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|Posted on February 18, 2014 at 8:40 PM||comments (0)|
CLEAR AND CONVINCING EVIDENCE
by Barbara Townsend
Bones have been discovered in the art studio kiln at Wyoming's Colter State College. Campus police dismiss the discovery as a prank but Lariat reporter Jennifer Roby isn't convinced. Haunted by memories of her mother, guided by the experienced voices of her father and grandfather, and hampered by just about everyone on campus, she continues to look into the tasteless joke for her college newspaper article. Disappearing students and freak accidents add to her determination to prove that there is more to the story -- then the local coroner confirms Jenn's suspicions about the bones. An impending visit from the President of the United States makes it that much more difficult to get the answers she needs. She must find someone who will believe her as she puts the pieces together, she needs to work quickly before the paper is shut down in an effort to silence her, and she has to make sure she doesn't become the next victim in this conspiracy and cover-up. How high up on the college administrative ladder will Jenn have to go in order to expose a killer?
'In these pages, you will meet gutsy Wyoming people you will admire and enjoy spending time with. But watch out! You will also encounter some despicable folks you can’t turn your back on. Nor will you want to. The murder on the mythical campus engrosses the reader from the opening page until the end as timeless themes of greed and power compete with integrity and honor. I only hope that this will not be the last Jennifer Roby mystery we see from the author.' ~ Marjane Ambler, Yellowstone Has Teeth, a memoir about living year round in the world's first national park.
'The only thing more fun than a Western cozy mystery is one set on a college campus, a small world where anything can happen. In Clear and Convincing Evidence, Barbara Townsend sends her savvy young heroine to solve a campus murder then ensnares the campus art community, campus police, and even the top administration. All this, with only the First Amendment, her dad and grandpa, and the spirit of Walter Cronkite to light her way.' ~ Julianne Couch, Traveling the Power Line
'Clear and Convincing Evidence by Barbara Townsend is a compelling and suspenseful read. It is a must for anyone interested in the integrity of information that is furnished to the public and the journalists that struggle to provide the truth.' ~ Susan Layman, South Pass City and the Sweetwater Mines
“You are so cranky when you’re blond.” Hannah laughed with caution, and hoped her teasing would lighten Jake’s dark mood. His natural blond roots overpowered his black dyed hair.
He was the class jokester, a self-effacing quip at the ready, but today his melancholy bordered on despair. His eyelids were puffy like he’d been crying. The stark difference concerned Hannah.
Jake said nothing. Instead, he focused on unbolting the door to the car kiln, an outdoor ceramics furnace the size of a walk-in closet. He pulled hard on the monkey wrench to break loose the bolt securing the door to the kiln’s exterior frame. The teeth slipped off the rounded head. A crescent of knuckle skin smeared across the abrasive surface. Jake clenched his fist and managed not to curse.
She held her breath as Jake groaned, cradling his scraped fist. His trembling hands couldn’t hide the chewed ebony-polished fingernails. She averted her eyes as the unofficial leader of Colter State College’s artistic world blinked back tears.
Jake gulped the chilling air before grabbing the wrench. The wind blew harder. Rotted leaves from last year swirled in chunky vortices in the courtyard’s corners behind the studio. A few snowflakes shot across the yard like tiny white darts; the points of ice stung Hannah’s face.
The winter-like winds raged strong in Colter, funneled by the Wind River Mountains to the west. Dark clouds from the fast-approaching series of snowstorms obscured the granite peaks that loomed beyond the campus treetops.
The storms also distracted Hannah’s fellow students. They had chattered more about the dirt and snow blowing horizontally past the studio’s massive windows than about the clay on their throwing wheels.
Earlier, in the middle of class, Professor Alexandra Redgrave had announced that the car kiln had been fired on Sunday and was now cool enough to unload. Who would volunteer to unload it? At the hesitant silence, Alex prodded. “Everyone has to take their turn.”
Hannah had said nothing; she unloaded the kiln last time. This time she wanted to make the clay on the throwing wheel submit to her will. Yet, every mound of clay she tried to coax into a bowl spun itself into a lop-sided globule. She recalled Alex’s caution on the first day of class: ‘Some days you just can’t do anything, and it’s best to quit for the day.’ Hannah sighed and raised her hand.
Across from Hannah’s wheel, Jake had been quiet and seemed particularly distracted. Every vase or bowl he threw ended up as a mangled clump. He volunteered.
“Tiffany, you too,” Alex said. Students in earshot of her command watched Tiffany’s reaction. She sat at the worktable at the far end of the room, away from the rows of throwing wheels. She looked away from Alex and continued her sketching.
Hannah silently cheered Alex’s pointed directive while she cleaned her wheel and slid her toolbox on the assigned shelf. Maintaining a ceramics studio entailed myriad chores. When Alex called for volunteers, Tiffany never offered or simply disappeared when expected to help.
“Oh.” Alex held up both hands to get the students’ attention. “I hate to tell you this, but Carmen reported problems with the car kiln.”
Those problems meant their work could be ruined. Students stopped to stare with apprehension at Alex. She had their full attention.
“Apparently the gas line had some sort of blockage. The temp didn’t get nearly as high as we needed. Remember, we wanted cone seven, around twenty-two hundred degrees. Carmen couldn’t tell what temp the kiln reached. It’s not likely we’ll get the stoneware we expected. There’s no telling what we’ll get.”
At the students’ groans and complaints she held up her hands, palms out, in acknowledgment. “I know, I know. I have pieces in the kiln too. The glaze may be dull, but we can refire them. Don’t despair. Some pieces may be just fine. I’ve already called maintenance to fix the gas line.”
Jake spun the last bolt from the door. He gripped the door’s edge and slowly tugged open the kiln. Hannah thought of it as a cabinet containing a giant drawer. It had no back or sides and slid on parallel rails. On the floor, removable posts supported a tower of shelves that held the pottery. She tensed for a possible collapse. If the shelves weren’t balanced, the fall would crunch artwork, ruining hours of effort.
With the drawer open, Jake and Hannah moved alongside to gaze at the ceramic pieces. She always enjoyed that first look: the surprise of unexpectedly beautiful art or the utter disappointment of a sagging or an exploded piece that destroyed its neighbors.
The top shelf displayed vases and bowls with dull finishes. The two students silently began to stack the pieces in their arms. The ceramics were still warm. The heat felt good against Hannah’s cold, stiff hands. She didn’t dare wear gloves for fear someone’s work would slip from her grasp and shatter on the ground.
She paused to hear the tiny ‘ting’ of the cooling and contracting pieces. A delicate melody emanated from the studio shelves. The small sound always lightened her heart. The pieces were not just inanimate objects for utility or aesthetics; they were alive and had a soul. ‘Life’s little pleasures,’ she told herself.
She and Jake made trip after trip into the studio, restacking the bowls and vases on the silt-smeared metal shelves. Her bowls had a matte finish. At least her dull pieces could be refired to the necessary higher temperature to attain the preferred coating.
“Is it unloaded?” The irritant in Hannah’s ceramic life walked toward the kiln, leaned against it to look inside, and seemed to pout with disappointment.
No, you little simp. Neither Hannah nor Jake answered. She recalled the first day of class when the uninspiring blob named Tiffany was quick to inform everyone about how her parents owned two successful art galleries, one in Denver, Colorado, and one in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. During the semester, she often spoke of the latest hot artist they represented. Within days of Tiffany’s initial pronouncement, Hannah and her classmates figured out that her parents’ talent had skipped a generation.
Tiffany moved in slow motion as she picked up two bowls. Every student was careful to not break another student’s piece, but Tiffany moved at a sloth’s pace to the studio.
If you move any slower, pigeons will land on your head.
“What is with all this ash on everything?” Hannah puffed on a couple bowls and waved the thin cloud away. “Have you ever seen anything like this?” She rubbed her fingers.
Jake grunted no. He stared at his gray-coated fingertips before wiping them on his jeans.
Each time Hannah and Jake cleared a shelf, Jake’s height and arm strength enabled him to remove it. Constructed of high alumina to withstand the intense heat, the shelves were heavy for their size. As they worked their way down, the wind set off billowing puffs as the ash coating thickened.
Two men, college maintenance men judging from their coveralls and toolbox, came around the corner of the studio.
“Alexandra Redgrave?” the taller man asked Hannah.
“No, sorry,” she replied, annoyed at being confused for a prof just because she was older than most students... and some profs.
Jake pointed with his chin toward the studio. The shorter man held the door open for Hannah and her armload of bowls. She smiled. “Thank you!”
Hannah returned to the kiln, shaking the cramp from her arm. She hefted one of Alex’s smaller pieces. The sculpted face was twice the size of hers and had no eyeballs, yet the eye sockets’ voids exuded life and intensity. She stared at the face and tried to put into words the intrigue it commanded. Alex was into heads and faces, carved busts on a massive scale, but the eyeless sculptures fascinated Hannah. She delivered the larger-than-life piece to her professor.
The last sculpture on the last shelf was a stylized white figurine decorated with spastic black stripes, another successful piece. Hannah’s interpretation of the sturdy sculpture was of a maiden wrapped in robe. She appeared to be praying to the heavens. The sculpture’s soft white coating contrasted sharply with the jagged black lines.
