Jul 092020
 

The Crushing Depths by Dani Pettrey Banner

 

 

The Crushing Depths

by Dani Pettrey

on Tour July 1-31, 2020

Synopsis:

The Crushing Depths by Dani Pettrey

When an accident claims the life of an oil-rig worker on the first drilling platform off the North Carolina coast, Coast Guard investigators Rissi Dawson and Mason Rogers are sent to take the case. Tensions surrounding the oil rig are high and the death has everyone on edge. Environmental activists are threatening to do whatever it takes to stop the structure from being completed, while rumors are being whispered about ancient curses surrounding this part of the ocean.

Mounting evidence shows the death may not have been an accident at all. Was he killed by one of the activists or, perhaps more frighteningly, a member of his own crew? Rissi and Mason have to sort through not only a plethora of suspects, but also their own past and attraction to each other.

Just as the case seems like it’ll break open, worse news arrives. A tropical storm has turned their way and soon they’re cut off from any rescue–and right where the killer wants them. It’s a race to discover his identity before he eliminates the threat they pose.

Book Details:

Genre: Inspirational Romantic Suspense
Published by: Bethany House
Publication Date: June 30th 2020
Number of Pages: 320
ISBN: 0764230859 (ISBN13: 9780764230851)
Series: Coastal Guardians #2
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | ChristianBook | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Dani Pettrey

Praised by New York Times best-selling author Dee Henderson as “a name to look for in romantic suspense,” Dani Pettrey has sold more than half a million copies of her novels to readers eagerly awaiting the next release. Dani combines the page-turning adrenaline of a thriller with the chemistry and happy-ever-after of a romance.

Her novels stand out for their “wicked pace, snappy dialogue, and likable characters” (Publishers Weekly), “gripping storyline[s],” (RT Book Reviews), and “sizzling undercurrent of romance” (USA Today).

Her Alaskan Courage series and Chesapeake Valor series have received praise from readers and critics alike and have appeared on the CBA, ECPA, Publisher’s Weekly, and Amazon #1 bestseller lists. Dani has also been honored with multiple awards, including the Daphne du Maurier Award, two HOLT Medallions, a Christy Award finalist, two National Readers’ Choice Awards, the Gail Wilson Award of Excellence, and Christian Retailing’s Best Award.

Q&A with Dani Pettrey

Welcome and thank you for stopping by CMash Reads

Thanks so much for having me!

Reading and Writing:
What inspired you to write this book?

My husband and I love the ocean. He was in the Navy for years and I’ve always loved the beach as far back as I can remember. We watch lots of movies dealing with sea exploration or action-flicks that take place on the ocean’s floor (where it’s an accessible limit). One night we watched Deep Water Horizon and I thought it must take a really special person to be willing to work one of (if not the) most dangerous job in the world miles and miles out to sea. Rissi and Mason have been separated by life’s circumstances for years. What better way to reunite them than to put them on an oil rig thirty-eight miles out to sea with a killer on the loose and a tropical storm headed right for them?

What was the biggest challenge in writing this book?

Research. There was so much to be done. Thankfully, my husband was able to put me in touch with a colleague who worked on rigs for twenty years. He was extremely helpful. I also utilized online blogs, and firsthand biographies of life about an oil rig. It really is an amazing and treacherous job.

How did you come up with the title?

It was a collaborative effort with my editor and marketing team at BHP. We wanted something that related to water but also something that exuded the pressure Rissi and Mason felt in tight confines. There’s a dive welder on board and he has to use a diving bell to reach the bottom of the rig risers for repair and at the depth, without the proper gear, the weight can be crushing.

Your routine in writing? Any idiosyncrasies?

I write all my first drafts longhand. I let the story idea play through my head like a movie and once I have a feel for the characters (at least their physical attributes and career) and the setting, I sit down with a yellow legal pad, a stash of FriXion erasable pens (a game changer), a cup of coffee and dive in.

Tell us why we should read your book?

I think what others are saying about my books might help readers decide better than I can answer.
Dani combines the page-turning adrenaline of a thriller with the chemistry and happy-ever-after of a romance. Her novels stand out for their “wicked pace, snappy dialogue, and likable characters” (Publishers Weekly), “gripping storyline[s]” (RT Book Reviews), and “sizzling undercurrent of romance” (USA Today).

Are you working on your next novel? If so, can you tell us a little bit about it?

Yes. I’m working on the last Coast Guard Investigative Series novel. It’s hard to believe I’m already on the last one. It’s due July 15th and we finally have a title. I know longer have to call it Book 3. It’s now The Deadly Shallows. Each book in the series focuses on a different hero and heroine and their romance as well as the investigation are standalone stories.

Fun Questions:
Your novel will be a movie. You would you cast?

Alexandra Daddario as Rissi Dawson
Charlie Hunnam as Mason Rogers

Favorite leisure activities/hobbies?

Spending time at the beach—reading, walking, swimming.
Hiking
Traveling
And anything involving coffee ☺

Favorite foods?

Coffee
Chocolate
Berries

Catch Up With Dani Pettrey:
DaniPettrey.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

h3>Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

Late September

Thirty-eight miles off North Carolina’s coast

Greg Barnes clinked along the grated metal steps, his boot heels rasping with each shuffle as he headed topside for a much-needed breath of smoke.

Thrusting the door open with a resounding creak, he stepped out into the night air.

A litany of protestors’ chants mimicked the shrill whining of cicadas.

He glanced at his watch. 1930. Didn’t those eco-nuts ever give it a rest?

As if the cursed rig wasn’t enough—they had the dang relentless protestors going practically day and night.

Exhaling, he rubbed his thumb along the smooth surface of the tarnished gold lighter in his pocket. His tight muscles seized, making his movements stiff. He shook his head. Those people needed to get a life.

Edging around the far corner of the main separator facility, he pressed his back against the structure’s cool outer wall. Generators whirred across from him, finally drowning out the clatter. He scanned his surroundings and exhaled in relief. Finally, alone.

His leg twitched. Just one drag . . . maybe two. It’d been an awful day, and that was the gentleman’s way of putting it.

With unsteady hands, he pulled the plastic-wrapped pack from his shirt pocket.

It crinkled beneath his hold and the sweet scent of tobacco wafted beneath his nose. He tamped the cigarette in his palm and slid it between his cracked lips. Just one drag.

Tugging the lighter from his pocket, he flipped it open, then rolled the pad of his thumb across the ignitor.

A spark flashed and fire roared, hissing over him in a sizzling cascade of torment.

Chapter Two

Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina

Rissi Dawson sat at the long table on Dockside’s waterfront deck, gaping at Mason Rogers. He turned to look at her, his green eyes illuminated in the bright pole lights lining the wooden structural beams. She averted her eyes as heat rushed up her throat, spreading across her cheeks. He’d caught her staring again. Embarrassment drenched her. It’d been three days since his arrival, and she still couldn’t wrap her mind around the fact he was actually sitting next to her.

The boy she’d had the biggest crush on as a teen was back in her life. And on her Coast Guard Investigative Service team.

He handed her the basket of hush puppies the restaurant served instead of bread to start everyone off. His hand brushed hers with the movement, and her heart fluttered. “Thanks,” she said, keeping her gaze fixed on the red basket as she pulled two balls of fried cornmeal from it. She plopped the still-warm puppies onto the round plate to the right of her Coke. Get it together, girl!

The whir of a boat’s motor dropping to an idle sounded over the deck’s edge. A teen jumped out of the white outboard and onto the pier, tying her up to the cleat. Rissi loved living in a place with a boat drive-thru.

Noah raised his glass of iced tea. “Everyone . . .” The team lifted their glasses in response to their boss’s prompting.

Noah dipped his chin. “Welcome, Mason. Happy to have you on board.”

The team clinked their glasses together, even Caleb who sat brooding to her left. Observant as he was, there was no chance he missed the way she looked at Mason. In recent months, he’d developed feelings for her, so it wasn’t surprising he’d bristled at Mason’s arrival—especially after learning she and Mason shared a past, though he didn’t know the half of it. Only that they spent time in a children’s home together for a handful of months as teens.

The opening riff of “Sweet Home Alabama” emanated from Noah’s jean pocket. He hitched up as he extracted his phone. “Rowley,” he answered. “Yes?” Standing, he headed down the ramp toward the restaurant’s pier.

“Rockfish tacos,” the waitress said, placing the plate in front of Rissi. The sweet, tropical scent of the mango slaw swirled in the air.

The waitress handed out plate after plate to each of them, setting Noah’s burger at his spot while he continued to pace the pier.

Caleb bit into his Carolina BBQ pork sandwich, the scent of vinegar wafting in the night’s gentle breeze.

Finn Walker did the same with his crab cake sandwich. He and Noah, who was from Maryland, had argued for months over which state had the best crab cake. Finn had been convinced it was North Carolina, right up until Noah had crab cakes flown in fresh from Jimmy’s Famous Seafood in Baltimore. It took two bites for Finn to concede the win.

“Sorry about that, folks,” Noah said, retaking his seat.

“Everything okay?” Emmy Thorton asked. Rissi looked forward to seeing the quirky angel every day at the station.

“Rissi, Mason.” Noah lifted his chin in their direction. “I’ve got an assignment for you.”

Her and Mason? They’d worked a case his first day on the team, but Finn had joined them for most of the investigation. This would be the two of them . . . alone. A mixture of elation and fear sifted through her.

“Great.” Mason set down his lemonade.

“We’ve got a death out on the Dauntless.”

“The offshore oil platform?” Mason asked, swiping a drop of lemonade from his bottom lip.

Stop staring, girl. So he’s jaw-dropping gorgeous. So you share a past. Still, staring is plain rude. Despite not having a mother to teach her, Rissi knew or, at least had come to learn, her manners.

Noah laid his napkin across his lap. “You two need to determine if the death was an accident or if foul play was involved. Helo is leaving from Textra Oil’s copter hub in forty-five. I need you both on it.”

Mason pushed back from the table. “No problem.”

“Great,” Noah said. “You’ll be joining the head of operations, a commercial diver, and the deceased’s replacement on the company copter.”

Rissi took one last bite of her taco before setting it down. She dabbed the corner of her lips with a napkin. “They aren’t wasting any time in replacing the deceased.”

“The deceased’s name is Greg Barnes. I talked to the head of operations, Bob Stanton, and he said they needed to replace him ASAP.”

“Must be an important position.” She reached for her glass and took a final sip.

“You’d think,” Noah said. “But Bob said the main reason they need to replace him fast is they’ve been working with a skeleton crew.”

