for him. Whatever the reason, she enjoyed the results. She arched her back to welcome his seduction.

An hour later, she awoke to her own musings. She found it ironic that within a six month period, her Russian bodyguard had gone from refusing to even speak to her to living under the same roof with her as her partner. A loner most of her life, Kathrin didn’t think this could ever happen to her. But it had: the man sent to protect her had fallen for her, and left behind his career as an agent with the Russian Federal Security Service to remain in her life. Kathrin was somewhat surprised that her unintentional luring of Agent Aleksey Vladimirovich Khovechkin out of active service hadn’t received more attention. Russia’s top FSB agent, pairing up with the world’s former leading anti-terrorist agent: she had been certain it would have made waves in the intelligence community. But so far, the only one who seemed to care was Aleksey’s boss, Yuri. And Yuri was not happy.

Aleksey had completely surprised her the afternoon he proposed they become partners in a private security consulting business. That was over three months ago, yet since then, whenever the subject came up, he always managed to veer the conversation towards what he felt was the gating factor: the company name. He wanted, of course, for his name to go first, and Kathrin, of course, wanted hers. They had agreed to try to find something that incorporated both in a clever, catchy way, regardless of order, but had so far been unsuccessful.

Aleksey slept to her left. Listening to his restful breathing soothed her. It was a luxury to feel safe, like someone had her back. She knew she could rely on him in any situation, and that he was more than capable of protecting them both. Of course, so was she; Kathrin had apprehended, and killed, many terrorists during her lengthy tenure as an operative.

So when the Russian Minister of Defense, whose life she had saved a few years earlier, sent Aleksey to protect her after her career-ending injury, she felt it was completely unnecessary.

Aleksey agreed, but for different reasons. He felt insulted, even humiliated, that an agent of his caliber would be used to babysit an ‘American cripple’ as he had called her to her face the day they met.

She recalled his striking good looks and intensity the first time she laid eyes on him at the airport. Physically, he was of good, hearty, Russian stock, with broad shoulders, a distinct brow and a strong jaw.

Memories of his warmth and touch filled her senses. She closed her eyes and imagined his mouth on her throat. He was powerful, and passionate, and knew how to send chills up the entire length of her body. There he was: all sculpted six-foot-three of him, completely naked, lying beside her in the dark. His chiseled body was solid as a rock, especially his thighs. Kathrin was pleased with his excellent physique, intellect, and even temper; technically, he was the perfect partner. He was well-disciplined and analytical, as well as quick-witted and strong-willed. Like her, he never considered failure to be an option in anything. He truly was a complete package. A devious smile formed on her face as she decided to see just how long it would take to arouse him with nothing but the feather-light touch from the very tips of her fingers.
$18.95
2-007-p
Format: 
Dead Birds Don't Sing
Alex Masters Series, Vol. 1

By Brenda M. Boldin

Alex Masters has given up prostitution, lives on the "right" side of town, has a respectable job and is about to launch a singing career on the side. While making a deposit for her employer at Bay City Central, her past catches up with her in the time it takes a bank robber's bullet to pierce her arm. Alex finds herself caught in a tangle of robbery, murder and blackmail. Clearing herself of suspicion means returning to her former haunts while still maintaining her new-found respectability. Which "life" will win the balancing act when it's all over? *This first in the Alex Masters series will leave you eager for the sequel.

ISBN 1-59431-127-7 Mystery/Romance/Suspense

Cover Art/Maggie Dix



Prologue

Beau leaned back against the pillows and just let her work her magic. He couldn't even remember this one's name, but she was a real beauty. Interesting, he'd never noticed her before.

She held his hand with a feather-like touch as the tip of her tongue ran up and down each finger.

"My mama used to be a palm reader," she whispered, her tongue tracing the lines of his palm.

Beau grunted a laugh, he could play the game. "Yeah? What'd she teach you?"

"This is your life line." Her tongue trailed across his palm and came to an abrupt halt. She sat up, staring at his hand.

"Hey baby, don't stop now."

But she was kneeling at his side, fear in her eyes.

"What?" he growled, anxious for her to get down to business.

She pointed to a mark that crossed his life line.

"Somethin' bad's gonna happen. I think you're gonna die."

He laughed. "So are you baby. Everybody does."

"I mean soon."

"Bitch, you gonna die here and now, if you don't get back to doin' what I brought you here for."

She straddled him, placing her hands on his shoulders.

"I mean it. You need to be careful. You're gonna die real soon."

He reached up and pulled her mouth to his.

He found himself fantasizing. The face that floated before his mind's eye was that damn princess Alex. Little Miss High and Mighty, thinking she's too good for him. He'd show the bitch.

"OW!"

The nameless whore's squeal brought him to the present.

"You're hurting me!"

"I'll show you hurt," he replied. But he was thinking again of Alex and just how, one of these days he would get even with her.

As soon as he came, she slid out of bed and started to dress.

"Hey, the fun's just beginning baby, come on back here."

She shook her head. "No way. I don't want to be here when it happens."

He sat up. "What happens? Shit."

"I told you." She stood staring at him, hands on her hips, clad only in her micro-mini skirt. "You're gonna buy it soon, and I don't want to be here when it happens."

"That stuffs nothin' but superstitious crap."

She shook her head as she hooked her bra. "You can believe what you want. I just know what my mama taught me. And she was never wrong."

She tugged a t-shirt over her head and grabbing up her shoes, darted out the bedroom door. His laughter followed her down two flights of steps and out of the house.
$16.95
127
Format: 
Occupational Hazards p
By Michael E. Field

Someone in the quiet suburb of Pineview is torturing and killing average citizens in a manner that sickens and shocks the most seasoned police officers. Only when the body count starts to rise do the police identify a method to the madness - each victim’s death is associated with their occupation.

Detective Kathy Sear leads the investigation to stop the carnage and apprehend the person responsible for launching the wave of terror. While conducting the investigation she must also over-come lingering physical and mental hurdles from an earlier near fatal attack. When she is almost at her wits end she receives help from an unexpected source, Senior Detective Greg Hawkins, who is also battling his own demons. Working together again, they quickly identify the common link of the killings and start to close in on the suspect, who keeps one step ahead of them at every turn.

978-1-61386-021-2

suspense/mystery/crime

Prologue

The young coyote slowly approached the small buildings close to a path that cut through the middle of his territory. He knew to avoid the building during the day and at night when the loud and fast moving monsters with their sun eyes approached. On occasion he would find a dead animal along the path that provided a quick and easy snack.

Even on a moonless night, the hundreds of bright stars provided more than enough light to move through the desert. The animal relied on his hearing and an acute sense of smell to guide him and locate prey.

Earlier a light wind blew the familiar odor of discarded hamburger and chicken across the open landscape until the scent cone intersected his nose. Normally he would hunt and find common rodents to serve as his next meal but when the diner bell from Wendy's, McDonald's, or KFC rang he took advantage of the opportunity.

The young male broke into a light trot and followed the scent as it led to the potential meal. He could travel in this manner for miles on end without unduly exerting himself, a slight lope and hop to his gait.

As he approached the small buildings he slowed to a near crawl across the large black parking lot; his senses rose to their highest alert. This is where the giant metal creatures would empty themselves of loud and bothersome humans. They would stop for a short time as the humans would scurry into the two buildings that smelled like urine; stretch, walk around a little, and then jump back into the metal creatures before darting away on the long and narrow path.

During the day they would put food scraps in metal barrels until they were over flowing. Other times they would meet at a table and have their meal before leaving. But at night they avoided this activity, probably because of what could be hidden by the darkness outside the reach of the light from the metal creature's eyes.

The coyote didn't fear the night so he followed the scent trail to a paper bag that held a cornucopia of treats; a mixture of a roasted chicken, with a lot of meat left on the bones, along with a half-eaten cheeseburger.

Within a minute he devoured the food and with a full belly the coyote relaxed. He detected countless scents where domestic dogs had left their calling cards so he quickly deposited his urine over these scents to reestablish his dominance. When his bladder ran low he pawed and scratched at the ground, making his warning clear to other non-humans.

The animal froze in place at a distant sound. He tilted his ears in an effort to pinpoint the direction of what sounded like a giant bee. In the distance he saw a small light approaching. By his prior experiences he knew this would be a small creature but one that still carried a human or two.

He gave an all over body shake, turned and trotted off into the desert with the same easy jog he arrived. He would be well on his way to his den before the human-carrying creature arrived.

A few minutes later the rider arrived at the entrance to the parking lot and eased into a spot close to the men's toilet. After turning off the engine, the rider stepped off his motorcycle, removed his helmet and placed it over one of the mirrors. He stretched his back and let out a deep groan as his back let out a series of snaps, crackles, and pops.

He opened one of the luggage bags attached to the side of the bike and rummaged around until he retrieved a flashlight. He shined it around the area until he spotted a sign with the picture of a rattlesnake.

"Beware of snakes dropping on you while to take a crap? Just wonderful," he muttered. He debated whether he should remove a small revolver loaded with scattershot but decided against it. He shined the light toward the small wood building with the big "M" on the front and decided he really didn't want to tempt fate, especially since he hadn't seen another car in over an hour.

He took a few steps away from the blacktop while he played the flashlight back and forth. Only after he was sure there weren't any snakes in the area did he turn back toward the interstate. He stared north and then south, looking for the soft glow of approaching headlights while he listened for the sound of an engine approaching. He felt secure nobody was approaching before he turned his back toward the road. The last thing he needed was an arrest for indecent exposure.

When he finished, he walked back to his motorcycle shaking his legs to get the stiffness out and the circulation flowing again. He felt like massaging his butt to get rid of the numbness but that seemed a little too weird. There are some things men don't do, even if nobody is around to see them do it.

He had left Albuquerque a little after midnight, not to avoid the mid-day heat but because he felt he had spent enough time in the city. He had been in the stands enjoying a minor league baseball game when out of the blue he decided it was time to move on.

Most people would get a good night's sleep before beginning a drive but before he began his trip he decided he would hit the road when the time was right. He extended the courtesy of waiting until the last pitch had been thrown before heading back to his motel, packing, checking out, and heading south on the Interstate.

People take vacations to unwind, relax, and enjoy themselves. In this case it qualified more as a penance, a form of self-punishment for what happened before and what he took for granted. The selection of his motorcycle reflected that attitude. Eventually he settled on a super-sport bike without the luxuries and the comfort accessories that came with a cruiser.

He drove from state to state, seeing the sights he always wanted to visit under different circumstances. Custer's Battlefield, Mount Rushmore, the blue football field at Boise State, Alcatraz, Las Vegas, and the Winslow Crater drew his attention over the last few weeks. Even though he rode by himself he never felt alone.

Often he would pull to the side of the road as waves of grief would wash over him, triggered by a familiar sight, a sound, or for no apparent reason. He remained until the sadness passed. Friends and colleagues told him anger would be part of the grieving and healing process, but that is one feeling he couldn't bring himself to experience.

He wanted the trip to serve as a healing process where he could work things out himself without friends and neighbors offering support he didn't want or advice he didn't need. They would bring food that all looked the same; tasted the same; and smelled the same when he dumped them into the trash. The unexpected visitors even looked the same, all wearing the basset-hound eyed look of pity and sorrow as if they were robots straight off the assembly line of a factory.

He had to get away, so he bought a motorcycle and rode the country, going where he wanted at his own good time. He left his cell phone at his house and dropped a couple of letters in the mailbox as he left town. The notes gave the basics--he would be back when he felt like it, don't think of contacting him, and don't worry.

His doctor would also have blown his top if he knew his patient was driving around the country, much less on a motorcycle. But the rider figured he was a grown up and would take responsibility for his actions.

He figured he had enough time to swing through the deep south and follow the coast until he reached Maine. Having a Maine lobster had been on his bucket list of things to do and he figured it would be the cherry on the top of his sundae, if his trip could be characterized as such.

He stood in the New Mexico parking lot, still amazed at how bright the stars shined once the lights of civilization were taken out of the equation. Hundreds of years ago this is how the sky must have looked over the majority of the Earth. He wanted to remember this is one thing for the rest of his life--the true splendor nature put on display when the lights of civilization didn't block it.

He stood by the motorcycle and gazed at the stars, watching some blink while others maintained a constant shine. Other than the soft ticking of the motorcycle engine as it cooled, the sounds of the desert seemed to take a short break as nature put on a visual display for one solitary man.

His eyes drifted to a small cluster of stars that seemed to sit apart from the others, with one star dominating. It wasn't as bright as many of the others but for some reason it caught his attention and he found himself mesmerized by the soft glow it radiated.

The wind started to pick up, and a light cross breeze made the evening air more comfortable. The breeze increased into a constant flow, load enough for him to hear it flow past his ears.

In his loneliness he felt a presence, similar to one he felt other spots on his trip. The feeling closed around him like a blanket, providing him a sense of security he hadn't felt in a while.

"I miss you," he softly said while gazing at the star. Tears formed in the corners of his eyes and slowly made their way down his cheeks. Maybe it was the combination of him staring at the star, the wind blowing, and his lack of sleep that joined as one, but he felt more than heard a soft whisper by his ears. A sense of comfort and well-being settled in his core as the wind gradually faded away.

He blinked his eyes and used a handkerchief to wipe the tears from his face before looking back toward the star that held his attention for so long. But couldn't find it again. He looked a little longer before chewing on his lower lip and letting out a deep sigh.

All of a sudden he felt very tired. Not sleepy or tired to the point he would fall asleep while driving, but his body and bones weighed heavy in his mind. He straddled the motorcycle and hit the ignition button and the engine greeted him with a soft, soothing roar as he slipped on his helmet.

This trip was his attempt to get away from all the sights, smells, and sounds that brought back memories. Even when the memories were good they would trigger feelings that pushed him into a dark morass that took days to climb out. As a result, his physical recovery slowed as well, despite the best efforts of his friends. In some perverse and twisted way their care and concern made the situation worse.

But now he had some of the answers--he wasn't naïve to think he had all of them but a few are a good place to start. He knew he needed to get back to what he did best and face each day as it came. Get up each and every day and confront what the world had to offer.

He pulled back onto the road and headed south toward Las Cruces. He would get there in less than two hours where he would stay for a day to rest and prepare for his long trip home. He knew what his next step would be and realized Maine would have to wait for another time. Even though he felt worn out he knew the trip reinvigorated his body and soul, allowing him to heal much quicker than if he had stayed home.
$18.95
2-018
Format:: 
House to Kill For: Lindsey Gale Series, Vol 3, -p
by Judith C. Reveal

Lindsey Gale Series, Vol. 3

As Lindsey Gale's life begins to return to a moderate form of normality, her ex-husband, John Michael, shows up, claiming he wants her back. Already in a committed relationship with Bobby Smith, the Caroline County Sheriff, Lindsey emphatically declines. Not to be put off, John Michael purchases a local historical home and moves his entire entertainment company to Greensboro, much to the dismay of his junior partners. At the opening of his newly renovated home, Lindsey, Bobby, and Conrad Trent, all appear only to watch as the wife of one of John Michael's partners is found murdered. Bobby steps in and takes on the role as investigating officer and within hours a local businesswoman disappears, and soon thereafter John Michael is murdered. Mayhem ensues as Lindsey becomes a suspect in John Michael's murder, and Bobby is forced to remove himself from the investigation. Through the competent sleuthing of Lindsey, Conrad, and Bobby, the murderer is uncovered, but not before Lindsey's life is put in jeopardy.

ISBN 978-1-61386-025-0 Mystery, detective,

Chapter 1

John Michael Turnet flipped the switch on the blender and listened as the ice crunched, producing a frothy strawberry daiquiri. Yick he mumbled to himself. He preferred Gray Goose vodka on ice--the colder, the better. He had recently taken to keeping a bottle in the freezer. He poured the daiquiri into a delicate glass, placed both the daiquiri and the Gray Goose on a bamboo tray, and walked into the living room.

His eyes wandered to the view from the 70th floor of his high-rise apartment in Chicago, overlooking Grant Park and to Lake Michigan beyond. A low rolling cloud passed the balcony window, blocking the twilight sky, just as he approached Stephanie with the drinks.

"I really don't know how you can drink these sweet drinks. The taste sticks in the back of my throat."

He held out the tray as she took the bright pink drink and drew it up to her mouth. Her lethal nails, painted blood red and her matching lipstick blended into the pink of the daiquiri. She took a small sip and nodded her approval.

"I like the sweetness of the drink. It goes down so smoothly," she responded.

"This is your third Daiquiri. Perhaps you can avoid overdoing it tonight. Our guests will be arriving any moment and it would be nice to greet them sober."

Stephanie threw her head back, drank the entire drink in two swallows, drew her hand across her mouth smearing her lipstick, and smiled her wicked smile. She turned toward the fireplace, aglow with warm embers, and threw the glass, hitting the exact center of the fire. The glass broke and the fire hissed. The room chilled for just a moment. The cold Chicago December settled over the room.

John Michael just stared at her. Another moment of peace shattered like that glass.

"How's that for not overdoing it?" She asked. "Oh, I suppose sweet little Lindsey would never think of doing something so gauche!" Her voice throbbed between anger and hurt.

"You would be absolutely right about that. Lindsey would never have done something so tactless."

The sound of the doorbell, rung from seventy floors below, interrupted Stephanie's retort. John Michael placed the tray on the kitchen counter and buzzed the guests into the lobby. He made a quick check of the fireplace and determined that no glass shards landed on the floor outside of the fire. He would clean up the mess later. Within minutes of hearing the bell, a knock at the door announced their guests had arrived. Stephanie rushed to the door and opened it to two couples--Barbara and Donald Lamar, and Dorothy and Virgil Reed--John Michael's business partners and their wives. The women exchanged air kisses and the tension in the air increased twofold.

"JM, old boy, good to see you. Where's the 'good stuff'?" Donald asked, removing his coat and rubbing his hands together while looking for the bar. Spotting his quarry, he left Barbara and hurried toward the liquor.

"Help yourself," John Michael laughed. He was relieved to have company to buffer him from another night of arguing with Stephanie.

"I'll just take a Corona!" Virgil called, crowding up behind Donald.

Natalie, the maid, appeared from another room, walking on silent steps, avoiding the eyes of both Stephanie and John Michael. She removed the coats and disappeared as quickly and quietly as she had arrived. Barbara and Dorothy preceded Stephanie into the living room as silence surrounded the women.

Stephanie was 'odd-man-out' in this grouping. John Michael and his business partners and their wives had established a long term relationship, sometimes edgy, but always profitable. JDV Entertainment had begun as a small agency representing local actors in Baltimore but after a rough beginning they invested in a moderately sized agency in Chicago, and never looked back.

It was during this time that John Michael made his biggest mistake. His marriage to his first wife, Lindsey, came unraveled when a beautiful young actress caught his eye. Lindsey would have none of it, while John Michael saw his star rising and his opportunities opening. Lindsey left as the marriage dissolved; she took back her maiden name, and started a new life as the owner of The Greensboro Press, a small newspaper on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

John Michael's success continued to grow and the situation with Lindsey became the cause for amusement at dinner parties. But as John Michael wrestled the role as leader of the agency from his partners, it became evident that his personal life was unsettled.

He looked across the room at Stephanie, his now third wife, and knew she was not long for his world. Her beauty notwithstanding, he found her to be a spoiled, whimpering self-centered woman whose interests revolved around spending money. Conversations with her were boring to the point of being almost non-existent. John Michael found her ability to maintain even a modest intellect, failing, and his thoughts about Lindsey grew with mounting frequency. It was time for Lindsey to come back into his life but he knew that would be a challenge that would consume him.

