Category: Guest Author

LIFE FOR LIFE by JK Franko | #Showcase #GuestPost #Giveaway

Life for Life

by JK Franko

on Tour August 1 – September 30, 2020

Synopsis:

Life for Life by JK Franko

What would YOU do if someone threatened your family?

Roy Cruise and his pregnant wife Susie barely survived an assassination attempt in their own home. The police now have them under surveillance. Meanwhile, Kristy Wise is a loose cannon—she knows too much and is trying to “set things right.”

What goes around comes around. And in this case, Roy and Susie may have pushed things too far. There are too many dead bodies. Too many foes plotting against them.

Roy and Susie must outwit the police and neutralize their enemies once and for all. If not, their days of retribution may end behind bars… or six feet under.

Life for Life is Book Three of the Talion crime thriller series which begins with the Eye for Eye Trilogy.
Eye for Eye
Tooth for Tooth
Life for Life

If you like smart, fast-paced thrillers with unexpected twists, then you’ll love J.K. Franko.

 

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller, Suspense, Crime, Legal
Published by: Talion Publishing
Publication Date: July 31st, 2020
Number of Pages: 396
ISBN:978-1-9993188-2-6
Series: Talion Series, #3
Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

PROLOGUE

Death is always several seconds and a few footsteps away. Look around you, wherever you are right now. How many things are there within five feet of you that could kill you? An improperly grounded electrical outlet plugged into your tablet. A slippery, wet bath tile that sends your head smashing into the side of the tub. An invisible virus silently multiplying in your lungs.

From the moment of conception, we fight to cheat death. The majority of what parents do for most of a child’s life is simply keep them from dying. And much of what parents teach kids, from avoiding strangers to keeping their fingers out of their mouths, is about staying alive.

Although the odds are stacked against us, we get very good at cheating death. So good that, maybe out of misplaced pride or just to maintain our sanity, we tell ourselves that death is far off.

But it never is. And it comes for us all.

Given my profession, I have always feared death at the hands of a patient. For years, I imagined an unhinged, unmedicated client lashing out at me. Hopefully with a gun, not a knife. When I met Susie and Roy, that changed somewhat. I feared death at their hands not because they were unstable, but because I was expendable.

I must say that after the murder of former Congressman Getz, I believed that I finally had that situation under control. Susie, Roy, and I—and all of our incentives—were finally aligned. We were on the same team, so to speak. I foolishly believed that my life could simply return to normal.

But as I look back on everything now, with twenty-twenty hindsight, I can see that even as Roy was drowning Jeff Getz in the Bay of Pollença in Spain, the rough outlines of our tragic ending had already been sketched—all of the pieces were in place. Death was watching, and planning.

As you must appreciate by now, my story is inextricably intertwined with the stories of others. This is, of course, fundamental to the human condition. We are all part of a larger whole. Seemingly unrelated people and events, distant in time and location, weave their way in and out of our lives like the threads of a tapestry.

I have told you two stories from the past that directly impacted me, Susie, and Roy. I shared with you the tragic tale of little Joan’s death and how she was finally avenged. And, I shared with you the evil done to Billy Applegate and how Jeff Getz paid the ultimate price for that crime.

To complete the circle, for you to understand everything that happened to us, and so that you can take from all this the same cautionary lessons that I have learned, I need to share one final story with you. It is about a woman whose life was irreversibly impacted by our actions.

It is a story about love and death. And, in this case, depending on your point of view, you might even say that her story had a happy ending.

PART ONE

Rebecca Forsyth Turks and Caicos 2020

My work as a therapist requires imagination. To help someone, to really get inside their head, you have to have some sense of what they are going through. If you haven’t experienced what your patient is suffering firsthand, you must imagine.

For example, I have never had a panic attack. But then, only five percent of humans will experience a panic attack during their lifetimes. A pretty low number. So, how can I relate?

I must imagine.

From what my patients tell me, a panic attack closely resembles the feeling of claustrophobia. This is something that I have experienced. What gets me there instantly is that scene from Kill Bill—the one when the heroine Beatrix is buried under six feet of dirt in a coffin and left to die. Do you know it?

Indulge me.

Imagine that you wake up and open your eyes, but you can’t see anything. It’s pitch dark. So dark, you’re not sure your eyes are even open. You’re lying on your back. The air you’re breathing feels warm and slightly humid, the way it does when you’re sleeping with your head under the sheets.

You don’t know where you are, but you don’t hear the usual sounds you would hear in your bedroom. No ceiling fan. No A/C blowing. Everything is silent around you. Muffled.

You try to sit up and immediately feel a thump as your forehead hits something. Your hands automatically react and reach up, discovering that something dry and smooth—heavy, immovable—is laying on top of you, just inches above your body. Right above your face, your torso, your legs.

You try to stretch your arms out to either side, and you feel the same barrier just inches away from your elbows, from your shoulders. You move your legs, spreading them apart and lifting them up. They are able to move only inches before, again, you feel something boxing you in.

Your nose itches, but you can’t reach your face to scratch it. You clear your throat and can hear that the sound doesn’t travel. It’s close to you, stifled by the box you’re in. The box is made of wood. There’s maybe six inches between you and the box, all around your body. It’s so close you can smell it. Damp wood. You can also smell soil.

You’re in a box that’s been placed in a hole, six feet deep. On top of it, and on top of you, are six feet of dirt. That much dirt weighs over two thousand pounds. One ton.

The weight of the dirt prevents you from opening the box. The lid won’t budge. And even if you could break out of the box somehow, the dirt above you would fall into it, suffocating you before you could dig your way up to air.

There is no way out. No hope.

As you realize this, your heartbeat accelerates—firing more rapidly. Your breathing speeds up. You struggle to take in air. You’re not sure if you’re already running out of oxygen or simply panicking. You can feel the silent, blind weight of two thousand pounds of earth above you crushing down onto your body. Your legs are tight, anxious. Your body fights for more space… to move, to stretch out, to stand, to run. But on every side you are closed in. You know that out there, everywhere, there is air, freedom. A universe of wide-open space.

But not for you.

You scream. The sound is muffled by the box. The only one who can hear it is you, and you know it. And you remember, as you scream, that there is a very small supply of oxygen in the box. With each breath, you are depleting it, converting it into CO2.

You’re going to suffocate. And there is no way out.

That feeling of being closed in, of paralysis, of heart-racing suffocating hopelessness, is what a panic attack feels like. Just like being trapped in a coffin.

My patients say that this is how you will feel when you’re about to die.

When I try to imagine how Rebecca must have felt, 120 feet underwater with an empty scuba tank strapped to her back, I draw on this image.

* * *

Rebecca Forsyth was floating, weightless. Free as a bird. The feeling was otherworldly. And the view was breathtaking. Above her in every direction stretched a majestic canopy of bright blue. Looking heavenward, her eyes traced dancing beams of sunlight up and away until they converged into a round disc of shimmering white firmament. As she gazed downward, the world fell away from her—the bright blue and the light fading, everything becoming darker the further she looked. The only sound she could hear was the too-close, too-loud in-and-out of her own breathing, which she tried to control—relaxing, breathing slowly.

In: one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten. Out: one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten.

She reached up, pinching her nose, and gently blew, equalizing the pressure in her ears—the Valsalva Maneuver.

Scuba diving was something Rebecca enjoyed, to a point. She was no expert, though she was open water certified and dove several times a year. She loved the feeling of weightlessness. And she liked being able to explore the ocean without having to bob up and down for air. She’d never quite mastered using a snorkel—she always had trouble clearing it of water. Scuba was much more convenient. No bobbing up and down. That being said, she had not done many deep dives.

Today was different.

Alan, Rebecca’s husband, had talked her into diving a wreck. A sunken ship. It was all perfectly safe. Alan was an extremely experienced diver. A certified instructor. He had spent numerous summers working as an instructor and had logged hundreds of hours. In fact, he was the one who had gotten Rebecca into the sport.

The plan was for Rebecca and Alan to follow standard protocol and stay close to one another, buddy diving in case of an emergency. As Rebecca floated about 40 feet underwater, Alan was signaling for her to follow him down toward the wreck, which at its deepest was 165 feet below the surface. They weren’t planning to go down that far. The bow of the ship was at about 110 feet.

Although Rebecca wasn’t crazy about diving so deep, she reluctantly followed. They were on vacation, trying to relax. Trying new things to reinvigorate their marriage. After five years married, they’d hit a rough patch. They’d had some issues. Nothing insurmountable, she would have told you.

Part of their problems stemmed from the way they approached things. Rebecca was more conservative in her thinking. Alan was more of a risk-taker. Of course, for her to have chickened out of this dive would only have served to underscore the differences between them.

She checked the air pressure in her tank and noticed that it was dropping a little faster than normal for her, given the amount of time they’d been underwater. But, she knew that she was stressing over the fact that they were going to dive so deep, and she was breathing a little more rapidly than usual. She reached up and slightly reduced the buoyancy of her BCD, then gently frog-kicked her legs to conserve energy and air, following her husband down into the dark blue depths.

Rebecca swam about ten feet behind Alan and a bit to his left. The bow of the wreck still lay another 70 feet below them and hadn’t come into view. Rebecca couldn’t see it yet. She also couldn’t see that, in addition to the bubbles that drifted up and away from her each time she exhaled, a stream of tiny bubbles trailed behind her. Air was escaping from her scuba tank through a small leak in the line to her backup regulator. As she descended into the depths, the water pressure around her grew, increasing the rate at which air was bleeding from her only tank.

Rebecca followed after Alan, taking in the immensity of the ocean floor that lay before her. The vastness of it was almost overwhelming. She tried to focus on keeping pace with her husband, and on breathing slowly.

In: one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten. Out: one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten.

She scanned beyond him, hoping that the wreck would soon come into view as she gently kicked and followed. As they descended, they were following the natural slope of the ocean floor off the coast of the island. The seabed was spotted with seagrass, kelp, small fish, and here and there a lobster. She saw several lionfish as well.

Rebecca enjoyed fish-watching. Although, for her it was always secondary to keeping an eye out for sharks. The Caribbean is home to a great many species—nurse sharks, lemon sharks, reef sharks—which are generally harmless. But now and again, you will see more aggressive bull sharks and hammerheads.

Rebecca followed behind Alan, staying close, but she couldn’t help being entertained admiring the seascape. She regularly pinched her nose to clear her ears. After what felt like just a few minutes, a shape began to take form ahead of them. Alan stuck his arm out to his side and gave her a thumbs-up. It was the wreck. A few more kicks, and she could clearly see the silhouette of the freighter sitting on the ocean floor below.

It was a tranquil day and the water was clear. There was still very good visibility as they passed 100 feet, though at that depth the water filtered out most of the reds and yellows in the color spectrum. Everything was draped in shades of blue and green.

Rebecca and Alan were diving just off the coast of Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands. The wreck they were approaching was the W.E. Freighter, a 100-ton ship that was purposely sunken just north of Turtle Cove to create an artificial reef. The plan for the reef had been for the ship to settle in somewhat shallow waters to create an attraction for recreational divers. The ship had unfortunately ended up much deeper than intended and required a bit of expertise to reach.

Once at the bow of the freighter, Alan stopped and gave Rebecca the “okay” sign. She responded in kind, indicating that she was fine. She checked her depth gauge and saw that they were at 110 feet, just what the guidebook had promised. Alan and Rebecca had agreed on the surface not to go inside the vessel. There was always danger of collapse or of getting trapped due to gear catching on something. There was also the risk of getting cut since what remained of the ship was decaying metal that tended to be sharp and jagged. A cut meant blood in the water. And blood in the water attracted sharks.

They hovered for a moment by the bow of the wreck.

As they looked about them, a small school of fish swam out of the boat through a hole in the hull. They were silver with what appeared to be yellow fins and tails, though the color was muted and dull due to the depth. Most were about two feet long. Rebecca recognized them as horse-eye jacks. They shimmered in the water as they swam past the husband and wife, less than three feet away. Alan reached out and touched one of the fish as it went by. It didn’t seem to notice or care.

Rebecca watched the school of fish briefly, then her focus shifted. Always scanning for sharks, she’d seen a shadowy movement not far from them—maybe forty feet. Whatever it was had whipped its body and quickly disappeared into the dark, murky distance. She kept scanning as the small school of fish swam away from them.

Suddenly, her peripheral vision registered a rapid movement coming from their left. She focused just in time to see sparkling glints of silver—a large barracuda rocketed in from the murkiness and sank its teeth into one of the jacks as the remainder of the school scattered. Thin wisps of black blood trailed behind the barracuda as it swam off, chomping and chewing on its prey. In the wake of the attack, the remaining jacks re-grouped and continued on as if nothing had happened.

It was not the first time that Rebecca had seen a predator make a meal of another fish. It never ceased to amaze her how an underwater scene could turn from completely tranquil to suddenly violent and bloody, and then return once again to the prior calm as though nothing had happened. She turned to Alan, who was shaking a hand back and forth as if to say, “Holy crap!” She gave him a thumbs-up in reply.

Rebecca continued to scan. Now there was blood in the water. And she was nervous—looking for sharks. As she looked around, Alan drifted a bit deeper examining the wreck. Rebecca was about to follow when a strange shape on the seafloor caught her eye. She felt her belly tighten and reached for her dive knife. She froze and watched carefully. Her patience was rewarded.

A sludgy-looking grey rock, which had apparently been laying low waiting for the barracuda incident to pass, decided that the coast was clear. Rebecca marveled as the rock changed color and texture, turning back into an octopus. The little guy half-swam half- crawled away, in the opposite direction of the barracuda. Rebecca smiled to herself. She loved those smart, creepy, eight-legged mollusks.

The octopus gone, she turned and saw that Alan had drifted about twenty feet away from her, deeper, exploring the hull of the wreck. He looked back at her and waved her towards him. Apparently, he’d found something of interest. Rebecca gave him a thumbs-up, and as she began to move, she looked down at her depth gauge.

Still at 110 feet.

They had agreed not to go below 130 feet, which was the official cut-off for recreational divers. Realizing it had been a while since she’d checked, she also took a look at her air pressure gauge.

Red.

A cold claw of panic squeezed Rebecca’s chest when she saw that the needle was in the red zone, between 200 PSI and zero. Almost empty. The gauge had to be wrong. She and Alan had both checked her tank in the boat. It was full then. And they’d not been diving that long—certainly not long enough for her to have used up a full tank of air.

She tapped on the gauge with a gloved finger. The needle didn’t move. Still red.

She carefully reached back behind her head with one hand to make sure the tank was fully open. Sometimes a not fully open tank would give a bad reading on a gauge. She turned the air valve in one direction and the flow of air stopped. Then she turned it in the other direction, fully opening the valve, and air flowed. She checked the gauge. Still red.

Rebecca looked up and saw that Alan had swum farther away from her, about thirty feet. And he was still moving. She fought down the panic and breathed out slowly: one-two-three-four-five-six- seven-eight-nine-ten.

Then in: one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten.

She had two choices.

She could try to ascend. If she did, she’d be abandoning Alan—leaving him at risk. She also had no idea if the air in her tank would get her to the surface. If it didn’t, she’d have to make a “controlled emergency ascent.” She remembered from her training what that meant. Possible decompression sickness. Possible pulmonary barotrauma—essentially her lungs exploding. And, of course, she could drown.

Her other option was to get Alan’s attention and return to the surface using his backup regulator—an “alternate air source ascent.”

She had to choose quickly. Given her options, Rebecca decided she had to get to Alan. She frog-kicked gently, trying not to accelerate her heart rate or breathing, conserving air, swimming down deeper into the cold sea after her husband. As she swam after him, she removed her dive knife from its sheath and used the metal ball on the end of the hilt to bang on her tank, making a high- pitched metallic clink clink clink hoping to get Alan’s attention.

Alan continued to descend. He was too far away to hear her.

She was still breathing. She still had air.

But her brain began to work against her. Fear gripped her throat like a noose slowly tightening. As Rebecca swam deeper into the sea, the ocean began to collapse in on her. Tunnel vision. Panic began to rise in her belly. She felt boxed in.

Trapped.

She fought the fear, trying to keep her breathing slow. Kicking gently, trying to get to her husband. He had air. He was only thirty feet away.

Life was only thirty feet away.

She began to feel desperation. To lose hope.

Is this it?

Is this how I die?

Alan didn’t hear the continued and more desperately rapid clinking of her knife on her tank. He wasn’t turning. He was swimming deeper, and she was barely gaining on him. She began to kick harder, knowing that her heart rate would increase. And her breathing as well. She had to get to him. He was still too far away.

Rebecca kicked and breathed. Kicked and breathed.

Kicked and…

…she breathed in, and three quarters of the way through the breath she hit a wall—it was like she was sucking on a rubber hose that was closed at one end. There was nothing. She was out of air.

She couldn’t fight the panic any longer. Sheer panic.

The feeling of being closed-in, of paralysis, of heart-racing suffocating hopelessness hit Rebecca Forsyth like a brick wall.

***

Excerpt from Life for Life by JK Franko. Copyright 2020 by JK Franko. Reproduced with permission from JK Franko. All rights reserved.

 

Author Bio:

JK Franko

J.K. FRANKO was born and raised in Texas. His Cuban-American parents agreed there were only three acceptable options for a male child: doctor, lawyer, and architect. After a disastrous first year of college pre-Med, he ended up getting a BA in philosophy (not acceptable), then he went to law school (salvaging the family name) and spent many years climbing the big law firm ladder. After ten years, he decided that law and family life weren’t compatible. He went back to school where he got an MBA and pursued a Ph.D. He left law for corporate America, with long stints in Europe and Asia.

His passion was always to be a writer. After publishing a number of non-fiction works, thousands of hours writing, and seven or eight abandoned fictional works over the course of eighteen years, EYE FOR EYE became his first published novel.

J.K. Franko now lives with his wife and children in Florida.

Guest Post

Seven Challenges to Writing a Series

There are some distinct advantages to writing a series. To begin with, once you have laid out who your characters are and what kind of conflicts they typically get into, you can focus on plot. For example, if you think about Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, after reading the first book, your reader knows who the hero is and what kind of messes he gets into. They know what to expect and, if they liked what they read, they will keep coming back for more. So, what challenges do you face in keeping a series interesting for readers?

1. Change the stakes. Many guides to writing a series say that each book should continually raise the stakes. That’s impossible. If you follow that advice, by book three your protagonist will be saving the world from some sort of apocalypse—nuclear, biological, financial. And you will be left with nowhere to go from there. Rather, each book should change the stakes. The stakes should always be high—that’s what makes for good conflict in any plot—but they need to be high for the hero—not necessarily for the rest of us.

2. Supporting cast. If you think about any Bond film, there are two types of supporting characters. The one that are always there—M, Moneypenny, Q. And then there are the ones that are always there, but change—each Bond film has the villain and the villain’s sidekick (usually an assassin with a unique killing style), for example. Bond films are very formulaic, which is why they make for an easy example. But, this concept applies to any series. You need to surround your hero with characters that the readers get as attached to as your main man/woman.

3. Know what works. If readers are returning to read your book two and three, then you know you’ve got something. What you have to figure out is what that “something” is and make sure you deliver it in each book in the series. It could be a formula—like the Bond film structure. It could be a main character that readers are invested in and want to see through to the end—like Harry Potter. It could be a world that you’ve created that is fascinating—like Star Wars. You need to understand what your readers love about your series and make sure to give them more of that.

4. Continuity. Be sure that you clearly map out character details and series events and stay true to them. This goes for protagonists, villains, and supporting cast members. I use Excel to track birth dates, ages, parents, places lived, and character details—likes and dislikes—for all characters. As far as events, I maintain an extensive timeline of all series events to make sure future events are consistent with past.

5. Mix it up. Don’t be afraid to bring in new characters, plot devices, or even play with story structure. If a reader is on book four of your series, they are there because they like what you’ve done in the past. But don’t be afraid to experiment and throw them a curve ball here and there. Readers enjoy surprises.

6. Plan ahead. Map your series out as far ahead as you can. This allows you to drop clues in earlier books that you can later come back to. It also helps you to avoid “blockers”—details or events that you write in an earlier book that prevent you from going a direction you’d like to in a subsequent book due to continuity issues.

7. Have an end in mind. Many series go on, and on, and on. Which is great. But you should have a clear idea of how you want your series to end. This doesn’t mean knowing specifically that Book 10 will be the last. But it does mean having a clear idea of what will happen to your hero and cast in that final book. You want your series to “go out” like Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt series ended, not like George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones.

Copyright 2019 JK Franko

Catch Up With JK Franko On:
jkfranko.com, Goodreads, Instagram, Bookbub, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

 

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This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for JK Franko. There will be Six (6) winners for this tour. Two (2) winners will each receive a $10. Amazon GC. Two (2) winners will each receive LIFE FOR LIFE by JK Franko (Print ~ US and Canada Only) and Two (2) winners will each receive LIFE FOR LIFE by JK Franko (eBook). The giveaway begins on August 1, 2020 and runs through October 2, 2020. Void where prohibited.

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STRONG FROM THE HEART by Jon Land | #Showcase #Interview #Giveaway

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Strong from the Heart

by Jon Land

on Tour August 17 – September 18, 2020

Synopsis:

Strong from the Heart by Jon Land

Caitlin Strong wages her own personal war on drugs against the true power behind the illicit opioid trade in Strong from the Heart, the blistering and relentless 11th installment in Jon Land’s award-winning series.

The drug crisis hits home for fifth generation Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong when the son of her outlaw lover Cort Wesley Masters nearly dies from an opioid overdose. On top of that, she’s dealing with the inexplicable tragedy of a small Texas town where all the residents died in a single night.

When Caitlin realizes that these two pursuits are intrinsically connected, she finds herself following a trail that will take her to the truth behind the crisis that claimed 75,000 lives last year. Just in time, since the same force that has taken over the opiate trade has even more deadly intentions in mind, specifically the murder of tens of millions in pursuit of their even more nefarious goals.

The power base she’s up against―comprised of politicians and Big Pharma, along with corrupt doctors and drug distributors―has successfully beaten back all threats in the past. But they’ve never had to deal with the likes of Caitlin Strong before and have no idea what’s in store when the guns of Texas come calling.

At the root of the conspiracy lies a cabal nestled within the highest corridors of power that’s determined to destroy all threats posed to them. Caitlin and Cort Wesley may have finally met their match, finding themselves isolated and ostracized with nowhere to turn, even as they strive to remain strong from the heart.