Mason’s brows pinched as he stood. “Why?”

“Several guys didn’t show up for their three-week rotation transport out,” Noah said, popping a fry in his mouth.

“I know why they didn’t show up for that copter ride out there.” Tom Murphy leaned toward them from his table situated to their right.

“Why?” Mason asked, moving around to the back of Rissi’s chair. He held it out for her as she stood.

She glanced over her shoulder at him and smiled. “Thanks.”

He nodded.

Tom, one of Wrightsville’s most colorful fishermen, crooked his index finger, drawing them in. “That rig’s cursed.”

“Cursed?” Caleb chuckled. “You can’t be serious?”

Tom waggled his finger. “It’s no laughing matter, young man.”

“I’m sure it’s a good story, Tom,” Rissi said. No reason not to be polite. “But I’m afraid we’ve got to catch a copter ride.”

Tom shrugged and turned back to his food. “It’s your lives at stake.”

“What do you mean?” she asked before they passed his table, unable to stem her curiosity.

“You’ll see.” He smiled, his right incisor missing. “Henry’s curse is real.”

“Henry?” Why was she letting herself get sucked into this?

Tom let out a high-pitched chuckle. “Oh, you’ll learn all about Henry.”

“Shall we?” Mason said, gesturing to the wooden ramp leading down to the gravel parking lot.

Excusing themselves, they moved down the ramp. Mason leaned in. He smelled of the ocean and warm spice. He whispered, “Did that guy seriously just cackle?”

She nodded, strangely curious about the old man’s ghost story.

“I thought people only did that on Scooby-Doo.”

She let out a slip of laughter.

“I wouldn’t be laughing,” Tom called after them as they rounded the ramp on his side of the deck. “You two be careful out there, you hear? It’s a dangerous place to be. Just ask the men on board.”

***

Excerpt from The Crushing Depths by Dani Pettrey. Copyright 2020 by Dani Pettrey. Reproduced with permission from Dani Pettrey. All rights reserved.

 

 

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This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Dani Pettrey. There will be 4 winners. Two (2) winners will each receive an Amazon.com Gift Card and Two (2) winners will each win THE CRUSHING DEPTHS by Dani Pettrey (Print ~ Open to U.S. addresses only). The giveaway begins on July 1, 2020 and runs through August 2, 2020. Void where prohibited.

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Jul 052020
 

Closer Than She Knows

by Kelly Irvin

on Tour June 22 – July 24, 2020

Synopsis:

Closer Than She Knows by Kelly Irvin

A serial killer bent on revenge . . . and striking too close to home.

Teagan O’Rourke has always loved murder mysteries. In her job as a court reporter, she has written official records for dozens of real-life murders. She’s slapped evidence stickers on crime scene photos. She’s listened to hours of chilling testimony. But she’s never known the smell of death. And she never thought she might be a victim.

Until now.

A young police officer is murdered just inches away from her, and then a man calling himself a serial killer starts leaving Teagan notes, signing each with the name of a different murderer from her favorite mystery novels.

Panicked, Teagan turns to her friend Max Kennedy. Max longs for more than friendship with Teagan, but he fears she’ll never trust someone with a past like his. He wonders how much of God’s “tough love” he can take before he gives up on love completely. And he wonders if he’ll be able to keep Teagan alive long enough to find out.

As Teagan, Max, and Teagan’s police officer father race to track down the elusive killer, they each know they could be the next victim. Desperate to save those she loves, Teagan battles fears that once haunted her in childhood. Nothing seems to stop this obsessed murderer. No matter what she does, he seems to be getting closer.

Book Details:

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Published by: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: June 9th 2020
Number of Pages: 352
ISBN: 0785231862 (ISBN13: 9780785231868)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

“We’re almost there, Ms. O’Rourke.” Officer Moreno came to a full stop at the corner of Park and Academic Court, where the glass-covered police department recruitment center and property room facilities glinted in the late-afternoon sun.

A smile brought out dimples on Moreno’s cherub-cheeked face. Her assignment to escort a court reporter and the evidence to the property room was almost to the halfway point. Teagan had told Moreno to call her by her first name, but the patrolwoman couldn’t seem to manage it. “I’ll get us through security, we’ll stow the evidence, and I’ll have you back to your car in a jiffy.”

Did people still say “in a jiffy”? Teagan’s grandma might, but this woman was no more than twenty-four. A couple of years younger than Teagan. She studied the officer’s face as she turned onto Academic Court and accelerated. The woman was for real. A straight shooter determined to be successful in a man’s world.

Teagan smiled, but Moreno had already returned her gaze to the road, hands at the proper ten and two positions on the wheel. “I know there’s plenty of other things you’d rather do than babysit evidence—”

The driver’s side window exploded.

The force knocked Teagan’s head against her window. Sudden pain pricked her face. Fragments of glass pierced her cheeks and forehead.

The car swerved, jumped the curb, and crashed into the wrought-iron fence that protected the academy.

Was this what Mom felt the day she died? The inevitability of it?

Air bags ballooned.

Teagan slammed back against her seat.

I’m sorry, Max.

I’m sorry I never said it.

A second later the bag deflated. The smell of nitrogen gases gagged her. Powder coated her face. The skin on the back of her hands burned.

Time sped up in an odd, off-kilter tick-tock.

Teagan struggled to open her eyes. Pain pulsed in her temple. Her stomach heaved. Waves of adrenaline shook her body as if she’d grasped a live electrical wire.

I’m alive. Today’s not my day to die.

The evidence. Protect the evidence.

***

Excerpt from Closer Than She Knows by Kelly Irvin. Copyright 2020 by Kelly Irvin. Reproduced with permission from Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Kelly Irvin

Kelly Irvin is a bestselling author and two-time Carol Award finalist. She is a former newspaper reporter and retired public relations professional. Kelly lives in Texas with her husband, photographer Tim Irvin. They have two children, three grandchildren, and two cats.

Visit her Online:
KellyIrvin.com
Goodreads
BookBub
Instagram
Twitter
Facebook

 

 

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This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Harper Collins and Kelly Irving. There will be 1 winner of CLOSER THAN SHE KNOWS by Kelly Irving (print). The giveaway begins on June 22, 2020 and runs through July 26, 2020. Open to U.S. addresses only. Void where prohibited.

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Jul 022020
 

Tooth for Tooth

by JK Franko

on Tour June 1 – July 31, 2020

Synopsis:

Tooth for Tooth by JK Franko

What would YOU do?

What would you do if you got away with murder? Would you stop there? Could you?

Susie and Roy thought that they committed the perfect crime.

Their planning was meticulous. Their execution flawless.

But, there is always a loose end, isn’t there? Always a singing bone.

Now, while enemies multiply and suspicions abound, their perfect world begins to crumble.

The hunters have become the hunted.

IN THIS BLISTERINGLY RELENTLESS SEQUEL TO HIS DEBUT SHOCKER, EYE FOR EYE, J.K. FRANKO TAKES READERS ON A BREATHTAKING JOURNEY OF CAT AND MOUSE

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller, Suspense, Crime, Legal
Published by:Talion Publishing
Publication Date: April 4th 2020
Number of Pages: 400
ISBN: 9781999318819
Series: Talion Series, #2
Purchase Links: Amazon || Goodreads

 

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

Which character do you like best and 5 reasons why?

Catherine Martin. She stands as a sort of proxy for all of us as we observe the events that transpire. She is able to interact with the characters and become a part of the story. I think she is the character that evolves the most in the first three books of the Talion Series. We will be seeing more of her in Book Six.

Which character do you not like and 5 reasons why?

Although he was fun to write, Senator Harlan is my least favorite character. He’s self-centered, narcissistic, manipulative. He pretends to have principles, but really he only cares about himself. He completely failed as a father and husband, and even as a lawyer. Were it not for politics, he’d be homeless.

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

 

Read an excerpt:

PROLOGUE

Before meeting Susie and Roy, I had never met a murderer. But then, I had also never lied to the police or destroyed evidence. I had never seen the inside of a jail cell. And I had most certainly never been complicit in a homicide.

I have to reluctantly admit that I am a better person for the experience. I now appreciate that murderers really are just regular people like you and me. Indeed, I have come to consider Susie and Roy more than mere patients… they are friends. And I think back on our time together with nostalgia—fondness, even.

This did not happen overnight. It was a process.

What would you do if you found out that your neighbor was a murderer? Would you double-check that you’d locked your doors every night? Keep an eye out for strange comings and goings? Would you ultimately put your house up for sale, not disclosing what you knew about the folks next door to potential buyers?

For most people, being in the proximity of a killer is neither pleasant nor desirable.

Imagine how I felt about having not one but two as-yet-undetected murderers as my patients. Sitting with each of them for hours every week. Trying to guide them toward more moderate conflict resolution techniques. And failing.

Well, I’m here to tell you that despite the complexities inherent in that situation, I found my path to inner peace and happiness.

I know. I may have said elsewhere that, as a psychologist, I’m not a big believer in “happily ever after.” But my thinking has evolved.

I’ve come to believe more in choices—in the power of decision. This is the key nugget of wisdom I have taken away from this whole mess: We are not what happens to us. We are what we choose.

And I am pleased to report, for the first time in years, that I can finally say I am happy.

You have to understand that my unhappiness was not due to lack of trying. Chalk it up to naiveté—but, at first, it was difficult to process everything Susie and Roy told me and still be happy.

It’s hard to put a positive spin on murder.

Selfishly, I was overwhelmed by the fear that they might turn on me. They had shared everything about their crimes with me in meticulous detail. It was manifestly apparent that I was the weak link. The one person who could bring them down.

I was not just a loose end.

I was the loose end.

And, though I tried, I could not initially find peace under these circumstances. But, as I said earlier, happiness is a choice. And it was a choice that I made which finally ended my torment and brought me to a place where I could be at peace—even though everything ended tragically: my relationship with Susie and Roy, their marriage, the whole mess.

For you to understand the rest of my journey with Susie and Roy, I must share with you something that happened years ago at an ostensibly happy event. I say ‘ostensibly’ because it was a wonderful night for almost everyone concerned.

There were two people at that event who figure in this story—in my story.

The first is Sandra Bissette. For her, the night in question was the beginning of what would become a successful career in politics and law.

For the other, Billy Applegate, the night would end in tragedy.

PART ONE

Billy Applegate

1974

Everybody loves a party.

And there’s nothing quite like an election night party. What makes an election night celebration different?