“Ooh, whose is this?” Hannah cried. She turned over the piece to see the initials of the artist scratched in its bottom. “T. A.”
“Miss Art Gallery,” Jake sneered.
“She has some talent,” Hannah said with envy. She brushed her finger along the black lines and wished she were this creative.
“That’s mine.” Tiffany materialized at Hannah’s elbow with her hand extended. Hannah thought about offering her a compliment in addition to the piece, but quietly passed the sculpture. Tiffany cradled it in the crook of her arm, grabbed another bowl off the shelf, and turned back to the studio.
Jake bent to lift the last shelf to expose the remaining pieces. He gasped as the support posts lurched at his touch then he struggled to keep the posts vertical. If they toppled, he couldn’t prevent crushing the pieces below. He reset his feet to regain his balance.
“Gimme a hand, will ya? Grab the post closest to you. Hurry! Some idiot used four to hold up this shelf. The whole thing wants to fall over.”
Hannah grabbed the post to hold it steady. She arched her neck to see the others. “Yup, some twit used one in each corner. Why is it so hard to remember three are more stable than four?” Hannah grabbed a teetering second post. “I’ve got the two that want to fall.”
Jake lifted the shelf with a slow, smooth motion.
Hannah set aside the two posts. “Finally, we can get these last pieces into the studio.” She blinked at the snowflakes pelting her face.
He froze. His wide eyes and motionless stance caught Hannah’s attention. She followed his gaze. The floor was rimmed with vases, bowls, and another of Alex’s faces. In the center lay pieces of a skeleton. A skull, pelvis, and a couple long bones were all that remained.
Hannah stared. She tried to remember if Alex had assigned any student to make such a piece or if any student made it for personal art. “Wow, these look like something you’d make. Is it yours?”
After a long pause, Jake’s voice choked from shock. “No.”
She thought the pieces looked strikingly realistic and reached in with both hands to retrieve the skull.
“Don’t touch it!”
At his shriek, she yanked back her hands. Her heart rate spiked.
“I’ll get Alex.” Jake staggered toward the studio, still carrying the shelf.
Alone at the kiln, Hannah leaned in for a closer inspection.
Little ash lay on the floor since the firestorm within the kiln during its firing had scattered most of it. A faint residue on the floor hinted of a small figure in the fetal position. The outline highlighted the gray bones. Two long bones pointed at the pelvis. A hole over an inch across gaped at the skull’s left temple. White teeth gleamed from the spread jawbones frozen in a silent scream.
Hannah’s breathing became ragged and high-pitched. Her thoughts froze as horror seized her brain. Her stomach convulsed. She ran to the trash barrel by the shed and vomited.
“Any thought on what this might be?” Campus Chief of Police Tom Bannister asked Hannah as she shivered beside Alex. All three stood in the shelter of the shed lined with electric kilns, protected from the increasing snowfall.
Hannah pressed into Alex’s side. Grateful for the comfort of the professor’s arm around her shoulders, she shook her head. “I don’t have a clue.”
“I can’t imagine exactly what it’s made of,” Alex said. “If it turns out it is made of clay, a good ceramic artist can make anything look authentic.”
The stocky policeman jotted on his notepad, and tugged the collar of his leather jacket up to his ears. He stroked his thick mustache as he stepped out from the shed’s protection and blinked as the flakes tapped his eyes. At the kiln, he studied the rough material of its sides. “Between this surface and this weather, it’ll be tough to get fingerprints,” he muttered.
He asked with a note of resignation, “Any chance the prints are less than ten years old?”
“None.” She shook her head. “People have been using these tools and touching the kiln for forty years and the artwork that came out earlier has already been handled by several students in the studio.”
The chief scratched his cheek as he studied the area. “Let me photograph the scene now before any more snow falls. I need the photos with the area as clean as possible.” He hunched forward, studying the slushy ground as he stepped toward his staff car parked beside the bungalow. The flashing lights reflected off the blowing flakes like a colorful disco ball.
A tall, slender woman in an ankle-length red wool coat rounded the bungalow’s corner and stopped short of bumping into the chief. Hannah watched as the woman grabbed one of his arms and gestured with the other. With the faintest movement, he flicked off her hand then gestured toward the kiln. She nodded then stepped tentatively to the open drawer, leaned over, braced her hands on her thighs and stared at the contents on the floor.
In a sudden movement, she tottered toward the chief. He gripped her arms, steadying her as she pressed a fist to her mouth. After a moment, she nodded and he turned back to the police car and lifted a large camera from a metal case.
She whipped out her cell phone and spoke into it with great gestures.
“You feeling better?”
Alex’s words snapped Hannah from her reverie of watching the woman. “Doing better, thanks.” Her embarrassment spiked because of her reaction to the contents. Hannah was older than the professor and had years of military experience. She should have handled the shock better. She ran her tongue over her teeth in another effort to rid them of the film of her breakfast’s reemergence then lifted her hand toward the kiln. “What do you think, Alex?”
The professor stared at the kiln as if contemplating its contents. After a huge sigh, she raised her hands as if in resolution. “It has to be hand constructed. That’s all it can be. The chief’ll confirm it. I’m going to see if he needs me to do anything else.” Alex patted Hannah’s shoulder and reached the chief as he adjusted the lens on the camera.
Hannah leaned against the shed wall and watched the woman in the red coat as she listened, nodding as if the other person could see her movements. Closing the phone with a snap, she spun on her heels, and held out a hand to stop the chief from snapping photographs. She pulled him away from Alex and stepped close to him as she spoke.
The chief’s face grew red. The woman shook a finger at him as vehemently as he shook his head.
She spun away from him and strode with a purpose toward Hannah. “I’m so sorry you experienced this upsetting prank. The chief said there’s nothing for you to worry about here.”
Hannah’s eyes narrowed at the abrupt pronouncement. Mistrust rose like the remnants of her breakfast.
Beyond the chief’s car, a vehicle idled forward. A magnetic sign stuck to the van’s side read Coroner.
CLEAR AND CONVINCING EVIDENCE
by Barbara Townsend
Available Saturday, February 22nd, 2014
in Print, Digital and Kindle/mobi formats.
|Posted on February 15, 2014 at 4:15 PM||comments (0)|
From The Chris Gallagher Files
by Tom Bryde
Detective Chris Gallagher catches his first case after the murder of his partner Vince. He arrives to find Pete Barnigan, an undercover drug cop, spattered all over the dining room wall. To make matters worse, his new, unannounced partner arrives on the scene. Dave Purvis is an unknown commodity to Gallagher, but makes sure Chris realises that he is not impressed by rank or reputation as he starts to work the case. As they retrace Pete's moves and talk to his contacts, more people associated to Pete also land on the Medical Examiner's table, including Pete's partner, and their handler is in the wind. Along with the twists and turns of the case, Gallagher has to deal with his new 'partner' putting the moves on his lady. The question that haunts Chris most during this case? Is he dealing with a cop killer or a killer cop?
She looked at the gun resting in her palm then slowly raised her gaze to look him in the eye. “It’s untraceable?”
JJ nodded. “That’s what was ordered.” He dug in his pocket. “This is the silencer. It just screws into the end of the barrel.”
“Have I ever let you down?”
“I know you never will.”
JJ held out his hand. A bag of powder was placed in it. “Sweet!”
“Don’t spend it all in one place.”
Pete raced down the stairs from the bedroom, his brow furrowed, his step determined. As he rounded the corner to the dining room, he stopped, his eyes narrowing. “What are you doing here?”
He took two steps closer to the table. “What do you want?”
“From you? Absolutely nothing.”
One muffled shot sounded. Pete crumpled to the floor.
“Nothing, that is, other than for you to mind your own fucking business.”
“Jesus, do I really want to go back to the damned job?” Detective Chris Gallagher stood in his shower allowing the hot water to massage his tense muscles. “Do I need that crap? Everyone will be staring at me when I’m not looking at them, whispering behind my back, afraid to make eye contact, not sure of what to say – a bunch of cats on eggshells, afraid of what might upset me. I’m the damned senior officer there, and I need all of them to have their heads in the game! We have a murder to investigate – the murder of another cop, for Christ sake. That has to be our priority. Vince is dead. His case is closed, so it’s time to move on.”
Not wanting to think of his partner anymore, he shut off the water and grabbed a towel, continuing his soliloquy. “I should stay here to help Becky. God knows she still can’t do a damned thing for herself. If she could have, Vince would never have been killed.” He considered the option for a moment, knowing it was a non-starter. “Richard would probably rubberstamp my leave pass for another couple weeks, despite the fact they’ve called me in early, but I can’t hide here forever. Besides, every time I look at Becky, I see Vince lying in that damned pool of blood.” He sighed, leaned closer to the mirror and began to shave. The thing is, I really like Becky. I don’t want to see her leave. She deserves a break – she has no place to go, she’s lost everything... I can’t very well turn her out, can I? If I did, I know Vince’s ghost would haunt me. He died trying to save her. I owe it to him to finish that assignment.