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller
Published by: Forge Books
Publication Date: July 28, 2020
Number of Pages: 368
ISBN: 0765384701 (ISBN13: 9780765384706)
Series: A Caitlin Strong Novel, #11
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Jon Land

Jon Land is the USA Today bestselling author of fifty-two books, including eleven featuring Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong. The critically acclaimed series has won more than a dozen awards, including the 2019 International Book Award for Best Thriller for Strong as Steel. He also writes the CAPITAL CRIMES series and received the 2019 Rhode Island Authors Legacy Award for his lifetime of literary achievements. A graduate of Brown University, Land lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

Q&A with Jon Land

What was the inspiration for this book?

Great opening question and let me answer it in a way you’re probably not expecting. I don’t draw on inspiration in the traditional sense of the word, because if you’re a professional the work, the writing, becomes its own inspiration. What inspires me when writing the Caitlin Strong series is what inspires every book I write: the desire to write a great story, to lose myself in the writing the same way you will hopefully lose yourself in the reading. In my mind, the most important thing for a writer is loving the story you’re telling. If you don’t love it, how can you expect the reader to love it? And the desire to tell a story that the reader loves makes for the greatest inspiration out there

What has been the biggest challenge in your writing career?

As you know, I do an awful lot of these interviews and no one’s ever asked me that before. And the answer is a combination of remaining relevant as an author and, toward that end, the need to redefine myself more times that I’d care to admit. The simple fact of the matter is all but a very select few authors are in real control of their careers–you see their names high up on the New York Times bestseller list. The rest of us are subject to changes in the marketplace and the world. Like when the thriller genre collapsed at the time the Soviet Union dissolved in the early 1990s. Or, in my case, when the decline in sales for a series lead a publisher to say it’s time to do something else. Or when the mass market paperback industry collapsed and, with it, a great portion of my value as a writer. I don’t write four or five books a year because I want to, I write that much because I have to in order to make a living and pay the mortgage. So the challenge I’m really alluding to here is the need to balance creative concerns with the realities of financial concerns.

What do you absolutely need while writing?

Privacy, light, and my computer. Oh, and my imagination, of course, but that doesn’t take any breaks!

Do you adhere to a strict routine when writing or write when the ideas are flowing?

The volume of my work requires the former. You show me a writer who only works when the ideas are flowing and I’ll show you an amateur. Being a writer is a job. You get up and you do it every day, no matter your mood, no matter the bad emails that began the day, no matter how well, or not so well, your latest book is doing. Sticking to a routine requires the kind of self-discipline any self-employed professional must have or they’re not going to be chasing their dream very long.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

I’d have to say Colonel Guillermo Paz, Caitlin’s giant and brutally efficient protector who was originally hired to kill her. He wasn’t even supposed to survive the first book in the series, Strong Enough to Die, but he took his scenes over from me and had another idea. I liked how his character developed so much, I knew he had to stick around. His scenes are almost always my favorite to write and it’s such a blast to give him a new set piece to continue his search for enlightenment and redemption. Making one of the world’s deadliest men an elementary school gym teacher was an absolute blast in Strong from the Heart, and that opening scene where he rides to Caitlin’s support when she needs it the most against a half dozen heavily armed ICE agents is pure gold. I wish I could tell you where his dialogue comes from, but you’ll have to ask him!

Who is your least favorite character from your book and why?

Wow, I wasn’t expecting that one! So I hope you don’t mind me doing a bit of cop-out in my answer. Look, STRONG FROM THE HEART contains some pretty despicable villains and I don’t like any of them—as people—but as characters, well, that’s something else. In STRONG LIGHT OF DAY, the book’s villain Callum Dane early on beats an amputee to death with his prosthetic leg. How can anyone not hate him? You’re supposed to hate him as a person, but I had a blast writing him as a character because he was so heinous. Hey, I wish I had created Hannibal Lecter. I don’t like him either but I love him as a character as well.

Give us an interesting fun fact or a few about your book?

I don’t have to cop out on that question, although I’m not sure I’d call them fun facts. Doing a book where Caitlin Strong takes on the opioid crisis, fighting her own personal War on Drugs, opened up a world to me that was confounding in the depth of the problem. 80,000 people are going to die this year of drug overdoses. There are over 3 million people in this country who are addicted to opioids. And the government has not only allowed this to happen, they actually enabled it because of the pharmaceutical lobby. Sure, public opinion has forced their hand in cases like Purdue Pharma, but this problem has existed for far longer than people realize and the individuals elected to represent us, and look out for our best interests, turned a blind eye and deaf ear to the problem for far, far too long. You want to know why we’ve been losing the War on Drugs since it was declared? Look no further than Washington, DC.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

I want you to have as much reading STRONG FROM THE HEART as I did writing it!

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I went to Brown University with every intention of becoming a lawyer. Then I got bit by the writing bug, and everything changed—I changed horses in the middle of the stream, so to speak, something that Brown’s then New Curriculum allowed. So I knew I wanted to be a writer; I just didn’t know what kind of writer I wanted to be. My first book was actually a senior thesis in the Honors English and American Literature program. And I didn’t set out to write a thriller, so much as a Hollywood novel in the tradition of Nathaniel West’s The Day of the Locust. But the book became a thriller because that’s where my instincts took me. It was also the genre I enjoyed reading the most so it was natural for me to gravitate in that direction. That’s an important lesson for all writers because you can’t force the process. If you’re not being natural, instinctive, you’re going to write something that is not only unreadable, but also unpublishable.

What’s next that we can look forward to?

I’ve recently taken over Margaret Truman’s CAPITAL CRIMES series and my first effort, MURDER ON THE METRO, publishes next February. Having also done six books in the MURDER, SHE WROTE series, I understand the responsibility and risk that comes with taking over a major brand. In that respect, it’s a totally different process but in another respect, I don’t just want to write the characters, I want to take ownership of them the same way I do for my own. Something I never could have done a decade ago, but that I’ve grown into over the past few years.

Catch Up With Jon Land On:
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Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER 1

San Antonio, Texas

Caitlin Strong pushed her way through the gaggle of reporters and bystanders clustered before the barricade set up just inside the lobby of the Canyon Ridge Elementary School building.

“Look,” she heard somebody say, “the Texas Rangers are here!”

She’d focused her attention on the six men wearing black camo pants and windbreakers labeled I-C-E in big letters on the back, glaring at her from the entrance to the school to which they’d clearly been prevented from entering. She pictured several more Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents stationed at additional exits in case their quarries tried to make a run for it.

“We didn’t call the Rangers,” snarled a bald man, the nametag he was required to wear reading ORLEANS.

“No, sir,” Caitlin told him, “that would’ve been the school principal. She told Dispatch you’d come here to collect some of her students.”

She let her gaze drift to a windowless black truck that looked like a reconfigured SWAT transport vehicle.

“Just following orders, Ranger. Doing our job just like you.”

“My job is to keep the peace, sir.”

“Ours too, so I’m going to assume you’re going to assist our efforts, given that we’re on the same side here.”

“What side would that be?”

Orleans snarled again, seeming to pump air into a head Caitlin figure might’ve been confused for a basketball. “United States government, ma’am.”

“I work for Texas, sir, and the principal told me all the kids you came for were born on Lone Star soil.”

“That’s for a court to decide.”

“Maybe. And, you’re right, the both of us are here because we’ve got a job to do and I respect that, sir, I truly do. My problem is it’s never right in my mind for adults to involve children in somebody else’s mess.”

Canyon Ridge Elementary was located on Stone Oak Parkway, part of San Antonio’s North East Independent School district and featured a comfortable mix of Caucasian and Hispanic students in keeping with the city’s general demographics. The building featured a rounded arch entry where Caitlin could see any number of faces, both child and adult, pressed against the glass. She also glimpsed a heavy chain looped through the double doors to prevent entry, although numerous chairs, boxes, and what looked like an overturned cafeteria table had been piled into place as well. Caitlin pictured similar chains and barricades barring entry at any of the other doors as well, the eyes of both children and adults alike gaping with hope at her arrival through the glass.

“As a Texas Ranger,” Orleans responded finally, “you enjoy a degree of discretion I don’t have. I wish I did, but I don’t. And as long as I don’t, I’ve got orders to follow and that’s where my discretion begins and ends.”

“Where are you from, sir?”

“Not around here, that’s for sure. Does it matter?”

“That ICE is about to take six US citizens, all under the age of ten, into custody matters a lot,” Caitlin told him. “Some might even call it kidnapping.”

“Did you really just say that?”

“Like I said, I’m only trying to keep the peace. Exercise that discretion you mentioned.”

“It’s not your jurisdiction.”

“San Antonio was still part of Texas last time I checked.”

Orleans’ spine stiffened, making him look taller. “Not today, as far as you’re concerned. You don’t want to push this any farther than you already have, Ranger, believe me.”

“It’s about the law, sir—you just said that too. See, the Texas Rangers maintain no Intergovernmental Service Agreement with ICE; neither does the city of San Antonio. And, according to the city’s detainer agreement, a local police officer has to be present whenever you’re staging a raid. And I don’t currently see an officer on site.”

“That’s because this isn’t a raid.”

“What would you call it then?”

Orleans’ face was getting red, taking on the look of sunbaked skin. “There’s a local inside the building now.”

“Right, the school resource officer. What was his name again?”

Orleans worked his mouth around, as if he were chewing the inside of his cheeks.

Caitlin cast her gaze toward the pair of black, unmarked Humvees that must’ve brought the ICE officials here. “You got assault rifles stored in those trucks, sir?”

“Never know when you might need them.”

“Sure, against fourth graders wielding spitballs. Report I got said those and the fifth graders helped barricade the doors.”

“So arrest them and let us do our jobs,” Orleans sneered, his shoulders seeming to widen within the bonds of his flak jacket.

“Be glad to, once you produce the official paperwork that brought you this far.”

“We can give you the names of the students we’re here to detain, Ranger.”

“What about warrants, court orders, something that passes for official?”

Orleans shook his head. “Not necessary.”

“It is for me.” Caitlin took a step closer to him, watching his gaze dip to the SIG Sauer 9-millimeter pistol holstered to her belt.

“Don’t make me the bad guy here, Ranger. I’m doing my job, just like you. You may not like it, all these protesters might not like it, but I don’t suppose they’d disobey the orders of their superiors any more than I can.”

“I know you don’t make the rules, sir, and I respect that, to the point where I have a suggestion: Why don’t you stand down and give me a chance to fetch the kids you’re after from inside before somebody gets hurt?”

A skeptical Orleans nodded stiffly. “Sounds like you’ve come to your senses, Ranger.”

“Never lost them, sir. You’re right about orders and mine were to diffuse the situation through whatever means necessary. That’s what I’m trying to do here. The lawyers can sort things out from that point.”

Orleans hedged a bit. “I didn’t figure something like this fell under Ranger domain.”

“This is Texas, sir. Everything falls under our domain. In this case, we can make that work to your advantage.”

Orleans nodded, his expression dour. “The doors were already chained and barricaded when we got here, Ranger. That means somebody tipped the school off we were coming, even fed them the names of the kids we were coming to pick up.”

“It wasn’t the Rangers,” Caitlin assured him.

“No, but somebody in the Department of Public Safety must’ve been behind the leak after we informed them of our intentions as a courtesy.”

“That’s a separate issue you need to take up with DPS, sir. For now, how about we dial things back a few notches so the two of us can just do our jobs?”

“That sounds good to me, Ranger. The United States government thanks you for your support.”

Caitlin stopped halfway to the school entrance beneath the curved archway and looked back. “Don’t confuse what I’m doing with support, Agent Orleans. When things go from bad to worse, blood often gets spilled. What do you say we do our best to keep the street dry today?”

CHAPTER 2

San Antonio, Texas

Caitlin watched the school’s principal, Mariana Alonzo, unfasten the chains after enough of the makeshift barricade had been removed to allow one of the entry doors to open.

“Thanks for coming, Ranger,” Alonzo greeted, locking the chain back into place.

“I’m sure your sister would have preferred intervening herself, ma’am.”

Alonzo swallowed hard. “Did you mean what you said out there, that you’re going to deliver the kids to ICE?”

“I also said I was here to diffuse the situation through any means necessary.”

Mariana’s Alonzo’s sister Conseulo was a former San Antonio police captain and deputy chief currently climbing the law enforcement ladder at the Department of Public Safety in Austin. She’d called Caitlin immediately after first getting word of ICE’s pending arrival at Canyon Ridge Elementary, though not before alerting her sister to what was coming.

“All six of these kids are honor students, Ranger,” the school principal noted.

“This kind of thing would be just as wrong even if they weren’t, ma’am. I imagine your sister believed that more than anyone. I’m surprised she didn’t come here herself, instead of calling me.”

Now, an hour after that call, the sister of DPS’s Deputy Police Commissioner was looking at Caitlin with the same hope she’d glimpsed on the faces of the kids pressed against the glass.

“She wanted to,” Principal Alonzo said, “but I wasn’t about to let her throw her career away. Then she told me she had another idea. Nobody messes with the Texas Rangers, right?”

“Your sister and I go back a ways, ma’am,” Caitlin told her, not bothering to add that not all their interactions had been positive.

Alonzo steered Caitlin away from the throng of children unable to take their eyes off her badge and gun to a corner of the hall. They stopped beneath an air conditioning baffle blowing bursts of frigid air.

“What now, Ranger?”

“Where are the children, ma’am?”

“In my office,” Alonzo said, tilting her gaze toward an open door through which Caitlin spotted a pair of school secretaries busy fielding a nonstop flurry of phone calls behind their desks. “Be nice to keep as much of a lid on this as possible.”

Caitlin weighed her options. “That lid got blown off when your sister called me in on this. I don’t figure on ICE breaking down the doors, but they’ll wait us out for as long as it takes. Means we need to find a way to take these kids out of their reach.”

“Is that even possible?”

“I’ve got a couple of ideas.”

***

“You want to do what?” D. W. Tepper, captain of Ranger Company G, blared over the phone.

Caitlin pictured him reaching for a cigarette. “You heard me, Captain.”

“Well, that’s a new one, anyway.”

“First time for everything.”

“Our necks better be made of Silly Putty, if we’re going to stick them out this far.”

“Not the first time for that at all. And put down the Marlboro, D.W.”

“Jeeze, Ranger, what are you, psychic now, like that seven-foot Venezuelan giant of yours?”

“Speaking of Colonel Paz . . .”

CHAPTER 3

San Antonio, Texas

Twenty minutes and another phone call later, Caitlin inspected the three-page document Principal Mariana Alonzo had printed off an email attachment she’d just received.

“You Rangers sure work fast,” she complimented.

“Always been our way,” Caitlin told her, folding the document in thirds so the proper section was face out, “long before there was any such thing as email or even electricity.”

“You ever wonder what it was like ranging in those days?”

“Strongs have been Rangers almost as long as there’s been a Texas. I never really had to wonder, since I’ve heard all the stories about their exploits.”

“I’ve heard of your grandfather, your father too.”

“Well, ma’am, my great-grandad William Ray and my great-great-grandad Steeldust Jack had their share of adventures too.”

“I’d love to have you back some time to talk about that history to our students.”

“Let’s take care of the ones I came here about today first,” Caitlin said, pocketing the now tri-folded set of pages.

***

“You sure about this, Ranger?” Mariana Alonzo said to Caitlin, after bringing the six students from Canyon Ridge Elementary that ICE officers had come to collect from her office to the main lobby, just out of sight from the barricaded entrance.

Caitlin ran her hand through the hair of a trembling girl who looked all of ten years old, then used a tissue to wipe the tear stains from the cheeks of a boy who was all of nine.

“As sure as I am that if we don’t do something fast, ICE might breach the building.”

“What happens then?”

“This is still Texas and I’m still a Texas Ranger, ma’am. Just ask your sister.”

“I did, after she told me you were coming.”

“What’d she say?”

“To stay out of your way. That everything I’d heard was true.”

Caitlin bristled. “I wouldn’t put much stock in those stories. The press is prone to exaggeration.”

Alonzo nodded. “She told me you’d say that too.”

Caitlin felt the boy whose cheeks she’d swiped clean tug at her sleeve.

“Are you going to save us from the bad men?”

She knelt so they were eye-to-eye and laid her hands on his shoulders. “What’s your name, son?”

“Diego. I’m scared.”

“Well, Diego, let me show you what happens to men who scare little kids.”

***

The bald ICE agent named Orleans smirked when Caitlin emerged from the school entrance with the six children ICE had come to collect in tow, school principal Mariana Alonzo bringing up the rear. Cameras clacked and whirred, as she brushed aside microphones thrust in her face.

“That wasn’t so hard, was it?” Orleans said, once Caitlin reached him, her charges gathered protectively behind her. “Good thing you came to your senses. If it makes you feel any better, I hate this part of the job as much as anybody.”

“I hope that’s the case, Agent, I truly do.” Caitlin eased the document Captain Tepper had just emailed from her pocket. “Because this is a duly executed warrant naming these six children as material witnesses to a crime, subject to protection by the Texas Rangers until such time they are called to testify.”

Orleans started to turn red. Caitlin could feel the heat radiating through his uniform, dragging an odor that reminded her of a gym bag with yesterday’s dank workout clothes still stuffed inside.

“You lied to me, Ranger.”

“No, I didn’t, sir. I told you I was here to diffuse the situation and that’s what I’m doing. I said I’d fetch the kids from inside before somebody got hurt, and that’s exactly what I did.”

“You mean, nobody’s been hurt yet, Ranger.” With that, Orleans snatched the warrant from her grasp. “This is bullshit and you know it,” he said, having barely regarded it.

“That’s not for either of us to say, sir. It’s for a court to decide now.”

“You want to tell me what crime exactly these six suspects are material witness to?”

“Did you just call them suspects?”

“Answer my question, Ranger.”

“I’m not at liberty to say, sir. It’s a confidential investigation.”

Orleans turned his gaze on the imposing group of five armed men dressed in black tactical garb behind him, then looked back at Caitlin and smirked again. “So you think we’re just going to let you parade these subjects past us all by yourself? You really think we’re going to just back down and stand aside?”

The blistering roar of an engine almost drowned out his last words, as an extended cab pickup truck riding massive tires tore onto the scene and spun to a halt between the ICE agents and their Humvees. The springs recoiled, as a huge figure with a pair of M4 assault rifles shouldered behind him emerged from the cab, towering over those he passed, including the men with I-C-E embroidered on their jackets.

“This is Colonel Guillermo Paz,” Caitlin told Orleans, “an agent of Homeland Security, just like you, sir. He’s going to help me parade these ‘suspects’ past you.”

***

“Colonel Gee!” a first-grade boy beamed, coming up only to Paz’s waist as he hugged him tight before Paz could lift him into the backseat of his truck. “You remember me from pre-school?”

“Of course I do, Marcus.”

“Do you still work there?”

“No, I moved on. I do that a lot. Learn what I can from a place and then try another.”

“I miss you, Colonel Gee. You never finished the story of what you did to those bad men who tried to hurt you when you went home for your mommy’s funeral.”

“They’re not alive anymore, Marcus.”

“Really?”

Paz fixed his gaze on the ICE agents who’d edged closer, weighing their options. “It’s what happens to bad men.”

***

“Thank you, Colonel,” Caitlin said through the window, eyes even with Paz’s in the driver’s seat.

“’The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better.’”

“Robert Kennedy?”

Paz’s eyes widened. “I’m impressed, Ranger.”

“Just a lucky guess.”

“Edward Bulwer-Lytton didn’t believe in luck. He called it a fancy name for being always at the ready when needed.”

“Describes the two of us pretty well, I suppose.” Caitlin looked at the four kids squeezed into the big pickup’s backseat, Diego and Marcus in the front staring wide-eyed at the giant behind the wheel. “You know where to take them.”

Paz cast his gaze back toward the ICE agents, frozen in place fifteen feet away with scowls plastered across their expressions. “And if they follow?”

“They won’t get very far,” Caitlin told him. “Principal Alonzo yanked out the valve stems on their tires while we were loading the kids.”

***

Caitlin’s phone rang with a call from Captain Tepper, just as Guillermo Paz was driving off and the ICE agents were discovering their flat tires.

“Now who’s psychic, Captain?” she greeted. “Kids are safe and I didn’t even have to shoot anybody.”

“Good thing you saved your bullets, Ranger, ‘cause there’s somewhere else you need to be right now. A town in the desert called Camino Pass, formerly with a population of two hundred and eighty-eight according to the last census.”

“Formerly?”

“Looks like they’re all dead, Ranger. Each and every one of them.”

***

Excerpt from Strong from the Heart by Jon Land. Copyright 2020 by Jon Land. Reproduced with permission from Jon Land. All rights reserved.

 

 

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LITTLE FALLS by Elizabeth Lewes | #Showcase #Interview #Giveaway

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Little Falls

by Elizabeth Lewes

on Tour September 1 – October 31, 2020

Synopsis:

Little Falls by Elizabeth Lewes

She tried to forget the horrors of war–but her quiet hometown conceals a litany of new evils.

Sergeant Camille Waresch did everything she could to forget Iraq. She went home to Eastern Washington and got a quiet job. She connected with her daughter, Sophie, whom she had left as a baby. She got sober. But the ghosts of her past were never far behind.

While conducting a routine property tax inspection on an isolated ranch, Camille discovers a teenager’s tortured corpse hanging in a dilapidated outbuilding. In a flash, her combat-related PTSD resurges–and in her dreams, the hanging boy merges with a young soldier whose eerily similar death still haunts her. The case hits home when Sophie reveals that the victim was her ex-boyfriend–and as Camille investigates, she uncovers a tangled trail that leads to his jealous younger brother and her own daughter, wild, defiant, and ensnared.

The closer Camille gets to the truth, the closer she is driven to the edge. Her home is broken into. Her truck is blown up. Evidence and witnesses she remembers clearly are erased. And when Sophie disappears, Camille’s hunt for justice becomes a hunt for her child. At a remote compound where the terrifying truth is finally revealed, Camille has one last chance to save her daughter–and redeem her own shattered soul.