The guest of honor. You see, all parties—birthdays, anniversaries, wakes—feature a guest of honor. But an election night party is a completely different animal because it isn’t about any one person or couple. It’s not even about the candidates.

At an election night party, the guests of honor are the attendees.

The people who gather to watch election results together are all of one mind. Of one spirit. They are like pack animals, all focused on the same outcome. They all share the same heroes and the same enemies.

If their candidates win, they all win. And a “win” means real-world changes for them—tax breaks, preferential government spending, judicial appointments—and money in their pockets.

Now, that’s a party.

This particular election night party took place in Maryland in 1974. To be precise—because I can be—this party was held on the night of the 1974 midterm elections, on Tuesday, November 5th.

It was a good year for Democrats.

This was the first national election after Watergate. Nixon’s resignation had severely damaged the Republicans’ chances in the election. Gerald Ford was just three months into his presidency, having taken over from Richard Nixon a few months earlier. And, of course, having pardoned Nixon in September, Ford had destroyed his own hopes for re-election and added to the national animus against Republicans.

This election night party took place in a spacious colonial-style home decorated in red, white, and blue, with American flags hanging from the windows and banisters. It featured a spacious living and dining area. The kitchen was large and well-equipped. There was a generous backyard with a comfortable deck and a terrace around the pool. All four bedrooms—aside from one guest bedroom—were upstairs.

There was even a “pin the tail on the donkey” game set up near the bar, for those with a sense of humor. No one actually played.

This house belonged to Dan and Annette Applegate, two proud and active members of the Democratic party in Maryland.

Dan’s family had always been active in politics. His grandfather had been a state representative. His father had served as a county judge for most of his career. Dan—born Daniel Parsons Applegate IV—was the fourth generation of Applegates admitted to the Maryland bar. While he would never actually serve in public office, he understood the value of political contacts and actively cultivated them.

This party was part of that effort.

Dan was dressed in a three-piece, tan wool suit, a white Brooks Brothers shirt, and a burgundy silk tie. The lapels and tie were wide, and the shirt collar oversized—all very fashionable at the time. Annette wore a slim, gold-belted, navy blue flare-leg pantsuit with a pale blue silk blouse and a pair of simple gold earrings. Apropos for the gathering, and it went quite nicely with all the flags, she’d decided.

Their twelve-year-old son, Billy Applegate, was in dark green overalls with a white shirt and blue Keds. A handsome boy, Billy had inherited his mother’s cornflower blue eyes and his father’s thick sandy blond hair, which he wore in a neatly trimmed surfer cut.

Billy was an only child. His parents doted on him, as did his grandparents since he was the only grandchild in both families. Even so, Billy was a good boy and knew to stay out of the way when his parents had guests, though he stayed close enough to be in the mix and see what was going on. He was at the age where he still enjoyed watching the grown-ups. Spying on them. In fact, he was familiar with many of the faces that night from other events of this kind. It was a small community.

Tonight, Tuesday night, the guests were arriving early, many coming over straight after work before polling places even closed.

It was going to be a long night.

The band played. Alcohol flowed. Anticipation and excitement were in the air at the prospect of big Democrat wins. And, after everything Nixon had put the nation through, how could voters not want a change?

In the living room, a handsome mahogany console TV with a big twenty-five-inch-diagonal color screen announced results as they came in. Dan was loitering by the avocado green Trimline rotary phone, mounted on the kitchen wall, that rang periodically with live information. The spring-coiled, twelve-foot receiver cord allowed him to pace anxiously as he fielded calls from the few Democrats charged with providing up-to-the-minute results from county polling.

Remember, this was back in the days before computerized voting machines. Back then, voters travelled to their precinct’s designated polling station and used a machine to punch holes in their ballot. These were then collected and transported to a central counting center where the ballots were put through a counting machine which tabulated the results that were then released to the public.

Dan relayed results to his guests, with each ring of the phone bringing more good news. More cheering and more drinking.

It was a good year to be a Democrat.

At the peak of festivities, there were over 250 guests in and around the property, to the point where the party overflowed onto the street, which was not a problem. No one was going to complain, as most of the neighbors were in attendance. And these were all good white folk. The police were kind enough to block off both ends of the street and make sure that those who’d had too much to drink made it home safely.

Inside, the house was a political orgy. Supporters rubbed elbows with candidates. Candidates rubbed elbows with incumbents. Incumbents rubbed elbows with donors. And lobbyists rubbed elbows with everyone except each other.

There were a number of judges in attendance. Several city council members hovered by the buffet, and a few state representatives were sprinkled through the crowd.

It was into this whirlwind of excitement that Sandra Bissette arrived.

At a time when men still ran everything in politics, Sandra hoped to make a name for herself. The fact that she was a Yale-graduated lawyer didn’t hurt, nor did the fact that she had both the figure and the looks of Jackie Kennedy.

Sandra was the daughter of lifelong Democrats, and her father happened to be the county sheriff. Although Sandra was not part of the elite set in Maryland, she was making her way. She was two years into working as an associate at a top law firm after having done a couple of high-level summer internships in D.C.

That night, Sandra was primarily interested in meeting two people: one was Annette Applegate. Although Sandra knew that both Dan and Annette were active in the Maryland Democratic party, Dan was known to be a snob—his career consisted of riding on his family’s coattails. Annette was universally recognized as the nicer of the two. Annette knew everyone, and everyone loved Annette. It was with her that Sandra was hoping to build a connection.

The second person who Sandra had added to her charm offensive for the evening was Harrison Kraft—another young Yale lawyer who, unlike her, was connected in all the right ways. Having graduated a few years ahead of her from law school, Harrison was running for state representative. He checked all the right boxes— family pedigree, education, professional credentials. There was no doubt the man was going places. Sandra had heard good things about him as a person and was interested in seeing for herself.

It was a little after 9:00 p.m.—Dan had just announced the results from Precinct Four in Montgomery County when Sandra saw an opening. Annette was by the buffet chatting with Howard Patrick, an older lobbyist—handsy, and a bit of a bore. Sandra straightened her back, raised her chin, and approached.

“Hello Howard,” she said with a big smile.

“Sandra! Hello, my dear. Don’t you look beautiful tonight?” “Why, thank you, Howard. Ever the charmer,” she said, allowing him to kiss her hand.

“Have you met our hostess, Annette Applegate?”

As Sandra turned to greet Annette, she noticed that the woman was looking past her, over her shoulder.

“Um, excuse me, young man!” Annette said, eyebrows raised and pearly white teeth dazzling.

Sandra turned and followed Annette’s gaze to a young boy in green overalls filching shrimp from the buffet. She guessed he was just shy of being a teenager.

“Aw, crap,” said Billy as he chewed.

“Come here, you,” Annette said, narrowing her eyes in mock disapproval.

The boy hesitated as he took in the young woman, the fat old man, and his mother, who stood waiting for him expectantly with her hands on her hips. He’d never seen the young woman before. She was new.

Unconsciously, he slowly moved to return the three shrimp in his sticky hand to the platter.

“With the shrimp, silly,” his mother said, shaking her head. Billy moved toward her, chewing rapidly so he could stuff
the other shrimp into his mouth.

Howard put his hand against the small of Sandra’s back, a little too low, and harrumphed to her under his breath, “Better seen, not heard. That’s how it used to be.”

Sandra tried to smile and fought the instinct to pull away.

Howard’s breath smelled of scotch and cigarettes.

Annette overheard, but ignored the old lobbyist’s comment.

“I suppose I don’t need to ask if you’ve had dinner? I left meatloaf for you in the kitchen.”

“I know. But, Mom, these shrimp are amazing.”

“And the meatballs?” asked Annette, looking over Billy toward the platter on the buffet.

Billy blushed. “Those, too.”

“Well, it’s getting a bit late for you,” Annette said, ruffling her son’s fair hair and then kissing him on the forehead, making him squirm. “Finish up the shrimp and get to bed.”

“What about Dad?” Billy asked, looking around. Annette’s face darkened, and she sighed. “I’ll send him up for a goodnight kiss. But you come along now, young man.” She put her hands on her son’s shoulders and steered him towards the stairs. “Excuse me for a moment,” she said over her shoulder.

Shit, thought Sandra as she twisted politely away, getting the old lobbyist’s hand off her lower back as he struck up a conversation. While she tried to focus on what he was saying, it was all she could do not to stare at the green thing wedged in between the man’s tar-stained teeth.

It took her ten minutes to extricate herself from Howard, thanks to Alan Watts—a wiry man who was only modestly more interesting. His family ran a small chain of grocery stores. Alan had asked her out a while back, and though she’d declined, he still had hopes—she could tell.

After a few more minutes of polite conversation, Sandra fell back on “old reliable” with a forced smile. “Excuse me, gentlemen… ladies’ room.”

Once she was sure she had escaped, she continued to work the room. About half an hour later, as she accepted another glass of white wine from a passing waiter, she felt a hand pressing low on the small of her back.

Oh fuck, not again.

“Yes, Howard?” She turned, fake smile firmly in place, to find Annette Applegate standing behind her.

“Gotcha!” laughed Annette.

Sandra laughed, both from relief and from delight at the inside joke made by the woman to whom she’d hoped to ingratiate herself.

This is going to be a great night.

While Sandra and Annette chatted amiably, many other members of the party were well beyond civility.

The drinking had begun five hours earlier, but there was more than just alcohol flowing. Other substances were being abused. It was all very discreet, of course. Most were partaking solely for recreational purposes, but a few were ingesting more heavily. Beyond alcohol and drugs—and most hazardous of all, given that it was infecting everyone to some degree and was in ample supply—was the potent and dangerous combination of two psychological stimulants, victory and power.

You see, politics doesn’t attract only “normal” people. As in every part of society, there is a spectrum. And politics, too, has its outliers. The smug and the superior. The arrogant and the snide. And the sociopaths.

Victory and power are dangerous to all, but more so to the sociopath.

Do not consume alcohol or operate heavy machinery while taking…

For these select few, the alcohol, drugs, and victory combined with power was toxic. It created a euphoria that knew no rules.

No limits.

No fear.

* * *

Upstairs, Billy had fallen asleep with the soothing press of his mother’s goodnight kiss still fresh on his cheek.

A small nightlight plugged into a wall socket illuminated his bedroom, casting a warm glow on a baseball snuggled in a catcher’s mitt that lay in a corner next to a wooden Adirondack baseball bat.

On one end of his small dresser sat a model airplane—a Douglas A-20 Havoc that he’d built with his grandfather. It was a replica of the plane Gramps had flown during World War II. The model was flanked by a teddy bear that Billy claimed he’d outgrown but refused to give away. The other end of the dresser was reserved for the little boy’s current prized possession—Rock’em Sock’em Robots. A gift from his parents for his birthday.