Natalie appeared again on silent steps as she lit the candles on the dining room table. A young African American woman, she made a point of being transparent. She approached Donald who had fixed drinks for himself, Virgil, Stephanie, Dorothy, and Barbara, and placed the drinks on a silver tray. An imperceptible nod from her indicated that dinner was ready and John Michael directed his guests into the dining room. Within moments, Natalie followed, serving the drinks then disappearing back into the kitchen.

"JM, I don't know where you found this woman, but she is amazing." Dorothy Reed sat next to John Michael on his right, and raised her glass of Zinfandel in acknowledgment.

"Why, thank you Dot, aren't you sweet." Stephanie slurred her words, interrupting before John Michael could respond. And cool silence draped across the table. Only Stephanie did not notice. "May I have another daiquiri, dear?" She asked, holding out her empty glass on teetering fingers.

"Stephanie, I think Dorothy was referring to Natalie, not to you. " John Michael grimaced at his wife as a deep crimson color appeared in splotches across his throat.

Dorothy shot a quick look at Barbara but remained silent.

"Oh," Stephanie retorted. "That's right, and she doesn't like being called Dot. Something about her childhood, I believe. Poor, your parents were poor, weren't they, dear?" Stephanie tipped her glass back and drained one last drop of the daiquiri. "Well, since you're not going to get it for me, I guess I'll have to get it myself." She rose on wobbly legs and staggered back to the bar, leaving everyone in an uncomfortable silence.

"I apologize. I have given up trying to make excuses for her behavior--I can only apologize and hope that you will forgive her."

His words were greeted with murmurs all around, when the sound of a door sliding open in the distance and a cold breeze suddenly wafted through the room. Everyone looked around at one another, when the dark night was filled with the shattering sound of a scream, disappearing in the distance.
$18.95
2-025-p
Format: 
Tape
by C. M. Albrecht

Did you ever dream of being a hard-boiled private eye? Maybe you should try the Izzy and Vero method: just slip into your trench coat and place an ad in the Penny Saver. Hey, the ad works! Next day they get Dema, their very first client. Dema is a sweet-but-strange young woman with a tape obsession so severe she should have her own reality show. That should have raised a red flag.

Dema wants Izzy and Vero to look for her missing grandfather. They don’t have to look far. He’s dead. Before they have any idea of what’s going on, they’re up to their fedoras in trouble. Big trouble. A serial killer is on the loose and seems to be looking for them. The cops are on the case and they do not like shamuses meddling in their investigations, especially PI’s who don’t even have a license.

Can they actually solve the case and nail a killer before the cops nail them? Tape will keep you wrapped up tight.

ISBN 978-1-61386-014-4

Suspense/Mystery/Crime/young adult

Chapter 1

Shorty

A white prison van pulled up before the small bus station and its sole passenger, clutching a clear plastic bag of clothing, stepped carefully down onto the sidewalk.

The driver, a middle-aged red-faced man who had never missed a meal in his life, smiled grimly and moved his gum to one side of his mouth.

"Be smart, Shorty," he said in a deep tired voice. "Get in there a buy yourself a one-way ticket out of here and don't ever come back." But, he silently added without a change in his expression, you will.

Shorty--Jesse Thompson--smiled just as grimly. "Don't worry. I'm all through with that. I've been saved by the grace of Jesus and this time I'm really starting a new life."

The driver nodded and popped his gum as he stepped on the gas. The van pulled away leaving Shorty standing on the sun-drenched sidewalk with two hundred dollars 'gate money' in his pocket, and all his worldly belongings in the clear plastic bag.

He looked over at the hardware store across the street, up at the clear sky above his head and then took his first real breath of freedom. Even in the van, he was still part of the prison system, but now…his mouth twisted in a sort of smile. He scratched the bald spot on top of his head and headed into the tiny station.

Inside he sat at the lunch counter and ordered a cup of coffee. He just sat for a minute. Although he wasn't hungry, he enjoyed the smells of bacon and other odors coming from the kitchen, and he even smelled the faint perfume the waitress wore. It had been a long time since he smelled the nearness of a woman.

Shorty figured the waitress had already made him for a parolee, even though he had his sleeves rolled down to cover his mostly prison-made 'sleeves', the tattoos he had picked up over the years. The waitress probably saw a lot of ex-cons come through this coffee shop; Shorty knew they all had a look about them.

He pulled a paper napkin from a metal holder and spread it on the Formica countertop. He pulled a stub of a pencil from his denim jacket pocket. He began writing on the paper napkin. He labored over the spelling as well as the difficulty of writing on such fragile paper, but after a few moments with an occasional pause to sip the hot coffee, he had his list. It wasn't very long.

1. Get a room.

2. Get Gorman

3. Get Wilson

4. Get a job and go straight.

Shorty studied his list while he sipped his coffee. Finally he smiled grimly, showing yellowed teeth. He held the napkin firmly down and underlined Gorman and Wilson. His lip curled. He sipped more coffee and studied the napkin with satisfaction. He nodded. He folded the napkin and dabbed his lips with it and shoved the napkin into his side pocket and went out into the lobby and bought a bus ticket to Sacramento.
$18.95
2-014-4
Format: 
Looking for Midnight_p
by Helen Chappell

Sculptor Jane Constant is artist-in-residence at Green Gardens, an ancient seaside mansion turned artist’s colony. This summer’s crop of eccentrics and other creative types include the handsome actor Gabriel Hardy rehearsing for Hamlet, the stoner musician Dink Sheldrake with an opera to write, the alcoholic abstract impressionist Ted Mitran and Midnight Bunting, a retired madam who wants to spend her summer writing a tell all memoir about her rich and famous clients. Then there’s politically ambitious next door neighbor Barbara Barkley, who wants Green Gardens closed down as a disgrace to the upscale seaside community and a Chief of Police who’s interested in more than Jane’s art. When Midnight Bunting is found dead in Gabriel Hardy’s bed, suspicion falls on everyone, and things look desperate for the continued existence of the beloved old artist’s colony. . .

ISBN 978-1-61386-194-5 Mystery, murder, women's fiction,

CHAPTER 1

JANE CONSTANT

New Works

POLLY CROCKETT GALLERY EAST

Castle Island

June 5—July 31st

Opening June 5, 5-8 PM

By invitation only

POLLY CROCKETT GALLERIES

New York and Castle Island

CHAPTER 2

“But dearest, yours is the opening of the summer!” Gallerista Polly Crockett, soignée in leather and dreads, swanned through the crowds to embrace Jane Constant. “Lookee, lookee, darling, all the little red stickers? You’re selling, selling tonight! And it’s only the opening!”

Jane glanced around the gallery at her sculptures, then took a giant swig of Cristal. “I can’t believe you sold Big Pink! I thought that thing would never move out of the corner of my studio.”

“Trust Aunt Polly, darling heart. The very latest wife of Dr. Barenstein snapped it right up. Maybe it reminds her of where her husband’s money comes from. It does look like a giant breast implant. And all the money that paid for it is walking on half the chests in here. No wonder they call him Boobenstein. You can tell his implants from across the room.”

Jane grinned. “One of the many reasons I love being in your galleries is that you have a totally irreverent sense of humor, Polly.”

“And you were right—opening a summer gallery out here was the smartest move I’ve made since I signed up Wally Stubbs.”

“Who knew puke paintings on vinyl siding would be so hot?” Jane mused. “And when I told you Castle Island was going to be the new Hamptons, I’m glad you listened. With a show here in the summer and a show at your SoHo gallery in the winter, I’m breaking even for the first time in my career.”

“It’s a win-win situation, darling heart,” Polly agreed. She squirmed a little inside her skimpy leather top.

“Jesus, this outfit is hotter than a crotch. Still, dear Alexander McQueen made it just for me, so it’s a sort of a memento mori.”

“Keep smiling, Poll. You look divine, just like a major art diva should. Besides, think of all the pounds you’re sweating off inside that pelt. It will mean one less workout with that personal trainer of yours!”

“Workouts aren’t the reason I keep him around, dearest,” Polly shot out of the side of her mouth.
$19.95
2-194-p
Format:: 
A Fright of Ghosts
By Helen Chappell

Holis Ball and Sam Wescott Series, Vol. 4

Watch out for trouble on Maryland’s Eastern Shore when Hollis Ball and her ghostly ex, Sam Wescott are on the case! Hollis’ waterman brother Robbie, desperate to support his growing family through a hard winter, has headed down the Bay to isolated Shellpile Island, where he hopes to make money oystering with island local, Sluggo Fotney, a slick operator with a slippery moral sensibility.

When Sluggo is found dead, Robbie, the outsider, is charged with the crime.

But when Hollis and Sam head to Shellpile to investigate, they find plenty of local suspects to chose from, including Sluggo’s fellow watermen and his three ex-wives.

And behind the Shellpile Islanders’ wall of stony silence, there are bigger secrets than who murdered Sluggo Fotney. Secrets that could land Hollis into deep, dark waters, even with the help of a special guest ghost, a long dead pirate who knows all the island’s secrets.

ISBN 978-1-61386-034-2 mystery, murder, celebrities

CHAPTER 1

The Dog in the Nighttime

If you ask me, there’s no such thing as too much sleep. It’s free, it feels good and it’s the only time I’m not thinking about chocolate or craving nicotine. I cherish sleep, the way some people prize Fabergé eggs. My nod time is important to me, especially when it’s cold outside and I can crawl under a pile of warm quilts and drift off into a dream where my life is far more interesting than my reality.

All of which may have had something to do with the way I didn’t hear that smoky voice cutting through my slumbers like a cheap alarm.

“Hollis, wake up.”

Slowly, I opened one eye. My bedroom was dark, so it had to be the middle of the night. The dim black outlines were illuminated by the sullen gray light of a waning moon. And unless my cat had suddenly learned to talk, the misty face hanging in front of my one open eye had evidently come back from the dead just to mess with my zonk time.

Yes, it was Sam. The ghost of my late and unlamented ex-husband haunts me, but usually he has the common sense to do it during regular business hours.

“I’m calling that exorcist first thing in the morning,” I mumbled, and turned over, burrowing myself deeper into the nice, warm quilts.

But Sam was still there.

“Hollis.” I could feel him, a soft, cool presence, like a breeze from the Bay.

“I’m serious as a heart attack, Holl, you gotta wake up. The phone is gonna ring any second now.” Sam’s voice was quiet, but insistent. I felt the air as he sat down on the edge of my bed, just the way he used to when he was alive, we were still married, and he’d been out carousing til three in the morning.

The mere thought of which was enough to charge me with adrenaline.

If there’s someone you wish you could bring back to life, just so you could kill him all over again, it’s Sam Wescott, professional ghost.

“What the pluperperfect hell is it this time?” I yawned, squinting at the clock on the nightstand. It was, indeed, three o’clock in some dark night of the soul, notably mine. I do not enjoy being awakened at the best of times, and this cold spring morning was not the best of times. “What’s going on?” I sighed, rolling over so I could keep a better eye on him.

Sam’s dim outline glowed slightly. “The phone is going to ring any second now, and you must be awake,” he said.

“If it’s Rig Riggle, the editor from hell, with some car accident or break in he heard on the scanner, he can go cover it himself. The Gazette doesn’t pay me enough to get out this bed at this hour,” I grumbled and closed my eyes again, back to snoring.

“It’s not Rig,” Sam said quietly.

Dead or alive, there was something entirely too serious in his tone that I didn’t like. This wasn’t one of his stupid jokes, I decided, looking at his expression, or what I could see of it.

“What’s the problem?” I snarled. “Did you forget your ectoplasm or something?”

Sam inclined his head to one side, regarding the phone on the nightstand. “It’s serious, Holl. Dead serious. It’s D— “

The phone shrilled, anxious in the still darkness. I just gave Sam a look as I picked it up. “H-Hollis? Are you there?”

ISBN 978-1-61386-035-9 Mystery/ paranormal / ghosts

CHAPTER 1

The Dog in the Nighttime

If you ask me, there’s no such thing as too much sleep. It’s free, it feels good and it’s the only time I’m not thinking about chocolate or craving nicotine. I cherish sleep, the way some people prize Fabergé eggs. My nod time is important to me, especially when it’s cold outside and I can crawl under a pile of warm quilts and drift off into a dream where my life is far more interesting than my reality.

All of which may have had something to do with the way I didn’t hear that smoky voice cutting through my slumbers like a cheap alarm.

“Hollis, wake up.”

Slowly, I opened one eye. My bedroom was dark, so it had to be the middle of the night. The dim black outlines were illuminated by the sullen gray light of a waning moon. And unless my cat had suddenly learned to talk, the misty face hanging in front of my one open eye had evidently come back from the dead just to mess with my zonk time.

Yes, it was Sam. The ghost of my late and unlamented ex-husband haunts me, but usually he has the common sense to do it during regular business hours.

“I’m calling that exorcist first thing in the morning,” I mumbled, and turned over, burrowing myself deeper into the nice, warm quilts.

But Sam was still there.

“Hollis.” I could feel him, a soft, cool presence, like a breeze from the Bay.

“I’m serious as a heart attack, Holl, you gotta wake up. The phone is gonna ring any second now.” Sam’s voice was quiet, but insistent. I felt the air as he sat down on the edge of my bed, just the way he used to when he was alive, we were still married, and he’d been out carousing til three in the morning.

The mere thought of which was enough to charge me with adrenaline.

If there’s someone you wish you could bring back to life, just so you could kill him all over again, it’s Sam Wescott, professional ghost.

“What the pluperperfect hell is it this time?” I yawned, squinting at the clock on the nightstand. It was, indeed, three o’clock in some dark night of the soul, notably mine. I do not enjoy being awakened at the best of times, and this cold spring morning was not the best of times.

“What’s going on?” I sighed, rolling over so I could keep a better eye on him.

Sam’s dim outline glowed slightly. “The phone is going to ring any second now, and you must be awake,” he said.

“If it’s Rig Riggle, the editor from hell, with some car accident or break-in he heard on the scanner, he can go cover it himself. The Gazette doesn’t pay me enough to get out this bed at this hour,” I grumbled and closed my eyes again, back to snoring.

“It’s not Rig,” Sam said quietly.

Dead or alive, there was something entirely too serious in his tone that I didn’t like. This wasn’t one of his stupid jokes, I decided, looking at his expression, or what I could see of it.

“What’s the problem?” I snarled. “Did you forget your ectoplasm or something?”

Sam inclined his head to one side, regarding the phone on the nightstand. “It’s serious, Holl. Dead serious. It’s D— “

The phone shrilled, anxious in the still darkness.

I just gave Sam a look as I picked it up.

“H-Hollis? Are you there?”
$18.95
2-034
Format:: 
Snow Escape
by Roberta Goodman

Set against the backdrop of a historic snowstorm, Snow Escape is the story of one woman’s innocent foray into the world of online dating turned deadly.

Allegra Maxwell is a 30-year old, single school teacher looking for love. Having chosen to use the Internet to meet the opposite sex, she encounters an articulate, prospective beau on the night the biggest blizzard in history is blanketing the Big Apple. Their pleasant conversation soon turns sinister when she discovers that "Charles" has been stalking her for weeks and claims he lives in her building. With threats of destroying her little by little are made, Allegra must stay one step ahead of the mind games. Turning to neighbors for help, tragic consequences ensue.

When her sanity is questioned, because the online evidence her stalker exists disappears, Allegra must prove he does exist and she isn’t losing her mind. When a power outage thrusts her into darkness, will she be able to overcome the helplessness she feels? Placed in a situation that’s spiraling totally out of her control, while trapped in her apartment building with no escape, will she survive until the authorities can reach her?

ISBN 978-61386-049-6 Mystery / Thriller Chapter 1

As the snow continued to fall, blanketing the city, Allegra felt helpless trapped in her apartment. She watched the limited amount of activity below from her window.

Occasionally, a snow plow would go by, or she’d see a brave soul who had ventured out to walk their dog. Other than that, she imagined most people were in the same position she was in. With the anticipation of upwards of two to three feet of snow predicted it seemed this weather event was the only thing being televised at the moment. Everyone reporting on it was saying the same thing; stay indoors and off the roads. She had been smart enough to go grocery shopping two days before, so her refrigerator was stocked even if she had to remain in her home for several days.

She had gone to work earlier that morning, having awoken to overcast skies. By the time she arrived at school, the snow was falling lightly and had barely covered the playground equipment in the school yard. Her fourth grade students were especially rambunctious. They wondered aloud why they had been made to attend class with the arrival of what was already being touted as the snowstorm of the century.

She knew she had her hands full trying to calm them down. Their excitement spilled onto every subject she attempted to teach. By lunchtime she was exhausted and praying there would be an announcement that school would be letting out early. Her sentiments were shared by several other colleagues she encountered in the teacher’s lounge. It seemed no one else’s students could concentrate on anything, but the blizzard that had started to rage outside.

By one o’clock, a full two hours before the official end of the school day, Principal Davidson had come over the loudspeaker to announce that everyone was to pack up for the day. School was closing early. When her last student had vacated the building, Allegra gathered her things and headed out to her car. The wind had picked up significantly and she knew the drive home wasn’t going to be a pleasant one.

Brushing off the three or so inches that had accumulated onto her windshield, she climbed into her car and started to make the trek home. Navigating through the streets of Brooklyn was treacherous enough without snow. With the near zero visibility, a trip that usually took her ten minutes turned into forty-five.

She had seen four accidents between the ride from school and her apartment building. When she got home, she was grateful to have made it there in one piece. The whole way home she thought to herself, people obviously don’t know how to drive in snow. Since she had grown up in upstate New York and had spent many winters having to endure driving through it, she was an old pro.

After she parked, Allegra picked up her tote bag with the papers she needed to grade, put up the hood on her jacket, and exited her car. The harsh winds were whipping up the newly fallen snow and the force with which the snow was falling had increased. * * * By the time she made it to the main door of the building, she remembered why she had left Kingston in the first place. She had chosen to move to the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn to get away from the harsh winters of her childhood and early adulthood. Having graduated from New York University some eight years earlier, she had grown to love city life the four years she had spent there. Going back to Kingston for several years after graduation, she had made the decision to move back to the city almost two years earlier and it was one she didn’t regret.

When an old friend had called her and told her of an opening for a teaching position at the Montessori school she taught at, Allegra jumped at the chance to relocate. Sure her family was still in upstate New York, but the drive home wasn’t horrible. It usually took her a little over two and a half hours without traffic.

She typed the security code on the telecom keypad, which unlocked the main door to the building. When she entered, she noticed there was a fairly large puddle of water on the floor with a trail leading up the stairs. One of her neighbors must have left it there. Since she lived on the sixth floor of the eight-story structure, she decided to take the elevator. She knew it would be healthier to use the stairs, but she was feeling lazy and could care less if she got any exercise. It was the middle of January and she had time to worry about whether or not she would look good in a bathing suit. Summer was just too far off to concern her at the moment.

Pushing the button, she waited for several minutes for the elevator to arrive. When the doors opened, Mr. MacDougal, the building’s super, exited holding several bags. He wasn’t much on personality and barely acknowledged Allegra as he brushed past her.

“Nice to see you, Mr. MacDougal,” she called after him. He merely nodded and never looked back at her. What a strange man, she thought as she hit the number six button to take her to her floor.