Praise for Little Falls:

“The tight, well-constructed plot complements the searing portrait of Camille as she deals with the guilt she feels over her daughter and her general rage at the world.”
Publisher’s Weekly, Starred Review

Little Falls snaps with suspense from beginning to end. With skilled execution of setting and plot, Elizabeth Lewes shuttles the reader between continents on a thrilling journey that reveals haunting secrets. I couldn’t put this book down!”
—Margaret Mizushima, author of the award-winning Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries, including Hanging Falls

“A dark, dangerous read populated by distinct, well-drawn characters. The tormented heroine is a woman on the edge and fascinating in her unpredictability. You’re rooting for her, afraid for her, but never fully confident that she won’t succumb to her multiple demons. There is a desperate sense of urgency right up until the very end.”
—P. J. Tracy, New York Times bestselling author of the Monkeewrench series

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery, Rural Noir
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: August 11th 2020
Number of Pages: 311
ISBN: 1643855069 (ISBN13: 9781643855066)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Elizabeth Lewes

Elizabeth Lewes is a veteran of the United States Navy who served during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. An analyst and linguist by training, she now practices law in Seattle. Little Falls is her debut novel.

Q&A with Elizabeth Lewes

What was the inspiration for this book?

The basic idea of a property tax inspector who sees too much came to me while I was reviewing documents for work. (I’m a tax lawyer by day.) The deal concerned a property in Little Falls, New York, so I was reviewing property tax returns. In the process, I learned that in much of New York state, property tax collectors/inspectors are community members and, in some cases, taxpayers drop off payments at the collector’s home. That’s when it occurred to me that property tax inspectors must see all sorts of interesting things, particularly out in the county! A few days later, I had this image of a female veteran who finds a body that plunges her back into her memories of Iraq. And that’s how Camille Waresch was born!

What has been the biggest challenge in your writing career?

A lot of folks are not ready to try to understand the complexity of being a woman in our society, let alone a female veteran. Despite coming up in a relatively progressive age when many women have been told that they can be whomever they want to be and encouraged to execute on that, there are still very rigid ideas of what women, and particularly mothers, should be. Finding people in the publishing industry who get it, who understand that women are as different and diverse as men, that most women do not fit any mold, and that readers do want to read those complicated and sometimes not endearing characters has been excruciating at times.

What do you absolutely need while writing?

To hear the characters! I can’t tell you how many scenes I’ve started and then scrapped because I couldn’t hear Camille telling me the story.

Do you adhere to a strict routine when writing or write when the ideas are flowing?

Not at all! My days are very full, so I whip out my phone and jot down plot notes or snippets of scenes whenever they come to me. (I’m typing this while my children and husband are having three different conversations in the car at the same time.) I also have a bad habit of writing in the bathroom—it’s the only place I can reliably hide from my children and clients for a few minutes! However, I always start with an outline to develop most of the plot and sit down several times during the course of the book to order/reorder scenes and fill in gaps in the plot using my outline.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

That’s a hard question! I love the sheer grit and determination that my MC, Camille, has, but she is also rigid in a lot of undesirable ways. I kind of love to hate Lyle, Camille’s not-quite brother-in-law. He seems like a complete disaster, but has very much unplumbed depths. I also have a real soft spot for Camille’s daughter, Sophie. She is a mess and has suffered a lot because of her mother’s choices, but she definitely inherited her mother’s grit. She also inherited quite a bit from her father that I hope to explore in more books.

Who is your least favorite character from your book and why?

The apparent villain, Jimmy King. He’s a petty show-off who thinks he’s a brilliant con. He is, unfortunately, so similar to a lot of people I knew in the military….

Give us an interesting fun fact or a few about your book?

Little Falls is set in the Okanogan because I became entranced with the county after hearing a good friend’s stories about his hunting cabin in the woods out there. After driving to Tonasket in a snowstorm to pick up a couple of beef one winter, I fell in love with the place and knew that it was Camille’s home. However, since I’m not from there, I spent a ton of time getting to know how Okanogan County looks and feels, even smells. I hope the reader can feel the dirt under their nails and smell the pines dripping sap in the searing summer heat!

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Listen to women, especially those of us who have been in a man’s world and lived to tell the tale!

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I’m a fifth-generation Oregonian and Washington transplant who spent six years in the Navy as a linguist. After the Navy, I went to law school and have spent the last 10 years learning (then unlearning) how to write like a lawyer.

What’s next that we can look forward to?

I am currently working on the next book about Camille and Sophie. In PERSECUTION, a woman who claimed to be searching for money Camille’s ex stole years before ends up in Camille’s protection before being brutally murdered. What Camille learns about the dead woman’s past in the Okanogan and elsewhere forces Camille to confront her own choices and pain, but will she do it fast enough to avoid the same fate?

Catch Up With Elizabeth Lewes:
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Read an excerpt:

I remember fragments: the color of the desert burning, the smell of the blood drying in the sun, the sound of the glass shattering under fire. Never what happened after. Rarely what happened before.

But sometimes … sometimes, I remember everything. Time slows, crystallizes. I see everything, I smell everything, I hear everything. I feel everything.

Then something… snaps. Fragments.

It just happened. Here. In the barn. Flakes of snow are melting on my jacket; they’re damp on my numb fingers. It happened when he looked up, when he turned toward me, when I saw her blood matted in his long hair, his hand on her face.

Then I fired

This is what happened before.

1

Dust: long, fat streamers of it rose from the wheels of my truck as I drove up into the hills of Jeremy Leamon’s ranch. It was dry that Friday, dry as early August in Okanogan County usually is, but Leamon’s black steers were still bent low in the parched pastures, scrounging for tufts of yellow grass under the orange morning sun. The windows in the truck were down, and I was tapping my fingernails on the window frame, but not to the beat of the honky-tonk on the radio.

An outcrop shot up out of the pasture and became a ridge. I steered the truck around it, bounced over the stones that had crumbled off, and powered through a mess of tree roots and washouts that made the steering column jerk and the axles whine. Not long after the truck stopped buck ing, an outbuilding peeked out of the stand of ponderosa pines that washed down the hillside. Its corrugated steel paneling and wooden barn door had seen better days. Hell, better decades. But the thick padlock on the door was shiny and new.

Suspicious? Yeah.

The country is not that peaceful, you know. Drugs—we got plenty. Prostitution, too. And guns. Jesus Christ, do we have guns. In the years I had been inspecting properties for the County Assessor’s Office, I had seen more than my fair share out on the back roads, in the hidden valleys, and in forgotten forest clearings just like the one I found that day on the edge of Jeremy Leamon’s property. That’s why I carried my official ID in my pocket and my unofficial Glock in my right hand. Why I let the truck roll through the potholes until I turned a bend, then switched off the ignition and listened long and hard before I got out to take a look.

I remember that when my boots hit the ground, puffs of yellow dirt rose around my ankles, drifted on air heavy with the smell of sunburned pine needles: dry, hot, resinous. The smell of summer. The smell of fire.

I padded through the trees. A hundred yards in, I saw the back end of the building above me on the hill. I came up on the south side and approached the tree line, then doubled back to the north side. No sounds from the building, not even the whisper of a ventilation fan. So why lock it up, all the way out here in the hills?

My finger slipped closer to the Glock’s trigger.

Slowly, cautiously, I approached the building. There was only the one door and no windows. No way to see what the padlock was protecting. But as I rounded a corner, a gust of wind blew through the trees, and a steel panel on the side of the building swayed with it. I held my breath, waited for some sound, some shout, from inside the building. When it didn’t come, I caught the edge of the panel with the toe of my boot. It swung out easily, and daylight shot through holes where nails had once secured it to the building’s wooden skeleton.

Inside was a stall for an animal, a horse maybe. Beyond it, open space, sunlight pouring through a hole in the roof onto messy stacks of last year’s hay. The air glittered with dust and stank of decay, the funk of rot. But there was something else there too, something sweet and high and spoiled. And buzzing, buzzing that filled my ears, that vibrated my brain …

I ducked under the steel panel and clambered in, breathing shallowly. Holding my weapon at the ready, I rounded the corner of the stall, and then I saw him.

Hanging

Hanging from a loop of braided wire stretched over a wooden beam. His fingers were at his neck, but not to scratch it or run over his scant, patchy beard. They were stuck. Stuck in the noose. Stuck when he’d clawed at it, tried to pry it away, tried to make room to breathe.

I’m sure he tried.

Because he hadn’t jumped: there was no chair, no ladder. Nothing kicked away, nothing standing.

Nothing but the kid and the flies.

* * *

I don’t remember much of what happened next, but I know I went back to the truck, and I must have made a call. Because I know I watched the helicopter erupt over the rock and sweep down the hillside and land in the track I had driven down. And I can still feel the dirt from the downwash blasting my face and the icy cold steel of the stairs when I pulled them out just after the bird settled on the ground. And I remember not understanding why everyone was acting so strange, why the doctor set down her things in slow motion, and the pilot just switched off the bird and strolled to the trees to light up a smoke and why both of them were so casual, like they were going to the park. But then I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I turned around. And everything snapped into focus.

Sergeant Darren Moses. My God, you should have seen him that day, in his mirrored sunglasses and chocolate-brown uniform, his black buzz cut and those high Indian cheekbones. He was always good looking-even when we were kids—but I guess I hadn’t seen him for a while.

He asked me how I was, reached out and touched my shoulder again, looked concerned. I had on this green tank top, and the rough pads of his fingers were cool against my skin. He was standing close, almost intimately, his aftershave musky and faint. But I stood there and watched my reflection in his sunglasses and was an asshole.

“I’m glad to see the Sheriff’s Office hasn’t cleaned out the stables yet.”

Darren laughed, smiled broadly, his teeth flashing white in the sun. “You know I’m the kind of shit that sticks to the floor.”

He moved his hand away. My shoulder was suddenly cold. I smiled, tried to laugh, then grabbed another bag instead.

Darren held out his hand to take it. “You don’t have to haul our gear, Camille.”

I shrugged. “May as well. I’m here.” “Really.” “It’s not a big deal.” Darren’s smile disappeared.

“I’m sorry. I need you to stay here.”

My fingers tightened on the handle of the black Sheriff’s Office duffel. “What are you talking about?”

“I can’t let you into the crime scene.”

I shook my head. “I’ve already seen it. My fibers or whatever you’re worried about are already in there.”

“It’s procedure,” Darren said, his shoulders lifting slightly. “No exceptions, not even for old friends.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“And you’ve had a shock. Listen-Lucky’s on his way up here. He took a truck so he could stop and talk to Leamon. He can take you back into town, and I’ll drive your truck down after we’re done.”

I frowned. “What? No.”

“Camille. If you’re right and he’s…” “Hey, Moses!” someone shouted.

I spun toward the building and saw a second officer standing by the peeled-back panel of corrugated steel: Deputy Jesus Moreno. His voice tight and flat and deathly calm, he said: “You need to see this.”

Darren took the duffle from my hand and jogged over to the building. I followed. I’m not good at following orders. Never have been.

Inside the building, the two men stood side by side, their chins lifted, their eyes fixed on the corpse. Moreno was frowning, his arms crossed over his chest. He looked like a man at a museum: interested, but removed, dis tant. Darren looked like a man taking it personally. His jaw was clenched, his neck rigid, his thumb twitching on the safety catch of his holster.

In the corner, the medical examiner—a small woman with graying curls—busily set out her equipment on a bale of hay she’d draped with a white sheet. When she turned, she was zipping a white jumpsuit closed over a blue buttondown shirt.

“It’s just decomposition, gentlemen,” the examiner said. “Part of the natural process.”

“How long would you say?” Darren asked, still studying the corpse. “Three or four days,” I said without thinking.

Darren shot me a look and started to say something, probably to tell me I was violating his procedure, to threaten me with arrest if I didn’t get out of his crime scene. But the examiner was faster.

“Yes.” She adjusted her glasses, squinted at the body, then said slowly, like she was really thinking about it: “It’s been hot-hot enough for that much bloating-and the maggots are pretty far along. So, yes, that’s a fair assessment.”

Darren glanced from me to the examiner and back again, then opened his mouth.

“Aren’t you going to introduce me, Sergeant?” the examiner said.

For a moment, Darren was caught between irritation and manners. He was staring at me like I had strung up the kid myself, his eyes dark and intense, a vein in his neck jumping. The examiner was staring at him like he was a naughty schoolboy.

“Doctor Marguerite Fleischman, Camille Waresch,” Darren said. “Camille found the body this morning, Doc. She works for the County Assessor’s Office.”

“And?” the doctor said, looking over her wire rims at Darren.

“And she’s leaving,” he said, taking a step forward, one hand reaching toward my arm.

The examiner raised her hand to him. “Not until she answers my ques tions,” she said, then turned to me. “How is it you know the body’s been there for three or four days?”

I shrugged. “Just a guess.”

“Camille was a medic, Doc,” Darren said through gritted teeth. “She was in Iraq.”

I clenched my jaw, looked away. “And Afghanistan.” “I see.”

Doctor Fleischman pulled on a pair of latex gloves, snapping them against her wrists. Then she squatted and rifled through one of her bags. When she stood, she was holding a notebook and pen out to me.

“My recorder is broken. You remember how to take notes?”

We had been at it for a couple of hours when a truck pulled up outside. The engine died and one door, then another, slammed. I stood up quickly and backed toward the wall, skittish, my eyes on the big door by the road.

“I’m telling you,” a male voice said outside, his voice escalating from exasperation to anger.

“That ain’t my building. I don’t know what your problem is, but it ain’t mine.”

Leamon, Jeremy Leamon. My dad had known him. I had knocked on his front door and chatted with him about the weather that morning when I arrived at the property for the inspection.

“All right,” another man said in this sort of soothing, persuasive voice, the kind of voice you want in commercials for condoms or caramels. Lucky Phillips, it had to be. He was Darren’s partner back then. And he was an outsider, one of the few people who’d moved into the Okanogan instead of out.

“I believe you, Jeremy,” Lucky said. “But you know I’m a curious kind of guy—I just want to see if any of these keys work.”

“It ain’t mine,” Leamon growled, but there was panic in his voice.

Someone thumped the door and fiddled with the padlock, its steel loop rattling against the cleats on the door. The door jerked open, sliding to the side on the top rail. Lucky stepped into the doorway, all tall and broad in his brown uniform and flaming orange hair. And beside him, his arm clamped in one of Lucky’s big hands, was Jeremy Leamon, a man with too much denim wrinkled around his body and a halo of gray stubble on top of his head.

“What’s that then, Jeremy?” Lucky asked, still cool, still smooth.

Leamon ducked out of Lucky’s grip, his gnarled, liver-spotted hands clenched in enormous fists. But Lucky was younger and faster. He stepped forward, taking the older man’s arm and spinning him, forcing him to look into the building, to look at the body still hanging from the beam, still crawling with flies, dripping slowly onto the packed earth floor.

Leamon staggered back. “What is that?”

“What do you mean?” Lucky said in mock surprise. “You aren’t going to introduce us to your new neighbor?”

“Neighbor?” Leamon’s face went white as butcher paper, his knees wavered and shook. He shoved Lucky to one side and, bent double, ran outside, his hand clamped to his mouth as he began to retch.

* * *

Later, much later, I could still smell the decay, hear the smack of flies against the inside of the plastic body bag after Moreno finally cut the kid down and zipped him up. I was fine when they loaded him into the helicopter, fine when Darren asked me how I was for the second time that day. He said he knew I’d seen things before, but did I want someone to drive me to my place? I shook my head again, told him no. Then he climbed into the helicopter and I stowed the stairs, and I was fine until the bird disappeared over the rock, until even the sound of its rotors faded away, and I was alone again, alone in the narrow track, dust clinging to my jeans and caked in my hair.

That’s when the shaking started.

I fell to my knees and tried to not let it happen, but sometimes it just does. Sometimes the movie inside my head just won’t stop, and I see the sniper bullet blow off half that staff sergeant’s skull, see that corporal go limp on the table in the field hospital when everything went wrong, see that lieutenant’s eyes gazing blindly into the deep, blue desert sky while his blood sank into the sand. And then the mortar rounds, the streaks of fire in the night sky, the staccato burst of AK-47s in the bone-dry morning, the sudden sick rocking of an IED going off under the tires of the forward Humvee.

After some time—God knows how long—I stood up and half-stumbled, half-ran to my truck and threw myself into the cab, then tore down the mountain faster than I should have. The assessment didn’t matter; the rocks slamming against the chassis didn’t matter; the cattle scattering wildly at the reckless rumble of the truck didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was getting out.

I still don’t know how I got back that day. I just remember looking out the window of my one-bedroom apartment, my hair wet, my skin raw from the shower, watching people drive into the gravel lot below, go into the mart—my mart; felt strange to remember that, to remember that my father had bought it for me when I came home from the desert for the last time, that it was supposed to be my unwanted salvation-then leave again, a half rack of beer or a gallon of milk in hand. Across the street, my neighbor’s trees, their leaves still green, waved in the heat rising off the pavement of the two-lane road that went through my two-street town. Behind them, behind the trees, the hill rose yellow and pale, dried-out green, the dirt streaked with orange. Like it was rusting.

Numb. I was numb. That’s how it is at first. First bomb. First kill. You’re scared out of your mind, scared straight. Get shit done, accomplish the mission. And then—it gets quiet. You’re out, you’re back at base. You’re safe. And then numb. It’s like floating, and nothing can touch you, nothing can make you feel. You’re floating through the day, through the tour, through life. Then someone shoots down your balloon and it’s all pain.

Most days, I miss the desert. But what I really miss is that numb.

* * *

As the shadows were lengthening, a key turned in the front door.

I was sitting at the scuffed kitchen table, staring at the property report for Jeremy Leamon’s ranch in the black binder I’d had with me on-site that morning. My hair was dry and sticking to the sweat on my neck, so it must have been awhile since I had gotten back. I leapt to my feet-bare feet grabbed the Glock, cocked it, and held it down, but ready, my index finger hovering next to the trigger. God, I must have looked insane when the door opened and my teenage daughter walked in.

“Uh, hi,” Sophie said and dropped her backpack on the floor. “Hi,” I said without breathing.

“What’s with you?”

Sophie sauntered into the kitchen. Hastily, I slid the Glock under the county map draped over the table.

“Nothing.”

Across the narrow room, Sophie raised her eyebrows. I looked away, my jaw clenched. Be calm. Be normal.

“How was work?” I said, trying and failing. “Okay.”

Sophie opened the fridge, rummaged, smacked things around until she found the last can of soda.

“Crystal was okay?”

“Yeah, Crystal was okay.” Sophie stood up, closed the fridge, and popped open her drink.

“Roseann dropped you off?” She paused. “I asked if Roseann dropped you off.” “No,” she snapped, her back still toward me. I ground my teeth.

“She had to go to Coulee City for something,” Sophie said before I could open my mouth. “She said she wouldn’t be back until late.”

“Why didn’t you call me?”

“I got home.” Sophie hesitated, her back stiffened. “I mean, I got back okay, didn’t I?”

And that was it, really. Home. Her home was my home: the white farmhouse I had grown up in, the same place she had grown up after I left her to join the Army and then after I came back, when it was too much for me to take care of myself and take care of her too. And it had stayed that way, me in the apartment over the mart, her and my father in the old farmhouse thirty miles away. Until he died that May. After that, home was … well, not my apartment.

“Who brought you?” I asked as evenly as I could. “Who brought you back?”

“A friend.”

Sophie turned quickly and stalked past me until, like a toy tied to her with string, I sprang up and reached out to grab her. But then she stopped and the string broke. My hand snapped back.

“Who?” I insisted, my voice cracking with the strain of holding back the fury, the anxiety and fear.

“Just a friend.”

“A name. Give me a name.”

Sophie glared at me, then bent to pick up her backpack. I rushed forward and put myself in her path. Her brown eyes—flecked with gold like mine-flashed dangerously, just like her father’s had when he’d been pushed too far. Just like mine must have too.

“Jason,” Sophie said through clenched teeth. “Jason Sprague.” I stared her down. “Never heard of him.”

“You wouldn’t have,” she sneered. But then she dropped her eyes, dropped her head, and a lock of dark hair fell over her forehead.

“Granddad thought he was okay.”

She said it so quietly, almost reverently, her eyes so downcast that her long lashes fanned over her cheeks. Even I felt tears welling. But my father thought everyone was okay; he was everyone’s hero. And here’s the thing, here’s what I had learned about being a mother during those few months that Sophie and I had been the only ones left: your kid is the predator and you are the prey. They smell blood. They smell fear. And then—just then Sophie was playing with her food.

“Fine,” I said, biting off the word. “I’ll meet him next time.”

I let her push past me. She slammed the bedroom door behind her; I stomped to the kitchen, poured a glass of water, and took it to the table.

Hours later, I was still there, trying to write my report about Leamon’s ranch on my laptop when Sophie burst out of the bedroom. Her eyes were wild, and her long black hair flew behind her as she darted to the front door.

“Where are you going?” I demanded, rising from the table.

Sophie was pulling on her shoes, didn’t even glance up when she said, “To Tracy’s.”

“Why?”

“I just am,” she said dismissively, snarling in that way that burned through all my nerves.

“No.” Pulling the laces tight, her face away from me, she muttered, “Fuck

you.”

In the blink of an eye, I was standing over her, the muscles in my arms screaming against the force it took to hold back my fists. “Stop.”

Her head jerked up: trails of tears streaked down her face, smeared mascara haloed her eyes.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” she shouted.

The heat of her anguish drove me back to the kitchen counter. Fury I could deal with, but anything else, anything more … My chest tightened, my vision narrowed, darkened. Pinholed. I closed my eyes, shook my head, pushed down all the thoughts, the impulses, and the screams.

And when I opened my eyes, there was just Sophie. On the ground. Crying and tying her shoes like a child. My child. I dropped to my knees.

“What’s going on, Sophie?” I said quietly, tentatively. “Why are you, why do you need to go to Tracy’s right now? It’s late.”

“Because,” she wailed, then breathed deeply, the air shuddering in her chest. “Because Patrick is dead.”

I shook my head. “Patrick?”

“Yeah, Patrick.”

“Okay.” I nodded. “Who is Patrick?”

“A friend,” Sophie said impatiently. She scrambled to her feet, grabbed her bag.

“A friend.”

Sophie wove to push past me; I wove too, pushing back.

“Like Jason?” I said too sharply.

Sophie’s eyes flashed through her tears. “No. He’s my-he’s just a really good friend. From school.”

“From school,” I repeated, trying to keep myself in check.

Sophie rolled her eyes. “I mean, he just graduated in May.”

What?

“Patrick?” I whispered, looking past Sophie, looking over her shoulder into the distance where I could still see a male, his bloated body black and purple with pooled blood, patches of peach fuzz on his face, hanging at the end of a length of braided wire.