The room was quiet, the party sounds muffled.

Suddenly, the door opened, spilling light into the little boy’s room along with the blare of music and the chaotic chatter of voices. Then, just as quickly, the door shut, returning the room to calm semi-darkness.

Billy was groggy and didn’t try to open his eyes. Instead, he just spoke out loud. “Dad?”

He felt the bed sag as his father sat next to him in a cloud smelling of alcohol and cigars.

Then he felt dry lips on his forehead. The kiss made him smile sleepily.

A hand stroked his head and his hair as Billy snuggled into his pillow and drifted back to sleep.

Suddenly, the same hand that had been stroking his hair gently clamped over his mouth. It was a man’s hand, but it was soft. Clammy. It was not his father’s….

Billy tried to sit up, but the hand squeezed harder, the man leaning into him, pushing him down and pinning him to the bed as a second hand groped at him, pulling away his sheets.

Billy didn’t know what to do. He was terrified. He opened his eyes, but with just the little nightlight on, he couldn’t see anything other than the vague shape of the form pressing down on him. He could smell booze and food on the man’s warm breath.

Tears came as the vise over Billy’s mouth forced him to suck air noisily through his nose as the groping continued—searching, finding, fondling, stroking, then reaching, penetrating, sending a hot shard of searing pain through his body. Inside.

He tried to fight, but couldn’t. The hands were too strong. The body too heavy. He felt sick. The stench of cigars, food, and alcohol on fetid breath was nauseating. And he was scared. Terrified. In pain.

Bile rose in Billy’s throat. But the hand over his mouth prevented him from vomiting. He gagged, then swallowed everything back down.

His body began to convulse.

To thrash.

As it did, the second hand stopped.

The man’s weight eased on top of his body, no longer pinning him down. The hand over his mouth loosened slightly, and Billy felt the other stroking his hair. He wanted to move, but he was paralyzed with fear.

The whole ordeal lasted minutes, but it felt like hours.

Then the presence leaned over and whispered, “Sleep. Sleep.

You were dreaming. Go back to sleep.”

The weight lifted from the bed, and as it did, the hand fell away from Billy’s mouth, leaving him shivering in the aftermath.

The door opened, first slightly. Through the crack, the man looked out into the hall as the babble of music and voices invaded the bedroom. Then the door swung fully open, and as it did, Billy saw the man clearly in the light from the hallway. The image burned itself into his memory. The image of a stranger whose identity he would eventually learn.

The door closed and the crowd cheered as the band started playing—“You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet.”

And Billy Applegate cried himself into a fitful sleep.

***

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

 

 

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Jun 262020
 

Danger in Plain Sight

by Burt Weissbourd

on Tour June 1-30, 2020

Synopsis:

Danger in Plain Sight by Burt Weissbourd

It took fourteen years to construct a safe world for her and her son–and only one night for her ex to unravel it.

Celebrated Seattle restaurateur Callie James is more than a little thrown when her ex-husband, French investigative reporter Daniel Odile-Grand, shows up after fourteen years asking for her help. Even more disturbing: as she throws him out, Daniel is deliberately hit by a car, hurled through the front window of her restaurant–broken, bloody and unconscious. He flees from the hospital and breaks into Callie’s apartment, where he passes out. Reluctantly, Callie hides him. When she gets back to her restaurant, two assassins walk in, insisting that she find Daniel for them by tonight or pay the consequences.

Overwhelmed and hopelessly out of her depth, Callie hires the only man she knows who can help her: Cash Logan, her former bartender, a man she had arrested for smuggling ivory through her restaurant two years earlier, and who still hasn’t forgiven her.

The assassins blow up her restaurant. It’s Callie’s nightmare. And the worst is yet to come as she and her unlikely, incompatible ally discover that the most perilous dangers are far closer to home than they’d imagined.

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller
Published by: Blue City Press
Publication Date: September 8th 2020
Number of Pages: 224
ISBN: 1733438211 (ISBN13: 9781733438216)
Series: A Callie James Thriller, 1
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Burt Weissbourd

Burt Weissbourd is a novelist and former screenwriter and producer of feature films. He was born in 1949 and graduated cum laude from Yale University, with honors in psychology. His book, Danger in Plain Sight, published on May 15th 2020, is the first book in his new Callie James thriller series. His earlier books include Inside Passage, Teaser, Minos, and In Velvet, all of which will be reissued in Fall 2020.

GUEST POST

How Screenplays and Movies Influenced my Novel Writing
KLUTE – an example

Between 1975 -1987 I was a film producer in Hollywood. My initial focus, and eventually my specialty, was developing screenplays. I worked with writers whose work grabbed viewers viscerally, not with explosions but with multi-dimensional characters that would draw you into a deeply moving story. I spent countless hours working out the stories and shaping the people in them. I worked with the following screenwriters, some of their most famous works noted in parentheses: Frederick Raphael (“Two for the Road”), Alvin Sargent (“Ordinary People”, “Julia”), Andy Lewis (“Klute”), Joe Esterhas (”Basic Instinct”), Ron Bass (“Rain Man”), Stewart Stern (“Rebel Without a Cause”). William Wittliff (“Lonesome Dove,” Raggedy Man”), Larry D. Cohen (“Carrie,” “Ghost Story”), etc. These writers’ film credits are for identification purposes with the exception of “Raggedy Man” and “Ghost Story,” as I did not work on these films.

I’ve just finished my fifth novel. All are character-driven thrillers. I love to write well drawn, complicated people who eventually are able to do unexpected things. I learned to do this from working on screenplays and studying movies. I’d like to describe one movie and screenplay that profoundly impacted me:

KLUTE — screenplay by Andy and Dave Lewis, directed by Alan Pakula, starring Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland

People still argue about whether KLUTE is a thriller or a love story. The answer, I believe, is both, and it makes my point about character-driven stories. In KLUTE, Jane Fonda (Bree Daniels) is a conflicted call girl trying to change her life. Donald Sutherland plays a small-town police detective, (John Klute), who is trying to find a missing man, a friend, from his town who was one of her clients. Eventually, the detective learns that his friend was killed, and discovers that the killer is stalking Bree. That’s the entire plot. What grabs you, makes you care viscerally about the outcome, and is finally deeply moving, is the growing, often ambivalent relationship between these two people. The director, Alan Pakula, is also very psychologically minded and between him and the writers, they manage to keep the tension, the frustration between them, even the angry clashes, grounded in their respective emotional realities. The encounters between Bree and her therapist still set the standard for meaningful, authentic treatment interactions in film.

Their evolving relationship is multi-faceted and at one point she fights with him and goes back to her pimp. By then, you’re routing for her getting together with this small town, soft-spoken, very smart and sensitive detective. By then, you’ve understood that she’s also very smart and becoming more and more self-aware as she struggles to get out of the call girl life. In the end, he saves her life when the killer attacks her. The final scene has both of them in her apartment. She’s packing up to go with him back to his small town. There’s no certainty that they’ll succeed together, but the audience is hoping mightily that they will. The reason you feel that they have a chance is the way they’ve grown, learned, separately and together about each other and what they both know that they could have together. This self-knowledge is earned the hard way, and this hard-earned character development gives us hope for their life together. I did not work on the screenplay for Klute, but I worked with Andy Lewis on four other screenplays, and in every single one he pays the same careful attention to the people.

Working with screen writers was a great experience. As a producer developing a screenplay, you learn to look for stories with strong, complex characters and a “rich stew” — that is to say a situation with conflict, emotional intensity, and the potential to evolve in unexpected ways. That is exactly how I approach the books that I write, and I learned how to do that as a producer working on screenplays.

Catch Up With Burt Weissbourd On:
BurtWeissbourd.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Read an excerpt:

It was 1:15 a.m. when Kelly and Gray returned. They must have been watching, because they came in as the last patron left. Will showed them to the bar, where Callie was waiting at her table. They sat facing her, different suits this time. Gray wore a thin gold square-link chain around his neck and a matching gold earring—stylish and expensive. Kelly wore a similar gold necklace with a floating diamond solitaire pendant. As Will was asking where their suits had been made, Callie interrupted. “A drink?”

“Another time,” Gray said, all business now. “Have you found Daniel Odile-Grand?”

“No, as I said before, I have no idea where he is.”

“That’s unacceptable,” he said matter-of-factly. He turned to his partner, who nodded, regretfully smiling her agreement.

Callie was prepared. Cash had told her to hit her “ice mode” button—a phrase he’d coined for her chilliness when irritated—at any sign of trouble. He’d recognize that and take it from there. “I beg your pardon?” she replied, classic subzero. She sipped her tepid San Pellegrino with lime.

“As I explained, urgent matters are at stake.” Gray waved his hand to include the dining room downstairs. “I’m told this fine restaurant is underinsured.”

“Yo, Callie.” Cash had materialized behind her, carrying chips and guacamole for the table. “I thought you said we were well insured.”

“We are, in fact, well insured,” she agreed.

Cash leaned in. His physical presence didn’t seem to faze these people. “So we don’t need insurance, then, we’re fine,” he pointed out.

Gray leaned in, too, measuring Cash, finding him wanting. “Listen carefully, cowboy, this is not your concern.” He said it slowly, advising a dim-witted child.

Kelly shook her head and spoke for the first time. “No, surely not.”

Cash’s eyes locked onto Gray’s. “Then this is your unlucky day, pardner. From now on, to get to the lady, you go through me.” He flashed a shit-eating grin. “Did you call me Cowboy?”

Gray grinned ever so slightly. Kelly smiled, picture perfect.

“Cowboy?” Cash repeated, frowning now as he emptied the bowl of guacamole on Gray’s cream-colored silk suit.

Gray was up, going for his gun. He fell to the floor, writhing, when Andre planted his metal prosthetic in the hit man’s groin. Cash already had Kelly’s arms pinned at her sides. Andre took her gun from its shoulder holster and trained it on Gray, who was on the floor, covered with guacamole.

“Let this go,” Cash told Gray. “You don’t want a war. Not with me.”

“Nice suit,” Andre added, and lifted Gray’s gold necklace with the black metal toe of his prosthetic leg. “Love the bling.”

More from Danger in Plain Sight

Cash closed his eyes. He had to do something to divert his mind from these horrific insects. He turned away, stretched his sore arms, flexed his tense back, focusing on Callie. Callie James . . . Okay, it was working. Picturing her face, the corners of his mouth turned up and his spirits soared.