She had often commented to other tenants how creepy she found him to be, with other residents of the building concurring with her opinion of him. She knew it wasn’t nice to ridicule others, but he was different. She always got a knot in her stomach if she needed to call him to fix something in her apartment. She didn’t like the fact he had a key to her place and would go into it to make repairs when she wasn’t home, but it was his job. She figured it was better for her not to be home when he did what he needed to do. She could never find anything to say to him that would induce him into a conversation. Being as weird as he was, she really didn’t want to have a conversation with him anyway. * * *
$18.85
2-049
Format: 
Class Reunion - p
by Michael E. Field

Kathy Sear and Greg Hawkins Series, Vol. 3

At Pineview East High School a group of friends decide to pull a prank on a fellow classmate, intending to humiliate and embarrass their victim.

Ten years later the friends that pulled the prank start to die in unusual and unexpected ways. Are the deaths all a coincidence or part of a plan of ultimate revenge?

Pineview detectives Greg Hawkins and Kathy Sear don’t believe in coincidences and their investigation confirms their suspicions as they relentlessly pursue the truth.

The detectives quickly find themselves in a race to solve the murders before the killer finishes the list of victims.

ISBN 978-1-61386-054-0 Mystery, Thriller

PROLOGUE Ten Years Ago

For Robert Welch the ultimate dream had, in the blink of an eye, turned into a terrifying nightmare. For two weeks Robert had walked on cloud nine, his most daring act had paid off and an unbelievable wish had come true.

Even though he had thought long and hard about it, he couldn’t come up with a period in his life, no matter how long or how short, where he had experienced such joy and pleasure.

Two weeks earlier David had slain Goliath. He had built up his courage over the prior month, biding his time until the stars had aligned themselves just right. If he waited too long or moved too soon all would be ruined and his planning would all be for naught.

When the time was right he approached his version of a goddess, Mary Brooks, and asked her to the upcoming Homecoming dance. When he uttered the words Robert expected her to reject him without batting an eye but he hoped it would be in the nicest way possible.

At first she seemed stunned into silence and when she did speak she didn’t reject his request on the spot. Instead, she asked for his phone number and said she would call that evening with her answer. And miracles of miracles, at twenty minutes after eight that night, she called and said she would be his date.

Even though Mary easily fit into the designated popular kid group at Pineview East High School, she didn’t have the mean and nasty streak of the others in her circle of friends. To them, if you weren’t in their group you were unimportant and worthless. Unless of course if you needed help with a Biology report or a Trigonometry exam. Then you were more valuable than gold to them but only until the report had been turned in or the test taken.

But Mary always had a kind word for those outside her group, never made a snide remark or looked down at her nose at those less popular; less pretty; or less athletically gifted. It’s for those reasons Mary found herself as the realistic fantasy of every pimpled-faced nerdy boy in school. They viewed her as one of the girls that could, given the right circumstances, actually fall for one of the nerdy boys like they do in all the popular teenage movies.

Since then Robert walked around feeling a little taller; his chest out a few inches; and an air of confidence he never had before. A cloud of air served as the soles of his shoes, quickly becoming the object of admiration and honorary status among the other nerds at school. Robert Welch, the nerd that bagged Mary Brooks.

In lightning speed, the two weeks between when he asked and the evening of the event passed. Robert drove to Mary’s house after making sure everything was perfect and he had left enough time for traffic or any other realistic event possible, arriving two minutes prior to the predetermined time of six-thirty. He climbed out of the late model (used) car he spent hours washing, detailing, and waxing before he practically floated to the front door.

He popped a breath mint right before pressing the door bell and noticed how dry his mouth was and how nervous he felt. His hand shook so much the corsage he held shook like a flower buffeted in a strong storm but he managed to keep from dropping it or causing it to fall to pieces. When Mary answered the door she looked like an angel had come down from Heaven. Her hair shined in the light; her skin smooth and flawless; and the dress she wore…was not the color she said she would be wearing.

Instead of the light blue shade she described she now wore a deep red dress that clashed with the flower he held. Movement over her shoulder caught his attention and he quickly identified a half dozen or so giggling members of the in-crowd.

He spotted Holly Fisher and Cindy O’Dell, the head cheerleader and leader of the Pom-Pom girl unit making no effort to hide their amusement and laughter. Their dates and the other three or four couples present let loose with unbridled laughter as Robert turned back toward Mary, his mouth agape not understanding what was unfolding in front of him.

Mary gave him a smirk before opening the door completely to reveal Barry Hall, the star running back and linebacker from the football team. He stood there, his face not showing any amusement and he flexed his hands into fists before relaxing them.

“Who do you think you are, asking out my girlfriend to the Homecoming dance?” Barry snarled. Then, before Robert even had a chance to answer, Barry shot forward, quick as a snake, and jammed both his fists into Robert’s chest. The force knocked Robert off his feet; off the front porch; into and through the three-foot bushes that lined the front porch and sidewalk. When he came to a stop on the grass Robert thought his ribs were broken as he struggled to catch a breath. The wind had been knocked out of him and as he raised himself onto his elbows his eyes began to fill with liquid. He looked toward the front door and through the tears he could make three or four blurry figures standing in the doorway, loudly laughing and pointing at him.

Robert ignored the actions of most of the figures but the one he could hear the laughter the loudest came from the red dress. He could still hear her laughter after she closed the door with a thud.

Feeling something beyond humiliation; beyond sorrow; Robert picked himself off the ground and slowly made his way to his car.

His legs never felt so wobbly and he felt like he was about to throw up as he extended his arms out to the sides, trying to grab onto something that would help steady his gait. His corsage lay on the grass, forgotten and crushed, ruined beyond recognition.

Eventually Robert made his way to the car, using the side of the car as a brace, working his way around to the driver’s side. He kept his face downcast, hoping that none of the neighbors had been looking out their windows and saw his humiliation.

Through streaming tears he opened the door, slid behind the wheel, and managed to start the engine. After pulling away from the curb he drove aimlessly for hours, wondering how he could ever show his face in public again and how he wished the sun would never come up again.
$18.95
2-054-0
Format: 
When Dead Cats Bounce: A Nick Schaevers Mystery, Vol 2
By Newton Love

Nick Schaevers Mystery Series, Vol. 2

Just before things went haywire, Nick Scheavers’s life was going great. He expected to make a mint on the high tech company he was helping to go public, and he had become lucky in love.

Everything was wonderful until a venture capitalist did some high-speed bouncing on the sidewalk before posing for the crime scene photographs. How quickly the high and mighty have fallen, or in this case, were launched.

On news of the death, the stock price of the fledgling company fell fast, too. Stock Market analysts say that stocks, like a dead cat, will bounce if they are thrown at the ground hard enough. Hopefully the stock would quit falling, bounce, and then come to life again. On the other hand, the stock could also join the venture capitalist for the long fall to oblivion.

Nick now needed to save the company, himself, and if possible, his love life, but not necessarily in that order. Life would be a lot easier if he weren’t a suspect. This time, Nick needs more than a trick to avoid becoming a spot on the pavement.

ISBN 978-1-61386-061-8 Mystery, Detective, Suspense

PROLOGUE

San Mateo, California, Two years in the past

Thunk! The judge’s gavel banged on its wood block. She shook it at him and said, “Quiet, or I’ll hold you in contempt.”

Family Court Judge Takeshita looked to the bailiff. A uniformed officer against the wall strode to the defendant’s table.

The judge looked at the defendant again. “One more outburst from you, and I’ll add thirty days in jail.”

Fear held his tongue. The upper lid of his right eye twitched faster. They’re insane. Everyone except me is insane.

Even the judge can’t follow simple logic. He dry swallowed. I shouldn’t have raised my voice, but they wouldn’t listen! “Do you understand what I am saying?” the judge asked. I have to get out of here. If I play along, she won’t lock me up. He nodded.

The judge looked at the bailiff again, who motioned the uniformed officer to resume her post against the wall.

“This court, and your wife and children are not responsible for your bad judgment. Your reliance on the vague promises of a venture capitalist and company executives was foolish.” Takeshita is just like the rest, content in her misapprehension of reality.

“Your own risky behavior led to the IRS troubles and subsequent bankruptcy. It all could have been avoided if you had listened to the financial adviser your wife found. Your complaint against Mr. Tate, your former employer, is immaterial to these proceedings.”

Now, even the judge is conspiring against me, just like the others.

“Child support rates are set by statute. I’m adding alimony. The combined amount will be four thousand seven hundred fifty dollars a month.”

“But that’s almost all of my take-home pay!” he protested. “That is not the court’s concern. If you do not pay, you may receive jail time. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” he nodded. The rest of the hearing seemed a blur to him.

Judge Takeshita banged her gavel. “This court is adjourned.”

“All rise,” the Bailiff said, standing as the judge left through a rear door.

I’m screwed. He couldn’t feel his hands as they stuffed paperwork into his backpack. Ignoring the startled people that he pushed through, he burst outside. He took two deep breaths, but they didn’t calm him. He hurried to his car, without a clue where to go.

He started the car and drove. Anywhere was better than where he was: broke and about to be unemployed, with a huge alimony judgment fresh in his in-basket. Hills with traffic lights broke his stupor. He found himself in San Francisco’s financial district.

Garry Tate’s office is here. He destroyed us, and the company we worked for. He sold us out. Now our designs are owned by a company that won’t give us an interview. He parked, and entered the lobby of Tate’s building, then scanned the directory for Tate Venture Capital.

He’s a dead man. This time, I’m really going to kill him. He stepped into the elevator and pressed eleven. In the hallway, he found the stairwell and descended one floor. He opened the door and peeked around the corner. Nobody was there.

He went to the suite door and tried it. It was unlocked. He entered, surprised that there was no receptionist. From the waiting room to the executive offices in the rear, every room was empty. Packing materials and empty boxes were stacked in neat piles near the front of the suite. The floor had been vacuumed and what furniture remained had been cleaned or polished.

Nausea rolled from his feet to his head and back. He leaned against the wall, but it seemed to be in motion, too. He hyperventilated, which seemed to help. He staggered to the door, and left the suite as empty as he found it.

People in the elevator gave him a wide berth. At street level, he stumbled to the sidewalk. For a moment he was silent, but then he screamed. It hardly registered over the bus and car traffic mixed with high-rise construction noise. He slumped to the pavement and cried. Except for the suit he had worn to court, he blended with the derelicts on the streets of San Francisco.

I’ll show the judge. I’ll be homeless. Let her try to get her blood money out of a vagrant.

“You’ll never get revenge that way.”

“What are you talking about? Who are you?”

“I’m Gin, your other you. Do you want revenge on Tate?”

“Yes.”

“Then here’s how we’ll get it.”

Gin turned and walked toward his car, deep in a conversation with himself.
$18.95
2-061x
Format:: 
Beer Cart Girls Save the World-p
by John Piccarreto

June at Shimmering Lake Golf Club on the shore of Canandaigua Lake and the five-week beer-cart-girl certification program is in full swing. It’s a very popular program and a great way for any college girl to start her summer, but this year it could also turn out to be very dangerous.

Strange things start to happen and throw in December 21, 2012, a solar cataclysm, a missing ancient Egyptian necklace, the CIA, Middle Eastern terrorists, and it’s a lot more than Verne bargained for when he left his high-powered Wall Street position to purchase the course. Luckily, two aspiring beer cart girls are determined to help him straighten out this mess and, in the process, for a few believers, help save the world.

ISBN 978-1-61386-064-9 Mystery / Suspense

Chapter 1

March 13, 2009 Dubai, Saudi Arabia

Steve heard the door open and hurried downstairs. He found Rashid sitting on the couch trying to catch his breath.

"They took a shot at me. I can't believe they just tried to kill me. I had to drive like a crazy person to lose them," said Rashid.

"What!" Steve exclaimed. "They tried to kill you? Who tried to kill you? What are you talking about?"

"The fanatics, the terrorists, whatever you want to call them; they tried to shoot me. I can't believe they want me dead. They're going to ruin everything.

"Why would they want to kill you? I've known you for thirty years and I don't know anyone who ever wanted you dead."

Rashid took a deep breath. "They want something I have. It's something my father gave to me before he died. I don't know how they found out about it, but they know I have it and they still think it belongs to them."

Steve took a seat in the chair across from Rashid. "I'm confused. This is all so crazy. What could you possibly have that anyone would want to kill you for? What do you mean, 'It belongs to them'?"

Rashid twisted and reached into his pocket. He pulled out a velvet bag, reached in and revealed a strand of shining gems. There were emeralds, rubies, white, pink and dark blue diamonds, and what appeared to be some black pearls along with some other colored stones Steve didn't immediately recognize.

He dangled the strand in front of Steve. "This, my friend, is an invaluable necklace. My father bought it over forty years ago at the close of the Six-Day War. When he learned he was dying he took it out of hiding and gave it to me. My enemies say it belongs to them, that it's a religious artifact, but the truth is they only want it for the money."

Rashid handed the strand to Steve.

"There are so many types of gems and some appear quite rare. I bet it's worth a lot of money?" He continued to examine the necklace. "But this looks like only half of the necklace? There's no clasp on one end. Maybe you should get it repaired."

Rashid smiled. "It doesn't need repair; it needs to be joined to its matching half. It is worth a lot of money-anywhere from eight to ten million dollars."

Steve let the gems slide through his fingers. "Well, that helps to explain why someone would want to kill you for it."

Rashid held the velvet bag open as Steve dropped the strand into the pouch. "Like many pieces of expensive jewelry, there is a legend that accompanies it. Not a legend like the Hope Diamond that warns the wearer of death, but a legend about the safety, prosperity, and continuation of mankind on the planet Earth. I have been in contact with a party representing the owner of the other half and he lives somewhere in New York State. He is willing to pay handsomely to make sure the two halves are joined before December 21, 2012."

Steve laughed. "December 21, 2012? You don't believe in any of that crap?"

Rashid ignored his questions. "They say this necklace was given to the Egyptians by aliens and they placed it inside the capstone of the Great Pyramid at Giza. At some point in time the capstone was looted and the necklace stolen. No one knows how but for some reason the necklace was split in half and one half was taken by the Knights Templar, eventually ending up in North America."

Steve shook his head slowly. "I don't believe a word of it, aliens, Egyptians, the capstone, oh, and of course, Knights Templar. And December 21, 2012, how does anyone know what the Mayans were thinking when they came up with that date? The Mayans were a clever people but looking to the sky to predict a time of worldwide change. Give me a break. I'm a scientist."

"You're not the only one with that opinion."

Steve shrugged his shoulders and continued, "There's all kind of crap on the Internet and on television about December 21, 2012, about the end of the world, flipping of the North and South poles, a change in the culture, and who the hell knows what else."

"Well, there's more to it than what you hear on television. There are things most people know nothing about. Things only a handful of people have heard about. I understand your skepticism but there are still people in the world who take this seriously."

"Alright, I understand," he said.

"Like I said, this necklace was brought to Earth by aliens. Think of it as a machine, and like any machine, it must be whole in order to work. If it's not all in one piece on that date, it will not prevent the start of a solar storm that will disrupt this planet. Picture it in one piece, emitting a ray from the top of the Great Pyramid that reaches the sun and protects this planet from harmful radiation."

Steve began to rub his forehead. "I still can't believe you think there is anything to that December 21, 2012 crap and an impending solar disaster. It's just another date that will come and pass and nothing will happen. I especially don't believe it when you throw the aliens into the mix."

"Well, my friend, it doesn't matter what I believe. I agree with you; this is probably just some silly legend. However, the person with the other half is aware of the legend and has claimed through his representative that he takes the legend seriously and intends to reassemble the necklace."

"It sounds like another fat cat with more money than he knows what to do with; probably a New York State lottery winner," cracked Steve.

"I don't know anything about the buyer but I do know it is time for me to sell. You may not realize this because it has not been publicized, but this country is heading for financial problems, maybe a financial meltdown. It will not be long before the world learns that Saudi Arabia is heading into a debt crisis not dissimilar from the one that hit the United States. I am not immune from the downturn in my country's economy. I've decided to sell this necklace for ten million dollars."

"Well, I can understand the need for money in a time of crisis. I can understand the easy money the zealots could command with such a prize piece of jewelry. I'll just pretend the end-of-the-world legend is just that, a legend."

"You are wise my friend," he replied. "However, your wisdom will not change my need to get this to the United States so I can close the deal as soon as possible. It wasn't until yesterday that I realized this group of fanatics knew I had the necklace. Now I need to act to close the deal as planned; there is not enough time to change plans. Besides, I may need this money sooner than later. I've been investing a big part of my fortune into projects right here in Dubai."

"And this man in New York State is going to pay you ten million dollars in cash for the necklace?"

"That is correct. Ten million should serve as a good nest egg should the worst case scenario occur," said Rashid. "I need your help and I'm willing to pay for it. I will give you a million dollars if you can help me get this into the United States."

Steve's eyes opened wide. A million dollars was a tidy sum, but moving something this valuable, an item that people are ready to kill for, could be problematic.

"We have been friends for a long time. I know it will be easier for you to get this necklace into the States than it will be for me. I know you intend to visit your brother in America in a few days. Maybe you can bring it with you. I need your help, my friend," pleaded Rashid.

"Rashid, I love you like my brother, I would do almost anything for you, but I don't know anything about smuggling. How am I going to do this?"

"You can do it, Steve. No one is going to be looking for you. They're after me."

"I hope so, but I may need some help."

"See what you can do. If needed, I know people who can help you but it is best to keep this between you and me," said Rashid. "I must make arrangements for my escape from Dubai. The airport is too dangerous; they will be looking for me. I'm not sure if I can trust anyone or when I can get out of the country. I'm going to leave the necklace with you in case they come after me again. Let's plan on meeting at Starbucks tomorrow morning to discuss this further. Hopefully, I will still be alive."

Steve pulled the necklace from the velvet bag as Rashid closed the door behind him. He stared at the gems and tried to wrap his brain around the situation. He could just hand the necklace back to his friend tomorrow morning and tell him he couldn't do it, but he felt obliged. Rashid had been his friend since their days as graduate students back in the seventies. It was Rashid who hired him to work for his oil company in Houston and offered him a promotion if he moved to Saudi Arabia. After all he had done for him he couldn't bring himself to abandon his friend during his time of need. Besides, it's tough to pass up the chance for a quick million dollar pay day.

Steve fell back on the couch and considered his options for moving the necklace. He could stuff the necklace into his luggage, take his commercial flight as planned and hope to get the necklace through both airports undetected. However, if the necklace were discovered how would he explain it? There had to be an easier way than trying to take the necklace on a commercial flight.

He had an idea and he could carry it out without even having to leave his house. Each year Steve invited friends and family from the States to visit and this year had invited his golf crazed niece, Heather, for a week of golfing and sight-seeing in Dubai. The trip was made even better when she learned she would have the chance to re-connect with her friend from London, Rashid's niece, Malika. Since Steve was so busy with the oil business it was great that she had someone to spend time with while he had to work.

Today, instead of golfing, Malika had arranged a day-trip up the coast and they wouldn't be back until at least five o'clock. It was by far the best idea, especially because Heather was flying to Rochester, New York early tomorrow morning on a private jet her uncle Verne had so graciously arranged. He knew that no matter what you hear, as a traveler on a private jet she would not be subjected to the intense scrutiny at Customs that a commercial traveler might encounter. Plus, there would be no chance of losing her luggage. It was a foolproof plan; Heather would be home for a few days before returning to Syracuse University to finish her junior year and that would give him a chance to get to the States and retrieve the necklace.