He shut off his razor and dropped it on the counter. The towel landed in a heap on the floor. Naked, he strode to his closet and grabbed some slacks from a hanger. “Crap! Get your shit together, Gallagher! There’s a murder to deal with. Richard expects me to lead the investigation. The guys will have to get over the fact that Vince won’t be working this case with us, or any other case.” He sat on the edge of the bed, swallowing back the lump in his throat. “I’m not supposed to be going back like this. This was absolutely not how it was to happen. It’s been a long time since I worked alone. Shit, Vince is gone.” He strolled across the room then slammed his fist against the dresser. “God damn it, he wasn’t supposed to go, and I don’t want to do this.”
The uniformed police officer lifted the yellow tape, allowing Chris into the crime scene. He ducked under then straightened. Before moving any closer, he paused, taking a deep breath. I don’t want to go in here. I really don’t want to. Images of Pete Barnigan flooded his memory – sturdy, boisterous, dedicated; the goofy grin on Pete’s face when he announced to everyone that he was going to be a dad now haunted Chris. He climbed the stairs. It’s another body, another vic… nothing more. He took a second deep breath, pursed his lips and held his eyes shut tight for a moment, his hand resting on the doorknob. Sweet Jesus, I don’t want to do this.
As he walked through the door of the house, he pulled his dark glasses from his face. He hated the stereotypical expectations of cops in movies, however the morning sun was bright and his eyes were tired from a restless night. The glasses provided the added benefit of allowing him to observe while not alerting the person in his sights of his interest. His badge was clipped to his belt, but it was hardly necessary. The uniforms nodded him through without looking at it.
A young, slender police officer at the door met him with a stony, determined expression. “He’s in the dining room, Chris.”
Chris nodded. “Is Richard here yet?”
“He just radioed. He should be here any minute now; likewise with Colleen and Doctor Throckmorton. I also heard that Wentz and Niles Cooper are on the way.” The uniform looked down at his shoes as he talked.
“What about the kid who found the body?”
“Ten year old boy, lives across the road, comes over to cut the grass whenever it needs to be done. I guess Rachel must have set it up when she started having problems with the pregnancy, especially because of Pete’s hours. The kid is back home with his folks. There’s a uniform over there with him in case he says anything you need to know about.”
“They got dogs out there already?” Chris looked through the window as he asked, but saw nothing.
“Yeah, plus the uniforms are already canvassing for you, and road blocks are set up, but…” He shrugged.
Chris nodded again. “Okay. Thanks.” He walked into the living room. The unmistakable stench of blood and decay, smells of death that were a significant factor of his job, assaulted his senses. Already he was looking for any sign of what might have happened in the house – a home in which Chris had enjoyed many a beer and a laugh. He stopped then returned to the door. “Hey, Frank, his service revolver and badge?”
The uniform turned back toward Chris. “We didn’t touch anything. We did notice, though, that his sidearm is still holstered. We left that for you to log into evidence. This is one of those files that we really don’t want to screw around with, you know?”
Chris smiled. “Yeah, I know.”
“Chris,” the uniform called out again as Chris reached the living room for the second time. “I just wanted to say, well, you know, I’m sorry…”
Chris raised his hand and pushed off the gesture of sympathy. “Yeah, I know.”
There appeared to be nothing disturbed in the living room. To anyone arriving at the front door, there would be no reason to suspect anything at all had happened in the quiet, quaint home. His gloved finger traced along the back of the couch. Pete was so damned proud when we moved this furniture in for him and Rachel. He fussed around like some old lady whenever we came here to watch a game, always worried about the glasses leaving rings on the damned table. It all came from Ikea, for god’s sake, but he treated it like it was Chippendale.
Chris walked around the corner to the dining room, the typical dated L-shaped living arrangement of so many homes in the neighborhood. He stopped short, his eyes locked on the body sprawled on the floor, and the crimson pool of blood dotted with shards of broken glass that surrounded it. It seemed straightforward enough. Pete had been standing in the dining room. A shot through the window hit him, blasting tissue from his body as it pierced, killing him almost instantly. The mahogany table and chairs separated victim from window. In the Rorschach spray of blood and brain matter that covered the wall, Chris easily spotted the evidence of a second shot that had been fired through the window. He made a mental note to point it out to Colleen when she came to work the scene.
Careful to touch nothing that might harbor a fingerprint or destroy evidence, Chris knelt beside the body. Constable Pete Barnigan was face down on the carpet, his cheek pressed into the once cream-colored fibres. His left eye, vacant and brown, was still open. His mouth was twisted as if he was mid-sentence when he was shot. That could be nerves, panic or fear as he lay dying. The position of his feet, the fact that the bullet had entered his head through his face… he was looking toward the window when he was shot. There’s no sign anyone was in the house with him – no knocked-over furniture, no footprints, no sign of struggle at all.
Chris shook his head then stood to face his supervisor. “Right now, I would suggest the bullet came from outside the window. There’s nothing in here to indicate anyone came in the house, and we have a spray pattern and broken glass.”
Richard Nichols quietly examined the scene himself. Chris was always impressed by the man. He looked like he had just walked off the set of a network soap opera, his thick, silver hair professionally coiffed, his long face still free of wrinkles and in perfect proportion, and the package finished off with an Armani suit, Gucci shoes and a silver silk tie, even those times when he had been called in at five in the morning. “He was shot through the window. Anything outside?”
Chris turned, his eyes still examining every item, every detail of the room. “Haven’t gotten there yet, but they have a dog working the area now. Colleen is on her way, and some uniforms are already canvassing.”
“What about Rachel? Where is she?” Richard asked.
Chris turned once more to face the supervisor of the SCU, and was caught off guard by the second figure behind Richard, examining the room. With effort, he turned his full attention to Richard. “I’m not sure where she is, but it’s going to be hell for her. We’ll make sure she has some support here, and considering her condition, I’ll arrange for someone to take her to see her doctor as soon as we locate her.”
Richard frowned. “Why the hell did this have to happen? What went wrong?”
“I guess it’s just part and parcel with the job, especially when you work drugs.” Chris was still having a hard time ignoring the dark-haired, dark-eyed man who continued to hover in the background, but based on Richard’s indifference, he talked openly to his superior. “I’ll get Bert to go through Pete’s files and contacts, see what he was working on, although I have no doubt the list will be massive. While he does that, I’ll have Jimmy work the scene here with Colleen, and I’ll talk to the boy then track down Glen Gilletto to see what light he can shed on this situation.”
“Niles Cooper is on his way to deal with the media, making sure that no one says anything about Pete being on the job, but just his presence here will be enough of a warning flag that something more is going on with the case.” Richard pushed his hair back with his fingers as he spoke. “For now, you might just want to tell him it’s too early to speculate about anything. I don’t want to release any details at all about Pete or the undercover work he was doing. When you brief him, you might strongly suggest that we need to think about the other guys on the squad who could be impacted if Pete’s cover is blown. We also need to take care of Rachel and protect her as much as possible from the media attention that’s sure to come from this.” Richard looked out the window. “Chief Wentz is going to want a full briefing as well. He was planning on coming over here, but I told him we had it covered and you would be by to see him at your first opportunity. You can expect him to be shadowing you constantly on this one. Two dead plainclothes officers in one month is more than enough reason for him to be concerned. He’ll be demanding answers quickly.”
Chris stared at his mentor, close friend and surrogate father. “Please tell me you don’t really believe there’s any possible connection between this and what happened…?”
Richard shook his head. “Absolutely not. We know there’s no connection at all, but public perception might not see it that way, despite what we say. They’ll be scared. They’ll want answers. Two dead cops is two dead cops, and the fact that both were shot in cop’s homes doesn’t help matters at all. This will be a media nightmare for all of us.”
“Yeah, well the public better not find out about the second dead cop, at least not for a little while, because that would certainly jeopardize the whole unit. I’ll get to Wentz when I can. I have other pressing business to take care of, like processing this scene and tracking down Pete’s partner.”
The stranger in the room was examining the carpet at the base of the wall then stood as his eyes followed the spatter pattern up the drywall. As he focused on the bullet hole, he pressed his face close, almost touching the paint. He had said nothing. The red flashing lights outside bounced off the badge clipped to his belt.
Chris could contain himself no longer. “Hey, get the hell away from that. This is a crime scene, asshole, and you have no business in here.” He turned to Richard. “I don’t know who the hell this guy thinks he is, but I don’t need him contaminating this scene. We just had someone shot here, and if there’s a problem, it’s my ass in the sling.”
Richard’s left eyebrow lifted and his eyes widened. “Yeah, well, I don’t think you need to worry about him, because...” Before he could finish, two more men made their way into the dining area of the little house.
“Shit. I kept saying on the way over here that there was no way in hell this could happen to Pete. Jesus.” Jimmy Estabrook groaned as he looked at the floor.
Chris noted again that at any hour, Jimmy Estabrook looked like a GQ model. Feeling suddenly out of place, he tugged on his sleeves and ran his hand through his hair, straightening it.
Lyle ‘Bert’ Burton, Jimmy’s perpetual partner, the two of them working together like the gears in Big Ben, stood beside Richard. “Where do you need us, Chris?”