Callie James . . . Why did he feel so wholly in love with her?

He stood, arms extended behind him, as he considered his on-again, off-again history with women.

Women found him attractive, and he’d been with many of them. His relationships, however, rarely lasted as long as he expected. There was some part of himself that he held back, and women sensed this and eventually moved on or asked for more of a commitment than he could make. Over time, he realized that it wasn’t a part — like a piece — but rather some portion of his unusual intensity. He understood that he was very accepting of other people and only offered as much as a woman looked for — some essential emotional minimum — to sustain the relationship. It wasn’t a conscious decision. It was a strong, keenly sensitive person’s way of protecting a partner from unwanted, possibly unsettling intensity. It’s who he was. Everything that he did, he did well but sparingly. So in some way he didn’t understand, he was choosing women who were less intense than he was.

Callie was the first woman he’d ever been with who demanded one hundred percent at all times. She was relentless, and even when she wasn’t aware of it, every bit as intense as he was. He didn’t hold anything back with her — yet she always wanted an explanation, an elaboration, an argument, or an answer to a difficult question. She’d never idealized him, that’s for sure. And he never pretended with her. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but the out-of-the-blue way this had happened between them, the strength of it, was something entirely new for him. Did he trust it? Yes, unequivocally. Did he know why? Yes, unequivocally again — it was because Callie James could never be untrue to herself.

Cash sat down, and turning back, he watched the horrible insects squirming in the jar.

No, he couldn’t lose her. Not now.

More from Danger in Plain Sight

He opened the back door and then led Christy up the stairs to apartment 2D. Will opened the apartment door, held it for her. Christy came through the door into the living room. Will closed the door behind her.

“Christy,” Callie called from where she’d been standing behind the door.

When Christy turned, confused, Callie whispered, “You miserable bitch,” and she fired two barbed, dart-like electrodes from her Taser into Christy’s chest. The electrodes created a circuit in the body, essentially hijacking the central nervous system, causing neuromuscular incapacitation.

Christy fell to the floor, writhing in uncontrollable muscle spasms. When the writhing stopped and she’d curled into the fetal position, Callie and Will cuffed her hands behind her back.

When they were able to get her on her feet, Callie said, “We’re trading you for Cash Logan and Amjad Hasim.”

“What are you talking about?”

Callie slapped her, as hard as she was able. The blow tore Christy’s lower lip, drawing blood, and bruised her cheek. Callie hadn’t planned to do that—it was her second time, and she’d never hit anyone nearly so hard in her life—but red-hot rage was coursing through her veins. She was trembling, though her ever-present anxiety had receded, and she sure as hell didn’t feel helpless.

“Are you crazy?” Christy cried out.

“Don’t even try that. I know what you and Avi have done—to Daniel, to my restaurant, to my friend Doc. You almost killed us all on the boat. And now you have Cash, damn you!”

Christy’s face changed; she got it—Callie had somehow put it together. “You low-life skanky cunt, I’ll kill you myself.” Christy spit in Callie’s face.

Callie slapped her again, a fierce crack, astonished, yet again, by the rage she felt welling inside. And in that moment, she understood that her usual internal restraints—her rules and regulations—were no longer in place. It was as if an anvil had been cut loose from around her neck.

Blood dripped from Christy’s lip, her left eye was partially closed, and tears streamed down her face.

Callie stepped closer. “If anything happens to Cash, if you hurt him again, I’ll kill you, Christy Ben-Meyer. I swear that on my son’s life.”

Five minutes later Christy was standing on a stool in the center of the room. Her hands were cuffed behind her back. Her feet were bound. Her mouth was covered with duct tape. There was a noose around her neck that was tightly tied off to the pair of sturdy eyehooks that Will had screwed into the ceiling beam earlier. Christy’s head was tilted back and up; the rope was that tight. Another rope was tied to the leg of the stool. If the stool were pulled out from under Christy’s feet, she would hang.

Callie held a handgun to Christy’s kneecap.

Will was shooting a video with Callie’s iPhone.

Callie spoke to the camera. “Avi Ben-Meyer, I promise you that I will shoot out Christy’s left kneecap in fifteen minutes if you haven’t arranged the exchange with Itzac by then. In thirty minutes, I’ll shoot out her other kneecap and hang her. Believe me on this — if Cash Logan is hurt in any way, I’ll torture her without mercy before she dies.” Callie nodded, done. She walked to a corner of the room, fighting for breath. Dear God! What had she just said? Torture Christy? Damn it, if they hurt Cash . . . She gasped — she’d never even known that she could have feelings like that.

Will placed a calming hand on her back, and he gave her the phone. Callie noted the time, then sent the video to Itzac.

More from Danger in Plain Sight

The martinis arrived, each one with an extra inch of refill in a glass tumbler. “The angel’s share,” Cash explained. He raised his drink, a toast. “To you, Callie, to what you could become.”

She clicked his glass with hers. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

“You have a shot at extraordinary.”

“You think so?”

“Possibly. But it’s an entirely different kind of extraordinary than turning-me-over-to-the-cops-for-smuggling-erotic-netsuke-into-your-restaurant extraordinary.”

“I deserve that. Jesus what an unforgiving, righteous gal I was.” She raised a palm. “Your words. And you were right. I’m sorry.” She touched his arm. “I was mean-spirited, foolish—just plain wrong — and I’ll always regret that.”

“Suppose we let that go.” Cash raised his glass again.

She touched her glass to his. “Thank you.”

“Speaking of regrets, honestly, I never anticipated that this past week would be so difficult—the anxiety, hiding Lew, the mace, the damage to your restaurant, the explosives on the boat . . . It was especially hard to lose Doc . . .” He let it drift.

She nodded, found his eyes. “I misjudged you early on . . . Conventional thinking sometimes blinds me—how you look, how you dress, what your job is. Long story short, you’re not at all what you seem. I listened carefully to you with Detective Samter today. You’re so smart, so able in the world. And in your way, though you’d never admit it, you try to get it right. Yes, you present whatever you’re proposing as practical, a calculated, opportunistic thing. What I’m learning, though, is that with you that’s also, as you see it—after carefully weighing pros and cons—the best for all involved. Or as I would say it, theright thing. How you get there is often confusing to me, but you do get there, way ahead of me, and, well, I admire you.”

“Thank you . . . That’s a two-way deal.” Cash watched her, surprised by her expressiveness. “Truthfully, this past week, I underestimated you. You’ve been right there, as hard as that must have been for you. You kept defying my expectations. Just when I was ready to give up on you, you did the smart thing, the hard thing, under protest, but you did it. And now, I’m watching you in the eye of a serious storm, just when I’d expect you to cave in, fall apart. But no, you manage. You even stand tall. Callie, you have a fine, strong heart.”

She smiled. “I’m a restaurateur. I never knew what to do outside my restaurant. I was always afraid.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“It took a lot of work and a huge amount of energy to accomplish that deception. I mean you can’t imagine what it was like for me to find you — ask for your help — at the Dragon. It was all I could do to look at you, to keep even a semblance of composure.”

“And that’s changing?”

“Yes, I think so. I hope so.”

“How did this happen?”

“It’s you, Terry.” She looked at him, eyes serious. “In your tenacious, patient way, you dragged me—kicking and screaming—out into the world, step by baby step, and though it’s every bit as frightening and even more unsettling than I imagined it, I’m okay with it. Yeah, I’m even getting my sea legs.”

“Bravo, then, Callie James. To both of us.”

She raised her glass. They toasted silently.

“Truthfully, Cash, at times I even like it out here.”

“Well, it suits you.” Cash watched her smile.

“I even like talking with you . . . And I was never a talker.”

“I’m guessing we have some great, contentious conversations ahead of us.”

“I like the idea of that.”

“Likewise.”

“Cash and Frosty, tête-à-tête.”

He took her small, delicate hands in his big, busted-up mitts.

Their kiss was tender, sweet, Cash thought. After, there were tears in Callie’s eyes.

***

Excerpt from Danger in Plain Sight by Burt Weissbourd. Copyright 2020 by Burt Weissbourd. Reproduced with permission from Burt Weissbourd. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Jun 242020
 

The Pinebox Vendetta by Jeff Bond Banner

 

 

The Pinebox Vendetta

by Jeff Bond

on Tour May 1 – June 30, 2020

Synopsis:

The Pinebox Vendetta by Jeff Bond

From the author of The Winner Maker and Blackquest 40 comes The Pinebox Vendetta: a genre-bending thriller that combines a love story, cold-case murder mystery, and political blood feud — told over the course of a single breathless weekend.

The Gallaghers and Pruitts have dominated the American political landscape dating back to Revolutionary times. The Yale University class of 1996 had one of each, and as the twenty-year reunion approaches, the families are on a collision course.

Owen Gallagher is coasting to the Democratic nomination for president.

Rock Pruitt — the brash maverick whose career was derailed two decades ago by his association to a tragic death — is back, ready to reclaim the mantle of clan leader.

And fatefully in between lies Samantha Lessing. Sam arrives at reunion weekend lugging a rotten marriage, dumb hope, and a portable audio recorder she’ll use for a public radio-style documentary on the Pruitt-Gallagher rivalry — widely known as the pinebox vendetta.

What Sam uncovers will thrust her into the middle of the ancient feud, upending presidential politics and changing the trajectory of one clan forever.

The Pinebox Vendetta is the first entry in the Pruitt-Gallagher saga: a series that promises cutthroat plots, power grabs, and unforgettable characters stretched to their very limits by the same ideological forces that roil America today.

MY THOUGHTS/REVIEW

4 Stars

Caveat: Under normal circumstances, I would have read this book in a matter of days, it was that good. However, it took me much longer because my focus has been off due to the pandemic, which has affected my reading time.

Are you like me, that when you read a book by an author for the first time and totally enjoyed it, that you feel like you hit the jackpot? And then to find out that he writes different genres, which I saw on another blog that I follow, (http://bookswithbircky.blogspot.com/2020/05/review-pinebox-vendetta.html), you know you want to get your hands on all his books that you missed!

This book had it all!! A family feud between 2 families of great political prominence that has been traced back to Revolutionary times, a cold case murder, cover ups, extremely flawed characters that you will despise, suspense, friendships, personal dynamics, corruption, and one person’s persistence of wanting to find the truth.