He went upstairs and opened the door to Heather's room. Heather's golf stand bag was in the corner, still not packed into her golf travel bag. He took the golf bag to his work room, placed it on the table and, using some tools, managed to remove the foot of the golf bag leg stand. He wrapped the necklace in lead tape, shoved it securely into the leg and reattached the foot. He returned the bag to his niece's room, placed it back into the corner exactly the way he found it and closed the door as he left.
$18.95
2-064-p
Format: 
Ghost to Die For: Shannon Delaney Paranormal Mystery Series, Vol. 5
by Elizabeth Eagan-Cox

Shannon Delaney Paranormal Mystery Series, Vol. 5

Halloween night, 2012. Mount Esperanza Memorial Park, San Diego. Shannon Delaney and Alex Blackthorne accept assignment to guard the grave of Andalyn Dixon, who died on her twenty-first birthday, October 31st, 1892, before she could prove her innocence in one of San Diego’s most notorious bank scandals, October Hoax of 1891. Legend says, Andalyn was scared to death, by a ghost. And now, by request of Mt. Esperanza Restoration Committee, Shannon and Alex keep sentry over Andalyn to prevent scam artists from staging claims of Andalyn speaking to them from beyond the grave, and thus, allowing the truth to be revealed. The cryptic facts surrounding Andalyn’s life and death lead Shannon on a journey of discovery into the past to answer the nagging questions of: Was Andalyn Dixon involved in the bank scam? Did Andalyn attempt to hide her guilt? Was Andalyn scared to death, by a ghost?

ISBN 978-1-61386-080-9 Paranormal, Mystery, Series, Ghost,

CHAPTER 1

Alex was exactly where he said he would be. Not that I doubted him, but wandering through a cemetery on Halloween evening, looking for a giant Celtic cross monument, I began to wonder if I would find him.

Frustrated and feeling lost, I stopped in my tracks and surveyed the grounds, looking out and over a fence hedge of ivy, I spotted the giant cross about sixty feet away. I quickened my pace and arrived slightly out of breath and very relieved to see Alex standing underneath the cross.

“You are late, that’s not like you,” Alex commented.

His tone of concern was obvious, he was not complaining.

“I had trouble finding the right path. As I entered the front gates one of the staff greeted me, and then he lent me a flashlight and pointed me in the opposite direction from where I should have started. Of course I did not know that, consequently I headed out in the wrong direction. I’ve been wandering about following one path, then another, until I saw a signpost that pointed this way to the Celtic Cross Monument. I’ve had a thorough walking tour of Mount Esperanza Memorial Park. I’ve been hoofing it for the better part of the hour.

Oh, and I wasn’t able to get cell phone reception here.”

If Alex read into my explanation a dreary sense of whining, he was correct. I was complaining.

He hugged me. “Here, have a seat. This concrete bench is not very comfortable, but we won’t be here long, I promise.”

I sat down and pulled my trench coat in close around me. “It is chilly tonight. Tell me again, why am I your emergency date for this evening’s event.” I tried to smile.

“Ah, yes. My colleague Jenna Hayes was supposed to be here, but she called this afternoon with an excuse, saying she had her little nephew to baby-sit and take him out for trick-or-treating, something about his mom having come down ill, and so on. Anyway, I sincerely appreciate you taking me up on my unusual, albeit, very appropriate Halloween adventure. I think you’ll like the presentation of Haunted Lit.”

I gave Alex a side-glance look, conveying my doubts.

“So, as you briefly explained in your phone call, this Haunted Lit is some sort of entertainment? And a fundraiser?”

“Yes. The evening’s event is a fund-raiser for ongoing restoration here at Mount Esperanza. The concept is that a traveling troupe of actors with audience members in tow, has scheduled stops throughout the cemetery and at each stop they perform a skit from a well-known play, poem or such. Here at the Celtic Cross Monument, they will perform Edgar Allen Poe’s poem, "The Raven." We’re here to politely cheer them on and keep guard over the dead.”

I looked at Alex and it dawned on me he was dressed in costume. He looked the part of an actor in Haunted Lit as if he would be the actor reciting Poe’s famous poem.

Dressed all in black, as the magician he actually is, but he wasn’t in his modern stage apparel. Alex was the epitome of a Victorian era magician, dressed in formal black attire, black cape and top hat, with a sleek silver-domed walking stick at his side. “You are a handsome devil, decked out like that. Had I known, I could have scared up some kind of costume.” I smiled and then realized that flirting with Alex put me into a much better mood.

“Let’s not be too trivial, we are serving a greater good, keeping watch over the graves in our immediate circle.”

Alex was serious and his comment brought me back to the reason we were here.

We sat on a small bench directly underneath the huge Celtic cross. I looked up and estimated the cross must be at least fifteen feet high. The bench was situated on a circle of flat concrete stones that stretched out in a diameter that seemed to equal the height of the cross. I let my gaze wander out to the edge of the pavement.

Small headstones marked the diameter, much like numerals mark the face of a clock. I looked all the way around and counted twelve gravesites. Until that very moment, I had not realized we were encircled by graves.

Wide-eyed, I looked to Alex and asked, “You mean to say, we are guarding these twelve graves?”

“Yes. And for good reason, the grave directly in front of us, it is the grave of Andalyn Dixon, a young woman who passed on Halloween night in 1892, on her twenty-first birthday. She is rumored to have died with a secret on her lips regarding a treasure in stolen bank funds.

Reportedly, she was scared to death by the presence of a ghost. Her time of death is at 9:32. And that is exactly the time that the troupe will be here to perform 'The Raven.'”

“Her grave needs guarding because people try to...what? Communicate with her? Vandalize the site? Dig her up? Alex, stop being so cryptic, I want the details.”
$18.85
2-080-p
Format: 
Children of the Enemy-p
by D. J. Swykert

Jude St. Onge is a man on the run. He is an addict who has stolen a large cache of drugs from Detroit drug kingpin Mitchell Parson, who is determined to retrieve the drugs and take his revenge on Jude. After the torture slaying of Jude’s wife, and the kidnapping of Jude’s daughter, Angelina, the last thing Mitchell Parson expected to hear when he picked up the phone was: “I have your sons.” Raymond Little, with a murder conviction in his past, and newspaper reporter Ted Rogers have become unusual allies with Jude in an attempt to rescue his daughter. Together they kidnap Parson’s two boys, hoping to secure Angelina’s release. Risks for both hostage-takers skyrocket as the two sides square off, while Detroit Homicide Detectives work the case unaware of all that is at stake in the investigation. Only Ray and Ted can save the endangered children in Children of the Enemy.

ISBN 978-1-61387-082-3 Mystery, Suspense, Thriller



CHAPTER 1

The snow was running from the sky. Jude was also running. He lit a cigarette, fumbling with the lighter. Jude’s hand shook as he put the cigarette to his lips and took a drag. I really got the shakes. I need to get to Leon’s bad,stretch out and light up a pipe, be out of this snow. Yeah, need a good hit, but no time for that now. The farther I get from Detroit the better off I’m gonna be. Parson’s really pissed, and he’s looking for me, but he isn’t gonna find Jude. Nope, Jude’s not gonna be around.

This deal went down Jude’s way, I got the dope and he got shit. Jude laughed to himself as he wound the car around the snowy back roads of Sumpter Township.

A thick layer of snow covered the road, including the large chuckhole Jude never saw. The front end of the car slammed into the hole so hard it banged his knees up under the dashboard. That was a big hole. I’ve got to be more careful. I’m almost there. This snow isn’t going to stop me. I’ve got Parson’s dope and everything gonna be just fine. Jude let up on the accelerator and slowed down, his heart beating like a sparrow’s.

The snow continued to fall.

Jude felt the steering wheel begin to pull hard to the right and he could barely keep the car on the road. He stopped on the side of the road and got out of the car and looked at the wheel. The right front tire was flat. The rim was bent from the chuckhole he'd run over.

Jude opened the trunk. There was no spare inside.
$18.95
2-082-3
Format:: 
No Motive for Murder: Dangerous Journeys Series, Vol. 3-p
by Virginia Winters

Dangerous Journeys Series, Vol. 3

Anne McPhail is on holiday in Bermuda, visiting her sister. She stumbles upon a murder in progress and this time, she is more than just a witness, she is a suspect, dealing with a police officer who decides Anne is guilty, and sticks to it in face of the evidence or lack of it. But more is going on than a random murder. Anne is caught in the middle a dangerous assassination plot. When she inadvertently upsets the killer ’s plan, he turns his attention to her. The risk spreads to her family and friends and then Thomas Beauchamp arrives on Bermuda.

When his role is revealed, Anne’s life takes a dangerous turn.

ISBN 9978-1-61386-071-7 Mystery, Genealogy, Bermuda,

CHAPTER 1

Sudden rain battered Bermuda that morning, pounding the whitewashed roof on its way to the cistern. Rivulets coursed down the windows. Wind bent the old trees that stood in front of the house, survivors of hurricanes of the last fifty years. Beyond the trees, the whitecaps crashed against the grey dock and up onto the white stones stacked along the shore. Anne turned from the window when she saw the car arrive. Usually she took the bus when she went anywhere without her sister, but this was a taxi sort of day.

A sweeping drive led off the street and around an immense ornamental pond to Hamilton’s city hall. At the top of the welcoming arms staircase, two-story white pillars guarded the doors. A replica of the ship Discovery decorated the summit of the clock tower, gleaming in the sudden sunshine. Below it the clock with its seablue face chimed ten o’clock.

Wide Bermuda cedar stairs, carpeted in deep red, led up from the foyer to an encircling mezzanine. Anne paused to admire the portraits of a young Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, copies of the Winterhalter oils that hung in Windsor Castle that flanked the entrance to the National Art Gallery.

She spent a pleasant but solitary two hours in the permanent collection of paintings, furniture and objets d’arte made by Bermuda artists or inspired by the islands.

At noon, she thanked the volunteer at the desk and signed the guest book. There was still time to see an exhibition of art by local children that hung in a room at the other end of the mezzanine. She opened the door.

A scene from a movie. But it was real. The sound effect, a muffled explosion. One man down, the other searching his pockets. She, screaming, frozen for a moment.

He heard her, jerked his head towards her and away and fled through the exit door. She raced across the endless meters that separated her from the young black man crumpled on the floor.

Anne pulled off her jacket and knelt by his body; blood was spurting from the hole in his navy tee shirt. The wound punctuated the proud words written on his shirt—Bermuda Born. So young she thought. So young.

The soft white cotton of her jacket, pressed against his chest, turned red beneath her hands. His fading heart fluttered and stopped; color faded from his lips; the pupils in his dark brown eyes dilated. She started chest compressions, but she knew it was too late. The bullet must have gone straight through his heart.

He had no chance. No chance.

“Help,” she screamed again. “Help me!”

Blood seeped from beneath the body and congealed on her yellow linen skirt — a thickening, dull-red jelly.

A man in a grey uniform, perhaps a security guard, appeared at the top of the staircase, ran towards her along the blue carpet, stopped, his mouth opened to speak, and then he wheeled into the Art Gallery.

Where was he going? Couldn’t he see she was in trouble?
$18.95
2-071
Format:: 
Albemarle Affair-p
by C.M. Albrecht

When Corky Middleton thinks she may have found her birth mother, she hires Foster & Hall to investigate. Wow, does she open a can of worms!

Instead of finding Corky's mother, the shamuses trip over a corpse, and that's just the humble beginning of an escalating case that climbs to the top of society in this twisted tale.

Can Foster & Hall Investigations go back eighteen years to unravel this tangled web of deception and bring a murderer to justice? 978-1613860489 suspense/thriller/mystery/young adult

Also Available in HTML and RTF formats



The Beginning

Melodie stood beside her canopied bed fidgeting her bare toes on the soft carpet. She should have been asleep two hours ago but--the voices. She knew…well, anyway, that's what the doctor told her…they were just imaginary…but now…

She was certain the voices were real this time. Well, almost certain.

One finger continued to nervously and unconsciously twist and tug at a coil of auburn hair as she moved ever so slowly across the rich aubusson carpet to the heavy oak door. She pressed her ear to the door, strived to hear. Voices. Yes! Finally she took in air and dared open the door the faintest crack.

From somewhere below, like storm clouds, the angry voices rose up to her. She listened, still could not make out individual words. But she was sure they were talking about her. She just knew. Deciding her fate.

Tony! She clearly heard him yell…Tony. It sounded like 'Tony'. And then her voice. Not so loud, but sharp. Oh God, how had Melodie ever got herself into this mess? Why had she ever trusted this man? Rich. So smart; so educated. He always looked so perfect in his fine suits, but…well, if she couldn't even trust her own father, a man of God! Maybe all old men were like that. And her foster mother…those cold wet eyes had hated her from the moment Melodie entered the house.

She caught a sudden glimpse of herself in the psyche mirror by her dressing table. A slight girl of eighteen. Fat. She was so fat. Every time she saw herself in the glass, she was fatter. Melodie had never thought of herself as being pretty…but Tony thought she was. He thought she was beautiful. Her hands moved unconsciously over her cotton pajamas to the swelling in her stomach. Oh Tony--why couldn't Tony just come and get her, take her away from this house? Why hadn't she listened to him in the first place?

She shrank back against the door. It closed quietly as she slipped slowly to the floor. Her legs splayed ungraciously out before her as she leaned back against the door, lost in her reverie.

Was it her fault? All of it, or part of it? Maybe. Tony insisted it was not. And she wanted to believe him, but--

Abruptly a dull and distant thump and scream interrupted her musing.

What?

Silence. Had she really heard something?

After what seemed an eternity of utter silence, she thought she heard sounds again, but now they came from beyond the open window of her bedroom. Melodie forced herself to her feet and moved as if hypnotized to the window where she brushed the curtain aside, knelt and peered out.

There in the bright moonlight they were dragging a body along over the lawn. They were dragging it by the legs.

Tony! My God, it's Tony! She sank back and tried to think clearly. It couldn't be. It just couldn't. Her eyes must be playing tricks on her. Had she forgotten her medicine again? Her head spun and she felt as if an iron band had been pressed around it. She rubbed her temples. Finally she raised her head again. There they were, still dragging the body…but it had changed. It wasn't Tony. She giggled and twisted at strands of hair. It wasn't Tony after all. It was Toby! She almost laughed aloud, but put one hand to her mouth. She didn't want them to know she was still awake. She breathed a long sigh of relief. Toby. Just poor Toby. But why would they drag poor Toby around in the middle of the night? Maybe the dog was sick or something. Well, at least it wasn't Tony after all. A wave of relief washed over Melodie. They had certainly sent Tony away and told him never to come back, but tomorrow he would. He'd come for her. He loved her. Melodie knew he'd come. Tomorrow.

She moved back to her bedside. Tony, Toby…it's so confusing sometimes. She pulled back the bedclothes and snickered as she crawled into her bed. Some people already thought she was crazy. She knew that. She heard them whispering. Wow, if I ever told anyone about tonight, they'd really think I'm crazy. She giggled and rolled over onto her side, still twisting at the lock of hair. Her mind began to slip into a dream state. She caught hazy glimpses of the storefront church, her mother clutching her Bible--her Rock she called it, the television people, and then a more pleasant vision: She began to dream of her and Tony under the mimosa tree, and as she slipped more deeply into the dream she found solace at last.

The faint last sound she heard came from the corridor beyond her door as the deep tones of the clock on the landing struck midnight.





Chapter 1

The Jesperson Building had seen better days. Keely Foster wrinkled her nose at the lobby smell. "Well, maybe it gets better up higher," she commented.

"You look nice," Parker told her as his eyes moved over the smart white blouse and full blue skirt Keely wore. "I like dresses better than slacks."

"Jeans and stuff are comfortable, but I don't look good in slacks," she told him. "And thanks for the compliment. Sometimes I think you never notice."

"Oh, I notice. I notice," he said with a leer. He pushed his glasses back up on his nose.

The elevator growled but it took them to the fifth floor where they found a pebbled glass door that read: A & E Investments.

Parker Hall opened the door and they entered a large bleak office space with only privacy panels separating the different desks. A strong odor of cigar smoke permeated the room.

A middle-aged matron at the desk facing the door looked mildly up at the pair.

"Eh, Foster and Hall," Parker told her. "We're here to see Edie."

"Edie? Haw!" The woman jabbed a thumb at the space next to her. Right over there."

Parker and Keely looked at each other, and moved to the indicated space.

Sitting behind a cluttered desk in a cloud of powerful smoke sat a sour-faced middle-aged hairless man with a paunch and a big cigar. His tired face wore a harassed expression as he looked up at them. His white shirt was wrinkled and open at the throat and a tightly knotted tie had been pulled away to let the second chin have breathing room. His large dark eyes softened briefly as he looked approvingly over Keely's slender well-shaped body. "Nice outfit," he said in a gravelly voice. "I hate that women don't wear skirts anymore." And he obviously liked her auburn hair and pert nose, but then his gaze shifted to Parker's six-foot-two hundred-fifty pound frame, his innocent face behind those glasses, and his ill-fitting suit. The man's expression turned doubtful.

"Mr. Edie?" Parker said in an uncertain voice.

"Edie? Haw! My name's Ayoobi," the man growled. "What do you want?

"Eh--" Parker began but Keely got the words out first: "We're Foster and Hall, private investigators," she explained. "You left a message on our answering machine?"

Ayoobi leaned back and blew out a thick cloud of dark blue smoke that forced both Parker and Keely hold their breaths.

"Oh--that. You're not exactly what I expected." He leaned forward again and studied the pair more closely. "You sure you got any experience?"

"Oh…we're professionals," Parker assured him. "We know what--" Parker held out the card he had been holding. Ayoobi took it, looked at it and laid it on his desk amid the clutter of papers that already covered it. He didn't look particularly satisfied, but went ahead and said, "Sit down."

They drew up a pair of green plastic lawn chairs and sat down facing Mr. Ayoobi.

"I own…or at least manage…several restaurants in the area," he told them. "The Edie you were looking for died a spinster at the age of eighty-nine, so you can forget about talking to her." His heavy eyelids drooped and from beneath them, he measured the pair. After a moment, he continued:

"Put simply, what I want is an undercover detective to go into Edie's and find out who's ripping me off.

"Somebody's ripping you off?" Parker said.

"Boy, you really are a detective," Ayoobi said. He puffed and blew out another blue cloud.

Parker took a breath and tried again. "Well, luckily," he said with new enthusiasm, "I've worked as a fry cook in the past…before--I mean, before I became a private investigator."

"A fry cook? Good. That's good. You can blend right in then."

"What exactly did you want us to do?" Keely asked.

"Not us…him. I can't afford to pay two people," Ayoobi said.

"Well we could do a lot better job with two of us on the job," she told him. "I've had waitress experience. Between the two of us, we should be able to wind your case up in less than a week, Mr. Ayoobi." She raised her bare arms prettily. "So in the long run, you'd be saving money."

Ayoobi looked at her. "Yeah, well maybe. See, somebody's ripping me off to the tune of at least a hundred dollars a day. You know how it goes?"

Both nodded to assure Ayoobi that they knew how it went.

"After a while a restaurant averages a certain income, good days, bad days, it all evens out, and the same with the food cost and labor and all like that. We know what to expect.