“You can hang around till Colleen gets done in here then see what you can find for paperwork or anything else Pete left that might help us. Then you can get your keyboard out and see what you can dig up from whatever sources you need to use.” Chris emphasized the ‘whatever sources’ – a clear indication that Bert was to push, bend or twist the rules as much as he needed to get the information.
Bert nodded, pulled out a camera and began to snap photos of every aspect of the scene. Colleen would also have her forensics people doing the same thing, but Bert knew that Chris liked some to be downloaded into the computer right away for their own reference.
“Jimmy, you can come outside with me. We need to find where the shooter was and see if he left us any presents. Then you can see what the uniforms came up with. They may have found some people you can talk to. Also, check out what’s happening with the tracking dog and the roadblocks then go back to the office and start going through Pete’s files.” Chris continued to focus his attention on the scene around him while he spoke, looking up only briefly as he issued his instructions.
“Sure thing, Chris,” Jimmy said while he scratched some notes He then slipped the pen and paper back into his pocket and turned to go.
“James,” Richard quietly called out. “Perhaps you can give Bert a hand in here instead.”
Jimmy spun around, but not as quickly as Chris. He was not used to his orders being overruled, even by Richard. At times Richard Nichols would make a suggestion or offer an opinion, but never had he so blatantly interfered with one of Chris’ investigations. This was neither the time nor the place for him to start. There was absolute silence in the room, all eyes, save for one set, intent on Richard.
The stranger who had arrived with Richard was now kneeling beside Pete. With his pen and, using extreme care, he eased the victim’s shirt open to look down along the body. Pete’s gun was still in its shoulder holster, where under normal conditions it was hidden from sight. He appeared totally oblivious to what the other men in the room were saying or to the electric atmosphere that had developed since his unannounced arrival.
“I told you to get the hell out of here before I pick you up and throw you out myself,” Chris hollered at the man, his anger and confusion at Richard’s interference manifesting itself in the only outlet available. He could feel his world spinning out of control as already this investigation was being hampered and tampered with. He owed it to his fallen friend to ensure that everything was done properly. There would be no mistakes.
With painstaking slowness, the kneeling figure swiveled his head around to look at Chris, his face still frozen, but there was a sparkle in his dark eyes. When he stood up and approached Chris, it was clear that neither would be easily intimidated. This man was equal to Chris in height, but his thick neck, chiseled face and well-muscled chest were clear indicators that he was no flyweight. His face continued to show no emotion.
“There are an awful lot of people who would probably appreciate seeing me tossed from a room.” His voice was smooth, his words delivered with quiet control. “I rather doubt that you would be the man to do it. It might be entertaining to see you try, but I think you have enough here to keep you busy for the next couple minutes, without adding a trip to the hospital to the list of things you need to get done.” A slight smile twisted his lips as he pressed his face close to Gallagher’s.
Teeth clenched in anger, nails digging into his palms as he fisted his hand, Chris glared back, welcoming the challenge. “Clearly you underestimate me. I would have to guess that all those steroids you pop don’t help build every muscle.” Gallagher reached out and tapped the stranger on his head.
The smile remained in place, as did the sparkle, but only for a moment longer. With no warning at all, Chris found himself pinned to a wall, a large and strong rubber-gloved hand around his throat holding him in place. “Excuse me, Sir,” the stranger addressed Richard, “but I believe you wanted to say something to Detective Gallagher here, and I think probably right now you could have his undivided attention.”
Richard rolled his eyes upwards in a practiced plea for help from above. He took a breath then sauntered over to where the two men were now standing. “Okay, Dave, let him go and the two of you make nice. It’s time for you both to learn to play.”
“Why is that?” Chris growled from the corner of his mouth, the hand still holding him tight to the wall.
The stranger answered, a wide and wicked smile cutting across his face. “I think he wants us to learn to get along because they already have two dead cops and that seems to be enough for now. Also, it will make his life a whole lot more simple in the long run, Partner.”
“Good morning, Detective Purvis.” The approaching male voice was conversational and very relaxed, indifferent to the fact that Purvis’ hand was still wrapped around Chris Gallagher’s throat.
Purvis smiled at the older and much shorter man. “Good morning, Doctor Throckmorton.”
“Good morning, Detective Gallagher,” the diminutive Medical Examiner greeted the other investigator as he made his way through the room. He seemed befuddled, preoccupied and scattered, but the men knew such was never the case with Norton Throckmorton.
“Norton,” Chris acknowledged perfunctorily.
After a quick visual examination of the scene, the doctor turned to Richard. “Good morning, Richard. This shouldn’t take me too long; then your boys can have the place.” He used a quick movement of his head to indicate the two men, who still had not moved. “You still think this is a match made in heaven, do you?”
Richard chuckled as he gave the two the same look an exasperated mother might give her children when they are trying her patience. “Yeah, I must be nuts, but yes, I do.”
Throckmorton shrugged. “So do I.” His head dropped down and he examined the floor as he made his way further into the dining room. “Detective Purvis, put the nice policeman down. It’s time to quit playing and get to work.
CHANGING PARTNERS by Tom Bryde
Available in Print, Digital and Kindle/mobi formats on
Saturday, February 22nd, 2014
|Posted on February 12, 2014 at 10:45 AM||comments (0)|
STILL, AT YOUR DOOR by Emma Eden Ramos
Sabrina "Bri" Gibbons has only a few short minutes to pack her things and help her sisters pack theirs before running with their mother to the bus that will whisk them away from Butler, Pennsylvania, an abusive relationship, and a secret that none of them wishes to acknowledge. She was not prepared, though, for her mother to drop them on the streets of New York with the promise that she would be right back. Haunted by the sight of her mother running back to the cab, Bri, with Missy and Grace in tow, settles in with their grandparents. Thoughts of her present and her future collide with memories of her past, her dead father, and her mother’s bizarre episodes. She watches her sisters struggle with school and acceptance, all the while knowing the lack of any sense of security will make it impossible for them to carry on as ‘normal’ children. She finally lets her guard down enough to allow someone else in and sees a faint glimmer that her dreams might be attainable. Disaster strikes again, this time targeting her sister. Is it possible for Bri to find that balance between her dreams and her family’s realities?
“Still, At Your Door: A Fictional Memoir is a very real, very fluid lesson in life, in abuse, the dynamics of power, of sex and the relationships between people. In this book, Author Emma Eden Ramos brings forth both the bitter and the sweet on wings of articulate, elegant prose, delivering a read that is as deep and wise as it is gripping and powerful.” ~ E.S. Wynn, Author of the Pink Carbide series, Chief Editor at Thunderune Publishing, Daily Love Journal and Yesteryear Fiction Magazine.
“Still, At Your Door: A Fictional Memoir is a power-house of emotion from the moment you begin. Sabrina Gibbons' story is upended from the moment her mother drags them out of their abusive home in Butler, Penn, and drops them off with their grandparents in the Big Apple. Like New York City, this novella precariously teeters between nightmares and dreams, exploring mutual dependence where one wrong step over the threshold can lead to disaster.” ~ Serena M. Agusto-Cox, Reviewer at Savvy Verse & Wit and War Through the Generations.
I hold tight to my memories of the solid years. Each one is a crystal vase filled to the brim with brightly colored petals. Summer, ‘99: Missy is five, I’m six. We’re vacationing at Virginia Beach with Mom and Dad. Mom wears a black one-piece, a white sun hat and no sunscreen. Her lanky, bronzed legs shimmer under the fiery rays, but it’s all well and good. “Gypsy skin,” she explains, lathering up my little sister. “You and I have it.” She winks at me. “Missy here’s more like Daddy.” In front of us, Dad talks to a blonde boy with a surfboard. He turns to us and beckons. I jump to my feet, eager to hit the waves. “Sabrina.” Mom presses her leathery palms against my cheeks. “Bri-bear.” She kisses my nose. “Go on.” I grab Missy’s hand and we scamper toward the giant salt pond, ready for Dad to scoop us up and wade us through.
Another summer, many years later, Missy and I come across what looks like a secret stash of sea glass. We collect the emerald green fragments just as a mother-sized wave unfurls to scoop them back up. The edges have been smoothed over, calmed. I slide my index finger across one side of the largest piece. Missy stands next to me, peering out toward the horizon. I turn to her, the glass held tightly in my fist. Before I can begin, she says, “Water life is easier.”
“Huh?” I stare down at the rushing waves. A thick clump of seaweed tickles my ankle.
Missy seizes a shard from her stash and flings it. The water swallows the glass whole. There’s no resistance on either side. “It wasn’t ready.” She shakes her head.
“What does that mean?” I ask. “How is water life easier?”
“I don’t know. I guess… you go in jagged. You’re jagged when you go in but smooth when you come out.”
Trying to understand, I scrutinize my sister’s profile. I recognize our mother in her pronounced cheekbones, her long black lashes.
“But not us.” Missy speaks to the open water. I just happen to be standing by. “We come in soft, without edges. Those come later.”
“You mean we get jagged with age?”
“Yes.” Missy’s eyes grow big. She cocks her head to one side, then turns to meet my gaze. “That’s what happens to us.”
From our second floor bedroom, I hear the old red Ford sputter. Brrr, brrr, brrr. The brief silence is followed by a clang and a fuck!
“What the hell?” Missy’s bed creaks. “What’s going on?”