“Yeah, Patrick!” Sophie hitched up her backpack. Fresh tears were puddling in her eyes, her shoulders were tense. “He hasn’t been around for a couple of weeks and now—” Her shoulders rose, her voice shuddered. “And now someone found him up in the hills and he’s … he’s dead.”

My heartbeat quickened. “What do you mean in the hills? Where?” “I don’t know! Why would I know? Tracy just called me, okay?”

But I couldn’t believe the kid that morning had been Sophie’s friend, that the casualty was that close. I couldn’t believe the medical examiner would have released an identification that early, that she could even know yet who the dead boy was. And why would some kid—why would Sophie’s friend-know about it anyway?

Then everything sort of slowed down, came into focus: the tears on Sophie’s cheeks crept down to her jaw, the smell of her shampoo-green apple-filled my nostrils; the dim light from the lamp by the sofa was suddenly blinding.

“Who found him?” I asked, my voice sounding tinny and distant in my ears.

“I don’t know!” Sophie was shrieking now, her voice echoing in my brain, overloading every circuit. “How would I know?”

“How old was he?” I said urgently. “How old was Patrick?”

“It doesn’t matter; he’s dead!” She tore my fingers from her arms, even though I didn’t remember—don’t remember-grabbing her.

“Tell me.”

“Nineteen, okay?” Released, Sophie lunged for the door. “He just turned nineteen!”

Nineteen.

I had written nineteen on Doctor Fleischman’s yellow notepad that morning.

“Victim is a Caucasian male, approximately nineteen to twenty-two years of age,” she had said from her perch on the ladder. “Death likely caused by asphyxiation, likely involuntary hanging, but”-she had leaned closer, peering through a magnifying glass at the discolored skin on the

kid’s chest— “what appear to be electrical burns were inflicted to the torso prior to death. Two, maybe three days prior.”

She had pulled back then and shifted her attention downward. “Other indications of torture include nails missing from digits two through four of the right hand, pre-mortem bruising and lacerations on the left side of the face, including the eye …”

Downstairs, the heavy steel door slammed.

* * *

I waited for Sophie to come back, waited while I was stretched out, rigid, on the couch, with my jeans on and my boots lined up on the floor by my feet. All the lights in the apartment were off, so I studied the ridges and valleys on the ceiling by the yellow light of the sodium streetlamp.

Around two, I heard footsteps on the gravel in the parking lot, and then the door downstairs opened. She crept up quietly; I smiled because it sounded like she’d even taken off her shoes. When her key turned in the lock of the apartment door, I threw my arm over my eyes and pretended to sleep.

Later, I crept to her door and opened it silently. Inside, the bedroom that had always been bare when it was mine was now anything but. Clothes were scattered everywhere, books were stacked in uneven piles. Sophie’s pink backpack had been slung onto the chipped wooden desk. In the middle of it all was the girly white bed my parents had bought her for Christmas one year when I couldn’t-or wouldn’t-come home. She lay on the covers, curled in the fetal position, her hair tied up in a messy bun, her hands balled up under her chin.

I walked into the room, fighting the urge to pick up the mess, and watched her in the light that seeped through the thin, frilly white curtains that had once hung at the window of the bedroom we had both spent our childhoods in. At just barely fifteen, she still looked like the child I had watched growing up during visits two or three times a week for years. Her cheeks were thinning but were still rounded; the skin on her arms peeking out from under her T-shirt was still silky and down covered. Regret surged through my body as though it were a physical force—a shock wave. I closed my eyes to keep it in.

When I opened them again, the first thing I saw were the freckles sprinkled over her nose and cheeks. She looked like her Colville father, like Oren, with her dark hair and pale brown skin and almond eyes. Only her freckles were me.

Her phone, clutched in her hand, buzzed. She stirred but didn’t wake. I glanced at the screen, then did a double take. The phone background was of her and a boy. He was a little older than her, but sort of wholesome looking—if you looked past their glassy eyes and flyaway hair and flushed cheeks. I thought I recognized the boy, imagined there was some resemblance there to the kid who had been hanging in Jeremy Leamon’s barn. But then the screen went dark, and I glanced back at my daughter, her rounded cheeks not so childlike, her arms more sinew than down. And I looked past the freckles and saw a lot more of me.

***

Excerpt from Little Falls by Elizabeth Lewes. Copyright 2020 by Elizabeth Lewes. Reproduced with permission from Elizabeth Lewes. All rights reserved.

 

 

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THE MAGDALENE DECEPTION by Gary McAvoy | #Showcase #GuestPost #Giveaway

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The Magdalene Deception

by Gary McAvoy

on Tour August 1 – September 30, 2020

Synopsis:

The Magdalene Deception by Gary McAvoy

For two thousand years, believers have relied on Christ’s Resurrection as the bedrock of Christian faith. But what if the Vatican had been blackmailed into suppressing a first-century manuscript revealing a very different story about what happened after Christ’s death—and that long-hidden document suddenly reappears?

Michael Dominic, a young Jesuit priest expert in the study of ancient writings, is assigned to the Vatican as an archivist in the Church’s legendary Secret Archives. Hana Sinclair, a reporter for a Paris newspaper whose privileged family owns a prominent Swiss bank, is chasing a story about Jewish gold stolen by the Nazis during World War II—millions of dollars in bullion that ended up in the vaults of the Vatican Bank.

When Dominic discovers a long-hidden papyrus written by Mary Magdalene—one that threatens the very foundations of Christianity—he and Hana, aided by brave Swiss Guards, try to prevent sinister forces from obtaining the manuscript, among them the feared Ustasha underground fascist movement, Interpol, and shadowy figures at the highest levels of the Vatican itself.

Based on illuminating historical facts—including the intriguing true story of Bérenger Saunière, the mysterious abbé in the French village of Rennes-le-Château; and the Cathars, fabled keepers of the Holy Grail—“The Magdalene Deception” will take readers on a gripping journey through one of the world’s most secretive institutions and the sensitive, often explosive manuscripts found in its vaults.

Book Details:

Genre: Suspense Thriller
Published by: Literati Editions
Publication Date: July 1st 2020
Number of Pages: 368
ISBN: 0990837653 (ISBN-13: 978-0990837657)
Series: The Magdalene Chronicles (Book 1)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

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Author Bio:

Gary McAvoy

Gary McAvoy is a veteran technology executive, entrepreneur, and author of “And Every Word Is True,” a sequel to Truman Capote’s landmark book “In Cold blood.” “The Magdalene Deception” is his fiction debut, and is the first in a series called The Magdalene Chronicles.

Guest Post

Topic: Your book is based on historical facts, what were the most challenging and easiest items that you encountered in your research.

Like many authors, research is often the most fun part of writing (sometimes the only fun…). I love researching. As a lifelong reader I’ve often put down a book to further explore what the author had just described, which in most cases is something I’d never heard or known about before and piqued my interest. In research for The Magdalene Deception, I already knew a great deal about the legendary Cathars, fabled keepers of the Holy Grail, and the unusual story of Bérenger Saunière, the mysterious 19th-century abbé of the village of Rennes-le-Château in southern France. Those two topics are somewhat linked in history, so I read several books about both which gave me a deeper understanding of each. But it did present challenges in firming up the historical relationships, and wading through the stories of real individuals associated with these legends required intense mental departmentation. There were so many people instrumental in forging these tales that it all got to be rather perplexing. I didn’t want my readers to be confused, so I had to cull only the most relevant people—and that took a lot of historical cutting and pasting.

As for which topics were easiest, the Vatican itself stands out as the one topic I had no trouble writing about. I’ve visited Rome a couple times and had a full day in the Vatican (still not enough time), so I recall the visceral feel of history within its walls, the awe-inspiring artworks and architecture, the lush gardens, and the ever-present colorful Swiss Guard. Supplementing that personal experience, I read more than a dozen books on the institution itself, from every angle possible, and watched several documentaries and films featuring the Church and its power structure inside the Vatican. I also made contact with people who actually lived and worked in Vatican City, and their firsthand stories were invaluable.

Researching World War II, including the Holocaust and the fascist Ustasha government of the Independent State of Croatia, was a mix between challenging and easy. As a Baby Boomer myself I grew up in the later post-war years, so I heard a lot about it from relatives who served in the military. That sparked my interest and I’ve been drawn to the topic ever since. I’d actually never heard of the Ustasha before, though, so learning about that vile movement—the Croatian version of the Nazis—was at times a tough slog.

Whether challenging or not, researching this book was a great experience, and will be useful as I move into other books in the same series.

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Read an excerpt:

1
Southern France – March 1244

The relentless siege of the last surviving Cathar fortress, perched strategically on the majestic peak of Montségur in the French Pyrenees, entered its tenth month.

The massive army of crusaders dispatched from Rome, thirty thousand strong, were garbed in distinctive white tunics, their mantles emblazoned with the scarlet Latin cross. Knight commanders led hordes of common foot soldiers, some seeking personal salvation, others simply out for adventure and the promise of plunder. They had already devastated most of the Languedoc region of southern France in the years preceding. Tens of thousands of men, women, and children had been slain, regardless of age, sex, or religious belief. Entire villages were burned, rich crops destroyed, and the fertile land which yielded them was poisoned, in a cruel, single-minded quest to root out and extinguish a small and peaceful, yet influential mystic order known as the Cathars.

The defeat of the impregnable Montségur remained the ultimate prize for the Church’s troops. Rumors of a vast treasure had reached the ears of every soldier, stirring up the passion with which these feared European mercenaries carried out their holy mission. As was the customary practice during a crusade, whatever pillage remained after the plundering—spolia opima, the richest spoils for supreme achievement—could be claimed by the victor. That temptation, bonded by the personal assurance of the pope that all sins would be forgiven and their paths to heaven assured, was enough to seduce anyone, nobleman or peasant, to take up cudgel, pike, or arrow in the name of God.

In 1209 Pope Innocent III had ordered a Holy Crusade to crush the spirit, and if necessary, the life of each and every dissident in the Languedoc region bordering France and Spain.

This independent principality had distinguished itself by fostering an artistic and intellectual populace well beyond that of most northern European societies at the time. The people of the Languedoc practiced a religious tolerance that encouraged spiritual and secular diversity. Schools teaching Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic languages and the customs which accompanied them flourished, as did those espousing the Cabala, an occult form of Judaism that dated from the second century.

Most settlers in the Languedoc viewed Christianity with the utmost repugnance; at the very least its practices were perceived as being more materialistic than godly in nature. The irreligious of the region passed over Christianity in large part due to the scandalous corruption exhibited by its local priests and bishops who, unable to influence the heathens within their provinces, came to prefer the rewards of commerce and land ownership over the tending of a meager flock.

Consequently, the authorities in Rome felt compelled to deal with this unforgivable heresy once and for all, in towns such as Toulouse and Albi within the Languedoc area.

Consigning his troops to their commanders, Pope Innocent III invoked a special benediction to all, lauding the divinity of their mission. Asked how they might distinguish their Christian brethren from the heretics, however, the crusaders were simply told, “Kill them all. God will spare His own.”

And so the Albigensian Crusade began.

The new moon cast no light over Montségur as night fell on the first day of March 1244, obscuring not only the hastened activities of its occupants, but the lingering threat conspiring outside its walls. A dense alpine fog had settled over the mountain, and the castle that straddled its inaccessible peak had withstood nearly a year of unceasing battle.

Weakened by the tenacity of their predators and yielding to the hopelessness of their situation, Raymond de Péreille, Lord of Château du Montségur and leader of the remaining four hundred defenders, commanded his troops to lay down their arms, and descended the mountain to negotiate terms of their capitulation.

Though offered lenient conditions in return for their surrender, de Péreille requested a fourteen-day truce, ostensibly to consider the terms, and handed over hostages as an assurance of good faith. Knowing there was no alternative for their captives—nearly half of whom were priest-knights, or parfaits, sworn to do God’s work—the commanders of the pope’s regiment agreed to the truce.

Over the next two weeks, reprieved from the constant threat of attack they had been enduring for months, the inhabitants of Montségur resolved to fulfill their own destiny before relinquishing their fortress—and their lives—to the Inquisition.

On the last day of the truce, as if guided collectively by a single will on a predestined course, the surviving members of the last Cathar settlement made special preparations for their departure.

Four of the strongest and most loyal of the parfaits were led by Bishop Bertrand Marty, the senior abbé of the fortress, as they descended deep within the mountain down a long, stepped passageway carved into alternating layers of earth and limestone. The end of the passage appeared to be just that, as if the original tunnelers had simply stopped work and retreated without finishing the job. But, while the others held torches, Abbé Marty withdrew a large rusted key-like wedge from beneath his cassock, thrusting it into a hidden cavity near the low ceiling.

The abbé manipulated the key for a few moments. A muffled sound of grating metal from beyond the stone wall echoed through the tunnel, and the seemingly impenetrable granite slid inward slightly, revealing a door.

Aided by the parfaits, the door swung open into a small dank chamber filled with an enormous cache of riches—gold and silver in varied forms, gilded chalices and bejeweled crosses, an abundance of gems and precious stones, sagging bags of coins from many lands.

And, in a far corner removed from the bulk of the treasure itself, stood a wide granite pedestal on which rested an ornately carved wooden reliquary, crafted to hold the most holy of relics, next to which sat a large book wrapped in brown sackcloth.

Standing before the legendary treasure of the Cathars—glittering and hypnotic in the dim torchlight—would prove seductive for most men. But the Albigensians held little regard for earthly goods, other than as a useful political means to achieve their spiritual destiny. Ignoring the abundant wealth spread before them, the abbé fetched the sackcloth while the other four parfaits hoisted the ancient reliquary to their shoulders, then they left the room and solemnly proceeded back up the granite stairway. In the thousand-year history of the Cathars, these would be the last of the order ever to see the treasure.

But the most sacred relic of the Christian world would never, they vowed, fall into the unholy hands of the Inquisition.

Emerging from the stone passage, Abbé Marty led the parfaits and their venerable cargo through the hundreds of waiting Cathars who had assembled outside, forming a candlelit gauntlet leading to the sanctuary. All were dressed in traditional black tunics, all wearing shoulder length hair covered by round taqiyah caps as was the custom of the sect.

Once inside, the parfaits lowered the reliquary onto the stone altar. The abbé removed the ancient book from the sackcloth and began the sacred Consolamentum, a ritual of consecration, while the four appointed guardians prepared themselves for their special mission.

Armed with short blades and truncheons, the parfaits carefully secured the reliquary in the safety of a rope sling, then fastened taut harnesses around themselves.

“Go with God, my sons,” Abbé Marty intoned as he gave them his blessing, “and in His name ensure this sacred reliquary be protected for generations to come.”

The four men climbed over the precipice and, assisted by their brothers gripping the ropes tied to their harnesses, gently and silently rappelled hundreds of meters down the escarpment. Sympathizers waiting at the base of the mountain assisted the parfaits in liberating their holy treasure, guiding them away from the danger of other troops and hiding them and the reliquary deep in one of many nearby caves.

Throughout the night, those remaining at Montségur celebrated their brotherhood, their holy calling, and their last hours alive. Descending the mountain the next morning, in a state of pure spiritual release from the material world, Abbé Marty led the last of the Cathars as they willingly marched into the blazing pyres awaiting them, martyrs to their cause.

The holy reliquary of the Cathars has never since been found.

2
Present Day

Rounding the northern wall of the Colosseum with a measured stride, a tall young man with longish black hair glanced at the Tag Heuer chronometer strapped to his left wrist. Noting the elapsed time of his eighth mile, he wiped away the sweat that was now stinging his eyes.

Damn this Roman heat. Not even sunrise, and it’s already a scorcher.

Approaching the wide crosswalks flanking the west side of the immense Colosseum, he wondered if this was the morning he would meet God. Dodging the murderous, unrestrained traffic circling the stadium became a daily act of supreme faith, as the blur of steel sub-compacts, one after another, careened around the massive structure on their way, no doubt, to some less hostile place. Since his arrival here he had discovered that this was the way with Italian motorists in general, though Roman drivers excelled at the sport. Veteran observers could always tell the difference between natives and visitors: a local would cross the road seemingly ambivalent to the rush of oncoming traffic. Non-Romans, who could as likely be from Milan as from Boston or Paris, approached the threat of each curb-to-curb confrontation with a trepidation bordering on mortal terror.

Crossing the broad Via dei Fori Imperiali, his route took him through the Suburra, the most ancient inhabited area of Rome and off the beaten path of most tourists. As a newcomer to a city whose normal pulse was barely evident beneath the confusing ambiguities of new and old, the runner felt most comfortable here in the Suburra, a semi-industrial working-class neighborhood, much like the one he only recently left in New York. In the summer, people got up early to tend their gardens before the real heat forced them indoors. The early morning air was thick with alternating scents of Chilean jasmine, honeysuckle, and petrol fumes.

He ran another five miles, long blooms of sweat accentuating a lean, muscular frame beneath a gauzy white t-shirt as he burst into a sprint up the final few blocks, past the empty trattorias and shuttered shops whose merchants were just beginning their morning rituals.

Slowing to a cool down pace as he crossed the Sant’Angelo bridge spanning the Tiber River, he turned left up Via della Conciliazione as the massive dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica loomed suddenly ahead. Though it could be seen from almost anywhere in Rome, this approach always gave him the impression that the dome seemed to tip backwards, being swallowed up by the grand facade of the church the closer he got to it.

“Buongiorno, padre.” Several female voices, almost in unison, broke the cobblestone pattern of his reverie.

Father Michael Dominic looked up and smiled politely, lifting his hand in a slight wave as he swiftly passed a small cluster of nuns, some of whom he recognized as Vatican employees. The younger girls blushed, leaning their hooded heads toward each other in hushed gossip as their eyes followed the handsome priest; the older women simply bobbed a chilly nod to the young cleric, dutifully herding their novitiates into obedient silence on their way to morning Mass.

Though he had only been in Rome a couple of weeks, Michael Dominic’s youthful exuberance and keen intellect had become known quickly throughout the cloistered population of Vatican City, setting him apart from the more monastic attitudes prevalent since the Middle Ages.

But despite the fusty parochialism and an atmosphere of suspended time he found within its walls, Dominic still felt the intoxication of privilege at having been assigned to Rome so early in his religious career. It had not been even two years since he lay prostrate at the altar of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, ordained by his family friend and mentor Cardinal Enrico Petrini.

It was no secret to Vatican insiders that the eminent cardinal’s influence was chiefly responsible for Dominic’s swift rise to the marbled corridors of ecclesiastic power now surrounding him. The young priest’s scholarly achievements as a classical medievalist were essential to the work being done in the Vatican Library. But the progressive cardinal was also grateful for the vitality Dominic brought to his vocation, not to mention the charismatic ways in which he could get things accomplished in an otherwise plodding bureaucracy. Though Dominic could not account for his mentor’s vigorous inducement that he come to Rome—and knowing this particular prince of the Church so well, it was surely more than a familial gesture—he had trusted Enrico Petrini completely, and simply accepted the fact that this powerful man had believed in him strongly enough to give him an opportunity which he most certainly would not have had otherwise.

Pacing slower now, Dominic drew in rhythmic gulps of searing air as he neared the Vatican. A block or so before reaching the gate, he stepped inside the Pergamino Caffè on the Piazza del Risorgimento. Later in the day the cramped room would be filled with tourists seeking postcards and gelato, but mornings found it crowded with locals, most nibbling on small, sticky cakes washed down with a demitasse of thick, sweet coffee.

Across the room Dominic spotted Signora Palazzolo, the ample wife of the proprietor, whose wisps of white hair were already damp with perspiration. Seeing the priest approach, the older woman’s face broke into a broad, gap-toothed smile as she reached beneath the counter and withdrew a neatly folded black cassock Dominic had dropped off earlier, which she handed to him with deliberate satisfaction.

“Buongiorno, padre,” she said. “And will you take caffè this morning?”

“Molto grazie, signora,” Dominic said, accepting the cassock graciously. “Not today. I’m already late as it is.”

“Okay this time,” she said with a gently scolding tone, “but it is not healthy for a strong young man to skip his breakfast, especially after making his heart work so hard in this unforgiving heat.” Her hand reached up to wipe away the dampness as she spoke, coifing what little hair she had left in a vain attempt to make herself more attractive.

Heading toward the back of the shop, Dominic slipped into the restroom, quickly washed his face and raked his hair into some semblance of order, then drew the cassock over his head and buttoned it to the starched white collar now encircling his neck. Emerging from the restroom minutes later and making for the door, he glanced back to see the signora waving to him, now with a different look on her face—one beaming with respect for the clergyman he had suddenly become, as if she herself had had a role in the transformation.

Of the three official entrances to the Vatican, Porta Sant’Anna, or Saint Anne’s Gate, is the one generally used by employees, visitors, and tradesmen, situated on the east side of the frontier just north of Saint Peter’s Square. Although duties of security come first, guards at all gates are also responsible for monitoring the encroachment of dishabille into the city. Dominic learned from an earlier orientation that casual attire of any sort worn by employees or official visitors was not permitted past the border. Jeans and t-shirts were barely tolerated on tourists, but the careless informality of shorts, sweatpants, or other lounging attire on anyone was strictly forbidden. An atmosphere of respect and reverence was to be observed at all times.

Vatican City maintains an actual live-in population of less than a thousand souls, but each workday nearly five thousand people report for duty within the diminutive confines of its imposing walls—walls originally built to defend against the invading Saracens a thousand years before—and the Swiss Guards at each gate either recognize or authenticate every person coming or going by face and by name.

One of the Guards whom Dominic had recognized from previous occasions, dressed in the less formal blue and black doublet and beret of the corps, waved him through with a courteous smile as he reached for his ID card.

“It is no longer necessary to present your credentials now that you are recognized at this gate, Father Dominic,” the solidly built young guard said in English. “But it is a good idea to keep it with you just in case.”

“Grazie,” Dominic responded, continuing in Italian, “but it would be helpful to me if we could speak the local language. I haven’t used it fluently since I was younger, and I am outnumbered here by those who have an obvious preference. You know, ‘When in Rome….’”

The guard’s smile faded instantly, replaced by a slight but obvious discomfort as he attempted to translate, then respond to Dominic’s rapid Italian.

“Yes, it would be pleasure for me, padre,” the young soldier said in halting Italian, “but only if we speak slowly. German is native tongue of my own home, Zurich, and though I speak good English, my Italian learning have only just started; but I understand much more than I speak.”

Dominic smiled at the younger man’s well-intended phrasing. “It’s a deal then. I’m Michael Dominic,” he said formally, offering a sweaty palm.