It’s Yale’s reunion weekend and Samantha Lessing, and her daughter Joss will be attending. Sam is looking forward to seeing old friends but also thinking of what could have been. She also has an ulterior motive and that is making a documentary about The Pinebox Vendetta between the Pruitts and Gallaghers. Rock Pruitt and Jamie Gallagher were part of that class and the feud waged on. But one of them would be missing from the event, Sam’s friend, Jamie as he died while doing missionary work. But the class of ’96 will be shocked at what happens during this reuniting.

I enjoy a book whereas I feel that I am “there” and the author did an amazing job with his words and descriptions that lead me into the turmoil of the story and settings. The characters he created were so dysfunctional that I felt total contempt for, except for 14-year-old Joss. I can’t remember a book, that I have read, that created those emotions for the majority of the cast, which in my opinion, the author did an exceptional job in bringing them into existence. The suspense took hold and didn’t let go.

Did Sam find the truth behind The Pinebox Vendetta? Was she able to solve the cold case murder that took place during her time as a student at Yale? Was the outcome the same as her preconceived thoughts? Or was she as floored as I was at the conclusion of this gathering?

A gripping, exciting, and at the same time, infuriating read that I definitely recommend!

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller
Published by: Jeff Bond Books
Publication Date: February 19th 2020
Number of Pages: 264
ISBN: 1732255253 (ISBN13: 9781732255258)
Series: Pruitt-Gallagher Saga, #1
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

1

Jamie Gallagher stood beside the pirate at the skiff’s rail, the African sea thick on his skin. Neither man could see the other in the moonless night, but Jamie smelled the khat the Somali never stopped chewing—sweetly sharp, a scent that made Jamie feel part cleansed and part crazed.

“The money is ready,” said the pirate named Abdi. “My men have packed the briefcase.”

Wanaagsan.” Jamie ducked his head in gratitude. “You believe the general will accept a briefcase?”

“This is the usual way, yes. It will be checked for explosives with X-ray and IMS swabs.”

“Of course.”

“Also, the general will insist on verifying the amount before the release occurs.”

“His men are going to count ten million dollars?” Jamie asked.

The Somali spat khat leaves into the sea. “He has machines. The machines check by weight.”

Jamie exhaled, pushing his own breath into the hot, still air. The money would weigh out.

The money wasn’t the trick.

Abdi continued, “Once the amount is verified, the general will call his people in the jungle by satphone, and they will free your journalist.”

“Immediately? I’ll need confirmation from HD before we leave the yacht.”

“That is the arrangement.”

Jamie mopped his brow. Acting wasn’t his strength, and he hoped his insistence on this procedural point was convincing. In fact, Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) knew nothing about tomorrow. There would be no representative at the hand-off spot, and the French journalist—whose reporting on minority suffrage truly had opened the world’s eyes—would not be freed.

This was a regret. But Jamie Gallagher had lived with worse.

He said, “I’ll be X-rayed, too?”

“Yes.”

“Strip-searched?”

“At a minimum. You should expect a body cavity search.”

“Fine.” In his years advocating for peace and public health around sub-Saharan Africa, Jamie had had his cheeks probed, his neck magnetically combed, and the arches of his feet flayed. “I suppose the general’s in no position to be trusting.”

The pirate took a while to respond. Was he eyeing Jamie in the dark? Signaling to his men back on the mothership? Jamie’s statement had been obvious and shouldn’t have invoked offense.

Since joining the pirates at Merca, a white beach paradise down the coast from Mogadishu, Jamie had detected hostility—even after paying their exorbitant convoy fee. Abdi himself had been civil enough, but his three young lieutenants, after pointedly using their left hands to shake Jamie’s, had glared at him with undisguised contempt.

He understood this. A westerner waltzes onto their ship with unimaginable stores of cash—cash that, in a matter of hours, will bring them into contact with the most wanted war criminal on the planet. Naturally, they resented him.

He was what, five years older than them? With his bandanna and dishwater-blond hair?

Abdi said, “This is a great risk for us. We have earned the general’s esteem. We do not wish to squander it.”

Jamie heard the clench in the man’s jaw. “I assure you, I will comply with every procedure he or you tell me to follow.”

General Mahad and these Somali pirates fought on the same side of many issues. Both wanted the ruling Muslims out of Puntland. They didn’t care that the Muslims had remade the conflict-ravaged region into a prosperous enclave, introducing compulsory education and a foodstuff-based living wage.

For the pirates, the problem was their strict, Islam-centric brand of law and order, which had made the coastal waters harder to pillage.

General Mahad’s beef was simple: the Muslims had replaced him in power.

He’d ruled Puntland for a decade, enriching himself and his cronies using any resource available—khat, guns, people. When word of his atrocities leaked, international pressure mounted for a free election. The general agreed after a period of stonewalling, believing he could manipulate the results. When Al Jama-ah won anyway, the general stole all he could in the weeks before yielding control.

According to a local guide Jamie trusted, the general toured polling stations his last day with a machete, taking three fingers from each precinct leader.

“If I lose next time,” he told them, “you lose the rest.”

Though he retained a few loyalist strongholds like the one holding the French journalist, General Mahad himself lived on a yacht, moving constantly to evade capture. The Hague had convicted him last year in absentia.

Now Jamie asked, “Who’ll be coming aboard with me?”

“Me and Josef,” Abdi said. “We are known to the general.”

“Will you be armed?”

“No. He will search us, too.”

Jamie shuffled in place, the skiff feeling suddenly unsteady beneath him. “I—er, I hope it’ll be okay that I bring a gift. Akpeteshie. I was told it is the general’s favorite liquor?”

The pirate groaned pleasurably. “Akpeteshie, yes.”

“I thought we might share a drink as a token of good faith.”

“The bottle is factory-sealed?”

“Yes.”

“The general will like this. The general believes in courtesy.”

Several retorts came to mind at the ludicrous idea this butcher had any claim on civility, but Jamie swallowed them. He removed a pair of night-vision goggles from his rucksack. Before looking himself, he offered them to Abdi. Abdi waved them off as though the technology were frivolous.

Jamie scanned the horizon, right to left, left to right. The skiff’s sway seemed to increase. The eye cups stuck to his sweaty forehead.

The smell of khat, which hadn’t bothered him before, grated now, like sugar grit needling into his nose and eardrums. He felt the pressure of this place keenly. Every actor—man, woman, or child—who entered this stretch of ocean would be girded to fight. They must be. Choice never came into it.

A shape appeared on the horizon. Jamie thumbed his focus wheel until red blurs resolved to running lights.

“The general,” Abdi said.

Adrenaline jolted through Jamie. Here was a ghost vessel—a vessel many militaries of the world would board on sight, and one the United States wouldn’t think twice about blasting to smithereens with a drone strike.

The yacht grew larger in the greenish display. Jamie screwed on a bulky magnifier lens and was able to make out guards on the gunwale, ambling, AK-47s on their shoulders. The yacht was perhaps twenty meters. Several figures were sprawled out on deck, sleeping in the open for the heat.

Jamie raised the goggles, thinking to find the general on the bridge. The cockpit windows were smoked—opaque from outside and surely bulletproof.

He panned back down. The craft made a leeward turn, and he glimpsed new figures at the base of the pilothouse. These were prone like the others but smaller—a dozen in a line, little pulled-apart commas. Most of them were still, but one squirmed restlessly.

Children.

Jamie’s stomach shrank to a cold fist.

#

He barely slept. Long after rowing back to the mothership and helping Abdi loosely tie up the skiff, and bedding down in the holds beside crates of ammunition and rocket-propelled grenades, Jamie lay awake thinking of those children.

He’d known the general had kids, twenty or thirty that he acknowledged. And it shouldn’t have been surprising such a monster would keep family members near, in the cross-hairs of danger. Still, the concrete knowledge of these innocents shook Jamie. His moral clarity waned, like a tower of blocks losing its crosspiece.

How will the general’s children move on? What if they fall into the arms of the pirates or the next warlord up?

From here, it was no leap at all to obsess about the French journalist. When the exchange was revealed as phony, would the general’s men execute her on the spot? They would blame her, despite the fact that she had played no role whatsoever in the ruse.

Renée Auteuil had been raised by a jobless father in Roubaix, the post-industrial husk of a city. She’d worked sixty-hour weeks as a line cook to support them. She’d defied dictators on three continents to achieve the eminence and audience that had prompted General Mahad to snatch her last spring.

Now Jamie was putting her in jeopardy, and for what?

So that he could feel better about himself? So he could feel absolved?

Jamie had chosen Puntland precisely because it was neutral territory in the feud between his family, the Gallaghers, and their conservative arch-enemies, the Pruitts.

The two clans had been fighting for nearly three centuries—and while there was hardly a facet of American political, corporate, or philanthropic life their battles hadn’t touched, neither family had much connection to Puntland. As president, Jonathan Pruitt hadn’t carried out any significant dealings with the territory during his term. (His only term, thankfully.) The Gallaghers facilitated relief missions all over Africa, but nothing specially in Puntland.

Jamie’s action tomorrow wouldn’t be interpreted as having grown out of the feud, or impacted the feud, or given the Gallaghers some edge in the next midterm elections.

This was separate. This was good, a thing nobody could spin or debate.

That had been the plan, at least.

Now doubts roared in Jamie’s mind. He dug at the roots of his hair, flopping about the damp, creaking boards. The Somalis snored in the adjacent room. Their arsenal reeked of grease and sulfur. Jamie crunched his eyes and pulled his rucksack, which he’d been toting around since freshman year at Yale, down over his head.

The thoughts still came, and the guilt.

His emotions spiraled and sickened and fought, and finally came to a head. He growled, disgusted by himself, then tore through his rucksack for the shoe that contained, wedged up in the toes, a newsprint photo of a mass grave discovered in northeast Puntland.

By penlight, he stared at the image. He seared it into his brain. The open trench of dusted gray bodies. The overlapping femurs. The fleshless faces.

The photo was merely one of dozens. Jamie knew the general was well-positioned to continue the slaughter once the collective international eye moved along.

“That’s it,” he whispered aloud. “Not one more thought.”

#

The meeting was to take place twenty minutes after sunrise. Jamie woke, having finally fallen asleep around four a.m., to the Somalis chatting in their native tongue over pieces of flatbread. He dragged himself aboveboard, feeling at once languid and jittery.

“Bread?” Abdi offered, tearing a piece from a slab.

“Thanks, no.” Jamie reached into his rucksack instead for a piece of biltong, the wildebeest jerky he’d grown fond of. “Has the general been about?”

“Yes, Josef saw him. The hat.” Abdi made a sifting gesture above his head to indicate the general’s beret.

The day was already scorching, the sky’s blue brilliance broken only by the boiling disk of the sun. The general’s yacht rocked softly in the west, appearing quite large now, its bow sleek and spear-like.