My bed is closest to the window. I get up and tiptoe over. “Shush,” I whisper. “You’ll wake Gracie.” Looking back, I see my little half-sister sprawled over her sheets, her thin brown hair dangling in front of her face. She’ll be eight in a little over a week.
Outside, the young January frost stings at our tiny four-paned window. By March the glass will be splattered with white grime, and no one will bother to clean it. Mom’s car wheezes thick puffs of smoke, but she is nowhere in sight. I search for her, notice Jim’s truck is gone from its spot, then jump, startled as the front door slams, its metal chimes making a racket against the wood and glass.
“Huh?” Grace sits up, wide-eyed. “What’s wrong?”
As I head over to Grace’s bed, the sound of Mom’s heels rattle up the stairs and through the rickety hallway. All three of us freeze, waiting for her to reach our door.
“Come on! Come on!” Bursting into the bedroom, two packed pocketbooks slung over one shoulder, Mom fumbles around for the light switch. I shudder as the bulb flicks the room into candescent disruption. The fluorescent glare gives her a grotesque glow, and I wince at her mismatched outfit, caked-on foundation and crooked maraschino-cherry-red lipstick. She jerks from one side to the other, as though trying to latch on to some invisible thought strand. “Come on, girls,” she manages, before rushing to the window. “Get up. Get! Goodness, how did I produce such lazy… let me open this window. It’s New York time. Get your clothes on. The car has to… no time for breakfast. Let’s go!”
“What?” Missy and I start at once. Grace just stares blankly, her mouth hung open like an untended puppet’s.
“We’re going to New York, Babies!” Mom dances across the room, smiling. I notice a dark ring under her eye. The purple skin pokes out beneath a thick layer of pale foundation.
“Where’s Jim?” I turn to Grace. Her knees pressed against her forehead, she rocks back and forth, whispering something I can’t make out.
“The bus leaves in an hour.” Mom jiggles the almost unhinged doorknob before exiting. “We’re done with this place for good.”
As the door slams shut, I whirl around on the balls of my feet. The floor resists my calloused pads, firing splinters into the softer areas of my toes. Missy meets my stare with a scowl. “Fuck this shit!” she snaps, tossing her sheets to the floor. I don’t respond because there is nothing to say. It’s been a while, but we’ve made this move before. Sure, the details vary slightly each time, but we’ve got the gist down pat: four sets of clothes each, Grace’s stuffed dolphin she calls Daisy Girl, toiletries, a few books, my ten-year-old denim knapsack and my new journal with the words The Sky’s the Limit written in cursive on the cover. Missy grumbles, stepping into her jeans from the day before.
“Will we have real school in New York?” Grace stands next to me, two fingers lodged between her lips.
“Yes,” I nod, stopping to yank her hand from her mouth. “You wanna look like a rabbit when you’re my age?”
She pulls Daisy Girl from the pile I’ve arranged on the floor. “No.” She hugs the stuffed animal to her chest. “We’ll actually go there? To school?”
“Uh-huh. Remember?” It’s true. In New York City, when we stay with Grandma Marta and Grandpa Kal, school is not Mom gathering us into the kitchen at midnight to help her learn the lines to a play she hopes to star in some day. It isn’t me yelling at Missy because she’s filled out Grace’s state administered home exam in her own fifteen-year-old handwriting. School, when we live with Grandma Marta and Grandpa Kal, is that place we go and, for six hours each day, pretend that we are normal girls… girls who know very ordinary lives.
The engine rumbles beneath us as we say goodbye to the gray ramshackle we’ve come to accept as our home. Grace taps her fingernail against the chilled car window. She blows warm breath on the glass and, before the moisture can evaporate, draws a tiny heart with a smiley face in the middle. Missy sits with her legs up, her forehead pressed against her knees, the music from her headphones competing with the asthmatic car engine.
“Mom?” I whisper, reaching across the cup holder where an opened twenty-four ounce can of beer has been sitting for almost a month. As I brush Mom’s cheek, sticky residue from her foundation sinks between the cracks on my index finger.
She turns to me and smiles. “Yes, Bear?” I see she is only ten miles above the speed limit.
“What do you want me to tell Grandma and Grandpa?”
“About what?” Her eyes are level with mine, but I know she isn’t really looking at me. I’m more like a blank screen, something stable and empty for her to project on to. Once again, I point to the purple ring under her eye.
“Oh.” She pauses and, for a moment, reverts back to the road. “Remember when I played Blanche? You remember, in A Streetcar Named Desire, back when we lived in Roanoke.”
“Yes,” I nod. “I remember.”
“Grandma and Grandpa came to see me then. They sat with you and Missy right up there in the front row.” Tilting her head back, Mom shuts her eyes as if to hold the memory still: keep it in present time. “Your daddy carried Missy backstage afterwards. I don’t know if she ever got to see my final fight with Stanley, but you, Bear, you stayed awake for the whole show! That’s why we’re going to New York now.” Mom takes hold of my hand, her bony fingers disappearing into the spaces between mine. I try not to flinch as the tips of her nails dig into my palm. “All we need’s a little time and money, Bri.” She pauses, then swivels, looking back at Grace and Missy. Both have dozed off. “Time and money.”
Feet up on the dashboard, I take my journal out from my beat-up knapsack. I’m fifty pages into this one already – fifty pages of thoughts, hopes, stories, some real, some made up. New York, I write in sprawling letters. New beginnings?
STILL, AT YOUR DOOR by Emma Eden Ramos
Available in print, digital and Kindle formats on February 22, 2014
|Posted on November 19, 2013 at 10:30 AM||comments (0)|
RELEASE DAY - FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 22nd, 2013
STAIRBIRDS IN LOVE by SHAKEY SMITH
Once again, Shakey immerses us into the middle of a Dupee family crisis, and the results are amazing.
It is 1992, February of that year to be exact -- the month of brooms. An icy wind is scouring the sand hills of western Kansas, sweeping tumbleweeds and clouds of grit across the gray prairie. There is nothing on the monotonous horizon but same and old. This is the time of year that folks do crazy, desperate things and silent, steel-fisted stairbird Meggs Dupee has just done something crazy. He has taken a pregnant, twenty-something waitress home to keep his house for him. Is it a ploy to dodge Migra or is it true love. Even Meggs is not sure.
Since Meggs gave up on housekeeping back in the late eighties his house is not fit for even the most determined housekeeper, Meggs' male cousins come to his rescue, cleaning his house and shopping for him. In the process, they begin a long, spirited debate on the mystery of love, never once realizing that they have stood up their wives on Valentine's Day.
CLICK HERE TO VIEW BOOK TRAILER
Chapter 1 -- The Pretender
“She’s waiting in the back room.” Ollie shivered a little in the draft from the opened door. He gestured with his thumb toward the dark storeroom, but remained at the register, counting.
“Does she have the kids?” Meggs asked from the doorway.
Ollie nodded, busy with facing the bills.
Meggs let the door close behind him. He took a peppermint from the complimentary dish. “Is she ready?”
The café was empty, the lights dimmed. The closed sign blinked in the frosted window, casting a feeble orange glow against a scrappy tinsel border of hearts and cupids. Outside only tumbleweeds traveled the deserted highway. Still the two men whispered.
Ollie took a minute to scribble in a ledger. “Yeah. You’ll have to stop by the trailer to pick up their coats. It turned cold so fast she didn’t have a chance to bring them. There’s a sewing machine she made the payments on. Fact is, she made most of the payments on her and Rosa’s car, too. Doubt if old Miguel will turn loose of the car, but it might be worth a try for the sewing machine. Miguel says him and Rosa are leaving in the morning, before dawn.”
“They can’t take Rosa’s own sister and kids?”
Ollie closed his ledger and zipped the day’s deposit into a bank bag. “Miguel’s out of work. He has a chance for a job in Las Animas. If the truth was known, I’d say that old Miguel isn’t any more comfortable with Migra than Tedi is. Anyway, they have to move fast and Tedi ain’t going nowhere fast. Migra is after her and she don’t have no place to go in Mexico but to a step-father who hits her. Are you getting cold feet?”
For a moment, Meggs’ eyes were fixed on his giant work boots. Then he shrugged. “Too late now.”
Ollie tossed the deposit into an open safe in a corner of the kitchen. He left the safe’s door ajar. “If you’re not one hundred percent on this, forget it. I’ll call Migra and get it over with. They’re not monsters. They’ll feed her and the kiddies and put them on a bus to El Paso. I’ll slip Tedi some cash to tide her over till she finds something.” He hung his apron on a hook behind the door then switched off the lights. “I don’t stick my neck out for no one. I’m no do-gooder.”
Meggs followed him out of the kitchen. “That why you are feeding her and letting her stay here when she can’t work?”
Ollie raised a chapped hand to fend off the charge. “She worked hard for me when she could. She’s cheerful, honest, a decent person. No sense with men but that’s most women – at least the pretty ones. I like Tedi fine but I’m not stupid enough to dick with Migra. You need a housekeeper. She needs a place to stay. You like her. She likes you. It might could work out.”
“I’m thinking about family.” Meggs took another peppermint and very carefully unwrapped it. He slipped the mint into his mouth and the cellophane into the bib of his overalls.