“It is an honor meeting you, Father Michael. I am Corporal Dengler. Karl Dengler.” Dengler’s face brightened at the unusual respect he was accorded, extending his own white-gloved hand in a firm grip. Recently recruited into the prestigious Pontificia Cohors Helvetica, the elite corps of papal security forces more commonly known as the Swiss Guard, Dengler had found that most people in the Vatican—indeed, most Romans—were inclined to keep to themselves. It was never this difficult to make friends in Switzerland, and he welcomed the opportunity to meet new people. He also knew, as did everyone by now, that this particular priest had a powerful ally close to the Holy Father.

“An honor for me as well, Corporal,” Dominic said a bit more slowly, yet not enough to cause the young man further embarrassment. “And my apologies for soiling your glove.”

“No problem,” Dengler said as he smiled. “With this heat it will be dry in no time. And if you ever want a running partner, let me know.”

“I’ll take you up on that!” Michael said with a wave as he passed through the gate.

Already the Vatican grounds were bustling with activity. Throngs of workers, shopkeepers, and official visitors with global diversities of purpose made their way along the Via di Belvedere to the myriad offices, shops, and museums—any indoor or shaded haven, in fact, that might offer escape from the heat of the rising sun.

Another Swiss Guard stood commandingly in the center of the street—looking remarkably dry and cool, Dominic thought, despite the obvious burden of his red-plumed steel helmet and the traditional billowy gala uniform of orange, red, and blue stripes—directing foot and vehicular traffic while smartly saluting the occasional dignitaries passing by.

To any observer, Vatican City appears to be in a state of perpetual reconstruction. Comprising little more than a hundred acres, the ancient city state is in constant need of repair and maintenance. Architectural face-lifts, general structural reinforcement, and contained expansion take place at most any time and in various stages, manifested in the skeletal maze of scaffolding surrounding portions of the basilica and adjoining buildings. Sampietrini, the uniquely skilled maintenance workers responsible for the upkeep of Saint Peter’s, are ever-present throughout the grottoes, corridors, and courtyards as they practice time-honored skills of the artisans who have gone before them, traditionally their fathers and their fathers’ fathers. It was quite probable, in fact, that a given sampietrino working on, say, a crumbling cornerstone of the basilica itself, could very well be shoring up work that was originally performed by his great-great-grandfather more than a century before him.

Dominic walked to the end of the Belvedere, then turned right up the Stradone dei Giardini and alongside the buildings housing the Vatican Museums, until he reached the northern wall of the city.

A priest learns early that his life will suffer many rituals, and in at least one secular aspect, Michael Dominic’s was no different. Every day he ended his morning run with a meditative walk along the inner walls surrounding the immaculately maintained papal gardens. The fact that many of the same trees which lined the paths have been rooted here for centuries—serving the contemplative needs of whichever pope might be ruling at the time—gave Dominic a more natural feeling of historical connectedness, in subtle contrast to other abundant yet more imposing reminders of where he now happened to be living and working.

“Ah! Good morning, Miguel.” It was a gentle breeze of a voice, yet Dominic recognized it clearly in the early warm quiescence of the Vatican gardens.

“Buongiorno, Cal!” Dominic said brightly. Brother Calvino Mendoza, prefect of the Vatican Archives and Dominic’s superior, was approaching the entrance to the building. Clad in the characteristic brown robe and leather sandals of his Franciscan order, Mendoza was a round, timorous man in his seventies—quite pleasant to work with, Dominic thought, if a little indiscreet in his obvious affection for men.

“You are up early today,” Mendoza said in heavily accented English, furtively appraising Dominic’s form beneath the cassock. “But then, defying the wicked heat and traffic of Rome is best done before sunrise, no?”

“It is, yes,” Dominic laughed easily, his damp hair glistening in the sun as he shook his head in amusement, “but in another hour or so I expect the pavement to start buckling.”

Dominic had come to enjoy Mendoza’s fey demeanor and playful flirting. Nearly everyone he had met here seemed overly stern and impassive to be really likable, and Dominic was naturally drawn to people he found more hospitable anyway. This gentle man had a quick mind for humor and was never, Dominic found, lacking for a proverb appropriate to the moment. It was also common for Mendoza to call many on his staff by the Portuguese equivalent of their name, maintaining an affectionate cultural touchstone to his native home of Brazil. As for the subtle intimations, Mendoza grasped early on that Dominic’s vow of chastity was not likely to be compromised, and particularly not by another man.

“You’ll get used to it,” Mendoza nodded, smiling. “It is worse in the mornings, to be sure, but come late afternoon we are blessed by the ponentino, a cool wind off the Tyrrhenian Sea.

“And besides,” he quipped, “’To slip upon a pavement is better than to slip with the tongue—so the fall of the wicked shall come speedily.’” He finished by glancing around the garden with mock suspicion, as if every word were prey to overcurious but unseen ears.

“‘Ecclesiastes,’” Dominic responded. “And thanks for the admonition.”

Pleased that the young priest indulged his occasional whimsy, Mendoza shuffled up the few steps of the entrance to the Archives.

“Now come, Miguel, your days of orientation are over. Let’s get on with the real work,” he said dramatically, his arms nearly flapping as his large body moved up the steps into the Archives. “Today is a very special day.”

“I’ll catch up with you shortly, Cal. I’ve got to take a quick shower first. But why is today so special?”

From the top of the steps, Mendoza turned around to face Dominic and, like a child with a tantalizing secret, whispered with barely contained excitement, “The treasures we are about to exhume have not been seen by any living soul for several hundred years.”

Clearly a man who enjoyed his work, Calvino Mendoza’s eyes gleamed with anticipation as he lifted one heavy eyebrow in an arch, then spun as quickly as his heavy frame would allow and disappeared through the heavy wooden door.

As Dominic walked back to his apartment at the Domus Santa Marta, the resident guesthouse just south of Saint Peter’s Basilica, two men in a golf cart were heading in his direction, both dressed in the familiar black and red garb of cardinals. The cart stopped directly in his path, and one of the men stepped out, approaching him.

“Father Dominic, I presume?” The heavyset man had a thick Balkan accent, with an intelligent face bearing an inscrutable mask of expression.

“Yes, how can I help you?” Dominic said.

“I am Cardinal Sokolov, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I simply wanted to extend a hand of welcome on behalf of those of us who have been expecting you.”

Dominic recognized the cardinal’s department, better known as the infamous Office of the Holy Inquisition before someone came up with a less intrusive name.

“Good to meet you, Your Eminence,” he said, surprised by the comment. “I didn’t realize anyone was actually expecting me, though.”

“Oh, yes,” Sokolov said, holding Dominic’s hand in an uncomfortably firm grip as they shook. “Having Cardinal Petrini’s endorsement carries a great deal of influence here. But it also comes with certain expectations. First and foremost, keep to yourself. Do not expect to make many friends here. One is surrounded by vipers masquerading as pious souls.

“Secondly, know that you are being watched at all times. Conduct yourself appropriately and you may survive your time here. There are many who were vying for your job as scrittore in the Secret Archives, and they will seek any opportunity to displace you.

“Lastly,” the cardinal said scowling, his eyebrows a black bar across his fleshy face, “come to me directly if you witness or suspect anyone of illicit or unbecoming activities. Such careful scrutiny will be viewed with admiration by His Holiness, for whom I speak in this regard.”

Dominic was dumbfounded by the man’s audacity, hardly the kind of welcome he would have imagined, one that shed a darker light on his exhilaration at now working and living in the Vatican.

“I will keep all that in mind, Eminence,” he said, forcibly pulling back his hand from the cardinal’s cloying grasp.

Sokolov stood a moment longer appraising Dominic’s face, then turned and shuffled himself back into the golf cart, which pulled away with a mounting whine as it headed into the papal gardens.

Troubled by the encounter, Dominic returned to his apartment, the fresh burdens expected of him weighing on his mind. What have I gotten myself into, he thought, stepping into the shower.

***

Excerpt from The Magdalene Deception by Gary McAvoy. Copyright 2020 by Gary McAvoy. Reproduced with permission from Gary McAvoy. All rights reserved.

 

 

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SPENT IDENTITY by Marlene M. Bell | #Showcase #Interview #Giveaway

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Spent Identity

by Marlene M. Bell

on Tour August 1-31, 2020

Synopsis:

Spent Identity by Marlene M. Bell

Farm For Sale. 360-acre lot with ranch-style home. Refurbished barn. Corpse not included.

To find her missing aunt, she has to unearth the secrets of the past. But lies and deceit run through the very heart of their town…

What started out as a promising relationship with adventurer and tycoon Alec Zavos has fizzled into an uncertain future for antiquities expert Annalisse Drury. Returning to Walker Farm in Upstate New York to see her Aunt Kate should have been a welcome homecoming and distraction. Instead, she finds the childhood home she expected to inherit is for sale, without her permission. What’s worse, Kate’s ranch manager makes a gruesome discovery in the barn: the body of an unidentified man, dead by foul play.

Annalisse turns to Alec for help. She and her aunt shelter on his estate in the Catskills while the authorities canvass the scene. But when Kate herself disappears without a trace, Annalisse fears the worst: that one of the many secrets of her hometown has ensnared her family—a secret someone is willing to kill for to keep hidden.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Ewephoric Publishing
Publication Date: December 11th 2019
Number of Pages: 378
ISBN: 0999539426 (ISBN13: 9780999539422)
Series: Annalisse Series #2 || This is a Stand-Alone novel but the reader may gain more about the character’s past if they pick up the first book.
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Marlene M. Bell

Marlene M. Bell is an award-winning writer and acclaimed artist as well as a photographer. Her sheep landscapes grace the covers of Sheep!, The Shepherd, Ranch & Rural Living, and Sheep Industry News, to name a few.

Her catalog venture, Ewephoric, began in 1985 out of her desire to locate personalized sheep stationery. She rarely found sheep products through catalogs and set out to design them herself. Order Ewephoric gifts online or request a catalog at TexasSheep.com.

Marlene and her husband, Gregg, reside in beautiful East Texas on a wooded ranch with their dreadfully spoiled horned Dorset sheep, a large Maremma guard dog named Tia, along with Hollywood, Leo, and Squeaks, the cats that believe they rule the household—and do.

Q&A with Marlene M. Bell


What inspired you to write SPENT IDENTITY?

When I met my husband in 1979, he was in the middle of a nasty divorce. They were in the process of selling the ranch they’d built together when oil prices were high and banks were loaning at a whopping 17% interest rate. No one could afford expensive homes in the Tracy, California area at that time. His soon-to-be-ex made outrageous personal charges, and her attorney letters were an everyday occurrence. I could write an entire novel over her accusations. It was a miserable three years for the man I dated.

When she left and filed for divorce, she also stripped their ranch of furniture and all that wasn’t tied down. Brought a moving truck home one day and took everything inside their home. A hateful thing to do. The neighbor had watched the van fill up with belongings and told my husband this happened while he remained at work.
After we married, the old ranch finally sold—with a first mortgage, a second mortgage and my husband’s ex-wife and new husband carrying back the third note. Thankfully, we were out of that arrangement living on a small ranch of our own. (They later sold that third note for cash and lost half of the value!)

After the sale, I packed the kitchen drawers at the old ranch and found something interesting. One of the bottom drawers had condolence letters inside. While my husband packed from another room, I nosed around the envelopes. It’s a terrible thing to read another person’s mail, but in this case, I made an exception. They were all addressed to my husband’s hellish ex-wife. I was surprised to find them, especially when I skimmed a few of the notes.

I asked my husband about his ex-wife’s father since the notes told of his untimely death. I was shocked to learn that he had been a successful dentist in the bay area and had jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge, but no one knew why. I didn’t press further, and we gathered all of the cards and letters for the burn bin. The story left me with so many questions.
About ten years later, my husband mentioned that he’d heard his ex-father-in-law had reappeared in his home town. How intriguing! Had he faked his death because of debt? Did he run away to be with another woman, or man? I have to wonder why he came back when he’d hatched the perfect escape plan. It mystifies me to this day. Read Spent Identity. My imagination comes to a conclusion on this very topic!

Does your writing draw from personal experiences and/or current events?

My writing stems from an all-of-the-above approach. Sometimes a past event comes to mind and I make a few notes in the book I carry around with me. I use the best and most juicy parts of the event, and if I need to, embellish it so that it will work for a future book. Because my current series takes place a couple of years in the past, (2016/2017,) current events typically won’t make it into the drafts. It might fool the reader into thinking about the world we live in and confuse the timeline. Nature and a walk in the woods that surround our home is also a great place to filter ideas for where a killer might hide out while waiting to spring on prey, or to imagine what might go through a killer’s head while he/she awaits.

Are characters based on people I know?

My main character, Annalisse Drury is very much like me. She’s a professional by day and animal lover after hours. Her personal experiences with livestock come from raising sheep on our ranch. These sections of her past or history are the easiest to write because I can pull from my memories to fill in the blanks.
Some minor characters may have quirky characteristics of relatives and friends that I’ve had in the past, but I take care to make any character too much like a being, alive or dead. I like to watch people and make notes when I can about their mannerisms and habits. It’s amazing how much good fiction can be found by watching people in the most mundane situations like, shopping, in restaurants, or even strolling with their dog.

What is your writing routine?

I do my best thinking and writing in the early morning hours. Some of my greatest ideas come to me while laying in bed before I begin the day. If I happen to be thinking about how to fill in the blanks on a chapter I’m working on, I always keep a notepad and pen on the nightstand. If an epiphany happens, I won’t lose the idea in the middle of the night, or while I doze off in the morning.

First thing each day, I get up and feed the inside cats their canned food, then go outdoors and feed the sheep. Coffee usually isn’t too far behind to keep my mind energized and ready to hit the manuscript at a full gallop. After about an hour on the computer, I may step away and pull out the latest mystery I’m reading by another author. Reading the words of others keeps my words flowing much better in my own work. If you’ve ever been blocked in your writing, this is the best thing to do. It jumpstarts the mind.

I typically write until lunch, take a break and start again after the noon hour. By four, I’m ready to hang up the writing for the day. In between working on the manuscript, there’s tons of email correspondence to look at and time to pick up a little news on my phone. I receive about 1,000 emails per day, so there’s usually a few that need my attention with my sheep gifts website and author site tied into me, like a chain at my waist. Email is a wonderful thing, but sorting through the junk can be a nuisance.

Tell us why we should read the Annalisse Series

My writing voice is one of the reasons the series is unique. I completely outline each one of the books before I write a single word, and layer in lots of red herrings and twists to add as much complication to the plot as possible. My goal is to keep the reader engaged in finding out who the real bad guy or woman is until the last few pages when they’re revealed.

I like to torture my readers to stay with each chapter, leaving them hanging at the end of each one. The stories are written in cozy mystery style at times, and at others, the story may turn more graphic. You won’t find a cookie cutter ending to my work. I dare the reader to figure out who the villain is at the end!

The first two books in the series, Stolen Obsession and Spent Identity, are written in third-person point of view, in multiple views. The third installment is written in first-person to give the reader a different vantage point from within the main characters, Annalisse, Alec and their detective sidekick, Bill Drake.

What’s in store next for Marlene M. Bell in 2020 and beyond?

Book three, CALICO RAVEN! The novel has a stunning cover I’ll reveal to my followers and readers in a few months. I’m one-third of the way through the first draft. I hope to have Calico out in early 2021 if all clips along at a good pace. Annalisse and Alec are drawn into a murder that takes place on Grand Cayman Island. At first, they believe the victim is random, but soon find out that Alec is tied to her by other means and Annalisse’s past is drawn into events as well.

MIA and NATTIE: One Great Team is my first picture book for children ages 3-6. This book has special meaning to me because it’s based on the true story of Natalie, the bottle lamb we raised in the laundry room. She lived with us for 13 years. It’s a heartwarming, read-aloud book for the entire family. Mia and Nattie will be available in hardbound and eBook well ahead of the 2020 holidays. The picture book will also offer the option of a plush Nattie character. It’s a welcome break from the sea of children’s books without a plot or theme.

What are you reading now?

I have three authors to read over the next couple of months in July and August. Books in Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache Series, and two local Texas authors, Kayla Krantz and Becki Willis. I read in the same genre that I write. (At least for now.) I used to read nothing but romance, but found the novels full of too much hyperbole to be interesting. Mystery and Suspense keeps me thinking and turning the pages.

If Spent Identity were turned into a movie dream team…

I would like to pair two unlikely directors together for Spent Identity. Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood. Both are seasoned directors who excel in portraying broody mysteries and real-life drama. My lead actress to play Annalisse would be Anne Hathaway, and her love interest Alec would be played by Bradley Cooper. Alec’s mother, Generosa, would have to be Meryl Streep.

The locations in the series are international— winging to places like, Crete, Turkey, Grand Cayman, New Zealand, Sicily and Southern Italy. Home base for the movie will always be Manhattan or upstate New York where Alec’s estate is located. I’d also have James Cameron write the screenplay based on the novel. There would be big bucks involved to produce this movie!!

Your favorite leisure hobbies and favorite meal?

Food first ~ I spent a lot of time with my Italian grandparents and lived with a grandmother for seven years. Grandma Virgilio was a phenomenal cook and taught me all that she knew. My favorite foods hands down are anything made with pasta: lasagna with lamb sauce, pasta salads especially with sea food and lots of sourdough bread! Since all of that adds to the waistline, I can’t eat grains like I’d like. 😊 We weren’t as much on desserts, but give me semolina wheat and I’m in heaven!

Hobbies ~ I love to draw, paint and take pictures. Many of my photos are turned into product for my gifts business (Ewephoric) I’ve had since 1985. https://www.texassheep.com I photograph our sheep as the main subjects for beautiful Texas sunsets. We live on fifty acres of woods with a pond and an unbelievable amount of wildlife including white-tail deer.

I garden during the season, can tomatoes for homemade sauce, and I’ve just started to make punch rugs with the Oxford punch. Of course, sheep are the subject! Oh, and I write mysteries and children’s books somewhere in there also!

Catch Up With Marlene M. Bell:
MarleneMBell.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Read an excerpt:

…from chapter fifteen

 

She caught a glimpse of Bill’s scarred neck and considered prying. “May I ask a personal question?”

“Sure.” He steered the next turn. “I’ll answer if I can.”

“Did you get burned?”

He rubbed the side of his neck as if to soothe a haunting memory. “I used to be a fireman. Got caught in a seven-story roof collapse. Almost bought it.” He tapped cruise control and slid his shoe off the accelerator.

An injured fireman with a near-death experience turned private investigator made more sense to her now. Bill didn’t fit the cookie-cutter-investigator type.

They hit smooth asphalt in the cross into Sullivan County. Annalisse relished the soothing hum from the roadway. At the county border, they passed a renovated eighteenth-century church refurbished into a modern brick farmhouse. The original belfry and bell sat atop the gable roof at the midpoint, with a new masonry chimney erected on one side near the redwood decking. She hadn’t noticed it the first time with Woody.

“What a horrible experience for you, Bill. I’m sorry. Alec didn’t mention it.”

“We don’t talk about it much. For a bunch of reasons.” Bill fiddled with a tabloid-size newspaper wedged next to the console. “My hours are better now anyway.” He chuckled, rolling the newsprint into a tube and blowing into it.

“A gossip rag? Haven’t read any juicy dirt in a while. I could use a laugh.” She reached for the paper, expecting him to hand it to her.
“Boring issue.” Bill tossed the roll over the headrest, wiping newsprint from his fingers to the seat.

That was strange.

She tried to grab it, but it landed just out of her reach.

Annalisse unbuckled and twisted for a closer look at the huge headline, reading aloud, “THE HOUND CHASES ANOTHER FOX. Please people. Such original journalism. Who this time?” She laughed as she lunged for the paper.

Bill’s arm moved in like a slingshot and bumped her sore cheek, blocking her.

“Ow. Watch the road,” she exclaimed and bounced backward. “Walking wounded here. Just drive, Bill. Allow me to revel in someone else’s grief for a while.”

He touched her elbow. “Please don’t.”

Bill wasn’t smiling, and his skin had morphed to ashen of the dead. He had the look of a man who’d just lost his best friend and was about to lose his faithful dog too.

It clicked. “What don’t you want me to see what thousands of other people have already seen?”

“Wait till we get to Brookehaven so he can—”

“Who can?” Annalisse hung over the seat and stretched her sore body far enough to snag the tabloid with her fingertips. She braced herself—the photo had to be disturbing.

“The timing is bad. Really bad.” Bill stared at the road and in a low voice added, “I’m so sorry.”

The pang of the unknown boomeranged through her heart, and she looked down at the front page of Reveal Reality.

A couple with their backs to the camera, overlooking an ocean at sunset at some kind of event. She wasn’t sure where but expected the piece would say. The paparazzi photographer had zoomed in on a brunette in a skimpy, backless sundress leaning into a man with his elegant hand cupping her barely covered butt cheek. His chiseled profile and windblown curls were unmistakable.

Say bye-bye to the mysterious, green-eyed Annalisse! Italian starlet Monica Corsetti on Italy’s Riviera with Greek magnate, Alec Zavos of the Signorile Corporation. They were…

She covered her mouth.

“Pull over, Bill. I’m gonna throw up.”

***

Excerpt from Spent Identity by Marlene M. Bell. Copyright 2020 by Marlene M. Bell. Reproduced with permission from Marlene M. Bell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Enter To Win!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Marlene M. Bell. There will be 4 winners. Two (2) winners will each win one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. Two (2) winners will each win a set of autographed books, a notebook, and silver jewelry. The giveaway begins on August 1, 2020 and runs through September 2, 2020. Open to U.S. and Canada addresses only. Void where prohibited.

 

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TORTURED WITH LOVE by JT Hunter | #Showcase #Interview #Giveaway

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Tortured With Love

The True Crime Romance of the Lonely Hearts Killers

by JT Hunter

on Tour August 1 – September 30, 2020

Tortured With Love by JT Hunter

 

Synopsis:

What is the price of passion? What is the power of love?

Meet Martha Beck, a young nurse dedicated to healing others, until her own hurting heart lured her down a darker path. Loneliness led her to Raymond Fernandez, but love led her all the way to the electric chair.

This is the tragic story of the Lonely Heart Killers.

 

Book Details:

Genre: True Crime
Published by: JT Hunter
Publication Date: May 15th 2020
Number of Pages: 210
ISBN: 9798646112720
Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

J.T. Hunter

JT Hunter is a true crime writer with over fifteen years of experience as a lawyer, including criminal law and appeals. He also has significant training in criminal investigation techniques. He enjoys being a college professor teaching fiction and nonfiction to his creative writing students.