"Suddenly at Edie's, I'm running about a hundred dollars a day low. Expenses still the same. Wages still the same. But suddenly I'm down about a hundred bucks a day…maybe more. Maybe it takes me a little time to wise up, but I'm wised up now…and I want it stopped. You wouldn't believe the narrow margin of profit we have here…and I have people to answer to." He leaned back, grunting. "Besides, it just ain't right. It ain't right and I want it stopped. Can do?"

"Absolutely," Parker said with what he hoped sounded like lots of assurance. "Keely's right, sir. With us working together undercover, we'll wind the case up fast for you…and we can give you a special rate too…for an endorsement--I mean after we successfully close your case for you."

"Yeah? What kind of rate we talking about here then?"

Keely told him.

Ayoobi actually jerked to his feet spilling cigar ash onto the already cluttered desk. "Two hundred dollars each a day plus expenses!" He cried. "What expenses? I'm the guy got expenses. Look, while you're working there you'll be eating my food, wearing my uniforms. Two hun…look." He sat back down and took a puff on his cigar.

"Look: I was rich and a big shot I'd call a big agency from the Yellow Pages. Why you think I picked your name out of the Penny Saver? I'm on a tight budget here, that's why. You're going to get your meals. Two good meals a day for each of you. You can have anything on the menu…well except the steaks. I let you eat steaks I have to let all the help eat steaks. But hey, two solid meals a day. That's worth something. I have to put you on the payroll as regular employees, so you'll get regular wages too, and …"

As Keely held up her hand to protest, he raised his voice and went on: "Okay, wait. Plus. Plus I'll tell you what I'll do. You work for wages and meals, and when you wind the case up for me, I'll give you a bonus. What do you say to that?"

"What kind of bonus?" Keely asked.

"Well…"

After a lengthy argument that soon became as complicated as the Israeli-Palestine peace talks, it came down to Edie's regular restaurant wages…with two meals a day each…for two weeks' work followed by some vague talk of a 'nice' bonus…if the detectives were successful in handing over the perpetrator. Ayoobi still refused to allow himself to be pinned down to a specific figure.

Never one to say yes on the first date, Keely kept at Ayoobi for twenty minutes more until finally she managed to browbeat the commitment of a firm one thousand dollar bonus out of him, and an endorsement…if they caught the thief and put a stop to the theft within their allotted two weeks.

"Plan to get lung cancer from all that cigar smoke," Keely said when they were back down on the baking street walking toward their car.

"The cancer doesn't worry me nearly as much as you do. Promising to catch the thief in two weeks," Parker said. His lean face showed his apprehension. "I just don't know, Keelio."

"Hey, what have we got to lose?" she asked. "We can give the job a couple of weeks and still come out all right. After all, this is our first case, Park. This is our chance to show what we've got…and unless you know something I don't know…we haven't got anything else going right now, so as I say, what have we got to lose? At least we'll be getting paid over the next two weeks. After all we have an office now. That costs money. We've got to generate some kind of income. It's not great, I admit, but it's a start. Our first real case. Sure, I know we could fall on our faces--but if we pull this off we'll have something positive to use as a reference. It'll look pretty good to list Edie's as a satisfied client, won't it? Everybody around town knows Edie's."

"Yeah, that would look good. Boy, I haven't flipped an egg in a long time," he said as his thoughts drifted back to earlier times.

***

They hit it off that first day when Keely came to work in the cafeteria on J Street. Parker was the morning fry cook…or, as he liked to think of himself--a lean mean frying machine. Parker's first glimpse of her took his breath away and he knew then and there even as he flipped eggs over easy in two egg pans at the same time, that Keely was the one and only for him. But how was he going to be able to talk to her? Him, a tall skinny dude, and downright shy.

As to Keely, she thought this string bean was cute--and interesting. A little voice told her he could just be the one. Of course that was before she had a clue that behind Parker's innocent and misleading façade of mild-mannered fry cook lurked a wannabe crime-fighting private detective.
$18.95
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Format: 
Deadly Reception
by C.M. Albrecht

Chef Merle Blanc, he has the nose. And when millionaire Bernard Goldberg dies during his wedding luncheon in the chef's restaurant, Chef Blanc's nose, he smells the murder! What greater insult for Chef Blanc than that someone would be so callous as to commit a murder in his restaurant during a wedding reception he has so painstakingly prepared. But the doctors and police believe Goldberg's death was natural. Can Chef Blanc keep some forty guests and employees in his restaurant long enough for him to don his apron and cook a killer's goose before closing time? "A fun read with lots of red herrings and false trails. I'm pleased to recommend Deadly Reception as a well told tale worth the time. Surprises in store for you. You'll want to read other tales by this very able storyteller. Enjoy. I sure did." — Anne K. Edwards www.mysteryfiction.net

978-1613860656 Also available in RTF and HTML formats suspense/mystery

Chapter 1

Chef Merle Blanc carefully tugged at one of his slender and unrealistically black mustaches with the tips of his pudgy fingers, unconsciously making certain they were perfectly straight. His attention remained focused on the sauce Gilbert was preparing at the range.

Around them the bright kitchen at Le Merle Blanc hummed with activity. All wearing spotless white, men and women busily chopped, sliced and diced while others stirred pots at the ranges and checked their ovens. The kitchen positively radiated delicious aromas. And at the center of this activity, the round little man with the mustachios and thick glasses, despite his attention to his acolyte, nevertheless always stayed closely tuned to every sight and sound and scent in his kitchen.

Chef Blanc's magnified blue eyes twinkled brightly behind his absurdly small square glasses. His pencil-thin black mustachios extended horizontally like arrows to either side beneath his round nose, and his red lips curved in an almost constant smile.

"Ah…" he murmured.

The younger man nibbled nervously at his lower lip. Acutely aware of the chef's eagle eye, he continued adding butter, but he was rapidly losing his concentration. A thin chap of twenty, he had barely begun to shave. However, as Chef Blanc firmly believed, this Gilbert, he was born with the talent to become a great cook.

The chef sighed and held out his hands. "Ah no no, mais no… The butter, you introduce him too rapidly into the sauce, Gilbert. I have told you before." Chef Blanc smiled broadly and extended his arms. "Is this how you make love to the woman, mon gars? Ah…I hope not." He smiled, tilting his round head slightly. He held out one hand with chubby extended forefinger and spiraled it gently up and around beneath Gilbert's nose. "Carefully, Gilbert. You must cook carefully--and with love."

Gilbert's youthful face reddened. He was young. He had much to learn.

"This making of the sauce, it is just like making love to the woman, Gilbert. Doucement; slowly, gently--but with passion. Remember, love the sauce and the sauce she will love you back."

Red-faced and fully embarrassed now, Gilbert sputtered an apology, "I--I try, Chef. I just go too fast sometimes. I know that. I get nervous. I don't want you to think I'm slow or lazy." His thin face twisted in concern. Not that he worried about being fired. No one ever accused Chef Blanc of pettiness, but Gilbert did so want to please his employer.

Chef Blanc smiled tenderly, laying one hand on the shoulder of his student. "Remember old branch, this is not the Quarter Pounder at McDo. We do not serve the hamburger, the fries and the milkshake in this house. To dine at Le Merle Blanc it costs the eyes from the heads of our customers, and this they pay of it willingly, because they come here not for the quick lunch on the thumb, or for some--some rubber vegetable that soaks for hours and hours on the steam table; au contraire, they come here for the perfectly prepared repast, for the ambience, for the dining experience they will talk about, not just tomorrow, but perhaps for months or even years to come. Every dish a triumph in itself. Ah…only recently I received a letter from a guest who writes to tell me she still remembers with great fondness the anniversary dinner that I prepared for her and her husband fifteen years ago at the Ritz in London. I--"

"Dad," came the voice of the chef's son, Jack, "we all know about the letters. Boy, do we know." He smiled showing beautiful teeth. "But we're in America now. By the way, over here we don't say something costs the eyes from our heads, but an arm and a leg."

"Ah bon," the chef said, smiling now at his son. "Arm and a leg, eh? Arm and a leg…" His smile broadened. "Yes, I like that." He continued to smile, perhaps faintly embarrassed at having gotten carried away. In his preoccupation with Gilbert and the sauce he had failed to notice the approach of his son, Jack, and Jean Luc. Both wore black jackets and long spotless white aprons.

Jack, although born in France, had been raised in the United States during a critical time during his development so that he felt much more American than French.

Jean Luc Thierry, on the other hand, was a tall slender man of many years experience. A man with a few more than the chef's forty odd years, his dark eyes, slender face and long beaked nose gave him a distinctive Gallic air, while the graying at his temples added a certain note of distinction that enhanced his reputation for being a ladies' man.

The chef flashed briefly back to his first acquaintance with Jean Luc some years earlier when they both worked at the Tour d'Argent in Paris. He remembered how he often laughed at the Jean Luc's efforts to impress the ladies. Chef Blanc had been delighted to receive an e-mail from Jean Luc a few months earlier in which the waiter expressed his desire to come to America. Almost immediately upon his arrival Jean Luc had become one of the chef's favorites, a waiter who often served Chef Blanc's most important guests.

Ladies' man that he might fancy himself to be, Jean Luc was an excellent waiter who took his profession very seriously. Today of course, working under the unfortunately still absent headwaiter, Alphonse, he would help coordinate and oversee all the other waiters for this special function.

"Ah," the chef said, "tell me, Jean Luc, will this boy ever be a waiter?"

Jean Luc smiled enigmatically. "I teach him everything I know, Chef. He is a good boy. But now I leave him in your hands for the moment. I have the preparations." From an inner pocket he brought out the small folding ruler he used to measure the correct placement for each piece of silver and each plate at each setting.

"And this Alphonse," the chef said. "I do not understand. He is never late. Never. Yet no one answers his telephone."

"Ah, he will arrive," Jean Luc replied. "One can always depend on Alphonse. Bon…le devoir parle."

As Jean Luc turned away and headed for the dining room, Jack frowned, oblivious to the murmur of pots and pans around him. "You know, I keep telling you, it's not really my major goal in life to be a waiter, pops." Taller and thinner than his father, Jack had the more chiseled features of his mother, Annie. "I mean, I know Jean Luc is very proud of his profession and all, but personally speaking, I'm going to college to become a journalist, not a waiter, remember?"

His father nodded while keeping one eye on Gilbert at his side. "I remember."

"I'm sorry Pops, I mean, I don't mind helping at the restaurant in between to do what I can to help pay for my keep, but using a ruler to make sure everything is lined up just right! I mean anybody with half a brain can eyeball it--besides, I bet the customers don't know the difference. And don't care either." He sighed. "I guess I'm just not cut out to be to be a waiter."

"No, you will never be a real waiter when you continue with such an attitude." The chef sighed. "Can you not be both a good waiter and a good journalist, my boy? In France to be a waiter, it is a profession, not merely a job. Waiters are proud that they do their job well."

"Yeah, I know…but even Jean Luc gets sick of it sometimes. He told me so himself. And he sure doesn't think much of today's menu either."

"He said that?"

Jack smiled. "He didn't exactly say anything. But I could tell. He'd be afraid to actually say anything to you."

"Ah no, he is not afraid, Jack. It is not fear that keeps my friend silent; it is respect." The chef smiled. "I think that Jean Luc he is slow to adapt to modern ways."

"Well, he's adapted himself to the Internet," Jack said. "Every time he gets a free moment, he's on that computer."

"Yes, I know," the chef replied. "Sometimes he spends too much time on the famous Internet. It ties up my little office." He smiled knowingly. "I think he chats with the ladies. He likes these chat rooms. Ah là là…One can only imagine the histoires when he is giving to the ladies of theboniment, the famous Jean Luc Thierry!"

"You think?" Jack looked thoughtful; then smiled, "Yeah, he's full of soft soap all right. I can see him now, telling some chick he's with Interpol, or he's a CIA agent on some discreet and delicate mission. Or maybe he lets drop hints that cause people to think he's a famous celebrity chatting incognito. Sounds like him at that." He snickered. "Well, anyway he's still slow to change his ways when it comes to how things should be done in the dining room." Jack paused. "Oh, I guess he's right, but boy, he sets a high standard." Jack looked thoughtful for a moment and then added: "Just like you."

"Of course," Jack's father said with a smile. "And I understand his feelings about the dinner. For such an important event Jean Luc would desire something more typically French, some magnificent special creation. Something superb. Hélas, what can I do? I too, if I had the carte blanche, I might prepare something more…more spectacular. But Madame desires to celebrate the wedding here--excellent idea. Still, her husband likes only the plain cooking. Nothing too elaborate." He smiled satanically. "It is perhaps like that emission on the télé, Designing for the Sexes, hein? He wants this; she wants that…" The chef's shrug was eloquent. "We compromise. Besides, in France too, the plain cooking, she comes before the haute cuisine. The good home cooking, she is the backbone of the French cuisine, let me assure you." His blue eyes twinkled behind the tiny square lenses. "Good French cooking, but family style: of this you might find in any good French household." He spread his short arms. "Now, had Madame come to me and said, 'I place myself in your hands, Chef', ah, then my imagination, my inspiration, they might have soared, of this I am certain, but…" Chef Merle's shoulders as well as his voice fell, "Ah, we all have our days. I don't blame Jean Luc. Perhaps part of his dismay is because here in America the waiters don't receive the respect they enjoy in France.

"Over there," he went on, a bit of nostalgia revealing itself in his voice, "the patrons they respect the waiter. They ask his advice. They respect his opinion. They listen to him. The waiter is their personal advisor and assistant while they sit at his table, and the good waiter does his utmost to make their visit a pleasant one. Here however, it is different. Waiters are seldom really trained. They are students who work their way through school by posing as a waiter." He smiled again, "Just like you my son. Ah, yes. Besides, if the waiter suggests a certain dish in America, the guest imagines the restaurant trying to get rid of something. He feels the waiter is working for the house and has only the interests of his employer at heart. Bah, this is nonsense. I do not believe any waiter is particularly concerned with the interests of his employer. And here too the guest usually just points to something on the menu and says, 'How is the Coquilles St-Jacques this evening?' and the uncaring waiter says, 'Quite good, sir,' while he is in reality thinking about how long it will be until he can slip into the rest room and smoke another cigarette. Bah, never mind." The chef sighed again. "Just be ready for the wedding, Jacko. That cannot take a long time, and afterward the reception. Then the dinner. We must make certain to have a wonderful experience for the newlyweds."

"Funny, people their age getting married." Jack laughed. "They must have kids as old as I am."

"As old as you?" His father smiled, the satanic twinkle back in his eyes. "I believe their elder son, Nathan is even older than I." He sighed and spread his hands expressively, "But love…"

"Uh oh," Jack said as he spied an aggressive group of casually dressed people homing in on them. "Here comes your gay producer slash director."

"Ah bon," the chef said without enthusiasm as he watched the advancing Tyrone Johnson surrounded as usual by his entourage of equipment-bearing technicians, hangers-on and assorted gofers. His 'people', as he called them. The chef smiled at the thought.

"Bonjour Chef," Johnson smiled, revealing large very white teeth that contrasted brilliantly against his black skin. Most of the crew wore jeans and other casual attire, but over his pale yellow silk collarless shirt, Tyrone Johnson wore a loose shapeless velvety charcoal silk suit with an apple green lining that revealed itself in the sleeves that Tyrone had rolled up just above his wrists. A heavy gold chain bearing some sort of pendant hung at his throat. An immense gold bracelet accented one bare wrist while a huge diamond-encrusted watch adorned the other. He wore soft leather slippers without socks and had turned his pant legs up as if perhaps expecting a flood in the kitchen.

"Bonjour, Tyrone," the chef replied courteously. "I am sorry I have no time just now, but today you see, I have the wedding--"

"Right, Chef, ri-hi-ght," Tyrone cut in. He flashed his huge white teeth. "And that's exactly why I'm here. Naughty Chef, you didn't tell me, but Tyrone knows everything. Everything." His eyes twinkled merrily as he wagged a finger at the chef. His smile faded as he became serious again. "But look, when we run the titles for your program, we need a cool background, you know what I'm saying? We want to run the titles over a montage of scenes from different aspects of your work. The more the better. You know," he smiled broadly again, "shots of you stirring a sauce, placing a dish on the counter, talking to a satisfied customer, tying on your apron, smelling the aroma of a pot…whatever. And this wedding idea, hey that was sheer genius. I mean, if I'd had more lead-time I'd have thought of something like that myself. It's perfect. We'll tape the entire wedding and see if we can't get some good footage to work into our opening credits, get it? And we need plenty of footage for the closing credits too. Besides," he finished with an even broader smile, "I'm sure the bride and groom will be thrilled to have the whole thing professionally videotaped. I'll personally make sure they get a complimentary DVD."

Complimentary from you, M. Tyrone, the chef thought, but moi, somehow I think I pay. Chef Blanc opened his mouth, but without giving the chef a chance to say a word, Tyrone turned quickly to one of his assistants.

"Let's get some light over there, Willie," he said, pointing toward the area where cooks continued to busy themselves over their hot ranges and ovens. "Whooh! All this stainless steel; it's good, but shiny. We have to be careful." His voice rose. "We've got to get more light over here too." He waved another manicured hand. "Lacresha, can you get me some coffee--I mean the good Merle Blanc stuff," and added, "you know what I'm saying?" He winked at the chef.

Lacreasha, a stick thin black model type wearing the shortest short shorts the chef had ever seen, swooped down on the espresso department to the left.

"Don't touch that bitch," Tyrone said, winking again, "she so bony you'll get splinters." But fortunately the chef's attention was on other things, and amid this new pandemonium, he sent Jack on his way and tried to turn his attention back to Gilbert, taking up where he had left off.

"I do not think you are slow or lazy, p'tit. You know I do not demand the speed, but rather, of the excellence." He turned slightly away from Gilbert and surveyed his busy domain, his eyes following the video crew as they moved busily about.

"Yo, my man--" Tyrone was saying "--let's get some footage of the cooks here doing their thing." He waved at someone among his entourage and several people leaped forward to help.

His 'people' began setting up lighting, translucent reflectors and, despite the activity and obvious discomfort of the cooks, got right to work.

Chef Blanc resisted a sudden urge to go hide in his little office. That was the only place where he might talk quietly on the telephone. He had his computer as well, although try as he might, Chef Blanc had never quite had the patience to master its intricacies. However, glancing at the clock above the cashier's stand that stood on a raised platform between the swinging doors that led to the dining rooms, he quickly resisted the urge.

"I would never have the cashier in the dining room," he once explained to a reporter, "nor the clock. I want my guests to forget everything and think only of the food and the drink. And when they leave, I hope they will remember only their agreeable experience at my table." However just now, since the arrival of the production crew, the thought of an agreeable experience was the furthest thing from the chef's mind.

He sighed. Well, one must do what one must do. After all, he had permitted himself to contract to do this television show. And, en fin de compte, it would after all be a wonderful opportunity to express some of his ideas to more persons than he normally might do working only in the kitchen.

The kitchen was already so white and bright that the chef could scarcely see the need for more light. Nevertheless it was obviously not enough light to please the demanding Tyrone. The chef smiled at the director's concerns. Chef Blanc realized that this was a good quality to have: the desire for perfection. Just as he too, had this same desire. In his restaurant, everything had always to be perfect.