“You haven’t told your folks nothing?”
“Just what, Ollie, am I supposed to tell them?”
“Have you even tried?”
“Jeez, Meggs! What are you? Pushing forty?”
Meggs stepped to a mirror that hung next to the coat rack. “I was going to ask Dad for something to cover up the gray, but I forgot.” He tugged at his beard.
Ollie took up his feather duster. “You’re my baby cousin. God knows I try to hold my tongue because of the tragedy and all, but sometimes you are flat peculiar.”
Meggs was still at the mirror, fiddling with the band that held his dark ponytail. “Can’t see how the folks could bitch, but they will.”
Ollie dusted each of several toy tractors that were displayed in the window. “Aunt Stevie is bound to kick a little. Just in her nature. The girls might… well, Tharon. You know Tharon will have something to say.”
Meggs adjusted a gallus then tugged his sport jacket to cover his overalls. “I’d like to break it to Mom first.”
Ollie opened the side door to shake the duster. “Tedi needs someplace to sleep tonight. That little cot in the backroom just isn’t big enough for all of them. Kids are cranky and edgy, starting colds. At night the wind just cuts through this place.”
Meggs looked down at his mighty hands. A stubborn blotch of yellow paint stood out on his well-scrubbed wrist. Nervously he swiped at it with his bandana. “Okay. I’ll just have to spring her on the family tomorrow sometime. Might be easier to catch everyone together on Sunday.”
“No way you are going to keep this quiet for even a day! Now, if you are not gentle enough in your mind about this arrangement to tell your own folks, you had better clear out.” The heavy door blew shut on Ollie, almost snapping the duster in half.
Meggs turned from the mirror to stare out the café window. It was February, the month of brooms. A dry, howling wind scoured the prairie like a phantom broom pusher, raising clouds of frozen grit, jangling the bayonet, and scattering jackrabbits and coyotes alike.
On the windowsill, the cupids, a row of toy tractors and a small dish of Easter cactus made a brave show against the menacing night. The wind rattled the window and kicked an empty cardboard box down Highway 50, which was also Main Street for the two blocks that comprised Pierceville, Kansas.
“That’s some wind,” Meggs observed.
“Terrible fierce,” Ollie affirmed.
“Sky won’t snow, wind won’t let it.” Meggs shuddered and glanced again into the mirror. “Okay.”
Ollie took a minute to water the Easter cactus. “Clinic tomorrow in Charleston. Sam or Phil will be there. Tedi doesn’t have an appointment but she needs to see a doctor.”
“Has to,” Meggs agreed.
“She has quite a bill there. Don’t look like Alberto is going to pay any on it.” Ollie looked steadily into Meggs’ face.
“Okay,” Meggs said again, starting down the dim hallway that led to the storeroom, his great, heavy Wolverines ringing hollowly on the linoleum. He stood for a moment, jingling the silver and keys in his pocket.
Ollie opened the door for him. For just a split second, Meggs had the impression of a den, with a bitch and pups huddled in the dark. Then Tedi struggled to stand with the sleeping baby in her arms. Ollie helped her up, taking the baby. She picked up a single, duct-taped suitcase. Meggs took the suitcase from her. Tedi lifted Yesi, who wrapped her legs and arms around her mother and buried her face in her blue black hair.
Meggs led them through the dark café. He stopped at the register and blinked at the empty coat tree.
“They don’t have no coats. You’ll have to pick them up on your way out of town,” Ollie explained patiently.
Tedi stood, head down.
Meggs slipped his coat around her and Yesi.
Ollie pulled Bobby’s dingy blanket around his chubby face. He took a toy tractor from the windowsill and tucked it in with the sleeping baby. “Boy is plumb nuts about tractors,” he explained.
Meggs opened the café door and walked the sidewalk to his ‘76 Laredo. He turned the heater to full blast and drove, over the sidewalk, to the very entrance of the café.
“We’d better both help Tedi in,” Ollie advised, handing up Bobby, who had yet to open an eye. Meggs and Ollie both worked to get Tedi, who was about the size of a small house, into the pickup cab. She sat silently, almost sullenly, holding the children to her.
Meggs thought back on the slim, sassy girl who had brought him his iced tea and pie, his patty melt and salad, all summer. He shook his head as he climbed behind the wheel, wondering how women got themselves into the fixes they did. Ollie slammed the pickup door and its baling wire handle jangled. Bobby jumped but did not wake.
They bumped through the dismal village of Pierceville then crossed a concrete bridge that arched ridiculously over a dry bed of scrub willow, ragged tumbleweeds and frozen sand. Once out of town, Meggs followed a winding, rutted road which ended in a weedy trailer court. He stopped in front of the most rundown of the court’s six trailers. Tedi opened the pick- up door. Meggs held her arm. “You stay here.”
There was a flicker of light in her dark eyes.
He left the truck, stepped over a yard of dismantled furniture, and rapped on a duct-taped front door. Miguel answered. The house was in boxes and crates. Several children slept in the living room, on threadbare sofa cushions.
“I came for Tedi’s car and her sewing machine.”
Miguel shook his shaggy head. “Ella no tiene un caro.”
Meggs shook his shaggy head. “Tedi made the payments.”
“No, Rosa lo pagó. Chee hev title,” Miguel handed out a single cardboard box.
Meggs took it and waited. Miguel tried to close the door. Meggs inserted his huge boot.
“What joo wan?” Miguel snarled.
“The sewing machine.”
“Ella nos debe dinero.”
“Chi are ode oss.”
“No es HAIRS. ¡Es nuestra!”
“The sewing machine!”
“¡La maquina es nuestra!”
“You bastard!” Meggs said this with some heat although he had been expecting it. Miguel took a step backwards and shoved a sorry box of broken toys and rags at him.
“Thees hit! Thees hall! Now you gat the hail!”
Meggs was thin, gray and stringy but he was a big man who swung hammers for his livelihood. He had the advantage despite the age difference. His huge fist was working, but he didn’t need any trouble with Migra. Miguel sensed this, cutting his eyes contemptuously at Tedi.
“You thievin’ greaser bastard,” Meggs snarled.
“Gringo.” Miguel spat and slammed the door.
Meggs carried the boxes to Tedi. “Coats?” he asked.
She rummaged through the boxes and shook her head. He threw the boxes into the truck bed and climbed into the cab.
“¿La maquina?” she whispered.
Her eyes narrowed. “Ladrones, “ she hissed.
“Bastards,” he affirmed.
They drove south and west on a county road, slithering across barren sand hills and nothing else. The wind shook the pickup cab. Tedi wept quietly. Yesi, unnerved by her mother’s distress, wept also. There were no streetlights, no guard rails, no signposts, no horizon. There was only the dead, moonless sky above them, the sickly green dash light, a woman crying softly, and a child crying softly, in the vast darkness. Meggs had never heard anything so heart-wrenching and timeworn.
He took his bearings from a round-top, a stock tank, a pear tree and a clanking windmill. He turned east. He hadn’t wanted to make any major expenditures until he was certain that the arrangement would work, but he couldn’t have his family, coatless and weeping, in the cold and dark.
He navigated the country road, made a bootleggers’ turn at a dilapidated round-top and bumped up, onto the pavement. It was late. He was tired. He had been hauling junk and painting most of the day but he was a family man now. He reached for a second wind and watched Tedi out of the corner of his eye. She had no idea of direction, and so was unconcerned. He was relieved. He hadn’t wanted to frighten her.
|Posted on November 16, 2013 at 4:55 PM||comments (0)|
RELEASE DAY -- Friday, November 22, 2013
CENTER POINT by R.M CLARK
A list of names, an old map, and a drawing of a Native American warrior named Komaket: These are the items professional student, Dennis Kozma, receives on his twenty-fifth birthday. They are gifts from his father, who died fifteen years earlier. Unfortunately, Dennis' memory is tainted by accusations that his father defrauded their town before his death.
The map leads Dennis to the graves of the men on the list... members of a secret society awaiting the return of Komaket. While unravelling the mystery of this society, Dennis discovers a shocking conspiracy: town officials covered up a dark secret and framed his father.
As he strives to clear his father's name, before the long-awaited arrival of Komaket changes his quiet New England town forever, Dennis comes to two startling and fateful realizations -- nothing is what is seems, and all clues lead to the... CENTER POINT.
CENTER POINT has been nominated for the NIEA Indie Excellence Award and the Foreword Book of the Year Award, both in the suspense categories.
"From its opening pages to its terrifying, heart-stopping conclusion, Center Point delivers a labyrinth of cryptic clues and hidden passages that will have readers begging for more. With layers upon layers of secrets and unnerving clandestine societies, Robert Clark masterfully weaves a tale of danger, deception, and the quest for truth within all of us. Clark’s attention to historical detail mixed with a story rife with twists and turns produces a winning combination." ~ Colby Marshall, author of Chain of Command and The Trade
"Robert Clark has crafted an intricate, supernatural mystery that will keep you guessing and looking over your shoulder until the end. If you prefer your mysteries with fewer bloody corpses and more folklore, Center Point will hit the spot." ~ Bryn Greenwood, author of Last Will and Lie Lay Lain
I arrived at the sports bar perfectly sober, but I had no intention of staying that way. You only get one chance at turning twenty-five, and I was going to make the most of the opportunity. I waited in my car, cranking a great tune with the windows up. The bright O’Reardon’s sign flickered above the front of the sports bar, the R barely hanging in there. Had this been any Saturday between September and May, the place would’ve been crawling with college kids – and lots of coeds – of legal drinking age; easy pickings most nights, but it was early August and we had to settle for the local crowd, which was perfectly fine with me.