Q&A with JT Hunter

Why did you choose this true crime case?

What drew me to this case was its prominent theme of the power of love and what someone will do in the name of love, a theme that resonates today even though the events occurred primarily in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s.

Give us a glimpse of the research that went into this book?

Since this book concerns events that took place 70 years or more ago, it was not easy to track down information as the key characters are no longer living and agencies discard or destroy records over the years. I was able to track down the transcript of the trial at an archives facility, which was vital to being able to tell the story.

What was the biggest challenge writing this book?

Recreating events that happened so remotely in time.

Name 1 to 3 facts that even surprised you from the case.

Martha Beck abandoning her two young children so she could be with Raymond Martinez.

Martha Beck drowning a young girl at Ray’s bidding.

What do you absolutely need when writing?

Enough source material (interviews, transcripts, etc.) to tell an accurate story.

Tell us why we should read your book?

It’s a timeless tale (like in that Beauty & the Beast song: “a tale as old as time…”) about the power of love…and it illustrates how that power is not always good.

Do you have anything specific you want to say to your readers?

First, thank you for supporting independent writers! We do this because it’s our passion, but it would be hard to do without any support from readers.

Second, Please, please, please post a review of the book on Amazon.com and anywhere else (Goodreads, etc) that you can. Good reviews are vital to attracting new readers who might otherwise never bother to read the book. Your support is incredibly important and very much appreciated!

Catch Up With J.T. Hunter:
JTHunter.org, Goodreads, BookBub, Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Read an excerpt:

ONE

On an otherwise mundane March day, a peculiar piece of paper arrived in Martha Beck’s office mailbox. It came with the usual medical correspondence and junk mail, giving no indication of its importance. Yet, this one particular envelope would change Martha’s life forever.

The envelope arrived on a cool afternoon, the temperature hovering just below 60, the highest it had climbed all day in the Pensacola area of the Florida Panhandle. But Martha was not in the mood to enjoy the weather. She was still down in the dumps about her recently finalized divorce from Alfred Beck, a Pensacola bus driver who had married her when she was six months pregnant with another man’s child. Although she had been separated from Alfred since May 1945, nearly two years earlier, the formal entry of their divorce had the nearly 27-year-old Martha feeling like an old maid doomed to live out the rest of her life alone.

Martha was not unique in that respect in post-World War II America. With well over a million more women than men, the United States population of the mid and late 1940’s left many lonely women in its wake.

A visit from Elizabeth Swanson, one of the nurses she supervised at the Crippled Children’s Home, temporarily distracted Martha from feeling sorry for herself. She considered Elizabeth her closest friend. When Elizabeth knocked on her office door, Martha had just started going through the mail. As the two engaged in the latest gossip and friendly chit-chat, Martha resumed sorting through the assortment of envelopes. The first was an advertisement from a Jacksonville company selling medical equipment. She quickly flipped past it as well as a few other pieces of junk mail until a mysterious envelope caught her eye. It was made of thin, pale-brown paper with the name, Mrs. Martha Jule Beck, typed prominently on the front.

“What’s this?” she asked, the question directed more to herself than her friend.

“What is what?” Elizabeth replied, sipping from a mug of coffee.

“This . . . this odd envelope,” Martha said, holding it up to show her.

“Beat’s me,” Elizabeth remarked coyly. “I wonder who sent you that.”

“I’m sure I don’t know,” Martha remarked, her curiosity now piqued. She turned the envelope over to inspect it further, and seeing nothing hinting at its contents, opened it to find a thin, paper pamphlet inside. It was a promotional mailing and application for the Standard Correspondence Club, one of many “lonely hearts clubs” operating across the country. The return address gave Standard’s location as Grave Lake, Illinois.

LONELY?, the pamphlet asked in large, bold letters, Let us help you find that certain someone. Join old reliable Club, 50 years of dependable, confidential service. Correspondents most everywhere seeking congenial mates, proven results. Interesting photos, descriptions FREE. There were several pictures of women spaced throughout the page, each next to a testimonial about a happy marriage brought about by contacts made through the club.

“Now why on earth would they send this to me?” Martha wondered aloud, taking a little offense that such a “lovelorn club” would be contacting her.

Elizabeth’s coyness now morphed into a broad grin that spread across her face.

“Now why on earth would they send this to me?” Martha wondered aloud, “I have a confession to make,” Elizabeth said as she started giggling. “I wrote the club and asked them to send you information and an application.”

Martha studied her friend’s face, deciding whether she was serious.

“Whatever for?” she asked in a tone matching the astonishment in her eyes.

Still giggling, Elizabeth moved to a chair closer to Martha and sat down beside her.

“I originally did it as a joke,” she explained, “but the more I thought about it, the more I decided that you should give it a try. Three of my daughters are writing to me that they have met men through this correspondence club, and this is the very same club that I met my husband through thirty years ago. And after all, what do you have to lose?”

Martha rolled her eyes.

“I may be a little lonely,” she acknowledged, “but I’m not THAT desperate.”

She glared with some annoyance at Elizabeth. “I swear, sometimes I really wonder what’s going on in that head of yours.”

Martha tossed the pamphlet onto a pile of papers stacked on the side of her desk and made no more mention of it for the rest of their time together. But the seeds of intrigue had already been planted in her mind.

Later, after Elizabeth had left, Martha retrieved the discarded pamphlet and read it more closely. Part of the pamphlet contained a form asking her to fill out information about herself and write a letter detailing what kind of men she would like to meet. Sitting down at her desk, she carefully completed the form and took her time crafting the letter, being sure to mention how people often commented that she was witty, vivacious, and oozed personality. She also emphasized that she was a trained nurse with her own pleasant apartment. When she was satisfied with what she had written, Martha carefully folded the papers, enclosed $5.00 for the required membership fee, and licked the envelope to seal it. That evening, she dropped it in a mailbox on her way home from work.

*****

Years later, when asked whether she had experienced any misgivings about joining a lonely hearts club, Martha candidly replied, “Yes, as soon as I’d put the letter in the mailbox, I began thinking I’d made a mistake.”

Questioned about what kind of man she hoped to meet through the club, Martha took a little more time before answering.

“Well, I don’t know,” she confessed. “I guess I hadn’t thought about it much.

But I sure didn’t think I’d ever meet anyone like Ray.”

***

Excerpt from Tortured With Love by J.T. Hunter. Copyright 2020 by J.T. Hunter. Reproduced with permission from J.T. Hunter. All rights reserved.

 

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Enter The Giveaway!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for JT Hunter. There will be 2 winners of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card each. The giveaway begins on August 1, 2020 and runs through October 2, 2020. Void where prohibited.

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DEAR DURWOOD by Jeff Bond | #Showcasse #GuestPost #Giveaway

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Dear Durwood

by Jeff Bond

on Tour August 1 – September 30, 2020

Synopsis:

Dear Durwood by Jeff Bond

Book two in the epic Third Chance Enterprises series, Dear Durwood is a standalone mystery pitting uncompromising principle against big city greed.

Durwood Oak Jones is a man of few indulgences. One he does allow is a standing ad in Soldier of Fortune magazine soliciting “injustices in need of attention.”

This month’s bundle of letters includes one from Carol Bridges, mayor of the dusty, blue-collar town of Chickasaw, Texas. For nearly a century, Chickasaw has relied on the jobs and goodwill of Hogan Consolidated, a family-run manufacturer of industrial parts. Now East Coast lawyers and investment bankers have taken aim at the company. The citizens of Chickasaw fear it may be acquired or bankrupted, leading to massive layoffs — effectively destroying the town.

Durwood and his trusty bluetick coonhound, Sue-Ann, fly to Texas to see what can be done. They find a young CEO born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Factory workers with hammers. A good woman, Carol Bridges, who knows her town is being cheated but can’t get to the bottom of how. And lawyers.

Dirty, good-for-nothing lawyers.

Book Details:

Genre: Action-Adventure / Western Romance
Published by: Jeff Bond Books
Publication Date: June 15, 2020
Number of Pages: 215
ISBN: 1732255296 (ISBN13: 9781732255296)
Series: Third Chance Enterprises
Purchase Links: Amazon | Third Chance Stories | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Jeff Bond

Jeff Bond is an American author of popular fiction. His books have been featured in The New York Review of Books, and his 2020 release, The Pinebox Vendetta, received the gold medal (top prize) in the 2020 Independent Publisher Book Awards. A Kansas native and Yale graduate, he now lives in Michigan with his wife and two daughters.

Guest Post

Writing in Different Genres

A common piece of advice given to aspiring authors is to write what you enjoy reading. If you’ve logged hundreds of hours reading time-travel romance, you’re going to have an intrinsic feel for how to portray the magic, how early to start the love story, what sorts of complications readers expect from the genre.

(I’ve only read Outlander myself so I’m clueless about all these.)

The advice never helped me because I loved reading everything. Margaret Truman’s Murder At series and Clive Cussler, but also The Corrections and Big Little Lies, and classics like Deliverance and War and Peace. I loved the potboilers’ adrenaline rush, but the literary titles introduced me to characters so real it felt like the authors were reaching across oceans or centuries and plucking thoughts straight from my own head, then turning them around and showing me.

When I first began writing my own stories, I had the thought to do both — tell a breakneck story with perfectly true-to-life characters. It took me several years and many rotten attempts to craft a book that I believed came close: The Winner Maker. I released the book in 2018 and it’s been well-received, but its appeal is somewhat bifurcated. Some love the character setup at the start and wish the twisty-turny second half had more depth; others feel they have to slog through the first hundred pages before the going gets good.

For my second book, Blackquest 40, I had a very specific plot idea for a Die Hard-like story. The idea happened to involve technology, so I found myself in the position of writing a technothriller. My third book, The Pinebox Vendetta, also stemmed from a particular idea — dueling political clans who fight at an Ivy League reunion. This would need to be a political thriller, but as I fleshed out the characters, I found myself weaving in a love story and cold-case murder mystery, too, the end result being a sort of genre mishmash.

There was no grand plan for these books. I just followed whichever story was calling out the loudest to me at the time. For my next two, Anarchy of the Mice and Dear Durwood — books one and two in the Third Chance Enterprises series — I had a more defined strategy. I’d been feeling that readers, particularly readers of indie titles, didn’t quite know how to think about books like The Winner Maker and The Pinebox Vendetta. I wanted to distill the action elements of my previous work into some stories that would be big, thrilling, unabashedly plot-driven.

And what’ll come next? Not surprisingly, something different. I’m kicking around a middle-grade space opera, possibly the result of being locked in a house with my elementary-age daughters for five months. I’ve gotten a taste for romance in writing Pinebox and the Third Chance books, which both feature a side of happily-ever-after, and have been working on more of a pure romance title called Two Teachers. I enjoy the challenge of teaching myself “the rules” for a new genre — a fun process that, for me, just involves binge-reading the biggest names in the genre: Nora Roberts, Diana Gabaldon, Debbie Macomber. Some of their styles I love and can imagine myself writing in. Others not so much, but it’s still a blast taking a tour of other writers’ toolsets.

Over the long run, I have aspirations of writing some large ensemble books in my Franklin series (more literary/slice-of-life than Third Chance Enterprises) that would give readers a bit of everything: maybe a central crime mystery paired with a love story to root for, plus a thread centered around an issue like parenting or ambition or finding happiness. Books like this without a dominant genre can be hard for readers to discover on their own — hopefully by the time I write them, I’ll have a large enough built-in readership for them to succeed. I should definitely have enough experience with different genres to pull it off.

Catch Up With Jeff Bond On:
JeffBondBooks.com
BookBub
Goodreads
Instagram
Twitter
Facebook!

 

Read an excerpt:

Dear Mr. Oak Jones:

I am Carol Bridges, mayor of Chickasaw, Texas. We are located in the western part of the state, Big Bend Country if you know it. I thank you in advance for considering my injustice.

Chickasaw is the home of Hogan Consolidated, a family-run manufacturer of industrial parts. Hogan employs 70 percent of able-bodied adults in Chickasaw, and its philanthropy has sustained the town for ninety years. It’s due to the Hogan family we have an arts center and turf field for youth football.

Recently, East Coast lawyers and investment bankers have taken aim at the company. Multi-million dollar claims have been filed, accusing Hogan of putting out defective parts. It’s rumored the company will be acquired or liquidated outright. Massive layoffs are feared.

My constituents work hard, Mr. Jones. They have mortgages and children to feed. I have tried to find answers about the Hogan family’s intentions, to see whether I or the town can do anything to influence the course of events. Jay Hogan, the current CEO, does not return my phone calls—and is seen dining at sushi restaurants in El Paso (85 miles away) more often than in Chickasaw. I have gotten the runaround from our state and federal representatives. I believe it’s their fundraising season.

As mayor, I have a duty to explore every possible solution to the challenges we face. I do not read Soldier of Fortune regularly, but my deputy police chief showed me your ad soliciting “injustices in need of attention.” I feel certain injustice is being done to Chickasaw, though I can’t as yet name its perpetrator and exact nature.

Alonso (our deputy chief) knows you by reputation, and assures me these details won’t trouble you.

Thank you sincerely for your time,

Carol Bridges
Mayor of Chickasaw, TX

Chapter One

Durwood got to the Chickasaw letter halfway through the sorghum field. He was flipping through the stack from the mailbox, passing between sweet-smelling stalks. Leaves brushed his bluejeans. Dust coated his boots. He scanned for clumps of johnsongrass as he read, picking what he saw. The first five letters he’d tucked into his back pocket.

The Chickasaw letter he considered longer. Steel-colored eyes scanned left to right. He forgot about the johnsongrass. An ugliness started in his gut.

Lawyers.

He put the letter in his front pocket, then read the rest. The magazine forwarded him a bundle every month. In September, he’d only gotten three. At Christmas time, it seemed like he got thirty or forty. Folks felt gypped around the holidays.

Today, he read about two brothers who didn’t steal a car. About a principal who got fired for being too aggressive fighting drugs in his school. About a bum call in the Oregon state Little League championship twenty years ago. About a furnace warranty that wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on.

Durwood chuckled at the Oregon letter. This one had been writing in for years. Maybe he figured Durwood didn’t read them, figured some screener only put a couple through each go-round and one of these days they’d sneak his through.

But Durwood did read them. Every last one.

He put the letter about the principal in his front pocket with the Chickasaw letter.

Off his right side, Sue-Ann whimpered. Durwood turned to find the bluetick coonhound pointing the south fenceline.

“I see,” Durwood said, of the white-tail doe nosing around the spruces. “Left my gun back at the house, though.”

Sue-Ann kept her point. Her bad hip quivered from the effort. Old as she was, she still got fired up about game.

Durwood released her with a gesture. “What do you say to some bluegill tonight instead? See what Crole’s up to.”

Durwood called Crole from the house. Crole, his fishing buddy who lived on the adjacent sixty acres, said he was good for a dozen casts. They agreed to meet at the river dividing their properties. Durwood had a shorter walk and used the extra time to clean his M9 semiautomatic.

Leaving, he noticed the red maple that shaded the house was leafing out slow. He examined the trunk and found a pattern of fine holes encircling the bark.

That yellow-bellied sapsucker.

Durwood wondered if the holes were related to the tree’s poor vigor.

Out by the river, Crole limped up with his jug of moonshine, vile stuff he made from Jolly Ranchers.

They fished.

Sue-Ann laid in the mud, snoring, her stiff coat bristling against Durwood’s boot. The afternoon stretched out, a dozen casts becoming two dozen. Then three. In the distance, the hazy West Virginia sky rolled through the Smokies. Mosquitoes weren’t too bad, just a nip here and there at the collar.

Durwood thought about Chickasaw, Texas. He thought about East Coast lawyers. About the hardworking men and women who’d elected Carol Bridges to be mayor and stick up for them.

He thought about that CEO picking up raw fish with chopsticks in El Paso.

He thought, too, about the principal who’d been fired for doing right.

Crole said, “Got some letters today?”

Durwood said he had.

Crole grinned, showing his top teeth—just two, both nearly black. “Still running that ad in Soldier of Fortune?”

Durwood lowered the brim of his hat against the sun. “Don’t cost much.”

“They give a military discount?”

Durwood raised a shoulder. He’d been discharged from the Marines a decade ago. He didn’t accept handouts for his service.

Crole nodded to the bulge in his pocket—the letters. “Anything interesting?”

“Sure,” Durwood said. “Plenty.”

They fished into twilight. Durwood caught just five bluegill. Crole, twenty years his senior and luckier with fish, reeled in a dozen, plus a decent-size channel cat despite using the wrong bait. The men strung their catches on a chain. The chain rippled in the cool, clear water.

The Chickasaw job appealed to Durwood. The opportunity to fight crooked lawyers, do something about these Wall Street outfits that made their buck slicing up American companies, putting craftsmen out of work until every last doodad was made in some knockoff plant in China.

Still, Durwood had trouble imagining the case. What would he do, flip through documents? Sit across a folding table from men in suits and ask questions?

Then he thought about the principal. About those gangs the letter had mentioned, how you could look out the windows of the dang school and see drug dealers on street corners. Intimidators. Armed thugs.

Durwood had an easy time imagining that case.

The sky had just gotten its first purple tinge when Durwood lost his bait a third time running.

“These fish.” He held his empty hook out of the water, shaking his head.

Crole said, “There’s catfish down there older than you.”

“Smarter, too,” Durwood said.

Still, the five bluegill would be enough for him and Sue-Ann. Durwood unclipped the fishes’ cheeks from the chain and dropped them in a bucket.

Back at the house, Durwood spotted the yellow-bellied sapsucker climbing the red maple. Not only was he pecking the tree, the ornery creature kept pulling twigs from the gray squirrels’ nest, the one they’d built with care and sheltered in the last four winters.

“Git down!” Durwood called.

The sapsucker zipped away to other antics.

Inside, Durwood scaled and beheaded the bluegill. Then he fried them in grease and cornmeal. Sue-Ann ate only half a fish.

Durwood moved the crispy tail under her nose. “Another bite?”

The dog sneezed, rattly in her chest.

Durwood rinsed his dishes and switched on a desktop computer. He looked up Chickasaw. There was plenty of information online. Population, land area. Nearly every mention of the town made reference to Hogan Consolidated. It looked like Hogan Consolidated was Chickasaw, Texas, and vice versa.

On the official municipal website, he found a picture of Carol Bridges. She wore a hardhat, smiling among construction workers.

Handsome woman. Warm, lively eyes.

Next, Durwood looked up the fired principal. The man lived and worked in upstate New York. For a few weeks, his case had been all over the local news there. A city councilman believed he’d been railroaded. Nineteen years he’d served the school district without prior incident. The only blemish Durwood found was a college DUI.

Durwood hadn’t started with computers until his thirties. His calloused fingers regularly struck the keys wrong, but he managed. This one he’d gotten from the Walmart in Barboursville, forty-nine bucks on Black Friday. It had its uses. A tool like any other.

“Well?” he said aloud, even though Sue was out on the porch. “Looks like a tossup.”

Durwood changed computer windows to look again at Carol Bridges. Then changed back to the principal.

At the bottom of the news story about the principal, he noticed a bubble with “47 comments” inside. He knew people who spouted off online were unreliable and often foolish. He clicked anyway.

“Good riddance, got what he deserved!”

“TOTAL RACIST WINDBAG, glad they fired him.”

Durwood read all forty-seven comments. Some defended the man, but most were negative.

It was impossible to know how much was legitimate. Durwood left judging to Him, and Him alone.

But Durwood did know that the petitioner, the one who’d written the letter to Soldier of Fortune, was the principal himself. Not some third party. Not an objective observer.

What had seemed like a case of obvious bureaucratic overreach suddenly looked less obvious.

Now Sue-Ann loped in from the porch. Appalachian air followed her inside, nice as perfume. Sue settled at Durwood’s feet, wheezing, rheumy eyes aimed up at her master.

He said, “What do you say, girl. Up for seeing the Lone Star State?”

The dog sat up straight, responding to the action in his voice. The effort made her mew. That hip.

Durwood laid his thumb down the ridge of the dog’s skull. He felt pained himself, thinking of documents, folding tables, and men in suits.

Chapter Two

It was a healthy drive, nearly two thousand miles, to see this Carol Bridges. Doubts remained in Durwood’s mind. Petitioners he met through the Soldier of Fortune ad fell through sometimes. It would turn out their letter was misleading or flat false. Other times the injustice had taken care of itself by the time Durwood arrived.

Once he’d driven clear to Nebraska to help a man whose pride and joy, a 1917 Ford Bucket T he’d restored from salvage by hand, had been denied roadworthiness by some city councilman with a grudge. When Durwood knocked on his door and asked about the hot rod, the man said, “The Ford? Guy made me an offer, I sold her a few weeks back.”

Durwood decided it was worth the trip to hear Carol Bridges out. If he didn’t like what she said, he’d tip his hat, get back in the Vanagon, and drive home.

Crole observed, “You could call.”

Durwood was humping supplies into the van. “Folks can say anything on the phone.”

The older man looked to the horizon, where the sun would rise soon. His pajamas dragged the dirt, and he held his jug by two fingers. “They can say anything to your face, too.”

Durwood whistled to Sue-Ann.

“It’s different,” he said as the dog climbed in. “Lay off that shine, hm?”

Crole looked down at his jug as though surprised by its presence.

He answered, “Don’t kill anyone you don’t have to.”

With a wave, Durwood took out. The van wheezed over mountain switchbacks and chugged steadily along interstates. By afternoon, Sue was wincing on the bare metal floor. Durwood bought her a mat next time he stopped for gas.

They reached Chickasaw the following morning. Crossing the city limit, they saw fields of wheat and corn, and grain elevators, and dry dusty homesteads. Factories burped smoke farther on. Billboards shilled for some dentist, somebody else who wanted to be sheriff.

Downtown Chickasaw was a grid, eight blocks square. Durwood saw the turf field mentioned in the letter and smiled. A boarded-up building with a sign reading, Lyles Community Outreach Center. A fancy hotel that looked out of place.

Next door to City Hall, Durwood’s destination, was a coffee shop called Peaceful Beans. The logo showed the name written along the stems of the peace sign. The light bulbs inside had those squiggly vintage filaments.

Durwood knew that these towns, rural or not, had all types. You got your vegan yoga instructors living next to redneck truckers—sometimes married to each other.