Even purveyors and others who had business in the back of the restaurant knew this and came in with their mouths watering; and they seldom left disappointed. Chef Blanc might invite them to taste a bit of a gâteau au chocolat, or perhaps something as simple as a bit of crusty fried bread topped with blue cheese and a dollop of the homemade apricot jam that the chef's Aunt Agnès-Christine would on occasion send over from Provence. Or, if the purveyor were lucky, perhaps it might be a taste of a new creation centered on tender medallions of veal. The chef's pâté of wild duck had become so popular in the kitchen that Chef Blanc had to prepare extra quantities just in order to assure an ample supply for his paying guests. His confit de canard had become legendary, and of course no one went away without a small glass of some petit wine or another. But only one. Chef Blanc had the good sense to refrain from sending purveyors out to drive their trucks in too relaxed a condition.

The staff too never lacked for a glass; Chef Merle was careful not to hire employees who might abuse the privilege. The wine was to enhance their work; not to impede it.

All the busy cooks, men and women alike, wore stiff spotless white chefs' coats. There was Blanche, Marie and Émile. Chubby René and--ah… The chef smiled faintly. It was like a small army. "It has been said that Napoleon knew the names of all his soldiers," he once confided to an acquaintance, "but for me, I confess, I often find it difficult to keep the names of even my little brigade straight."

High on the upper left chest of the cooks' double-breasted jackets, a small white bird wearing a chef's hat perched daintily above the name, Le Merle Blanc, and of course all the cooks wore long white aprons that fell to the tops of their shiny black shoes. The chef dressed in the same fashion as well, save that his chef's coat had a blue-white-red chevron at the collar and displayed blue piping down the double breasted closure along with a couple of gold pins honoring his work in Europe. And although it was against the law, Chef Blanc often forgot to wear his toque, the tall white chef's hat that many American cooks consider the emblem of their profession. Of course he always took care to don it before venturing into the dining room. All being well-groomed, most of the other cooks went hatless as well; the arrival of the health inspector, a gourmet in his own right, was never an unexpected event since he always called ahead for a (free) luncheon reservation, so the staff had plenty of time to think about toques before the health inspector's satisfied and mellow appearance in the kitchen, a visit less concerned with inspection than with sycophancy.

Apart from that one illegal oversight however, the kitchen might have served as a room suitable for heart surgery. Aside from the more than adequate lighting from above, assistants sanitized and polished the stainless steel worktables and shelves with a regularity that approached obsession. The floor was never allowed to stay wet or dirty and, although the expense was sometimes frightening, no member of the staff would ever work with even the slightest stain on his jacket or on his apron. One small blot and ouf, the employee had to remove the offending article of clothing immediately and don a spotless, stiffly starched replacement.

Chef Blanc's eye came back to his protégé and he sighed as he watched a sad and embarrassed Gilbert take his disaster away to dispose of it before beginning anew.

Chef Blanc looked over at Tyrone who had assumed a pose across the room. Tyrone held a cup of coffee in one hand while he importantly directed his cameraman who moved in closely over an embarrassed René who was slicing mushrooms with a twelve-inch chef's knife.

The chef took a step forward and clapped his hands together loudly and cried out, "Écoutez les enfants!"

Instantly the murmuring of voices and rattling of pots and pans ceased and all eyes focused on the chef. Someone cried, "Silence!"

Tyrone swung gracefully about and directed a cameraman to turn his Steadicam toward Chef Blanc. As the chef spoke, the cameraman moved ever so slowly towards him.

"Today is a very important day for all of us," the chef announced. "This you know. Monsieur Bernard Goldberg is an important man, the more so--" the chef smiled modestly before continuing "--because he has had the good taste to choose our restaurant for his wedding, and for the wedding dinner."

This brought a general chuckle from the chef's employees. The chef nodded in acknowledgement. "We must not disappoint our guests. They should begin arriving soon. Therefore, in precisely one half hour, we must gather together for the inspection and review the final details so that we may all be of one accord. Understood? I pray that you all be prepared. Until then, continue."

One waiter, Louis, without turning his head, spoke quietly to the waiter who stood next to him, "This is worse than the army, the inspection, my friend."

"Yes, he misses nothing, the chef," replied the other. "Still…"
$18.95
2-065p
Format: 
Final Victim: the Fox River Valley Series, vol. 2
by Ann Nolder Heinz

Fox River Valley Series, Vol. 2

A family ravaged by greed, jealousy and hatred—can one member transcend her past and survive the ultimate evil? Dr. Abigail Potter has come home to take over her dying father’s medical practice. When her estranged sister Rona Lee unexpectedly reappears, Abigail is brought face to face with the cunning ruthlessness and dark secrets that drove her away twelve years before. The struggle between the sisters turns ugly. Then Abigail discovers Rona Lee’s butchered body and realizes she is the primary suspect. In a race against time, she must plumb Rona Lee’s murky past to clear herself and stop the killer before she herself becomes the final victim.

978-1-61686-122-6 Also Available in RTF and HTML formats

suspense/thriller

Sample Chapter

New Year's Eve

December 31, 1997, 7:00 p.m.

The nightmare had returned the previous night, a howling, red-hot inferno consuming everything Nora Hartmann held dear. Carrie's face, young and vulnerable, floating in the midst of it. Dark curls transformed into tendrils of flame. Eyes wide with terror. Pitiful cry keening: Save me, Mommy. Even now the remembered dream wrapped talons of fear around Nora's heart. Would she never heal? Would it never be finished?

She carried the tray of hors d'oeuvres into the dining room, arranged it on the table with the others, and drifted over to the front window.

It had been a snowy day, and a few lazy flakes still floated through the halo cast by the front porch light. The last colored lights of the holiday season, hooded by fresh snow, lent a festive air to the neighborhood. In sharp contrast, the house across the street was an empty hole as dark and silent as death. Night shrouded the realtor's sign at the foot of the drive, but Nora knew it was there, a constant reminder that a way of life she once cherished was gone forever.

She shook her head impatiently. Why, on today of all days, couldn't she let it go?

Perhaps it was the party. Perhaps her preparations were too reminiscent of the summer barbecue that had set her feet on the path that would lead to that fateful night of horror. It had been a beautiful day in June…



Chapter 1

Saturday, June 11, 5:30 p.m.

Rudy Schmidt adjusted the focus of the binoculars and scanned the house across the street. Although thick foliage screened most of the houses in this hilltop neighborhood, Rudy had discovered that this particular corner of his dining-room window afforded an unobstructed view of the Hartmann house. From here he could see the recessed front door and monitor anyone coming or going. To the left were the windows into the little den where Nora sat in the evenings to read. The big bay windows to the right accessed the dining room. Beyond lay the kitchen eating area where he often observed her sitting at the kitchen table or moving back and forth in the course of some task. Now he saw nothing. The late-afternoon sun glanced off the windows, making them impenetrable to the binoculars. No matter. Very shortly he would be reveling in the glow of her real presence.

"Emma!" he called as he put the binoculars back into the drawer of the china cabinet. "Get out here now! It's time to go."

He walked into the living room just as his wife Emma entered from the bedroom wing. She was wearing an outfit he had never seen, a ridiculous one-piece pant suit in a clinging fabric that revealed every unflattering curve of her body.

"Where did you get that?" he demanded.

She pretended not to understand.

He huffed impatiently. "That thing you're wearing. Where did it come from?"

Her cheeks reddened. "Nora and I went shopping last week. It was on sale. This sort of thing is in style right now."

"I don't care. It's not right for you. I'd like you to change."

He thought a flicker of rebellion crossed her face. Then she glanced at her watch and turned back toward the bedroom. Understanding dawned. She had known he wouldn't like the clothes; she had put them on in order to provoke him and delay their departure.

"Never mind," he called after her. "Go ahead and wear the damn thing. Let's just get going."

Another pointed look at her watch. "It's too early. Nora said six o'clock."

"That's when the others are coming." He spoke as if to a thickheaded child. "We're going early to help so she'll be ready when they get there."

"She said she didn't need any help. This is a big step for her, Rudy. A new beginning. She needs to prove she can do it on her own."

"That's psychobabble bullshit. Ed was always in the middle of things when they entertained. She's probably feeling overwhelmed about now."

"Nora never feels overwhelmed."

"Whatever. But she's bound to need some help. Trust me. She'll be glad to see us."

He was holding the front door open. When she continued to hesitate, he exploded, "For God's sake, Emma! Come on, or I'll go without you."

She sighed and obeyed. He locked the front door and followed her down the elevated porch steps. He watched her broad buttocks sway, filled with revulsion. She seemed to be getting fatter by the day in spite of the new diet he had insisted she follow. She was probably cheating like she always had.

He forced his eyes away, determined not to spoil the evening by dwelling on this woman who had become more a burden than a wife. Instead, he would think about the hours ahead when he would be able to drink in Nora's beauty and grace firsthand. He strode down the sloping gravel drive and across the narrow street separating their houses.

Nora's front lawn was freshly cut and trimmed. He had told her he would mow it for her, but the little rascal had risen with the birds and done the job herself. He couldn't seem to make her understand that doing things for her was not an imposition; it was the way things were supposed to be. Ed was gone, and it was his responsibility to take care of her now.

Of course, responsibility was a two-way street. In exchange for the carefree security he could give her, he expected her to surrender herself to him without reservation. He had been patient until now because he knew she needed time to get over Ed. Tonight's party proved she was ready to move on. The torch had finally passed.

They were nearing her front door. Rudy's heart raced, and his whole body tingled. Within seconds, she would be opening the door and welcoming them in. His darling Nora.



Chapter 2

Saturday, June 11, 5:40 p.m.

Nora Hartmann had showered and was about to blow-dry her hair when the doorbell rang.

"He wouldn't," she muttered.

She threw on her robe and padded barefoot to the front door. The leaded-glass window revealed the Schmidts standing outside.

Impossible man!

When she opened the door, he grinned engagingly and spread his arms wide. "Here we are as promised. Ready, willing and able."

For a moment, she was tempted to send them home again. She had made it amply clear she didn't want or need any help tonight, saying, "This time you're the guests and I'm the hostess. After all you two have done for me, it's payback time."

"What's this payback crap?" Rudy had countered. "You're like family to us. People don't count chits in families. We're always here for you, Nora."

"I know. And I've depended on that for over a year. But now it's time for me to start doing more things for myself. I'm adjusting to being alone--"

"Never alone, Nora. Don't ever think you're alone."

"The point is, I'm capable of handling a simple summer barbecue on my own."

"You'll need someone to flip the burgers. And tend bar."

"That's covered. I've made a rum punch."

"Punch? That won't satisfy the guys."

"Then they're free to help themselves." She had allowed her impatience to creep into her voice. "I appreciate the offer, Rudy. But believe me, everything is under control."

"We'll still come over a little early just in case--"

"No! Please. Just come and enjoy. Six o'clock. Okay?"

Yet here he was, an acutely embarrassed Emma in tow. Given her friend's pink cheeks and downcast eyes, Nora hadn't the heart to turn them away. She swung the door wider and stepped aside.

Rudy gave a complacent smile as he came in. His eyes swept up and down her body, making her uncomfortably conscious of her nakedness beneath the robe. She took another step back.

He said, "You run along and finish making yourself beautiful. We'll take care of things out here."

Emma avoided Nora's eyes and headed straight for the kitchen, her voice trailing, "I'll just see what I can do…"

Nora escaped to the bedroom. Rudy was becoming a huge problem, and she wasn't sure what to do about it. It was a tricky situation. The two families had been intimately connected for years. Rudy and Nora's late husband Ed had grown up in the same neighborhood here in the far northwest Chicago suburbs. They had been fraternity brothers at the university, had pursued the complementary professions of civil engineering and architecture, and had eventually formed a business partnership that had continued right up to the moment of Ed's sudden death from a heart attack fifteen months before.

Rudy and Emma had been pillars of strength for Nora in the months that followed. Numb, bewildered, aching with loneliness, she had welcomed their sympathy and attention. Hardly a day had passed that one or the other hadn't phoned or stopped by. At a time when she wanted only to hide, they had dragged her out every weekend to movies, plays, the symphony, or just for a bite to eat. They had invited her across the street to play cards or watch a video. Through it all, Rudy had been a paragon of propriety.

Nora wasn't sure whether the change had come as suddenly as it seemed, or whether the signs were there all along and she was too self-absorbed to see them. Regardless, an incident three weeks before had jolted her into new awareness. She and the Schmidts were playing cards in their living room when she excused herself to use the bathroom. On coming out, she found Rudy blocking her exit in the unlit hallway. He was little more than a looming shadow, but the taut intensity of his posture sent internal alarm bells ringing. He continued to stand there, his eery silence broken only by hoarse breaths that fanned her hair and raised gooseflesh on her arms.

In a voice she hardly recognized as her own, "What are you doing, Rudy?"

He stood there a moment longer, then relaxed, chuckled and stepped aside. "Doing? Answering nature's call, same as you. You'd better go check on Emma and make sure she's not cheating on us. I'll be right there."

Shaken, Nora returned to the card table and an unsuspecting Emma. Even though Rudy's behavior was exemplary for the remainder of the evening, she had taken the incident as a warning. She must find a way to wean herself from the Schmidts.

She would miss the companionship. Equally important, she would miss the understanding and ready ears that had helped her deal with the second most painful aspect of her life, her daughter Carrie.

At the time of her father's death, Carrie had been a month shy of her fourteenth birthday and about to graduate from eighth grade. Having recently shed her braces and most of her baby fat, she was gaining confidence and beginning to show signs of real beauty. She had a small group of close friends and was thoroughly immersed in the joy and pathos of early adolescence. Everything changed after Ed's death.

At first, Carrie clung to her mother, and their mutual suffering drew them close. However, as Nora returned to the demands of running her small shop and started spending time with her adult friends, Carrie began to turn inward. By the time Nora surfaced from her own pain enough to notice, her daughter was deeply depressed. She had gained weight and become slovenly in her personal hygiene, and her days were spent eating, sleeping and watching television.

Nora had hoped she would snap out of it when she started high school. Instead, things got worse. Her former friends grew tired of Carrie's disinterest and stopped trying to include her in their activities. Her grades, which had always been superior, plummeted. Truly frightened, Nora tried to intervene. She limited television viewing, banned sweets and snacks from the house, and set up schedules that were impossible to enforce. Her efforts produced nothing but arguments and accusations that became more shrill and unpleasant by the day. Desperate for a little peace and with another long summer looming, Nora had asked her brother Bill, who lived in Montana, if he and his wife Beth would take Carrie for a month or two.

The arrangements had been made without Carrie's knowledge. The girl's disbelief, outrage, and finally despair were painful to remember even now, two days after Nora had put her on the plane. With her gone, Nora reveled in the comparative calm of the house. At the same time, she struggled with the guilty suspicion that she had let her daughter down.

She finished dressing and began applying her makeup. Despite her bravado with the Schmidts, she was somewhat nervous about this evening's party. She and Ed had entertained quite frequently in the old days, and she had fallen back into the routine of preparations without much difficulty. Now that the time had actually come, uncertainty crept in. Was she doing the right thing by attempting to maintain relationships they had had as a married couple?

She had become acutely aware of the paired-up nature of her world in the months after Ed's death. Everywhere she went, she noticed people functioning as couples. In the grocery store, at the mall, in the movie theater, along Main Street--everyone seemed to have someone. She knew it was just the paranoia of loneliness. She also knew that rushing out to find another man to fill the void wasn't the answer. She would never be truly healed until she could find contentment in the circumstances she had been dealt. Later…well, she would just have to see what happened.

She took a last look in the mirror. She knew she was too thin. It was ironic. Whereas Carrie had become a foodaholic, Nora's appetite had all but disappeared. Tonight she was wearing a new skirt and top that actually fit, and she thought the fabric's soft loose folds hid her body's current angularity rather well. Nevertheless, her cheekbones were still starkly prominent, and the dark pouches under her eyes testified to her continuing inability to sleep well.

"Not exactly the Merry Widow," she murmured wryly, "but you'll have to do."

The doorbell rang, and she heard Rudy's voice boom in gracious, host-like welcome. She cringed and hurried out of the bedroom.
$18.95
2-0122
Format: 
Murder at Mama Truckers-p
by Terry L. White

Bobbie Grant has no idea of how the world turns when she is hired as a waitress at Mama Trucker’s, a truckstop just off the interstate. Newly separated from her fickle musician husband, Bobbie vows to make better choices in her life, but nothing seems to go the way she plans until handsome Frederick March shows up and courts her with jewelry and flowers. Undone by the attention, Bobbie falls head over heels in love, despite friend Polly Polk’s advice to play it cool. The dead girls in the parking lot don’t offer any solutions to her problems, they scare her spitless, posing the question: will Bobbie Grant find love or end up like the dead girls in the parking lot?

ISBN 978-1-61386-098-4 Mystery, romance, suspense

CHAPTER 1

People used to say you ought to eat at truckstops for the good food, but I don’t know if that is really true or not. The first one I worked in served curdled cabbage soup daily and the biscuits were as hard as rocks when they came out of the warmer; so you couldn’t prove the good food part by me.

Good service was supposed to be another drawing card, and while it is true that no one is born to be a waitress, I got so I was pretty good at it, paid my rent from my wages and tips, and never worked the lot. Some girls did, though, and more than one of them was the sorrier for it when they became the victims of the predators that haunt the roadways. I was recently separated the hard way from my husband, a wanna-be country music star who often could not find his way home. I started my career at Mama Trucker’s on the third day of July. When the boss, an angular woman named Mrs. Turner—and never called Ruth—hired me for second shift, I put on the ugliest uniform in the world in the ladies room, and trailed a waitress called Polly for about twenty minutes before the restaurant got so busy that I had to figure the job out for myself in a steady flow of plaid-shirted drivers all looking to flirt and fill their bellies with fried food, sugar, and gallons of coffee every hour of the night and day. It was a Saturday.

Mama Trucker’s was a full-service truckstop halfway between Boston and Buffalo on the New York Turnpike.

The complex consisted of fuel islands, a lot for truckers to park the big rigs, a truck wash, a gift shop, and niceties like a shower and bunk room, in addition to the big restaurant divided into coffee shop and dining room on the second floor that served the drivers of the big rigs, locals, and folks passing through on the main road for parts unknown. The four-wheelers shared a second parking lot with employees. The place was like a small city, situated at the edge of quiet little town called Windsor near the toll plaza and the interstate. It was a world I never imagined in my dreams of the future. It scared me to death.

You don’t plan to be alone. That’s the thing. You expect love to hang around. You don’t hope to have a job that will leave you exhausted every day, with a broken heart, surrounded by the people you see as the enemy. You hope for good things to happen in your life in spite of being broke and abandoned. You don’t dream how hard real life can be. You have bad days when you can’t remember your where you were going, but it is strange how things work out for the good when you least expect it.

I never planned to be a waitress you know; I wanted to be a writer—or later when I met Henry—who said I could sing pretty good for a girl—a potential country music singing star. Being a waitress looked too easy, not a job for a smart woman with big dreams for the future. All you had to do was to take an order, deliver it to the person who orders the food, and clear away the dirty dishes when they leave. Then did you pick up the tips, which I soon learned made up the difference between minimum wage and what you were actually paid.

I wasn’t going to be just a server of food by any stretch of my imagination. My dreams said I was going to be somebody, but you don’t always know what is going to happen down the line. You also don’t know that you will find a lifetime friend just by following your nose. Life is funny that way.

“The stuff for the salad bar is in the walk-in,” Polly said in passing when she noticed I was about to come to blows with a burly local who thought he had a Godgiven right to gobble up seven pounds of popcorn shrimp with the six-dollar supper that came with free salad bar on Friday nights. Disgusted, Polly informed me that the locals loved the free shrimp and turned into pigs every week. Then she said, “The cook left us a surprise for us in the walk-in, Hon. Help yourself, but don’t let Mrs. Turner see you,” she said, winked, and hurried back to her section of the coffee shop where the regular drivers preferred to sit so they could watch the waitresses in action better.