Two songs later, my friend, Tom Richcreek, rolled into the parking lot. He backed his small pickup into the space next to me. Jed Stormont was with him.
“Looks like it’s just the three amigos,” said Tom. “The others bailed.” He used the remote to lock his car. “Hey, Koz, more beer for us.”
My friends called me Koz, short for Kozma, my last name. Everyone else called me Dennis.
We entered O’Reardon’s at just after nine, walked past the long bar with six kinds of beer on draft and several hi-def TVs, and found a corner booth, our favorite during football season. A waitress arrived, mid-thirties, wearing a short dress that revealed a modest amount of cleavage. She wore heavy makeup and a nametag that read STACY.
“I’m going to need to see some ID.” Stacy placed a notepad back in her front pocket. It was a college town so everyone under thirty got carded whether they knew you or not. The manager was always watching.
Tom and Jed each handed over their driver’s licenses, which Stacy examined and handed back. She glanced at me.
“What about you, sunshine?”
“It’s his birthday!” Jed said. “Does he get a free drink?”
I gave her my license and flashed a wide grin. Stacy checked the date on her watch. She looked at the license, then at me, again. It happened all the time, so I guess it was the curse of being baby-faced. Maybe it was time to grow some facial hairs, I thought.
“To answer your question, yes, you get a free drink.” Stacy handed me the license and took out her notebook. “What’ll you have, boys?”
Tom took care of the ordering. “A Guinness Draft for me and the birthday boy, a Corona for Jed.”
Stacy returned a short time later with the drinks and advice. “Don’t go crazy tonight, Dennis. I don’t want to read about you in the paper or anything, okay?”
“No problem, Stacy.”
Jed raised his bottle. The lemon wedge was sticking out so he pushed it down with his palm. “Cheers.”
“Cheers.” Tom clinked his bottle with Jed’s.
I put mine down to make a T with my hands. “Timeout. You’re telling me that’s all I get for turning twenty-five? Come on, you guys. We’ve been friends since kindergarten. I deserve a proper toast.”
Tom cleared his throat. “To the first twenty-five years of your miserable life, Koz.”
I shook my head. “Nope, that won’t cut it, either. Try again.”
Jed held his bottle before me with the lemon stuck in its neck. “Here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged women.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. We’d been through everything for more years than I could remember. We’d shared good times, bad times and even coeds. “Sorry, you stole that from the movie Jaws. Unacceptable.” I gave out an exaggerated sigh. “I guess I’m not worthy.”
Tom leaned over to Jed and they whispered something to each other. Tom raised his beer once again. “To Koz. We’ve known men wiser, we’ve known men humbler, but I’ve never known a man more proud of his rock tumbler.”
That was more like it. I laughed at the inside joke and tapped bottles with my two friends. Every year on my birthday, they reminded me of the unusual birthday presents my father used to give me.
“I still have that rock tumbler on the top shelf of my closet,” I said, “along with the Erector Set he got me when I was eight.”
“And the chemistry set?” Jed asked.
“Yup, it’s there, too.”
I thought back fifteen years to the day, my tenth birthday. All I wanted was a Nintendo gaming system. I hinted about it for weeks and even pointed one out to my parents in the toy store. When I opened the presents at the end of the party, I saved the big one from Dad for last. It was the right size and everything. Dad was ‘the man’ and he would take care of me. Come on, Nintendo! I ripped off the paper and there it was… an ant farm.
“The way I look at it, my dad just wanted to find something that interested me.” I took a handful of popcorn and downed it. Sadly, I still haven’t found it.
Jed lifted his bottle to clink it with mine then repeated the act with Tom. “Here’s to crappy birthday presents, then and now.”
We turned our attention to the game on TV and cheered when the Red Sox pitcher struck out a batter. Stacy returned a short time later with three more drinks.
“Attention, people,” Tom said. “What we thought was a rumor is, indeed, a fact. Our Stacy is a mind reader.” His hands hovered above the table.
She leaned sideways and placed the drinks on the table. “I don’t think so, slick.” She used her elbow to point. “These are courtesy of that handsome gentleman over there.”
We turned in the direction of a well-dressed man with a salt and pepper beard in a corner booth. He munched on popcorn as he watched the baseball game.
Jed dislodged the lemon and downed several more ounces, nearly knocking off his Yankee cap. “Anyone know who that guy is?”
Tom shook his head.
I squinted through the glare with one hand above my eyes to get a good view. “He looks... kind of familiar, but I can’t place him.”
“It’s your birthday,” Jed said. “He must have done it for you.”
“Maybe it’s a secret admirer, Koz. You are kinda cute.”
“And you, sir, are a dick.” I smacked Tom in the shoulder then finished the contents of the first bottle. “Well, there’s only one way to find out.”
I walked to the corner booth, nearly running into Stacy along the way. The man clapped as the Red Sox scored a run.
“Excuse me. I wanted to thank you for buying us a round.”
The man turned his attention from the game and looked up. “You’re welcome, Dennis.”
“May I ask why?” I couldn’t decide where to put my hands so I folded them behind my back.
“Dennis, do you know who I am?”
He was wearing a dark suit with a red tie, making him slightly – okay, extremely – overdressed compared to the rest of the clientele. This was certainly no one I would hang around with.
“If I owe someone money, just let me know...”
“No, it’s nothing like that. My name is Gene Clausen. I’m an attorney.”
I looked carefully at his face. Then it came to me. “You were in our house once.” I hooked my thumbs through my belt loops. “Yeah, just after my dad died, right?”
“That’s right. I handled your parents’ divorce and I was executor of your father’s estate.” He put his hand out and I gave it a firm shake. “Have a seat, Dennis. I have something that might interest you.”
I looked back at the others, who watched from our booth. No way was I abandoning them tonight. “I’m kind of out with my friends. You’re welcome to join us.”
He took out his card and handed it to me. “I’m here on official business, Dennis. What I have to discuss concerns only you. I’ll let you decide if you want your friends involved or not.”
I checked him over and realized he was dead serious. What the hell does my dad have to do with anything? He’d been gone for fifteen years, so I was pretty much over it. Besides, lawyers always gave me the creeps.
“They’re my buds,” I said. “Tonight, we’re a package deal. Come join us, Gene the lawyer.”
“Thank you. I’ll do that.” Gene slung a large canvas bag over his shoulder and slid out of the booth. “Lead the way.”
Tom and Jed both stood as we arrived. “This is Gene Carlson. He’s a lawyer – my dad’s lawyer. Gene, this is Tom and Jed.”
“Uh-oh, Koz,” Tom said. “What did you do now?”
Jed raised the bottle and nodded. “Hey, man. Thanks for the brew.”
“It’s Gene Clausen. It’s a pleasure to meet you both.” He shook their hands then slid into the booth after me.
Gene took the bag and placed it on the seat. “Your father was a wonderful man, Dennis. He was truly one of my best friends.”
“Thanks.” With nothing more to say, I started on my second Guinness. It didn’t taste nearly as good as the first one, thanks to the arrival of our unexpected guest.
Gene pulled out a package and placed it on the table. It was a leather satchel with string wrapped around it in both directions. “I promised your father I would personally hand this to you on your twenty-fifth birthday.” He looked at his watch. “What do you know? I made it with a few hours to spare.”
Stacy came by and removed the empties. Tom made no attempt to move as she leaned over him. She didn’t seem to mind.
“Hey, Gene the lawyer, can I buy you a beer, or something?” Tom asked.
“Just ginger ale, please. I’m still officially on the clock.”
I turned the package over and examined it. It wasn’t very heavy and had no markings. “What’s in it?”
“I honestly don’t know, Dennis. This is exactly the way your father handed it to me in my office fifteen years ago.”
I shook it, but the contents didn’t shift. “Does my mom know about this?”
Stacy returned and Tom sneaked a peek down her shirt as she placed the glass in front of Gene. Tom handed her two bills and winked. Stacy rolled her eyes as she walked away.
“I haven’t told anyone, Dennis. I put this item in a safe about a month before your father passed away. A promise is a promise.” Gene hoisted his ginger ale in my direction. “Happy birthday, Dennis.”
We clinked glasses and I took a hearty drink. Any friend of my dad’s was a friend of mine.
“Open it, Koz,” said Jed.
“Is it just me, or does anyone else hear the Twilight Zone music playing?” asked Tom. “I mean, we’re talking about your dad and his crappy birthday presents when a mysterious stranger shows up.” He mimicked the Twilight Zone theme while making weird movements with his fingers.
“C’mon, Koz,” said Jed. “You’re dying to know what’s in it.”
I took a small knife from my pocket and sliced off the strings binding the package. I flipped open the top and pulled out two Manila folders. They smelled like my father’s cologne – God, I missed that scent. I opened the thicker one, which contained photocopies of various documents and legal papers.