City Hall itself was a stone structure, two stories high. A sign indicated the municipal jail was located in the basement.

Durwood parked. His bones creaked as he stepped from the van and stretched.

The woman working reception cooed at Sue, who’d rolled over on her back. The big ham. Durwood stated their business, declared his M9, and passed through a metal detector before being shown to the mayor’s office.

Carol Bridges stood from her desk with a humble smile. “Mr. Oak Jones, thank you for traveling all this way for our town.”

“You’re welcome,” he said. “Call me Durwood, please.”

She said she would and handed him a business card with her personal number circled. Durwood placed the card in his bluejeans pocket. The mayor gestured to an armchair whose upholstery had worn thin. Durwood, removing his hat, sat.

“My dog goes where I go, generally,” he explained. “She can sit outside if need be.”

“Don’t be silly.” The mayor reached into a drawer of her desk for a biscuit. “If I’d known, I’d have brought in my German Shepherd.”

She didn’t just toss the biscuit at Sue, as some will. Carol Bridges commanded the dog to sit first.

Sue sat.

The mayor squatted and offered the treat, palm up, her knees pinching below a dark skirt. Sue wolfed it down.

Durwood said, “We saw the factories on the way in. How many employees?”

“Forty-four hundred on the floors themselves,” she said. “Plus another eight thousand in support roles.”

“And it’s all going away? Vamoose?”

Carol Bridges crossed one leg over the other. “That’s how the winds are blowing.”

She expanded upon what the letter had said. For the better part of a century, Hogan Consolidated had produced parts for various household products. Brackets. Pot handles. Stepladder hinges. Nothing sexy, Carol Bridges said, but quality components that filled a need higher up the supply chain.

Five or six years back, Wall Street began taking an interest in the company. They believed Hogan was underleveraged and growing too slowly.

Durwood stopped her. “What does underleveraged mean?”

“As I understand”—the mayor fluffed her dark red hair dubiously—“it means you aren’t taking enough risks. Your balance sheet is too conservative.”

“Too conservative?”

“Right. You’re not expanding into new markets. You’re not inventing new products.”

Durwood rolled her words around his head. “Suppose you’re good at what you do, and that’s it.”

Carol Bridges looked out her window toward a pair of smokestacks. “Not good enough for Wall Street.”

Thoughts of finance or economics usually gave Durwood a headache, but he made himself consider the particulars of the case now.

“But Hogan’s a family-owned company,” he said. “Can’t they tell Wall Street to go to hell? Pardon my French.”

“They were family-owned up until 1972, when they sold out.”

Durwood sat up in his chair, recalling her letter.

She seemed to read his thoughts. “They’re a family-run company. The CEO’s always been a Hogan, but the equity is publicly traded.”

“Hm.” Durwood’s head wasn’t aching, but it didn’t feel quite right either. “I read your letter different.”

“I apologize, I didn’t mean to be unclear.” The mayor took a step out from behind her desk. “I hope you don’t feel I brought you here on false pretenses.”

They looked at each other. The woman’s face tipped sympathetically and flushed, her eyes wide with concern. On the wall behind her hung the Iraq Campaign Medal and the striped ribbon indicating combat action.

“It’s fine,” Durwood said. “And they’re facing lawsuits, you said?”

“Correct,” the mayor said. “A class-action suit has been filed by customers claiming injury as a result of faulty Hogan parts.”

“What happened?”

“A woman in New Jersey’s toaster exploded. They’ve got two people in California saying a bad Hogan hinge caused them to fall. One broke her wrist.”

“Her wrist.”

Carol Bridges nodded.

“Falling off a stepladder?”

She nodded again.

“What’re the Hogans doing?” Durwood asked. “They have a strategy to stomp out this nonsense?”

“No idea. I hear, just scuttlebutt from the cafe, that the company’s going bankrupt.” The mayor flung out an arm. “Somebody else says they’re selling out to a private equity firm—one of these outfits that buys distressed companies for peanuts and parts ’em out, auctions off the assets and fires all the workers.”

Durwood leaned over the thighs of his bluejeans. “You mentioned the CEO in your letter. Eats sushi.”

The woman smiled. “Jay Hogan, yes. He’s only twenty-eight, and I don’t think he likes living in Chickasaw much. He went to college at Dartmouth.”

“Whereabouts is that?”

“Dartmouth?”

Durwood nodded. He’d once met an arms supplier in Dortmund, Germany, the time he and Quaid Rafferty had stopped a band of disgruntled sausage vendors from bombing ten soccer stadiums simultaneously. He’d never heard of Dartmouth.

Carol Bridges said, “New Hampshire.”

“If he doesn’t like the place,” Durwood said, “why didn’t he stay east? Work a city job?”

She crossed her legs again. “I doubt he could get one. Around here, he was a screw-up. They got him for drunk driving regularly. I was with the prosecutor’s office back then. The police winched him out of the same gully four different times in his dad’s Hummer.”

“Why’d they pick him for CEO?”

“He’s an only child. When the father had his stroke, Jay was next in line. Only pitcher left in the bullpen.”

Durwood drew in a long breath. “Now the fate of the whole town rests on his shoulders. Fella couldn’t keep a five-thousand-pound vehicle on the road.”

Carol Bridges nodded.

Durwood felt comfortable talking to this woman. As comfortable as he’d felt with a woman since Maybelle, his wife and soulmate, had passed in Tikrit. Carol Bridges didn’t embellish. She didn’t say one thing but mean another—leaving aside the misunderstanding over “family-run,” which might well have been Durwood’s fault.

Still, comfort didn’t make a case.

“I sympathize, Miss Bridges,” Durwood said. “I do. But I’m a simple man. The sort of business I’m trained for is combat. Apprehending suspects. Pursuing retribution that can’t be pursued within the confines of the law. This situation calls for expertise I don’t have.”

He’d delivered bad news, but Carol Bridges didn’t seem upset. She was smiling again.

“I have to disagree,” she said.

“You need somebody knows their way around corporate law. Knows how to—”

“You’re not a simple man. There’s a lot up there”—her warm eyes rose to his head—“that doesn’t translate into words.”

Durwood held her gaze a moment. Then he looked down to Sue-Ann.

The dog was sleeping.

He said, “America is changing. For better or worse. A town like Chickasaw doesn’t get the better end of it, I understand. There’s injustice in that. But it’s not the sort I can stop.”

“Of course. I wouldn’t dream of suggesting you can deliver us back to the 1970s.”

Carol Bridges laced her fingers over her dark red hair. A funny thing was happening with her mouth. Was she chewing gum? No, that wasn’t it. Using her tongue to work a piece of food out from between her teeth? Durwood didn’t think so either.

She was smirking.

“All I’m asking,” she said, “on behalf of my town, is this: talk to Jay Hogan. Get a straight answer out of him. I can’t, I’ve tried. The rest of the Hogans live in Vail or Tuscany. We need somebody who can cut through the bull and find out the truth.”

Durwood repeated, “The truth.”

“Yes. If the jobs are going away, if I need to retrain my citizenry to…” She searched around her desktop for some example—pencils, folders, a stapler. “Heck, answer customer-service calls? I will. But we want to know.”

Sue-Ann snored and resettled against Durwood’s boot.

He said, “Talk to Jay Hogan.”

The mayor clasped her hands hopefully over her chest. “That’s all I’m asking. Find out where we stand.”

Durwood thought about the crop fields he’d seen riding into town. The dusty homesteads. The billboards—the dentist, man who wanted to be sheriff. He thought of the factories still putting out smoke. For now.

The stakes were lower than what he fought for alongside Quaid and Molly McGill with Third Chance Enterprises. The planet itself was not imperiled. He wasn’t likely to face exotic technologies or need to jump from moving aircraft. So it went with these injustice cases—with injustice in general. Ordinary folks suffering ordinary hardship.

“We did drive a couple thousand miles,” he said. “I suppose it makes sense to stay and have a word with Mr. Hogan.”

Carol Bridges rushed forward and pressed his calloused hands in her smooth ones. She gave him the address of Hogan Consolidated from memory.

Chapter Three

Hogan’s main factory and corporate headquarters were in the same building. Durwood parked in a Visitors spot, and he and Sue walked up to the fifth floor where the executive offices were—over the factory. Stairs were murder on the dog’s hip, but she persevered. Durwood stopped every few steps for her.

Through the stairwell’s glass wall, he watched the assembly line. Men and women in hardhats leaned into machine handles. A foreman frowned at a clipboard. Belts and treads and rotors turned. Even behind glass, Durwood could smell grease.

Nothing amiss here.

On the fifth floor, Durwood consulted a directory to find Jay Hogan’s office.

His secretary wore nicer clothes than Carol Bridges. Looking at her neat painted fingernails, Durwood doubted she kept dog biscuits in her desk.

“You—you honestly thought bringing a dog to see the chief executive of Hogan Consolidated was acceptable?” the woman said, looking at Sue’s spots like they were open sores. “OSHA would have a field day if they showed up now.”

Sue-Ann laid her chin on her paws.

Durwood said, “She can stay here while I see Mr. Hogan.”

The woman’s nameplate read Priscilla Baird. Durwood suspected she’d be taller than him if she stood. Her lips were tight, trembling like she was about to eject Durwood and Sue—or flee herself.

“I don’t know that you will see Mr. Hogan today,” she said. “You’re not on his schedule. Jones, did you say?”

She checked her screen.

“Won’t find me in your computer,” Durwood said. “Is he here?”

Priscilla Baird glanced at her boss’s door, which was closed.

“He is…on site. But I’m not at liberty to say when he’d be available to speak with arbitrary members of the public.”

“I’m not arbitrary. I’m here on authority of the mayor.”

“The mayor?”

“Of Chickasaw, yes ma’am. Carol Bridges.”

Priscilla Baird rolled her eyes at this. Durwood thought he heard, “Getting desperate” under the woman’s breath.

Durwood waited. After thirty minutes, he tired of Priscilla Baird’s dirty looks and took Sue-Ann out to the van. She didn’t like dogs, fine. He wouldn’t be difficult just for the sake of it.

He returned to wait more. The lobby had an exposed beam running down its center—pimpled, showy. Folks built like that nowadays. Slate walls displayed oil paintings of the company’s executives. Sitting out on tables were US Weekly and Field and Stream. Durwood read neither. He spent the time thinking what questions to ask Jay Hogan.

All told, he waited an hour and a half. Others entered and were admitted to see Hogan. Men wearing pinstripes. A made-up woman in her late forties with a couple minions hustling after her. Some kid in a ballcap and shorts carrying two plastic bags.

The kid left Hogan’s office without his bags.

Durwood caught him at the door. “Pardon, youngster. What did you drop off?”

The kid ducked so Durwood could read his hat.

Crepes-a-Go-Go.

An involuntary growl escaped Durwood’s mouth. He crossed to Jay Hogan’s door.

“Excuse me,” Priscilla Baird said. “Mr. Hogan’s schedule today is terribly tight, you’ll need to be patient if—”

“It just opened up,” Durwood said.

He jerked the knob and blew inside. Jay Hogan was stuffing a crepe into his face with a plastic fork. Ham and some cheese that stank. The corner of his mouth had a red smear, either ketchup or raspberry jam.

Probably jam.

“The hell is this?” Hogan said. “You—what…Priscilla…” He placed a hand over his scrawny chest and finished swallowing. “Who is this person?”

Priscilla Baird rushed to the door. “I never admitted him, he went himself. He forced his way in!”

Durwood stood in the center of the office. He said to Hogan, “Let’s talk, the two of us.”

The young CEO considered the proposal. He was holding his crepe one-handed and didn’t seem to know where to set it down. He looked at his secretary. He looked at Durwood. His hair was slicked back with Pennzoil, skin alabaster white—a shade you’d have to stay inside to keep in southwest Texas.

Durwood extended his hand. “I can hold your pancake.”

Jay Hogan stiffened at the remark. “Who are you?”

“Name’s Durwood Oak Jones.”

Hogan tried saying it himself. “Duuurwood, is it?”

“Correct.” Durwood assumed Jay Hogan, like the mayor, wasn’t a Soldier of Fortune subscriber. “I’m a concerned party.”

“What does that mean?” Hogan said. “Concerned about what?”

“About this town. About the financial standing of your company.”

As Priscilla Baird excused herself, Durwood explained his contact to date with Carol Bridges and the capacity in which he’d come: to investigate and combat injustice. There was no reason he and Jay Hogan shouldn’t be on the same side. If the lawyers were fleecing Hogan Consolidated or Wall Street sharks were sabotaging it, Durwood’s help should be appreciated.

But Jay Hogan wasn’t rolling out the welcome wagon.

Injustice?” he sneered. “The company’s in a crap situation, a real hole. Not my fault. I didn’t build those hinges. I didn’t, you know, invent P/E ratios or whatever other metrics we aren’t hitting.”

Durwood glared across the desk. Every not and didn’t stuck in his craw.

He said, “What do you do, then?”

“I chart the course,” Hogan said. “I set the top-line strategy.”

“Top-line?”

“Yes. Top-line.”

Durwood resettled his hat on his head. “Thought the bottom line was the important one.”

Jay Hogan made a sound between flatulence and a pig’s snort. “Look—we’ve held the line on wages, kept the unions out. Done everything in our power to stay competitive.”

Durwood asked what his strategy was on those lawsuits.

“Chester handles legal matters,” Hogan said.

“Who’s that?”

“Chester is the COO.”

Durwood raised a finger, counting out letters. “Now what’s the difference between CEO and COO?”

Jay Hogan made impatient motions with his hands. “The COO is the operating officer. He’s more involved in day-to-day business.”

“Who deals with Wall Street? The money men?”

“Chester.”

“Who handles communication? Getting word out to the citizens of Chickasaw about what’s going on?”

Hogan picked up his crepe again. “Chester.”

He said the name—which was prissy to begin with—in a nasal, superior tone.

Durwood’s fist balled at his side. “Fella must be sharp, you trust him with all that.”

“Chester’s extremely smart,” Hogan said. “I’ve known him forever—our families go back generations. We attended all the same boarding schools.”

“Boyhood chums?”

Hogan frowned at the question. “Something like that.”

“He’s about your age, then?”

Hogan nodded.

“Couple twenty-eight-year-olds running a company that dictates the fate of a whole town.” Durwood folded his arms. “Sound fair to you?”

The CEO’s pale cheeks colored. “They’re lucky to have us. Two Ivy League graduates blessed with business instincts. Chester Lyles was president of our fraternity, graduated magna cum laude. We could be founding startups in Seattle or San Francisco where you don’t have to drive a hundred miles for decent food.”

That name rung a bell somewhere for Durwood.

Lyles.

Recalling what Carol Bridges had said about the gully, he said, “You graduate magna cum laude?”

“I don’t need to defend my qualifications to you or anyone.”

Durwood nodded. “Must’ve just missed.”

Jay Hogan stood up a snit. He looked at his crepe again in its tissue-paper sleeve and couldn’t resist. He took a quick bite and thrust a finger at the door, mouth full.

“I’m done answering your questions,” he said. “As CEO, I’m accountable to a shareholder-elected board of directors, which includes presidents of other corporations, a former Treasury Secretary of the United States, and several other prominent executives. They’re satisfied with my performance.”

“How many of them live in Chickasaw?”

Hogan barked a laugh. “They understand the financial headwinds I’m up against.”

“How about those bad hinges? From what I hear, Hogan used to make quality parts.”

“Another Chester question. I don’t deal with quality control.”

That’s for sure.

Durwood saw he would get nowhere with Jay Hogan. This Chester was who he needed to find. Asking this one how the town of Chickasaw was going to shake out was like inspecting your John Deere’s hood ornament to judge if you needed a new tractor.

Hogan was still pointing at the door. Finally, Durwood obliged him.

On the way out, he said, “You got families counting on this company. Families with children, mortgages, sick grandmas. They’re counting on you. Hogans before you did their part. Now be a man, do yours. Rise to your duty.”

Hogan didn’t answer. He had more crepe in his mouth.

Walking down to the parking lot, Durwood passed the factory again. It was dark—the shift had ended while he’d been waiting for Hogan. His boots clacked around the stairwell in solitude.

He considered what ailed Hogan Consolidated and whether he could fix it. He wasn’t optimistic. Oh, he could poke around and get the scoop on Chester Lyles. He could do his best working around the lies and evasions he’d surely encounter. Maybe he would find Chester’s or Jay Hogan’s hand in the cookie jar.

The likeliest culprit, though, was plain old incompetence. Jay Hogan belonged in an insurance office someplace—preferably far from the scissors. Instead, he sat in a corner office of a multi-million dollar company.

Did that rise to the level of injustice? Maybe. Maybe, with so many lives and livelihoods at stake.

Durwood didn’t like cases he had to talk himself into.

He was just imagining how he’d break the news to Carol Bridges if nothing much came of Chester when four men burst from the shadows and tackled him.

***

Excerpt from Dear Durwood by Jeff Bond. Copyright 2020 by Jeff Bond. Reproduced with permission from Jeff Bond. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Anarchy of the Mice

by Jeff Bond

on Tour July 1 – August 31, 2020

Synopsis:

Anarchy of the Mice by Jeff Bond

From Jeff Bond, author of Blackquest 40 and The Pinebox Vendetta, comes Anarchy of the Mice, book one in an epic new series starring Quaid Rafferty, Durwood Oak Jones, and Molly McGill: the trio of freelance operatives known collectively as Third Chance Enterprises.

How far could society fall without data? Account balances, property lines, government ID records — if it all vanished, if everyone’s scorecard reset to zero, how might the world look?

The Blind Mice are going to show us.

Molly McGill is fighting it. Her teenage son has come downstairs in a T-shirt from these “hacktivists” dominating the news. Her daughter’s bus is canceled — too many stoplights out — and school is in the opposite direction of the temp job she’s supposed to be starting this morning. She is twice-divorced; her P.I. business, McGill Investigators, is on the rocks; what kind of life is this for a woman a mere twelve credit-hours shy of her PhD?

Then the doorbell rings.

It’s Quaid Rafferty, the charming — but disgraced — former governor of Massachusetts, and his plainspoken partner, Durwood Oak Jones. The guys have an assignment for Molly. It sounds risky, but the pay sure beats switchboard work.

They need her to infiltrate the Blind Mice.

Danger, romance, intrigue, action for miles — whatever you read, Anarchy of the Mice is coming for you.

Book Details:

Genre: Action-Adventure
Published by: Jeff Bond books
Publication Date: June 15, 2020
Number of Pages: 445
ISBN: 173225527X (978-1732255272)
Series: Third Chance Enterprises, #1
Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Jeff Bond

Jeff Bond is an American author of popular fiction. His books have been featured in The New York Review of Books, and his 2020 release, The Pinebox Vendetta, received the gold medal (top prize) in the 2020 Independent Publisher Book Awards. A Kansas native and Yale graduate, he now lives in Michigan with his wife and two daughters.

Guest Post

Tidbits About the Third Chance Heroes

MOLLY

When Molly allows herself to slip from the daily grind and dream, she imagines having brunch at a funky diner with Karen—who’s settling into her first apartment, dishing breathlessly about some office romance—and later meeting Zach out somewhere. The details are fuzzier with Zach. Is he a graphic designer? An architect? An Uber driver? Do they meet at a seaside boardwalk? At Molly’s place? It’s different every time, but for some reason he’s always drinking a Red Bull smoothie.

Molly is twelve credit-hours shy of her PhD in Psychology. Her second husband convinced her, when she got pregnant with Karen, there was no point in finishing. His sales numbers were outta the park that quarter. She should just relax and kick up her feet. He had a plan.
Yeah, a plan…

She uses her kids’ birthdays joined together with the nonsense word “KfurrDL!” in between.

Molly speaks a half-dozen languages, making her invaluable to Third Chance Enterprises’ many international operations. She is also, in her own humble opinion, the world’s best splinter remover.

For Molly, the most important traits in a friend are kindness and selflessness. Jenny, her girlfriend down the street, is a perfect example. They watch each other’s kids in a pinch or drop chocolate biscotti by in hard times—Molly’s last divorce, Jenny’s middle schooler getting suspended. (Again.) True friends buck you up before you even know you need bucking.

QUAID

Quaid struggles with boredom and its insidious cousin, apathy. He does poorly with cases requiring monotonous daily chores like close surveillance. (A task at which Durwood Oak Jones excels.) Too often in these moment, Quaid falls back on women, gambling, alcohol—or all three.

Quaid has a soft spot in his heart for conversationalists. If you’re vain, if you’re mean, if you can’t reason your way out of a paper bag—all that’s fine with Quaid so long as you’ll open up your trap and engage. This is a common source of friction with Durwood, a conversationalist on par with cabinetry.

Quaid, when struck by the red devil of ambition, thinks of reentering politics. Could he assemble a new progressive majority, heal the dysfunctional left and bring home the flyover states with the same down-home charm he uses in his Jesse Holt—the Caterpillar rep from Peoria—disguise? Possibly. The womanizing could be a problem, though.

Before his second impeachment removed him from the governor’s mansion, Quaid successfully humanized Massachusetts’ criminal justice system and reformed its mental health bureaucracy—items on progressives’ bucket lists for a good long while.

The word “believe” is central to Quaid Rafferty’s ethos. He believes in the Blind Mice mission. He believes in Molly McGill and her ability to rise to the job. When a mission gets tough and the odds look long for Third Chance Enterprises, he believes their motley gang will pull together and prevail. More often than not, this belief carries the day.

Quaid travels with a signed copy of Ann Richards’s autobiography. The hand-scribbled note from the liberal former governor of Texas reads, “With that face, that tongue of yours, there’s nothing you won’t do.”

DURWOOD

Durwood is a widower. He lost his wife, Maybelle, to a terrorist attack in Tikrit. He later avenged her killing by wiping out the responsible cell in defiance of his commanding officer, who’d intended to wait on a full and proper investigation before retaliating. This incident resulted in Durwood’s discharge from the Marines.

Durwood suffers from chronic migraines. Sometimes fishing helps. Other times, he’ll lean into a headache—nurse it, use it to enhance that righteous rage that drives him.

Durwoood would give himself foot speed. A fan of West Virginia Mountaineers football, he admires the players’ speed and grace. He marvels at squirrels chasing each other in the sorghum fields, zooming through stalks like silent wind. He would love to be fast. It wouldn’t hurt for chasing down criminals, either.

Durwood’s blood pressure is lowest while with Crole, his neighbor, on the river dividing their two properties. The Appalachians loom at the horizon. Insects buzz and whine. Sue-Ann lies snoring on the muddy banks, all right with the world.