“They’re within gun range,” Jamie observed.

“Oh yes. We are in their scopes.”

As if to prove the point, Abdi raised a hand in the yacht’s direction and laughed. Nobody joined him.

The pirate named Josef, taller and broader in the chest than Abdi, loaded the ten-million-dollar briefcase into the first of three skiffs. Jamie stepped in after, fitting his rucksack into the hull—careful of the Akpeteshie inside—and tying back his hair.

Abdi took a minute instructing the two men staying back on the mothership. Was he arranging a distress signal? Telling them what to do if shots were fired?

Coordinating a double-cross?

There was no use worrying. Jamie had placed himself between dangerous people, but dangerous people performed the same calculations benign ones did. The pirates would keep up their end so long as the benefits remained clear: not only cash, but stronger ties with the general and the establishment of a new back-channel to the powerful Gallaghers.

The skiff loaded, Adbi yanked the outboard motor’s cord. The engine sputtered alive and settled to a rumbling purr. Josef untied them, flashing a grim thumbs-up to the men staying behind.

They charted a course for the general’s yacht. The sea felt choppier on the smaller craft, which didn’t bother Jamie—a lifelong boater and varsity swimmer in college—but did compel him to pull the rucksack protectively into his lap. If the Akpeteshie somehow ruptured against the hull, the mission would be lost.

As they neared the general’s yacht, the faces of his guards became visible—wary, textured faces. The carry-straps of AK-47s sawed their necks.

Abdi cut the motor and drifted in.

A section of railing was unclipped, and a ramp extended from the yacht’s stern. After helping Josef tie up, Jamie slipped the rucksack onto his back and boarded. The Somalis trailed him with the briefcase.

Halkan, ku siin!” said one of the general’s men.

Abdi shook his head forcefully at the request—to hand over the briefcase. The guards backpedaled, their formation hemming Jamie and the pirates into a corner of the aft deck. Abdi and Josef walked with their bodies shielding the case as if it contained plutonium.

With these uneasy field positions established, the general’s men conferred briefly and parted to form an aisle to the pilothouse. General Mahad emerged.

The general wore his full dress uniform: navy blue, epaulets, ribboned medals. He lumbered forward with a mild limp, said to have originated during the Simba rebellion of 1964.

He raised his chin to Abdi, then spoke to Jamie. “Welcome to the one and true seat of Puntland, Mr. Gallagher.”

Jamie felt the man’s deep, scarred voice in his bowels. “That’s none of my concern. I’m here for Renée.”

The general smiled, his lips fat and sly. “How fortunate she is. You are the white knight, eh? Sir Jamie?”

The characterization stung, but Jamie pushed on. “I’ve been in touch with Humanitarian Dialogue—their helicopter is ready. Give me a latitude and longitude for the exchange and let’s get this over.”

“Your friends have the money?”

Every eye on the yacht turned to Abdi, whose knuckles tightened on the briefcase handle.

“Ten million,” Jamie said. “Count it if you like.”

The general crooked a finger at one of his men, who disappeared to the pilothouse. The man returned with a machine resembling a fax with bill-sized trays.

Abdi stepped forward with the briefcase. The man with the counting machine passed a handheld X-ray scanner around the case and swabbed a cloth along each edge.

He started for the pilothouse with the cloth, likely to perform a residue test for explosives, but the general stopped him. Then gestured for Abdi to go ahead.

When Abdi undid the clasp, the lip snapped open—ten million was a squeeze, even with an oversize case—and a few packets spilled out.

The counting began.

Now Jamie reached into his rucksack for the Akpeteshie.

“I’ve heard tell around campfires,” he began, gathering himself, “that you enjoy a certain Ghanaian beverage.”

The general grinned when he saw the bottle, squat, the neck’s glass bowed in the distinctive shape of a baobab tree.

“This is true.”

“Shall we drink together?” Jamie said. “It’s early, but I find a day started well nearly always ends well.”

The general palmed his jaw. There was a risk he would set the gift aside, but Jamie was counting on this subtle challenge to his manhood—in front of his crew, in front of Abdi and Josef. People like the general didn’t back down from such dares.

Jamie thought of his old classmate Rock Pruitt who’d downed a fifth of whiskey disproving a frat brother’s claim that prep-schoolers only drank martinis and smoked reefer.

“I would quite enjoy that,” the general said. “After the bottle is checked.”

Jamie raised a shoulder, feigning indifference as two men seized the Akpeteshie and held it sideways up to the sun, testing its feel in their hands, poking fingernails along the dripped-wax seal.

They would find nothing. Jamie’s sister Charlotte Gallagher, founder of internet-of-things giant SmartWidget and the eighteenth-richest person in the world, owned 45 percent of the local distillery that produced Akpeteshie. She had allowed Jamie to follow this lone bottle through the factory. At the final step, just before corking, he’d poured out 150 milliliters of liquor and replaced it with an equal amount of king cobra venom.

For fifteen months, Jamie had been inoculating himself with increasingly larger doses of the venom. He had started, after discussing the strategy at length with a Sudanese shaman, with a pinprick diluted in a pint of water. Last week, he had managed eight milliliters of venom—the amount a shot from the spiked Akpeteshie would deliver, depending on the pour—and suffered only dizziness, blurred vision, and severe cottonmouth.

When his men were satisfied the bottle was unaltered, the general took a pair of tumblers from the yacht’s fiberglass sideboard.

Tumblers, not shot glasses. Eight ounces at least.

“To finding a middle, eh?” The general poured each tumbler to the brim. “Two parties can start from opposite ends and, with good sense, find a common understanding.”

Jamie’s teeth pulverized each other in the back of his mouth. He’d always found the rhetoric of compromise disingenuous, whether it came from television pundits or the North Carolina Gallaghers exhorting the clan to give ground at the fringes of the abortion debate.

To hear it from the mouth of a man like Mahad? Revolting.

To the middle,” he spat.

He raised the tumbler to his lips. Calculations whipped around his brain. Eight ounces divided by one point five…

Equaled six times the amount of venom his body had previously endured.

The liquid was amber, almost orange. As the glass tilted, Jamie imagined he saw currents of venom slithering among the palm wine. His fingers trembled. Some sloshed over the side, but not nearly enough.

In his periphery, Jamie became aware of Abdi and Josef arguing with the general’s men. Abdi slapped one empty well of the briefcase. The general’s men shouted. More rushed to the deck from below board.

The general balked at Jamie’s tone. “You do not like my toast. That is your right. You are the guest, so make your own.” He smirked about. “We are democratic here, aren’t we?”

Jamie ignored the low hoots. “To justice.” He regripped his tumbler. “To justice, and fair treatment for all living things.”

The general guffawed, big and toothy. “For ten million, yes. Why in hell not?”

Their eyes locked over the tumblers’ rims. Jamie perceived something in the man’s look, some hustler’s instinct, and knew if he faltered now—even for a moment—the trap would be blown.

Jamie stared into the lethal brew, waited for bright madness to rise, and drank. The Akpeteshie burned his throat. His jaw felt weak and daggers pressed into his eardrums from inside. Still, he kept his head tipped back and drank it all.

The general and several of his men goggled at the feat. When their eyes turned to him, the war criminal downed his, too.

“…no, the release! ” Jamie heard behind him. “No money before release!”

“We will keep it.”

“No, us! We will hold the money.”

A guard wearing ripped denim leveled his rifle at Abdi. Josef stepped forward to push aside the muzzle. Another guard drove the butt of his rifle into Josef’s back, crumpling the pirate.

Jamie didn’t know how long he and the general had. During his inoculation, the symptoms would begin in about a minute, but he’d never ingested this large a dose.

His heartrate zoomed and breath pumped through his chest like air from a bellows—still, this could be the effects of anticipation.

“So, um…the release,” he said, feeling a vague duty toward Abdi. “If you…so I’ll call HD and be sure Renée, er…s’all okay with the money…”

Words were deserting him. The scuffle on deck was intensifying. Josef had recovered to pounce on the man in denim. Abdi was buried in a furious tangle of fists and churning hips.

Jamie didn’t understand the fight. Let them have the money—who cared?

He began to feel disconnected from his body, Abdi and Josef blending into other people he’d known in life, Gallaghers and Pruitts, senators and reporters, grad students and business titans, all fighting without reason, finding joy and enemies, grinding their life into the larger sausage.

The general unleashed a thunderous whistle and raised his hand for calm. The struggle paused. Every eye turned his way. He began to lower his hand but suddenly couldn’t.

His arm convulsed and became some bucking stick-animal beyond his control. His fingers twitched unnaturally. He grasped his throat, staggering back. Froth bubbled in his nostrils.

The man who’d retrieved the money scale from the pilothouse pointed at Jamie.

“What is this?”

Jamie tried answering, but his tongue would not obey, dead and heavy in his mouth. Pain gored his brain. Sweat screamed from his pores, a thousand beads altogether.

This wasn’t the outcome Jamie had wanted, but neither was it wholly unexpected. He thought now of life’s best moments. In Burundi, feeling that boy’s skeletal hand squeeze as he sucked a tab of enriched peanut butter. On the vineyard, fourteen years old, swinging his cousins round and round in celebration after his mother—the senior senator from Connecticut and Democratic National Committee chairperson—had succeeded in her long-shot campaign to retake majority control of the Senate.

Above all, though, he remembered kissing Sam. Seniors on their last night at Yale, about to go conquer the world, standing together in an entryway. Emotions spiked to the heavens. Their mouths came together in the gentlest, deepest touch he’d known before or since.

Samantha Lessing. God, she was it. The life he missed.

Half the general’s men were swarming the Somali pirates while the other half moved on Jamie. There was a gap between the two, but it was closing.

Jamie willed his tongue back into service.

“This was right,” he croaked. “Here, today. This was not a waste.”

And he believed this—dashing across the deck through grasping hands, over the gunwale, into the black ocean.

TEN YEARS LATER

2

Sam slipped out of the WNYC studios at four thirty, waving off cheers of “Have fun!” and “Take me with you!”, hurrying through the lobby, jogging a short block to catch the uptown C. She needed to pick up a daughter and possibly husband in Brooklyn, then be back in Manhattan for the 5:41 p.m. train to New Haven. Reunion check-in closed at eight. If the train arrived on time, she’d make it easy.

If not? If any of the dizzying array of pitfalls inherent in teenagers and public transit popped up? Sam guessed they were sleeping on the street.

Half an hour later, she hiked three flights of stairs with key at the ready. The apartment was unlocked.