Polly Polk was not very big but she was lean as a whippet and sassy as pepper sauce. Her hair was boyshort and frosted. She had nothing by way of a figure if you factored in her skimpy butt and fried-egg bosom, but she more than made up for it with her incandescent smile and the witty come-backs to her admirers’ sometimes smutty jokes. I noticed that most of the tips she raked in were dollar bills and not just change.

I made up my mind I wanted to be just like Polly Polk—which was going to take some doing.
$18.95
2-098-p
Format: 
Wilt Thou Be Mine: Fox River Valley Series, Vol. 1 -p
by Ann Nolder Heinz

Obsession run amuck—and one woman’s determination to survive…

Nora Hartmann is struggling to cope with life as a recent widow, a single parent, and a small business owner. The last thing she needs is the unwanted attentions of her neighbor Rudy. As Rudy’s interest deepens into obsession, those close to Nora, including her new lover, begin to suffer – and die. Her continued unequivocal rejection triggers Rudy’s final descent into madness. If he cannot have her, no one will. Can Nora outwit him and save herself and her child? Or will evil win the day…

978-1-61386-097-7 Cover Art by Kari S. Dannenberg

Suspense/mystery/thriller

Curly-locks, Curly-locks, wilt thou be mine?

Thou shalt not wash the dishes, nor yet feed the swine;

But sit on a cushion, and sew a fine seam,

And feed upon strawberries, sugar, and cream.

The Real Mother Goose

New Year's Eve December 31, 1997, 7:00 p.m.

The nightmare had returned the previous night, a howling, red-hot inferno consuming everything Nora Hartmann held dear. Carrie's face, young and vulnerable, floating in the midst of it. Dark curls transformed into tendrils of flame. Eyes wide with terror. Pitiful cry keening: Save me, Mommy. Even now the remembered dream wrapped talons of fear around Nora's heart. Would she never heal? Would it never be finished?

She carried the tray of hors d'oeuvres into the dining room, arranged it on the table with the others, and drifted over to the front window.

It had been a snowy day, and a few lazy flakes still floated through the halo cast by the front porch light. The last colored lights of the holiday season, hooded by fresh snow, lent a festive air to the neighborhood. In sharp contrast, the house across the street was an empty hole as dark and silent as death. Night shrouded the realtor's sign at the foot of the drive, but Nora knew it was there, a constant reminder that a way of life she once cherished was gone forever.

She shook her head impatiently. Why, on today of all days, couldn't she let it go?

Perhaps it was the party. Perhaps her preparations were too reminiscent of the summer barbecue that had set her feet on the path that would lead to that fateful night of horror. It had been a beautiful day in June…



Chapter 1

Saturday, June 11, 5:30 p.m.

Rudy Schmidt adjusted the focus of the binoculars and scanned the house across the street. Although thick foliage screened most of the houses in this hilltop neighborhood, Rudy had discovered that this particular corner of his dining-room window afforded an unobstructed view of the Hartmann house. From here he could see the recessed front door and monitor anyone coming or going. To the left were the windows into the little den where Nora sat in the evenings to read. The big bay windows to the right accessed the dining room. Beyond lay the kitchen eating area where he often observed her sitting at the kitchen table or moving back and forth in the course of some task. Now he saw nothing. The late-afternoon sun glanced off the windows, making them impenetrable to the binoculars. No matter. Very shortly he would be reveling in the glow of her real presence.

"Emma!" he called as he put the binoculars back into the drawer of the china cabinet. "Get out here now! It's time to go."

He walked into the living room just as his wife Emma entered from the bedroom wing. She was wearing an outfit he had never seen, a ridiculous one-piece pant suit in a clinging fabric that revealed every unflattering curve of her body.

"Where did you get that?" he demanded.

She pretended not to understand.

He huffed impatiently. "That thing you're wearing. Where did it come from?"

Her cheeks reddened. "Nora and I went shopping last week. It was on sale. This sort of thing is in style right now."

"I don't care. It's not right for you. I'd like you to change."

He thought a flicker of rebellion crossed her face. Then she glanced at her watch and turned back toward the bedroom. Understanding dawned. She had known he wouldn't like the clothes; she had put them on in order to provoke him and delay their departure.

"Never mind," he called after her. "Go ahead and wear the damn thing. Let's just get going."

Another pointed look at her watch. "It's too early. Nora said six o'clock."

"That's when the others are coming." He spoke as if to a thickheaded child. "We're going early to help so she'll be ready when they get there."

"She said she didn't need any help. This is a big step for her, Rudy. A new beginning. She needs to prove she can do it on her own."

"That's psychobabble bullshit. Ed was always in the middle of things when they entertained. She's probably feeling overwhelmed about now."

"Nora never feels overwhelmed."

"Whatever. But she's bound to need some help. Trust me. She'll be glad to see us."

He was holding the front door open. When she continued to hesitate, he exploded, "For God's sake, Emma! Come on, or I'll go without you."

She sighed and obeyed. He locked the front door and followed her down the elevated porch steps. He watched her broad buttocks sway, filled with revulsion. She seemed to be getting fatter by the day in spite of the new diet he had insisted she follow. She was probably cheating like she always had.

He forced his eyes away, determined not to spoil the evening by dwelling on this woman who had become more a burden than a wife. Instead, he would think about the hours ahead when he would be able to drink in Nora's beauty and grace firsthand. He strode down the sloping gravel drive and across the narrow street separating their houses.

Nora's front lawn was freshly cut and trimmed. He had told her he would mow it for her, but the little rascal had risen with the birds and done the job herself. He couldn't seem to make her understand that doing things for her was not an imposition; it was the way things were supposed to be. Ed was gone, and it was his responsibility to take care of her now.

Of course, responsibility was a two-way street. In exchange for the carefree security he could give her, he expected her to surrender herself to him without reservation. He had been patient until now because he knew she needed time to get over Ed. Tonight's party proved she was ready to move on. The torch had finally passed.

They were nearing her front door. Rudy's heart raced, and his whole body tingled. Within seconds, she would be opening the door and welcoming them in. His darling Nora.
$19.96
2-097
Format: 
Counting on YOU
by Dr. Kris Condi

Environmental specialist Nicola Bosco did not think twice about the random security check before entering the building in D.C. She placed her designer briefcase carrying government papers on the conveyor belt and endured the frisk. The wand went up one side of her body and down the other without a bleep. Her shoes were inspected for any suspicious crevices.

When Nicola’s briefcase failed to roll of the assembly belt she furiously contacted everyone she had seen in the lobby. No one had knowledge of her briefcase. Even the security cameras failed to capture the confiscation. No problem. Nicola had backup; or so she though. All of her computerized data had been seared. In a few short minutes Nicola Bosco went from being a respected special agent to an embezzler of pension funds.

Where else does a scorned woman go but home? Nicola learned the briefcase mishap was a small part of a grander scheme that targeted her family.

978-1-61386-201-8



fiction/romance/suspense

Chapter 1

The Invite

C+. That is the grade forty-three year old Maria Bosco self-assessed. So what if her favorite pair of Hanes struggle rather than glide over her pelvis? Who cares if she blurts out double entendres before clarification? "I will finish trimming my bush later." Or, "Dom could not get it going last night." And, "Dom couldn't get it up," are emblematic Maria Bosco linguistics where "bush" meant tree shrub, "get-it-going" meant the DVR and "get it up" meant the kickstand on her bicycle. In Philadelphia, it was all about football and land, alphabetically and by topic preference.

She dreamed of becoming a teacher but matrimony trumped career. Maria would defend her twenty-five years and thirty pounds later syndrome as true testament to family devotion. No one can deny her seamstress talent at her husband's dry cleaning business nor can one dispute that Maria still regrets her professional calling.

After a daily routine of examining her five foot four inch stature in the mirror, she immediately reduced that C+ grade to a C-. "Not bad after a binging weekend," she said to the swelled reflection. She ambled her way downstairs and grasped the icy, rickety railing on their row house in Powelton Village. Tumbling out of the mailbox was the annual partnership agreement from Nicola. Something with female panache caught her eye. Quickly, she ripped open the elegant envelope.

You know what they say? Forty is the new twenty and our twenty-fifth high school reunion is on March 6 at Philadelphia's historic Bistro Romano's. Enjoy an evening to eat, reminisce and be merry with your HS buddies.

Bistro Romano's @ 6:30p.m.--drinks/dinner with HS footage of us!

Theatre @ 8:00p.m.

We have the during HS photographs.

You send the after graduation snapshots of you through today!

R.S.V.P. The Rockies

Maria moseyed into the kitchen. Dom was reading the sports section of the newspaper and feasting a Sonny's Philly cheese and egg steak sandwich. "We have two months to get in shape." It was a demand not a request. She spread the invitation on top of the sports page.

Dom bit off a generous chunk of the breakfast special. It was his second that morning, or so he thought. The only bad thing about Sonny's Philly steak is there was not another in sight. A pair of dime store bifocals rested across his ears. Already, Maria noticed the dreaded look on Dom's face. He gave a smack of satisfaction, for the sandwich, not the invitation. She also was aware of the growing, painful expression that spread across his face as she eased into his lap.

"Count me out," Dom replied with a savory mouthful at the same time the button on his slacks popped. His zipper glided down revealing a round, hairy abdomen embossed by the buttons' emblem. Maria figured Dom had gained at least twenty-five pounds in twenty-five years; one pound for each year of marriage. She was no better.

Maria placed her hands on both hips. "That's what I am talking about!" She stared at his exploding girth. "I am counting you in!"

The look on his face spelled instant relief as she slid off his thighs. So they both had grown over the decades. His belt hung below a waist that hadn't existed in five years. His backside became so flat that it resembled an old man's patootie. And, where were those two, broad, football shoulders Maria loved to hug? As for Maria, she fought gravity in every apparel format from hat to hose.

"Taking bottom bunk to you last night required more breathless exertion than excitement," Maria stated.

"Too much information!" Sixteen year old Daniella entered the kitchen and exited quickly.

Maria rarely withheld intimacy. In their fourth year of marriage she requested alone time with Dom. A week later he surprised her with a second honeymoon in the Poconos. The results were an astronomical credit card bill mainly from emptying the mini fridge and an unexpected third pregnancy. Maria never mentioned alone time with her husband again. She knew he had plans to surprise her with a weekender at the exclusive Roosevelt Hotel. She hoped the thrill of the leisure treatment would outweigh the consequences of the mini bar.

Maria fastened the invite on the fridge between the high school's notice of an upcoming event and a dangling calendar. "It's on the refrigerator as a reminder and a countdown. Don't remove it. Don't take it to work like my J Crew winter catalog, which got lost in your desk and miraculously found after the sale expired. We have a parent-teacher conference this Friday and the Dry Cleaning Convention next month," she reminded Dom. "Our diets start immediately. We are eliminating snacks and eating healthy foods from now on. Forget finishing that second sandwich."

Dom nodded then swallowed the last bite of smothered cheese. Giving her victory today would be worth the compromising consummation tomorrow. Besides, neither of them could diet and exercise for very long. By the end of the day, one of them was sure to indulge in some kind of delectable snack. He knew she saw him tucking the remainder of that second sandwich in freezer wrap but chose to ignore his actions.

"I bet proportionately I lose more weight quicker than you," he gambled and immediately regretted the bet. Why did he always have to make every issue a competition? Because people have always challenged him and although he almost never won in competitive affairs, that thirst to succeed, to be that number one person either solo or on a team, had always appealed to him.

"You're on!" Maria said with confidence. "But, we can't tell anyone about our diets. I don't want people asking about calorie-counting or lost pounds."

He wished Maria offered to pick up his button but she hadn't. She still had squatting ability and when duty called her to bend, she only showed modest signs of an upright struggle. He waited for her departure then stooped, sweated, and searched under the baseboard heater for his button.

"What are the Rockie's?" Daniella asked upon returning to the kitchen. She studied the invitation on the refrigerator door with diligence.

A gnaw clenched Dom's stomach. "Surely you've heard of the senior Rockie?"

"The boxer movie," Daniella assured.

"Before senior year this bulldozer of a kid named Ricolus Sandino transferred into our high school and became quarterback and team captain. He dated the head cheerleader. They were prom king and queen. He had a shiner for prom." Dom chuckled. "They married after graduation."

"Rocky. I get it. Because of his name," she reasoned.

"No." Dom shook his head. "Being Rockie has been a football tradition. Your brother was the school Rockie. Remember?" How could she be so naïve when it came to a Rockie title?

"Vaguely," Daniella replied. "I was twelve."

"Sandino ate glass and had an unbelievable sixty-five yard spiral," Dom explained, lost in thoughts. "He spent a weekend in the hospital having shards cleaned out of his colon. The doctor ordered the guy benched the rest of the season but Rockie was looking to snag a college scholarship. He dragged his pathetic body to practice the following Monday and every practice thereafter. He took the homecoming game to a new level with a record-breaking victory."

"The world doesn't revolve around football," Daniella said

"Since when?" Dom's head popped. "Sandino is the luckiest guy in the world." He shrugged. "The guy's got everything."

Daniella picked up the button under the baseboard heater and placed it on the table with ease. Before walking away she called over her shoulder, "He doesn't have Mom."

Their talks became fewer and shorter these days. Just a year ago, neither father nor daughter could sleep so they made brownies to Letterman's monologue. They talked past midnight about Philadelphia, Daniella's homework, and their mother's most recent hobby. Dom slept well that night.

Dom made a mental note to check if the evidence was still there, stashed away in his desk drawer at the downtown Bosco Cleaner's location, where he kept it concealed for twenty-five years.

Was Maria as perpetually clueless as Daniella?
$18.85
2-201-p
Format: 
Changeling Kill: Jack Watson Series, Vol. 2
Gambit Series, Vol. 2

by Kathryn Flatt

Just after private detective Jack Watson vowed not to be choosy about taking any case to end a lull in business, who walks into his office but his ex-wife. Dr. Victoria Pressler, the famous psychologist also known as The Mind Bender, had once made Jack’s life pure hell, and now she wants him to figure out if her new lover, a handsome young tennis player, loves her or her money. Jack accepts the case, hoping to find some dirt on Clayton “Butch” Anderson to take Victoria down a peg, and also to prove to himself that Victoria no longer retains her old power over him. Soon, however, Jack learns that Butch may be fronting for an elusive assassin known as The Changeling, a nameless enigma who traps innocents to shield him, and through Victoria’s position on an organizing committee, getting the killer access to a gala show in Chicago. Even as Jack navigates his way down some dark paths of his past, he must race against the clock to identify both the killer and his target before the show and keep its star performer, Jack’s one-time client Tabitha Solo, out of the crosshairs.

978-1-61386-200-1

suspense / mystery / thriller

Chapter 1

A Chance Encounter

March-Cancun, Mexico

The beautiful girls with the improbable names of Felicity and Hope waved good night, both of them drunk but not drunk enough to abandon caution. They giggled and stumbled against each other as they staggered back across the beach to their hotel.

Rusty Blake resigned himself to the fact that he would not wind up in Hope's bed or she in his. Although she had flirted seductively over drinks for a couple of hours, his chances began a downward spiral when her pal Felicity showed up with her new friend, Butch Anderson. Rusty figured Butch had similar intentions for Felicity, and all four had gone for a moonlit walk. With nothing for his efforts beyond some hand holding and a few shy kisses, he found himself alone on the sand with Butch.

"Damn," Butch remarked after the girls blended into the darkness. "Thought I had a sure thing."

"Me, too. Guess that's it, huh?"

Butch gazed out at the sea. "I think I'll walk off some more of the booze. Might make for less of a hangover in the morning."

"Good idea."

They started walking again. Rusty eyed Butch who did not look like the kind who struck out often; more like a movie star with sandy hair and a raffish grin. Maybe the guy could give him a few pointers with the babes. "Is Butch your real name?"

"Actually, it's Clayton. My dad started calling me Butch right before kindergarten so I wouldn't get picked on." He made a fond, bemused smile directed at the lapping tide. "What's Rusty short for?"

"Russell. You're from Boston."

"Guilty," Butch admitted with a grin.

"Vacation?"

"Nah. Tennis tournament. Trying to make the pro tour."

"Yeah? Hey, that's cool, man."

"Where you from?"

"Virginia. I'm on vacation. Got a sweet pile of cash from my granny when I graduated college. She said I should take a trip before hitting the masters program, so here I am."

"What's your major?"

"Electrical engineering."

"Excellent. Big opportunities."

Silence fell between them as they meandered along, two strangers with not much in common. Rusty opened his mouth to call it a night when a rustling noise caught his attention. It came from the thick vegetation near the pathway that led off to some individual beach villas. He turned toward the sound with a mild sense of alarm. "What was that?"

More rustling. "Hey, guys," came a husky whisper. "Over here."

Rusty looked at Butch, they shrugged at each other, and walked over into the shadows.

In the middle of the rocky path lay the body of a very fat man at the feet of a tall, lanky one in a wrinkled linen suit. He reminded Rusty of a marionette, all bones and joints.

"What's going on?" Butch asked.

"My name's Sam." His precise diction carried a touch of British accent, his tone jovial. "This pathetic lump is my boss, Mr. Ortiz. As you can see, he's drunk himself into a stupor, and I twisted my ankle when he fell down while I was taking him back to his room. Could you possibly lend a hand?"

"Why not?" Butch answered.

"Sure," Rusty said, although he considered he might not have agreed were he sober. "Why not?"

"Excellent!" Sam said. "I'm afraid you'll have to turn him over for convenient transport."

Rusty and Butch took up positions on one side of the comatose man and grabbed handfuls of his clothes to heave him onto his back. Even in the shadows of the palm trees, Ortiz did not look good, his forehead bloodied with scrapes from the gravel pathway. Something about the situation hit Rusty wrong, and instinct warned about trouble ahead but neglected to say what kind.

Butch lifted Ortiz's feet, and Rusty took his arms. Sam led the parade up the steep path.

"Is he all right?" Rusty panted.

"I'm sure landing face down on these pebbles would have a deleterious effect on anyone," Sam replied over his shoulder. "I will tidy him up once he's tucked into bed."

Ortiz proved heavy for his size, and the trail's incline would have been challenging even without his dead weight. Butch began huffing too and conversation ceased. The path finally leveled out and widened to a dirt road that ran among the cheaper cabins. Sam stood beside the nearest one, its door open, and he held out a directing hand. Getting Ortiz inside took as much effort as toting him there.

Beside the bed, Butch made eye contact. "On the count of three. One…two…three."

With groans and grunts, they managed to land Ortiz on his back. Rusty's knees gave out, and he sank to the floor and wiped sweat from his brow. Butch leaned on the back of a straight chair, also spent by the effort.

"Well done, gents," Sam commended. He walked across the room to a desk and opened a briefcase on top of it.

Ortiz looked even worse in the dim light of the bedside lamp: pale, face gone slack, all cut up. His squinty eyes appeared to be slightly open, as if he were faking unconsciousness while listening and observing. Or else…Rusty grabbed his wrist in a search for a pulse and found none. Horrified, he let go.

Sam came over holding out a hundred dollar bill to each of them. "Hard work deserves a reward. I'd also appreciate your discretion in keeping this incident to yourselves."