Crole cooks a variety of stews, eating them for upwards of a month. Durwood makes a point to join for the beet-turnip variety in the fall.

Durwood bears a secret grudge against the University of Texas. The first year his West Virginia Mountaineers joined the Big 10, Durwood saw them play UT in person. Watching the visitors prance onto Mountaineer Field in their pretty orange uniforms, jumping up and down, cocky. It bothered Durwood.

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Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

The first I ever heard of the Blind Mice was from my fourteen-year-old son, Zach. I was scrambling to get him and his sister ready for school, stepping over dolls and skater magazines, thinking ahead to the temp job I was starting in about an hour, when Zach came slumping downstairs in a suspiciously plain T-shirt.

“Turn around,” I said. “Let’s see the back.”

He scowled but did comply. The clothing check was mandatory after that vomiting-skull sweatshirt he’d slipped out the door in last month.

Okay. No drugs, profanity, or bodily fluids being expelled.

But there was something. An abstract computer-ish symbol. A mouse? Possibly the nose, eyes, and whiskers of a mouse?

Printed underneath was, Nibble, nibble. Until the whole sick scam rots through.

I checked the clock: 7:38. Seven minutes before we absolutely had to be out the door, and I still hadn’t cleaned up the grape juice spill, dealt with my Frizz City hair, or checked the furnace. For twenty minutes, I’d been hearing ker-klacks, which my heart said was construction outside but my head worried could be the failing heater.

How bad did I want to let Zach’s shirt slide?

Bad.

“Is that supposed to be a mouse?” I said. “Like an angry mouse?”

“The Blind Mice,” my son replied. “Maybe you’ve heard, they’re overthrowing the corporatocracy?”

His eyes bulged teen sarcasm underneath those bangs he refuses to get cut.

“Wait,” I said, “that group that’s attacking big companies’ websites and factories?”

“Government too.” He drew his face back ominously. “Anyone who’s part of the scam.”

“And you’re wearing their shirt?”

He shrugged.

I would’ve dearly loved to engage Zach in a serious discussion of socioeconomic justice—I did my master’s thesis on the psychology of labor devaluation in communities—except we needed to go. In five minutes.

“What if Principal Broadhead sees that?” I said. “Go change.”

“No.”

“Zach McGill, that shirt promotes domestic terrorism. You’ll get kicked out of school.”

“Like half my friends wear it, Mom.” He thrust his hands into his pockets.

Ugh. I had stepped in parenting quicksand. I’d issued a rash order and Zach had refused, and now I could either make him change, starting a blow-out fight and virtually guaranteeing I’d be late my first day on the job at First Mutual, or back down and erode my authority.

“Wear a jacket,” I said—a poor attempt to limit the erosion, but the best I could do. “And don’t let your great-grandmother see that shirt.”

Speaking of, I could hear Granny’s slippers padding around upstairs. She was into her morning routine, and would shortly—at the denture-rinsing phase—be shouting down that her sink was draining slow again; why hadn’t the damn plumber come yet?

Because I hadn’t paid one. McGill Investigators, the PI business of which I was the founder and sole employee (yes, I realized the plural name was misleading), had just gone belly-up. Hence the temp job.

Karen, my six-year-old, was seated cheerily beside her doll in front of orange juice and an Eggo Waffle.

“Mommy!” she announced. “I get to ride to school with you today!”

The doll’s lips looked sticky—OJ?—and the cat was eyeing Karen’s waffle across the table.

“Honey, weren’t you going to ride the bus today?” I asked, shooing the cat, wiping the doll with a dishrag.

Karen shook her head. “Bus isn’t running. I get to ride in the Prius, in Mommy’s Prius!”

I felt simultaneous joy that Karen loved our new car—well, new to us: 120K miles as a rental, but it was a hybrid—and despair because I really couldn’t take her. School was in the complete opposite direction of New Jersey Transit. Even if I took the turnpike, which I loathed, I would miss my train.

Fighting to address Karen calmly in a time crunch, I said, “Are you sure the bus isn’t running?”

She nodded.

I asked how she knew.

“Bus driver said, ‘If the stoplights are blinking again in the morning, I ain’t taking you.’” She walked to the window and pointed. “See?”

I joined her at the window, ignoring the driver’s grammatical example for the moment. Up and down my street, traffic lights flashed yellow.

“Blind Mice, playa!” Zach puffed his chest. “Nibble, nibble.

The lights had gone out every morning this week at rush hour. On Monday, the news had reported a bald eagle flew into a substation. On Tuesday, they’d said the outages were lingering for unknown reasons. I hadn’t seen the news yesterday.

Did Zach know the Blind Mice were involved? Or was he just being obnoxious?

“Great,” I muttered. “Bus won’t run because stoplights are out, but I’m free to risk our lives driving to school.”

Karen gazed up at me, her eyes green like mine and trembling. A mirror of my stress.

Pull it together, Molly.

“Don’t worry,” I corrected myself. “I’ll take you. I will. Let me just figure a few things out.”

Trying not to visualize myself walking into First Mutual forty-five minutes late, I took a breath. I patted through my purse for keys, sifting through rumpled Kleenex and receipts and granola-bar halves. Granny had made her way downstairs and was reading aloud from a bill-collection notice. Zach was texting, undoubtedly to friends about his lame mom. I felt air on my toes and looked down: a hole in my hose.

Fantastic.

I’d picked out my cutest work sandals, but somehow I doubted the look would hold up with toes poking out like mini-wieners.

I wished I could shut my eyes, whisper some spell, and wake up in a different universe.

Then the doorbell rang.

CHAPTER TWO

Quaid Rafferty waited on the McGills’ front porch with a winning smile. It had been ten months since he’d seen Molly, and he was eager to reconnect.

Inside, there sounded a crash (pulled-over coatrack?), a smack (skateboard hitting wall?), and muffled cross-voices.

Quaid fixed the lay of his sport coat lapels and kept waiting. His partner, Durwood Oak Jones, stood two paces back with his dog. Durwood wasn’t saying anything, but Quaid could feel the West Virginian’s disapproval—it pulsed from his blue jeans and cowboy hat.

Quaid twisted from the door. “School morning, right? I’m sure she’ll be out shortly.”

Durwood remained silent. He was on record saying they’d be better off with a more accomplished operative like Kitty Ravensdale or Sigrada the Serpent, but Quaid believed in Molly. He’d argued that McGill, a relative amateur, was just what they needed: a fresh-faced idealist.

Now he focused on the door—and was pleased to hear the dead bolt turn within. He was less pleased when he saw the face that appeared in the door glass.

The grandmother.

“Why, color me damned!” began the septuagenarian, yanking open the screen door. “The louse returns. Whorehouses all kick you out?”

Quaid strained to keep smiling. “How are you this fine morning, Eunice?”

Her face stormed over. “What’re you here for?”

“We’re hoping for a word with Molly if she’s around.” He opened his shoulders to give her a full view of his party, which included Durwood and Sue-Ann, his aged bluetick coonhound.

They made for an admittedly odd sight. Quaid and Durwood shared the same vital stats, six one and 180-something pounds, but God himself couldn’t have created two more different molds. Quaid in a sport coat with suntanned wrists and mussed-just-so blond hair. Durwood removing his hat and casting steel-colored eyes humbly about, jeans pulled down over his boots’ piping. And Sue with her mottled coat, rasping like any breath could be her last.

Eunice stabbed a finger toward Durwood. “He can come in—him I respect. But you need to turn right around. My granddaughter wants nothing to do with cads like you.”

Behind her, a voice called, “Granny, I can handle this.

Eunice ignored this. “You’re a no-good man. I know it, my granddaughter knows it.” Veins showed through the chicken-y skin of her neck. “Go on, hop a flight back to Vegas and all your whores!”

Before Quaid could counter these aspersions, Molly appeared.

His heart chirped in his chest. Molly was a little discombobulated, bending to put on a sandal, a kid’s jacket tucked under one elbow—but those dimples, that curvy body…even in the worst domestic throes, she could’ve charmed slime off a senator.

He said, “Can’t you beat a seventy-four-year-old woman to the door?”

Molly slipped on the second sandal. “Can we please just not? It’s been a crazy morning.”

“I know the type.” Quaid smacked his hands together. “So hey, we have a job for you.”

“You’re a little late—McGill Investigators went out of business. I have a real job starting in less than an hour.”

“What kind?”

“Reception,” she said. “Three months with First Mutual.”

“Temp work?” Quaid asked.

“I was supposed to start with the board of psychological examiners, but the position fell through.”

“How come?”

“Funding ran out. The governor disbanded the board.”

“So First Mutual…?”

Molly’s eyes, big and leprechaun green, fell. “It’s temp work, yeah.”

“You’re criminally overqualified for that, McGill,” Quaid said. “Hear us out. Please.”

She snapped her arms over her chest but didn’t stop Quaid as he breezed into the living room followed by Durwood and Sue-Ann, who wore no leash but kept a perfect twenty-inch heel by her master.

Two kids poked their heads around the kitchen doorframe. Quaid waggled his fingers playfully at the girl.

Molly said, “Zach, Karen—please wait upstairs. I’m speaking with these men.”

The boy argued he should be able to stay; upstairs sucked; wasn’t she the one who said they had to leave, like, immedia—

“This is not a negotiation,” Molly said in a new tone.

They went upstairs.

She sighed. “Now they’ll be late for school. I’m officially the worst mother ever.”

Quaid glanced around the living room. The floor was clutter free, but toys jammed the shelves of the coffee table. Stray fibers stuck up from the carpet, which had faded beige from its original yellow or ivory.

“No, you’re an excellent mother,” Quaid said. “You do what you believe is best for your children, which is why you’re going to accept our proposition.”

The most effective means of winning a person over, Quaid had learned as governor of Massachusetts and in prior political capacities, was to identify their objective and articulate how your proposal brought it closer. Part two was always trickier.

He continued, “American Dynamics is the client, and they have deep pockets. If you help us pull this off, all your money troubles go poof.”

A glint pierced Molly’s skepticism. “Okay. I’m listening.”

“You’ve heard of the Blind Mice, these anarchist hackers?”

“I—well, yes, a little. Zach has their T-shirt.”

Quaid, having met the boy on a few occasions, wasn’t shocked by the information. “Here’s the deal. We need someone to infiltrate them.”

Molly blinked twice.

Durwood spoke up, “You’d be great, Moll. You’re young. Personable. People trust you.”

Molly’s eyes were grapefruits. “What did you call them, ‘anarchist hackers’? How would I infiltrate them? I just started paying bills online.”

“No tech knowledge required,” Quaid said. “We have a plan.”

He gave her the nickel summary. The Blind Mice had singled out twelve corporate targets, “the Despicable Dozen,” and American Dynamics topped the list. In recent months, AmDye had seen its websites crashed, its factories slowed by computer glitches, internal documents leaked, the CEO’s home

egged repeatedly. Government agencies from the FBI to NYPD were pursuing the Mice, but the company was troubled by the lack of progress and so had hired Third Chance Enterprises to take them down.

“Now if I accept,” Molly said, narrowing her eyes, “does that mean I’m officially part of Third Chance Enterprises?”

Quaid exhaled at length. Durwood shook his head with an irked air—he hated the name, and considered Quaid’s branding efforts foolish.

“Oh, Durwood and I have been at this freelance operative thing awhile.” Quaid smoothed his sport coat lapels. “Most cases we can handle between the two of us.”

“But not this one.”

“Right. Durwood’s a whiz with prosthetics, but even he can’t bring this”—Quaid indicated his own ruggedly handsome but undeniably middle-aged face—“back to twenty-five.”

Molly’s eyes turned inward. Quaid’s instincts told him she was thinking of her children.

She said, “Sounds dangerous.”

“Nah.” He spread his arms, wide and forthright. “You’re working with the best here: the top small-force, private-arms outfit in the Western world. Very minimal danger.”

Like the politician he’d once been, Quaid delivered this line of questionable veracity with full sincerity.

Then he turned to his partner. “Right, Wood? She won’t have a thing to worry about. We’d limit her involvement to safe situations.”

Durwood thinned his lips. “Do the best we could.”

This response, typical of the soldier he’d once been, was unhelpful.

Molly said, “Who takes care of my kids if something happens, if the Blind Mice sniff me out? Would I have to commit actual crimes?”

“Unlikely.”

Unlikely? I’ll tell you what’s unlikely, getting hired someplace, anyplace, with a felony conviction on your application…”

As she thundered away, Quaid wondered if Durwood might not have been right in preferring a pro. The few times they’d used Molly McGill before had been secondary: posing as a gate agent during the foiled Delta hijacking, later as an archivist for the American embassy in Rome. They’d only pulled her into Rome because of her language skills—she spoke six fluently.

“…also, I have to say,” she continued, and from the edge in her voice, Quaid knew just where they were headed, “I find it curious that I don’t hear from you for ten months, and then you need my help, and all of a sudden, I matter. All of a sudden, you’re on my doorstep.”

“I apologize,” Quaid said. “The Dubai job ran long, then that Guadeloupean resort got hit by a second hurricane. We got busy. I should’ve called.”

Molly’s face cooled a shade, and Quaid saw that he hadn’t lost her.

Yet.

Before either could say more, a heavy ker-klack sounded outside.

“What’s the racket?” Quaid asked. He peeked out the window at his and Durwood’s Vanagon, which looked no more beat-up than usual.

“It’s been going on all morning,” Molly said. “I figured it was construction.”

Quaid said, “Construction in this economy?”

He looked to Durwood.

“I’ll check ’er out.” The ex-soldier turned for the door. Sue-Ann, heaving herself laboriously off the carpet, scuffled after.

Alone now with Molly, Quaid walked several paces in. He doubled his sport coat over his forearm and passed a hand through his hair, using a foyer mirror to confirm the curlicues that graced his temples on his best days.

This was where it had to happen. Quaid’s behavior toward Molly had been less than gallant, and that was an issue. Still, there were sound arguments at his disposal. He could play the money angle. He could talk about making the world safer for Molly’s children. He could point out that she was meant for greater things, appealing to her sense of adventure, framing the job as an escape from the hamster wheel and entrée to a bright world of heroes and villains.

He believed in the job. Now he just needed her to believe too.

CHAPTER THREE

Durwood walked north. Sue-Ann gimped along after, favoring her bum hip. Paws echoed bootheels like sparrows answering blackbirds. They found their noise at the sixth house on the left.

A crew of three men was working outside a small home. Two-story like Molly’s. The owner had tacked an addition onto one side, prefab sunroom. The men were working where the sunroom met the main structure. Dislodging nails, jackhammering between fiberglass and brick.

Tossing panels onto a stack.

“Pardon,” Durwood called. “Who you boys working for?”

One man pointed to his earmuffs. The others paid Durwood no mind whatsoever. Heavyset men. Big stomachs and muscles.

Durwood walked closer. “Those corner boards’re getting beat up. Y’all got a permit I could see?”

The three continued to ignore him.

The addition was poorly done to begin with, the cornice already sagging. Shoddy craftsmanship. That didn’t mean the owners deserved to have it stolen for scrap.

The jackhammer was plugged into an outside GFI. Durwood caught its cord with his bootheel.

“The hell?” said the operator as his juice cut.

Durwood said, “You’re thieves. You’re stealing fiberglass.”

The men denied nothing.

One said, “Call the cops. See if they come.”

Sue-Ann bared her gums.

Durwood said, “I don’t believe we need to involve law enforcement,” and turned back south for the Vanagon.

Crime like this—callous, brash—was a sign of the times.  People were sore about this “new economy,” how well the rich were making out. Groups like the Blind Mice thought it gave them a right to practice lawlessness.

 

Lawlessness, Durwood knew, was like a plague. Left unchecked, it spread. Even now, besides this sunroom dismantling, Durwood saw a half dozen offenses in plain sight. Low-stakes gambling on a porch. Coaxials looped across half the neighborhood roofs: cable splicing. A Rottweiler roaming off leash.

Each stuck in Durwood’s craw.

He walked a half block to the Vanagon. He hunted around inside, boots clattering the bare metal floor. Pushed aside Stinger missiles in titanium casings. Squinted past crates of frag grenades in the bulkhead he’d jiggered himself from ponderosa pine.

Here she was—a pressurized tin of black ops epoxy. Set quick enough to repel a flash air strike, strong enough to hold a bridge. Durwood had purchased it for the Dubai job. According to his supplier, Yakov, the stuff smelled like cinnamon when it dried. Something to do with chemistry.

Durwood removed the tin from its box and brushed off the pink Styrofoam packing Yakov favored. Then allowed Sue a moment to ease herself down to the curb before they started back north.

Passing Molly’s house, Durwood glimpsed her through the living room window. She was listening to Quaid, fingers pressed to her forehead.

Quaid was lying. Which was nothing new, Quaid stretching the truth to a woman. But these lies involved Molly’s safety. Fact was, they knew very little of the Blind Mice. Their capabilities, their willingness to harm innocents. The leader, Josiah, was a reckless troublemaker. He spewed his nonsense on Twitter, announcing targets ahead of time, talking about his own penis.

The heavyset men were back at it. One on the roof. The other two around back of the sunroom, digging up the slab.

Durwood set down the epoxy. The men glanced over but kept jackhammering. They would not be the first, nor last, to underestimate this son of an Appalachian coal miner.

The air compressor was set up on the lawn. Durwood found the main pressure valve and cranked its throat full open.

The man on the roof had his ratchet come roaring out of his hands. He slid down the grade, nose rubbing vinyl shingles, and landed in petunias.

Back on his feet, the man swore.

“Mind your language,” Durwood said. “There’s families in the neighborhood.”

The other two hustled over, shovels at their shoulders. The widest of the three circled to Durwood’s backside.

Sue-Ann coiled her old bones to strike. Ugliness roiled Durwood’s gut.

Big Man punched first. Durwood caught his fist, torqued his arm behind his back. The next man swung his shovel. Durwood charged underneath and speared his chest. The man wheezed sharply, his lung likely punctured.

The third man got hold of Durwood’s bootheel, smashed his elbow into the hollow of Durwood’s knee. Durwood scissored the opposite leg across the man’s throat. He gritted his teeth and clenched. He felt the man’s Adam’s apple wriggling between his legs. A black core in Durwood yearned to squeeze.

He resisted.

The hostiles came again, and Durwood whipped them again. Automatically, in a series of beats as natural to him as chirping to a katydid. The men’s faces changed from angry to scared to incredulous. Finally, they stayed down.

“Now y’all are helping fix that sunroom.” Durwood nodded to the epoxy tin. “Mix six to one, then paste ’er on quick.”

Luckily, he’d caught the thieves early, and the repair was uncomplicated. Clamp, glue, drill. The epoxy should increase the R-value on the sunroom ten, fifteen, units. Good for a few bucks off the gas bill in winter, anyhow.

Durwood did much of the work himself. He enjoyed the panels’ weight, the strength of a well-formed joint. His muscles felt free and easy as if he were home ridding the sorghum fields of johnsongrass.

Done, he let the thieves go.

He turned back south toward Molly’s house. Sue-Ann scrabbled alongside.

“Well, ole girl?” he said. “Let’s see how Quaid made out.”

CHAPTER FOUR

I stood on my front porch watching the Vanagon rumble down Sycamore. My toes tingled, my heart was tossing itself against the walls of my chest, and I was pretty sure my nose had gone berserk. How else could I be smelling cinnamon?

Quaid Rafferty’s last words played over and over in my head: We need you.

For twenty minutes, after Durwood had taken his dog to investigate ker-klacks, Quaid had given me the hard sell. The money would be big-time. I had the perfect skills for the assignment: guts, grace under fire, that youthful je ne sais quoi. Wasn’t I always saying I ought to be putting my psychology skills to better use? Well, here it was: understanding these young people’s outrage would be a major component of the job.

Some people will anticipate your words and mumble along. Quaid did something similar but with feelings, cringing at my credit issues, brightening with whole-face joy at Karen’s reading progress—which I was afraid would suffer if I got busy and didn’t keep up her nightly practice.

He was pitching me, yes. But he genuinely cared what was happening in my life.

I didn’t know how to think about Quaid, how to even fix him in my brain. He and Durwood were so far outside any normal frame of reference. Were they even real? Did I imagine them?

Their biographies were epic. Quaid the twice-elected (once-impeached) governor of Massachusetts who now battled villains across the globe and lived at Caesars Palace. Durwood a legend of the Marine Corps, discharged after defying his commanding officer and wiping out an entire Qaeda cell to avenge the death of his wife.

I’d met them during my own unreal adventure—the end of my second marriage, which had unraveled in tragedy in the backwoods of West Virginia.

They’d recruited me for three missions since. Each was like a huge, brilliant dream—the kind that’s so vital and packed with life that you hang on after you wake up, clutching backward into sleep to stay inside.

Granny said, “That man’s trouble. If you have any sense in that stubborn head of yours, you’ll steer clear.”

I stepped back into the living room, the Vanagon long gone, and allowed my eyes to close. Granny didn’t know the half of it. She had huffed off to watch her judge shows on TV before the guys had even mentioned the Blind Mice.

No, she meant a more conventional trouble.

“I’ve learned,” I said. “If I take this job, it won’t be for romance. I’d be doing it for me. For the family.”

As if cued by the word “family,” a peal of laughter sounded upstairs.

Children!

My eyes zoomed to the clock. It was 8:20. Zach would be lucky to make first hour, let alone homeroom. In a single swipe, I scooped up the Prius keys and both jackets. My purse whorled off my shoulder like some supermom prop.

“Leaving now!” I called up the stairwell. “Here we go, kids—laces tied, backpacks zipped.”

Zach trudged down, leaning his weight into the rail. Karen followed with sunny-careful steps. I sped through the last items on my list—tossed a towel over the grape juice, sloshed water onto the roast, considered my appearance in the microwave door, and just frowned, beyond caring.

Halfway across the porch, Granny’s fingers closed around my wrist.

“Promise me,” she said, “that you will not associate with Quaid Rafferty. Promise me you won’t have one single thing to do with that lowlife.”

I looked past her to the kitchen, where the cat was kinking herself to retch Eggo Waffle onto the linoleum.

“I’m sorry, Granny.” I patted her hand, freeing myself. “It’s something I have to do.”

***

Excerpt from Anarchy of the Mice by Jeff Bond. Copyright 2020 by Jeff Bond. Reproduced with permission from Jeff Bond. All rights reserved.

 

 

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