“What are these?” I asked Gene.
“I’m not sure, Dennis.”
“Check out that one.” Jed pointed to a page sticking out of the smaller folder.
I opened it and slid out what appeared to be a very old map. The poor light in the booth made it difficult to identify.
“I’ve seen old town maps before,” said Tom. “It looks like New Dover way back when.”
I studied it carefully, but I couldn’t make it out. “Why are these sections colored in?” I pointed to four distinct sections of the map.
Tom snapped his fingers and turned the map ninety degrees so it aligned with true north. “Now does it look familiar?”
“No. Should it?”
“These shaded areas are cemeteries, Koz: North Street, Darrowville, Oak Ridge and New Dover cemeteries.” Tom pointed to each as he spoke. “Is Rod Serling in here?”
“That is pretty creepy, Koz,” said Jed. “Did your dad have some morbid fascination with cemeteries?”
“Not that I knew of.” I thumbed the map then realized there was another page beneath it. I slid it out and placed it next to the map. It was a charcoal drawing of what appeared to be a Native American man’s face. The face was just an outline, with a distinctive jaw line and a flat nose. He appeared to be wearing a fancy necklace. Below it was a single word, also sketched in charcoal: KOMAKET.
“So, who is this Komaket dude?” Jed asked. “He’s kind of spooky looking.”
We all looked at Gene, who put his hands up. “I told you, already; I’m just the messenger. This is the first time I’ve laid eyes upon these papers and this, well, rather interesting-looking fellow.”
“Submitted for your approval,” Tom said in a decent Serling voice. He certainly had the eyebrows for it.
Tom made me smile, but just for a moment. “That’s really not helping,” I pointed out.
Gene shifted in his seat. “Dennis, there is one other issue I need to discuss with you. As I mentioned before, it’s a personal matter that concerns your father but only indirectly. I don’t think it’s a good idea to involve your friends, but I’ll leave it up to you to decide that, because, hey, this is your night.” He slid out of the booth and stood. “I’m going to hit the men’s room. You decide how you’re going to play this.” He turned on what looked to be very expensive heels and he was gone, at least temporarily.
“Koz, what the hell is this guy talking about?” Jed asked.
“I’m not sure. He told me he had business that concerned only me.” I looked at the drawing of Komaket. “I assumed this was it. I didn’t know there was a sequel.”
“We’re going to need another round for this.” Tom attempted to get Stacy’s attention.
“Or we could sneak out now while he’s taking a piss.” Jed turned his cap around, something he did when he was nervous. “You don’t need this kind of drama on your birthday, Koz.”
Part of me was halfway out the door, but I figured Gene had made this much effort to contact me on this one night, so I should see it through. Maybe he had more crazy drawings in his bag.
Stacy stopped by and we ordered another round. Drinks arrived just as Gene returned. Tom moved a Guinness directly in front of him.
“I took the liberty of ordering a beer for you, Gene the lawyer,” Tom said. “I figure you’re off the clock, now.”
“Good assumption.” Gene took a strong pull from the bottle. I was fully prepared for him to take something from his bag, but he sat silently for several seconds, then he leaned in my direction. “Okay, Dennis, I’m not going to sugarcoat this. I also promised your father I would take care of your college finances. To that end, he set up a fund that could only be used for educational purposes.” He took another long drink from his bottle. I could tell this was not going to be a short conversation.
“I know all that, Gene. My mom has sent checks to the university every year for several years.”
“Actually, that was my doing. Once your parents got divorced, I took on the fiduciary responsibility. She sent me the bill and your father’s fund took care of it.”
I couldn’t believe he came all this way to tell me something so obvious. “Okay, do you want a medal or something? Sounds like you were doing your job. I mean, for Christ sake, writing out checks is so hard.”
Gene twirled a napkin several times. “It’s more than that and you know it. Let me first say that I knew Norm Kozma better than anyone on this planet – I dare say even better than your mother – and I really doubt he’d be happy with the way things have turned out.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
Tom leaned as far across the table as he could. “You’ve got a lot of balls coming here tonight, mister big shot lawyer. You make it sound like Koz is some sort of deadbeat dad or welfare mom. Well, as someone who knows him better than anyone on the planet – dare I say even better than his mother – I should point out that he’s gainfully employed, never been in jail and is taking graduate-level courses. Things have turned out pretty well, for the record.”
I really didn’t need any help defending myself, but it was always good to have someone like Tom on my side. He’d been there for me many times before. I finished off the last of my beer and slammed it on the table. “And that’s why I’m where I am today.” I put out a fist and both my friends bumped it.
Gene also placed his bottle down a little harder than he needed to. “And just where is that, Dennis? I have full access to your academic records. I see you dropped out twice and changed majors at least five times before deciding on European History. History? Really? There’s another name for majoring in history, by the way. It’s called majoring in unemployment.”
“Hey, he got his degree,” Jed said. “That’s a pretty good accomplishment.”
“Actually, he didn’t.” He pointed his bottle in my general direction. “According to your official transcripts, you never completed the foreign language requirements necessary to graduate. All these so-called graduate courses you’ve been taking for over two years are just various piddly-ass electives and senior-level classes. In my day, we had a name for someone like you: professional student. Plus, I doubt your job at a pool supply store pays you much more than minimum wage.” He nearly polished off his beer. “Hey, it beats getting a real job, right Koz?”
Tom looked my way. “Is that true, Koz? I thought you had a degree in psychology.”
“I could’ve sworn it was archeology,” Jed said.
I waved my hands in front of them. “This is all bullshit. Why do you care what classes I take or where I work? Your cushy job is to sit on your ass and spend my dad’s money. That reminds me, Gene, I sign up for classes this week and I’ll need another check.” This got me a fist bump from Tom.
He finished the contents of the bottle and placed it down. “Therein lies the real point of this discussion. The money is gone, Dennis – all of it. You’re on your own from now on. The good news is that it’s not too late to apply for a student loan, or maybe you can borrow from your mother. I’m sure that will go over well.”
I nearly choked on my beer. I had been going to college for eight years. It was the only life I knew. I had every intention of taking that stupid foreign language class then getting my Masters. I loved the university life and I loved to learn. What was so bad about that? Dad would have understood. I was no ‘professional student’ because I had a plan – at least I thought I did.
Gene’s phone went off and he dug it out of his bag. He quickly glanced at the screen, turned it off and stuffed it back in. “Gentlemen, I have to go.” He slid out from the booth and stood at the end of the table. “I’ll find my way out, thanks, anyway.”
“Door’s over there.” Tom pointed while holding his bottle.
“Understood, but just one more thing…” He looked down and gently tapped the portrait of Komaket. “I’m not sure what all of this means, but there must be a reason he waited until you were twenty-five. He never shared that part with me, but that’s what your father wanted.”
“How the hell do you know what he wanted?” I asked. “Fifteen years is a long time.”
“I think you’ll find that it isn’t. Let me remind you that your dad was always the smartest person in the room wherever he went.” He shook his head and smiled, like he was recalling a Norm moment. “He was very ill when he came to me with this package. It’s likely he had little time to gather the information.” He got up in my face. “Finish this for him, Dennis. For once in your life, finish something.”
I watched him as he made his way past the server’s station. He pulled out a few bills and handed them to Stacy, who smiled and pushed a strand of hair behind her ear.
“Screw him.” Tom playfully jabbed my arm.
“Yeah,” Jed said. “Let’s have another round, birthday boy.”
They tried to get me back into the festivities, but I couldn’t. All I could think about was the package Gene delivered and how I was going to pay for my next round of classes. I was never a real inquisitive guy by nature. To me, it was a bunch of papers and a drawing of an old Indian – another lousy gift, another ant farm; a total buzzkill. Thanks a lot, Dad.
|Posted on October 26, 2013 at 9:25 PM||comments (0)|
It’s that time of year again... award nominations. While we don’t put out a lot of books, we publish good books that we are very proud of. Last year, DeeJay Arens’ book The View From A Rusty Train Car took second place at the Foreword Book of the Year Awards in the GLBT category and aced his category at the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Tony Walkden’s book With A Dying Breath was also a finalist in the Science/Nature/Conservation category, so we are riding high on that wave still.
This year we have four books that have been nominated for awards.
Barbara Townsend’s Blood Atonement: A Pioneer Trail Mystery is up for consideration for a Spur Award, The Eric Hoffer Award and the NIEA Indie Excellence Award.
Shakey Smith’s Fruit Salad and Wings is nominated for Next Generation Indie Book Award and the NIEA Indie Excellence Award.
Steve Saari’s poetry collection This Long Trip to Myself is entered for the Foreword Book of the Year Award, the NIEA Indie Excellence Award, The Next Generation Indie Book Award and the Eric Hoffer Award. He is also nominated for the Minnesota Best Book Award.
And although his book is not being released until November 22nd, Robert Clark’s novel Center Point has been nominated for the NIEA Indie Excellence Award and the Foreword Book of the Year Award.
We are blessed with some incredible talent. Three of these books are debut publications and we couldn’t be more proud of them. Good luck and watch for the results next spring.