Butch snatched away his hundred, but Rusty looked up at Sam's face: long, narrow, showing the first signs of aging in the creases beside his mouth and eyes. His hair could have been either white or very light blond. His smile did not touch his eyes.

"He's dead, isn't he?" Rusty asked. As soon as the words came out, he regretted them.

Sam's smile faded. He withdrew the bill and slipped the hand holding it beneath his jacket.

Rusty froze, certain the hand would reemerge with a gun to shoot him dead.

Instead, Sam jerked forward and then slumped to the floor. His pistol clattered to it with him and skidded a few feet away. Butch stood over him, lowering the chair to the floor.

"He was going to kill me," Rusty stated and realized it sounded stupid.

"Both of us, I think," Butch amended. He stared at Sam's body. "I hope I didn't hit him too hard."

Rusty scrambled to his feet, all trace of alcohol buzz gone. "I say we get the hell out of here."

Instead, Butch went to the briefcase, raised its lid, and gave a low whistle. "Check this out, man."

Against his better judgment, he joined Butch at the desk. Like something from a dream, it held piles of bundled hundred dollar bills. Butch reached for one.

"Don't touch anything," Rusty warned with memory visions of television crime scene investigators in his head.

Butch ignored him. He fanned through the end of the stack before putting it back in the case. The lid had a moveable panel meant to keep items stored under it in place, and Butch released the snapped tabs to drop it. Strapped to the top were two more guns equipped with silencers. Butch searched a cloth pocket near the bottom and withdrew a few items.

"Passports," he declared. "Three of them." He opened each one in turn. "Samuel Marcus, Tony Samuels, and Emanuel Sammark."

One of them fell to the floor, and Rusty stooped to pick it up without thinking. A flare of panic over fingerprints was extinguished by the sight of a slip of paper which fluttered to the floor. He handed the passport to Butch and bent to pick it up, too. "More names. Stanford, Sutton, Nicolella, Calderon, Bellini…"

"Mean anything to you?" Butch asked.

"I don't know." Rusty's mouth had gone desert dry. He dropped the paper on top of the money. "Let's just go."

Butch grabbed it. "The first two names are checked off." He turned to look at Ortiz's body. "I wonder…" Butch strode to the bed and flipped back Ortiz's suit jacket to search his pockets. From the inner left, he produced a slim wallet. "Miguel Ortiz. I guess--" His eyes widened. "He's with the Mexican Federal police! Special Operations."

"Holy shit!" Rusty's bladder suddenly felt too full. "We've gotta get out of here, man."

"Okay, but I'm taking a stack of bills." Butch dropped the wallet and headed for the briefcase. "I need the dough."

"Are you insane? When Sam comes to, he'll hunt us down and kill us!"

"Don't be an idiot," Butch chided, cool and calm. "We leave the door open and anybody could've taken it. He won't know."

"Who are you calling an idiot? He won't have to know. He'll come after us just because we know who he is and because we hauled a dead cop up here." He picked up the wallet with two fingers and tossed it on the bed next to the body. Then he backed away.

Butch stared at him for a moment and then looked at the money in his hand. "I'm not leaving with just a hundred bucks."

"You do what you want," Rusty said and pushed past him to get to the door. "I'm outta here." He had his hand on the frame when a sharp metallic click stopped him cold.

"Not so fast, sonny."
$18.95
2-200
Format: 
Two Faces: Two-Faced: Faces Series, Vol. 1
by Kathryn Flatt

Faces Series, Vol. 1

For Tracy Wiley, life is smooth sailing. Armed with a sharp wit and sharper mind, she has everything under control, taking things as they come. At least until her boyfriend breaks up with her and she takes a singles' cruise to Jamaica to get over him. On the ship, she meets a charismatic rogue who seems to seek only platonic companionship. Back home in Miami Beach, however, her vacation friendship sweeps her into a dangerous world of international intrigue where everyone has two faces, including Tracy. Except her other face is on someone else's body and might just get her killed.

978-1-61386-077-9 Mystery, Suspense, Thriller



Chapter 1

Cruising

The afternoon storm blew inland on a stiff breeze that lingered over Miami Beach to make the palm trees sway and send raindrops pattering against the balcony doors. Alex read his law book while I scanned the entertainment pages of the local paper, a typical kind of weeknight winding down at his place. Other than the occasional swish of a page turning, silence prevailed, so until Alex spoke, I had no idea another sort of storm was brewing right there in the bedroom.

"Tracy, I think we ought to cool things off for a while."

Stunned for a moment, my defenses went on high alert, and I stared at a movie review without seeing it. "Was it something I said?"

Exasperated sigh. "I just think we need some space so we can figure out the future."

I took a turn at sighing, thinking Oh Alex, when did you learn cliché-speak? I somehow found the wherewithal to look at him. After three years as a couple, I thought I knew how to read him, but his handsome face, drawn with tension, revealed nothing specific. In my mind, though, "cool things off" could only mean he wanted to play the field. I fought against the startling surge of pain the notion brought on.

I looked at my paper again. "The future simply happens. You don't get to figure it out until after."

Angry slap of book closing. "That's the real problem right there!"

"Excuse me?" His sudden testiness caught me by surprise because he usually epitomized patience and calm.

"You don't plan, Tracy," he accused. "To you, the future is, at most, tomorrow or next week." He switched to a more conciliatory tone. "Don't you want to make something of yourself? Get out of that dead end job?"

"It's not a dead end exactly. More of a merry-go-round with no brass ring, and it plays 'What Kind of Fool Am I.' Besides, where else could I have so much fun for so little money?"

"Everything's a big joke to you!" he shot back. "Can't we for once have a serious discussion minus the quips and sarcasm?"

"I always say a little levity lightens the load." I started to get angry too. We had agreed from the start to take things as they came, no strings, no commitments. If he wanted to be free, I could not bind him. "But hey, if you're looking to add a few more notches on your gun, far be it from me to stand in your way."

"What?" His expression morphed into confusion.

I stood beside the bed and took off his pajama shirt. "You heard me. I can take a hint."

"Tracy…" He scrambled to his feet and started following me around as I dressed. "Honey, you're thirty-two--"

"Don't remind me."

"--and you've got no ambition at all. You're a smart woman, and you could take your pick of professions. Do you plan to do what you're doing when you're forty? Or fifty?"

"Forty or fifty what?"

"There you go again!"

I fought back tears. After hinting he wanted his freedom, he was trying to make it my fault. He told me when we met he enjoyed my tendency to joke and be smart-alecky as well as my spontaneous approach to life. Now those were suddenly negatives.

"Let's not belabor the point," I said stiffly as I slipped into my shoes. "You're looking for someone more like you and less like me, and you won't find her if I'm sharing your bed every other night."

"But I didn't mean… you can't leave now." He went from conciliatory to humble. "It's still early."

"You shouldn't pick a fight before nookie if you expect to get any." Finished dressing, I gathered my collection of newspapers and stalked out of the bedroom with him on my heels. "You can throw away my toothbrush if you want. I have one at home. If you find any of my clothes around, I hereby grant first pickings to your next lover. Buh-bye." I slammed the front door before he could say another word.

I cried a bit in the elevator, choked it back on the cab ride home as I played back memories of our exchange. One thought kept nudging them all away: Alex and I were over. I hated it, but when people leave you, it's never your decision. Once I reached home, I flopped onto my bed and really cut loose.

After a time, I thought I had the waterworks under control. Then the phone rang.

"Hi there. You've reached Tracy Wiley's answering machine. She might be here or she might not. Say something interesting and you'll find out."

"Tracy, I know you're there by now. Pick it up."

I glared at the phone as if it could transmit my anger at Alex's domineering-parent voice, trying to order me around when he should have been gushing apologies.

"I can sit here all night, Tracy."

"Go ahead and sit then," I muttered.

After a beat, he sighed. "Look, we need to talk. When you're done pouting, call me."

Pouting indeed! He started it, so he should be the one to apologize. I reached across the bed and erased his message. Maybe in a day or two, I would call him, but of course, by then, he would probably be shacked up with some paralegal in his firm or a cute girl at the coffee shop.

I regretted the unfair thought even as it formed. Alexander Laughlin was honest, hard working, contemplative, a gentleman and a gentle man. Incredibly giving, he had earned enough Karma points to last two lifetimes. Never once had I caught him ogling other women, and I prided myself on being observant. Our sex, while gentle and predictable, still never failed to satisfy. So maybe exciting and adventurous were not part of his character, but I would miss his quiet affections and the way he would mail me sweetly sentimental greeting cards for no reason. Knowing Alex wanted his freedom hurt more than I ever would have thought, as if a cannonball had ripped a big hole through my soul. Before I could start blubbering again, I called Pappy.

My father, Thomas Wiley, worked his whole life as a script writer in television and sometimes the Broadway theaters, the man everyone called on when they needed to punch up the dialog with some laughs. Of course, my sense of humor and willingness to use it came from him. Not one for making close female friends, I always turned to him in times of heartbreak.

"What's the matter, kitten?" he asked after my tearful greeting.

"Alex gave me the boot." I swallowed against a lump in my throat. Saying it aloud made the loss real and more poignant.

"Awww, no. Want to talk about it?"

I turned onto my back to stare at a small water stain in the ceiling. "What's the point? He won't be back."

"Now don't say that. Give him a few days to see he's wrong and--"

"He won't." Fresh tears welled up, and I hated myself for letting it affect me.

Pappy sighed. "Nothing's over till it's over."

"It's over. He's looking for greener pastures."

"Well, if he said that, I'd say it really isn't over. He'll come around."

"Oh yeah? Well, maybe I shouldn't be around when he comes looking." I repeated the entire conversation for Pappy. "It's just a shitty way to do it."

"Language, kitten, but I take your point." Silence while he pondered. "You know what you should do? Take a vacation."

Not the sort of suggestion I would have expected. "What?"

"Take a vacation. Get away for a while. Go somewhere you can step outside yourself and get some perspective."

Simple sound advice, exactly what Pappy usually gave. It seemed the ideal solution. I would get over Alex much faster if I proved I could still navigate the singles' world after being sidelined for three years.

Immediately after hanging up, I searched for vacation ideas via the Internet and found one in a hurry on EBay, a last-minute cancellation. A singles-only cruise to Jamaica, six days and five nights, shore stops in Ocho Rios and Montego Bay, two nightclubs and a casino on board. Private cabin although deep in the ship with no windows, but who stayed in a cabin on a tropical cruise? Sun, fun, Reggae music, unattached men looking for women. Relax and maybe flirt a little, find a bit of adventure.

My boss grumbled when I asked for time off on short notice, but I had not taken any significant stretch in two years so he could not really argue. Jenny Desmond, the septuagenarian who lived in the apartment below mine, agreed to collect my mail in exchange for the perishables in my fridge. I packed light and bought traveler's checks at the bank while retrieving my passport from the safety deposit box. The whole thing came together with almost no planning.

"So you think I can't plan, Alex," I whispered to no one as the ship floated to sea. "I just work better under the gun."

Well, maybe not that much better. Two hours out, as I unpacked in my cabin, seasickness flattened me. I had never been on a boat before, and every time I stood up, I threw up. The infirmary provided the necessary drugs although they took a day to kick in. Being stuck in a broom-closet cabin trying not to think about Alex while my vacation floated by without a single flirtation had me primed for action once I felt human again.

I plunged into fun seeking with a vengeance. One of the first ten to arrive at a breakfast fashion show, I won a trip to the ship's salon for a free make-over. The stylist cut four inches off my medium brown hair, created wispy bangs, and accented it all with some rather daring highlights. She showed me how to do a French braid and to minimize my freckles with a fantastic makeup the salon was pushing.

I had lost a few pounds "hugging the head" and rewarded myself with a visit to the over-priced boutique. Feeling wildly confident with my new look, I decided to broaden my fashion horizons for the remaining cocktail evenings and shore-side outings. I pretty much blew my spending budget, but then, what are credit cards for?

On deck, I met Robert. He asked if anyone had dibs on the next lounge chair, and when I said no, he sat down and started talking to me. Late end of his thirties, lean and sinewy, close-cropped blond hair, blue eyes which could probably cut through metal, and a charmingly craggy smile. Not a knockout, but he had scads of charisma, and he told exciting stories of his world travels. He did not flirt.

My second active day, a geeky-type in line for brunch stuttered how he had seen the same food on the table for the midnight buffet. Totally a non-starter: hair combed down in bangs on his forehead, black-framed glasses, plaid polyester shirt, socks under sandals. He asked if he could sit at my table, but I used Robert as an excuse to fend off Mr. Nerd.

In short, I had a great time, seasickness notwithstanding. As the ship came into port in Miami, I thought I might be over Alex and ready to face the world of men again. Pity Robert had disappeared somewhere between Ocho Rios and Montego Bay. Even if I could not call it a romance, I regretted not exchanging keep-in-touch info with such an exciting, intriguing man. At least the cruise ended better than it began.

Until I got to Customs.

I never expected trouble. I had receipts for everything, my passport was valid, and I would never dream of smuggling dope or contraband. When I handed my passport to a man who could have been the Grim Reaper working his day job, he looked back and forth between my picture and me a few times.

"Purpose of your visit to Jamaica?"

"Vacation," I said although something snappier trembled on the tip of my tongue.

"Anything to declare?"

"No, sir."

Another man--suit instead of uniform--came and whispered in my civil servant's ear. He glanced at me and then handed my passport to the suit who came alongside and put his hand on my arm. "Could you come with me, Ms. Wiley?"

My heart started chugging harder than a locomotive under full load. "Is there a problem?"

He did not answer but led me deeper into the building, away from the noise of the other returnees, and into a conference room. To my complete shock, my luggage lay open on a long table, and two uniformed Customs people searched through the open cases. Another suit type and a woman in tailored navy linen off in the corner watched me intently.

"Take a seat," my escort ordered.

"Please state your name," said Suit Number Two. He now held my passport.

"Tracy Wiley."

"Middle name?"

"Don't have one," I responded. "See, my folks were too poor when I was born. Middle names were for rich people."

He gave me a withering look; not even a ghost of a smile.

One of the uniforms held up a blue plastic bag sealed with tape. "What's in this bag?"

"Underwear."

"Just underwear?"

"Dirty underwear. You can open it if you want to, but don't say I didn't warn you."

Another scowl. Apparently, U.S. Customs did not require its workers to possess a sense of humor. She used a pair of scissors to cut it open.

"May I ask why we're going through this exercise?" I asked, trying not to let my irritation show.

Suit One took a chair at the near end of the table. "You look different from your photo."

"I should have guessed," I sighed with relief. "For one thing, the picture is seven years old. I also got a make-over on the cruise, so my hair's shorter and lighter."

"How old are you?" Suit Two.

"Thirty-two."

"Where do you live?" Suit One.

"Miami Beach." I gave my address on Collins Avenue.

"Marital status?" Suit Two.

I laughed because I figured they were merely using my slightly different appearance as a sort of drill. "It was a singles-only cruise."

"Your occupation?" Back to Suit One.

"I'm Assistant Manager of Customer Relations at the Metro Centro Convention Center. Could you guys either sit closer together or only one of you ask the questions? I'm getting a sore neck."

The uniforms had emptied my suitcases and were feeling around the insides as if they thought I might have hidden something behind the lining.

Suit Two picked up a file folder from a credenza and handed it to me. I pulled out an eight-by-ten photo of Robert and me by the pool, followed by another of Robert and me at the deck railing looking at the ocean. Then another of Robert and me at a restaurant in Ocho Rios. I felt a twinge of concern.

"Hey, the ship's photographer didn't offer me prints of these. Where'd you get them?"

"You obviously know this man." Suit Two took over the interrogation.

"Robert? Not really."

"Robert what?"

"He never said. These are good. Think I could get copies?"

"What was the nature of your relationship?"

"We hung around together. You know, drinks, dinner, social stuff."

"Did this man give you anything?"

"Besides a night's worth of really great sex? No." While totally untrue, I only said it because they had pushed me to the limit of my ability to endure idiots. "I insisted on proper attire at all times, if you get my drift, but I can get back to you in a couple of months and see if anything develops."

"Did you give him anything?"

"Really, sir, I'm not that kind of a girl."

"What are you saying?"

"Is being dense a job requirement for you guys?" At his severe look, I backed down. "Okay, look. I met Robert on the ship by the pool. We had a few laughs. We didn't have sex. He didn't even kiss me. End of story."

Time for the old tag-team ploy. Suit One jumped in. "Where did you go with this man in Ocho Rios?"

Irritation headed up the scale toward anger. "We went horseback riding and then to some stores and later to a restaurant."

"You were with him the whole time?"

"Well, not the whole time. He wasn't interested in shopping for women's clothes, and we both occasionally needed to use the facilities."

"What did you talk about?" Back to Suit Two.

"Travel mostly. Places we'd been to, sights we'd seen, movies, music, food. The usual stuff."

"Luggage is clean," one of the uniforms reported. Those two left with all my stuff littering the table and floor.

Suit One reached for the wall phone by the door, punched in a few digits, and waited. He turned away and spoke in a low voice, then hung up and faced me.

"Your passport has been validated. You are free to go, but we must insist you not leave Miami for a few days."

"Huh?" I asked, too astonished to think of anything better. "Why would I leave Miami? I just got home."

Suits One and Two left. I stared after them for a moment, trying to figure out what had happened as I started to repack my suitcases. As I stowed makeup in its pouch, I wondered vaguely if they meant the Miami area rather than the city itself.

"Did this man Robert tell you what he did for a living?"

I jumped at the soft French-accented voice of the woman in the navy suit, whom I had totally forgotten about. I looked her over: young Audrey Hepburn, short dark hair, long slender neck, and big brown eyes. She gave me a slight, shy smile.

I resumed packing. "No, he didn't."

"My name is Josette LeBeau," she announced. "Inspector LeBeau of Interpol."

She sounded more like a high school French teacher. "I'm guessing you're looking for Robert."

She did not respond directly. "Does he know your full name? Where you live?"

"I never told him." Something in the way she asked it got me a trifle worried. "First names and cabin numbers."

"After the stop in Ocho Rios, did you see him again?"

"Once at dinner. He seemed preoccupied, and I got the feeling he lost interest because the relationship wasn't going anywhere." I thought of my fight with Alex and felt a pang. "Maybe he wanted a different sort of female companionship."

Her demeanor changed subtly. "You did not like him that much?"

Did she think I jumped into bed with any man I met? "I liked him fine, but we were just keeping each other company. It never struck me he was coming on, and frankly, I'm on the rebound from a relationship and not ready to take on another." I immediately wondered why I let that admission tumble out.

Ms. LeBeau pondered me for a few moments. "Your Robert is a dangerous man, Ms. Wiley."

"Dangerous how?"

She slipped a hand into her pocket and withdrew a business card, which she slid across the table. "Here is my card. If you see Robert again, please call me at the cell phone number or at the hotel on the back." Her light, chirpy tone contrasted sharply with the seriousness of the warning.

I stuck the card in my purse without looking at it. "I doubt I'll ever see him again."

She stood and gathered up handbag and briefcase. "There is a security guard outside. He will show you back to the public spaces." Then she too left.

I finished packing in a muddled state, unable to think. The guard rolled in a cart for the luggage, and he escorted me to the taxi stand outside.

Ordinarily on a late Friday afternoon, I would have been anticipating an evening with Alex, and the thought of him being gone from my life sent my spirits into a nosedive. I decided it might be better not to be alone under the circumstances.
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