“Joss?” she called. “You are packed, yes?”

Her daughter’s door was closed, but guitar chords thwanged through. Sam stepped around French bread pizza and a stack of indie music magazines to pound twice.

“Not telling you what to wear,” she yelled, “but I suggest a dress or dress-like garment for Saturday night.”

The music inside dulled, indicating Sam had been heard. The warning bell had been sounded. She found an oversize duffel bag in the hall closet and tossed in her stuff: toiletries, three-odd outfits for the weekend, Zoom audio recorder.

About outfits: Sam both cared and didn’t care. She was forty-three. Her classmates were forty-three, give or take. Nobody should go rocking a prom dress, but they weren’t dead yet either. She brought dark-red sleeveless, plus yellow floral in case of glorious weather.

“Leaving twelve minutes!” she said through Joss’s door. “Zero wiggle situation.”

Tight timelines didn’t bother Sam—the studio commonly dropped post-production on her for shows that were airing in mere hours. Packing now, she thought pleasurably of the friends she’d see at the reunion. Laurel in from San Francisco. Jen Pereido. Naomi, even though she was still recovering from the birth of her fourth(!) child.

From her own daughter’s room came a squeal, streaked with joy. The noise pinched Sam’s heart. Her husband Abe was in there—they’d probably harmonized on some new melody. Which was awesome. Truly. Except that it was 4:48.

She opened the door. “I hate to be Yoko, but the time’s come to break up. Leaving in five minutes.”

Fourteen-year-old Joss looked up from fingering the neck of her guitar, still grinning. Abe sat cross-legged on the floor with the Yamaha across his knees, a kind of strung-out, hipster Dalai Lama. Both appeared stumped.

Sam said, “Yale? My alma mater, where you’ve been dying to go for months?”

Joss’s grin vanished. “Dad said you were leaving whenever! Isn’t it like an all-weekend thing? Today’s only Thursday.”

“Yes, but in order to check in Thursday night, as I hope to,” Sam said, patiently as she could, “we need to arrive on campus by eight o’clock.”

“That’s ridiculous, I’ve barely even looked at clothes.”

“Then look quickly. I’m winging it myself.”

Joss shot upright, dropping her guitar with a clang against the bed. “I’m not going to Yale on, like, zero notice. You can’t just spring this on me.”

“I sprung no thing on no body. We discussed timing last night, and this afternoon I sent your father four texts—every hour, on the hour—reminding him.”

“But those go to his phone,” Joss said. “Remember, I don’t have one? Because you won’t let me?”

Sam stretched one arm laboriously toward the ceiling, focusing on good breaths. Apparently, they were skimming right over Abe’s not passing along the messages. His long-running campaign to absolve himself of any and all responsibility—waged by a steady pattern of never giving a crap for anyone but himself—had succeeded at last.

“Look, we can argue about phones again or we can try to make this train. Otherwise, we basically miss half the reunion. We might as well skip.”

This genuinely spooked Joss. Her face hollowed even more deeply than usual. (She’d grown three inches this year, causing Sam to marvel at this moody, suddenly supermodel whose laundry she washed every week.) They’d been talking about the reunion forever, what architecture couldn’t be missed, whether student activists would be around for Joss to connect with.

Sam hated to use fear, that blunt-force instrument of the parenting arsenal, but she knew a reasoned argument would produce nothing but gridlock.

Joss started packing.

Abe, who’d disappeared to the bathroom, emerged now with drawstrings dangling from his sweats. He nodded to a pair of shiny heels in Sam’s duffel.

“Somebody’s dressing to impress.”

“I haven’t seen these people in twenty years,” she said. “I’m erring on the side of adequate.”

Her husband snorted, seeming to take the comment personally. Twelve years older than Sam, he’d been an already-aging rocker when she had met him in her late twenties. Between drugs and alcohol, and having nowhere in particular to be for the last twenty years—no office or classroom mores to adhere to—Abe had aged poorly. His leatherette skin belonged to a person decades older, and beige hair had fled the top of his head for his ears and nostrils.

“You’re more than welcome to join,” Sam said, stuffing in a toothbrush. “But we are leaving mucho rapido, so…”

He ambled a step away, picked up Joss’s guitar and set it in its case.

She heaved the duffel’s halves together to make the zipper zip. “You’re passing, correct? I just want to confirm with a verbal yes or no answer.”

Sam knew with four hundred percent certainty that some future argument would hinge on this point—whether or not Abe had been invited. They would be sniping back and forth about Yale, how phony or not phony her friends were, what first-world problems they were finding themselves crippled by, and he would break out his trump card.

You were embarrassed. You didn’t want me there, dragging you down.

And here it came, earlier than expected.

“You don’t have to faux-invite me,” Abe said. “You prefer to go alone. Oh, you’ll tolerate Joss. Joss is an acceptable accessory. Perfectly cool, I get it. I won’t ruin your triumphant return.”

Sam again focused on respiration.

In, out. In, out.

“This is a real invitation,” she said. “Just like the one I offered in April, and in May. You are absolutely welcome at my reunion. Come. Please. Joss would love having you there. Maybe you could jam with Thom—he’s supposed to be playing Toad’s.”

As convincingly as Sam delivered these words, her husband was right. The invitation wasn’t real. Abe thought Thom’s music was derivative and had zero interest in strumming out tired chords while Activist Boy preened at the mic for the ladies. If Abe went, he would grump and sulk and criticize, and ruin the whole thing.

“Pass,” Abe said. “Thom can play ‘Better Man’ solo. That is where he opens, isn’t it? Pearl Jam? Or is it the first encore?”

Sam chuckled with relief. Complicity with ragging on her own friends? Fine. Fine, she’d do it—so long as he stayed home.

Their daughter’s voice came through the wall, “What’s the formality situation for Saturday night dinner?”

“Less stuffy than a cotillion,” Sam called back, “but expect mosh-pitting to be frowned upon.”

As she waited on her daughter, Sam kept tabs on a few text conversations by phone. People were arriving into New Haven and wondering where Demery’s had gone, or at the airport dreaming of hugs on the quad, or annoyed because they had to work tomorrow which royally sucked!

Sam grinned at this last but didn’t tap back a response. Abe was watching her, surely guessing what the rapid-fire chimes were about. For Sam to actively join in would risk an argument or, worse, a change of heart.

She didn’t think her husband was capable of attending the reunion for spite, enduring a rotten weekend just to play the killjoy. But why push him?

Finally, Joss emerged. She had changed into a clingy ankle-length skirt and carried a backpack.

“Thank you for hurrying,” Sam said. “Excited?”

Joss rolled her eyes but couldn’t completely suppress a smile. Sam clutched her hand. After double-checking the cat dish had food, she slipped on her jacket and pulled her cell charger out of the wall, jamming it into the side of her bag.

Abe tilted his head. “Why’re you taking the Zoom?”

Shoot. Sam inwardly punched her brain for not packing last night.

“Ah…I’m kicking around this audio doc. Just ideas. Might record some clips.”

“Topic?”

She hated how he asked, all aggressive and pedantic.

“I doubt I’ll have time.” She considered lying outright. Joss was watching, though, and the idea of cowering in front of her daughter—who was learning how to relate to others and respond to adversity and be an assertive female—repulsed her. “It’s about pinebox. How it affected our class, et cetera. Of course the vendetta’s been done—this would try to get at it through the lens of our class at Yale. We had one Pruitt, one Gallagher, that death freshman year. Kind of the whole feud in miniature.”

She shrugged, pretending to be flip, and started for the door. It was 4:32.

Abe asked, “Is Rock Pruitt going to the reunion?”

“Dunno,” Sam said. “We didn’t exactly run in the same circles.”

“Really? That seems disingenuous given you were bosom buddies there with the immortal Jamie Gallagher.”

Sam felt her chest constrict. Let it go, she told herself. Let it go like Elsa. Turn yourself to ice, and everything slides right off.

Except she couldn’t.

“Jamie despised Rock. You could walk the earth and never find two people with more diametrically-opposed worldviews than Rock and Jamie.”

Abe huffed. “Those beautiful people and their worldviews. What rarefied air you’ll be breathing again.”

Sam opened her mouth hotly to speak. At the last moment, she stopped and finished zipping her bag instead. She stood tall-shouldered, smiled, and invited Joss to lead the way out.

“The audio doc does sound right out of This American Life,” said Abe, evidently unsatisfied with the fight’s resolution. “Who produces that? Must be one of those Yale ninety-sixers working there you could pitch.”

She felt like asking how he could possibly believe in mythical Ivy League connections after this life of theirs: Sam’s twelve years bouncing around the periphery of pseudo-academic film, hustling after grants, performing peon tasks in job after job to bulk up a CV so it could sit on her Patreon page getting a half-dozen page views per month. She had finally risen to prominence at WNYC but almost in spite of Yale, which carried significant prima donna baggage in the field.

Again, though, Sam restrained herself in front of Joss.

“Hey, quick Zoom question,” she said. “You think forty-eight/twenty-four-bit, or forty-four/sixteen is better? It’ll be mostly outdoor clips.”

Abe tipped his balding head left, then right. “Forty-eight. File sizes won’t be that different, and at sixteen, the Zoom gets super noisy.”

Sam crinkled her nose. “Yeah. Yeah, I guess that’s right. Thanks.”

Mother and daughter both pecked Abe goodbye and bounded off to catch a train.

Joss seemed to study Sam down the stairs, and she wondered momentarily if her ruse had failed—if Joss understood that Mom had forgotten more about sampling rates than Dad had ever known—and had only made this final query to escape the apartment on a positive note.

Other fictions existed between the couple. That Abe respected her managerial position at WNYC. That she believed his vow to start playing shows again—that those freelance audio-tech Fiverr gigs he’d parlayed fairly successfully into income were just temporary and not his professional endgame. That reuniting each night for dinner, they asked about the other’s day with anything like genuine interest.

Sometimes Joss would make comments indicating she knew. “Gee, Dad, bitter much?” or, “I’d rather not be involved in this,” swirling her hand as though over a cesspool. Other times, she seemed oblivious, just a regular kid consumed by regular kid stuff.

Either possibility broke Sam’s heart.

***

Excerpt from The Pinebox Vendetta by Jeff Bond. Copyright 2020 by Jeff Bond. Reproduced with permission from Jeff Bond. All rights reserved.

 

Author Bio:

Jeff Bond

Jeff Bond is a Kansas native and graduate of Yale University. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Michigan, and belongs to the International Thriller Writers Association.

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