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|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.
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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.
|Posted on August 22, 2013 at 12:00 AM||comments (0)|
|Posted on August 19, 2013 at 11:55 AM||comments (0)|
THIS LONG TRIP TO MYSELF
by Steve Saari
We are excited to announce the third release for this week, Steve Saari's debut poetry collection, This Long Trip To Myself. Already an experienced playwright, screenwriter, director, actor and incredible composer, Steve can now add published poet to his long list of talents and recognitions. We are thrilled to have him as part of the family.
Life is a singular journey filled with upheavals both joyful and tragic. Whether you have walked life’s path for a short time or have experienced a good length of the road, “This Long Trip to Myself” will speak to you personally. Dramatic, yet quietly reflective; humorous and offbeat; this collection of poems is the beginning of a new life adventure for the author, Steve Saari.
Steve's book will be available on August 22nd, in print, digital and Kindle formats.
To see through a foreign eye
The dream of a broken mind.
Recapture the thrill of beauty
Asleep in our primal hearts.
Lose the sorrow of dying
In the consummation of desire.
Breathe once and breathe again
Live once, then no more.
Surrender youth in a wistful sigh
While bearing age on a wearied shoulder.
Have triumph played on a lonely reed,
And tragedy soothed by a chorus of strings.
Lay down the bloodied battering ram
In wake of the victor’s glory.
Recognize futility in the fight
And waste in mediocre existence.
To grow not solely through suffering
But clench with your hand the throat of God.
Sometimes there’s no music,
Sometimes only words,
That fly through raging circles in my mind.
Sometimes there’s no music,
Sometimes only quiet,
Short-lived promises of still-born joy.
Sometimes there’s no daylight,
In stumbling through the darkness
We chance to fall on precious ground.
If only the darkness was lifted we could rejoice for having strayed.
Press your hand deep into the earth.
Hold the world in your palm
And look to the sky
Knowing you need never let go.
If your hand was not meant for the soil
Perhaps for the sea, for the heart,
For the wind…
Prepare to let it slip through your fingers.
My fingers are reaching.
I soar to fall,
I fail to win,
I do not understand.
Sometimes there is no music.
Release me from my tomb!
Cold seeps through my flesh,
Bones protrude from withered hides lying near me
Twisted jaws gape upon the skulls of the dead.
They think I am one who is with them—
A deacon in their rite of death.
Save me from the hideous ghouls
Who punish each impregnable corpse.
Molten soil and jutting rock,
Age-old water bled from muted dust.
Hour grinding hour deeper through the dark.
Tear me from rooted hell and gloom!
Release me from my tomb!
I am a dreamer
Of idyllic love
And quiet acceptance,
And treasures therein,
Of wandering ghosts
Of caressing winds
Of forgotten songs
Of childish pleasures
And electrical storms,
And room to breathe,
Of unencumbered nights
Of past lives
And promising futures,
Beyond all else, Hope.
|Posted on August 16, 2013 at 11:25 AM||comments (0)|
A powerful and haunting novel. Barbara Townsend has an uncanny ability to evoke the lives of Mormon women in 1846 shortly after the proclamation of plural marriage. We root for the women as they struggle for their rights in a world turned upside down. Read Blood Atonement for the history, the compassion and the understanding that Townsend brings to her characters, and for the spellbinding story. Just read it!
~ Margaret Coel, Killing Custer
I thoroughly enjoyed Blood Atonement, the new historical thriller written by Barbara Townsend.
After reading and loving Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer ten years ago, and seeing a great documentary about Mountain Meadows, I became interested in the darker details of Mormon pioneer history. Barbara Townsend’s book touches on that history -- it conveys a real sense of historic detail and accuracy, yet at the same time it manages to be a real page-turner.
This book is a great window into a fascinating chapter in the American Pioneer experience -- and is a satisfying crime novel to boot. If you know anything about the Mormon’s migration west -- or if you know nothing about it at all, you will enjoy this book.
~ Robert Ben Garant, Screenwriter, Night At The Museum
Enter a world where women share a husband—only a curtain separates intimate moments as jealously, pain, and despair build each day in their male dominated world. Discover a tenderness between sisters rent apart as evil individuals twist a religious course to fit their malicious intentions. Don’t miss this absorbing mystery of a pioneer journey of Latter day Saints, its blessings and curses in the infancy of its church. We are so very proud to be announcing the release of Barbara Townsend's Debut novel on August 22, 2014. This is a very well researched, well presented mystery that will have you hooked to the last page, while very adeptly immersing you into the life that her characters were forced to endure because of the time, the challenges, and the sake of their religion. Prologue
~ Patricia Frolander, Wyoming Poet Laureate, November 2011 - July 2013
Her book will be available in Print, Digital and Mobi/Kindle formats for download from our site or from most major online book dealers.
Trailer for Blood Atonement
Carroll County, Missouri
Eliza turned from the window as her sister Elizabeth groaned and writhed on the bed. The glow from the oil lamp’s small flame barely lit Elizabeth’s sweat-soaked face and that of the older woman tending her. Shadows on the log walls spasmed in time to the dancing blaze in the fireplace.
"Bite down on this belt," Mother whispered as she slipped the cracked leather into Elizabeth’s mouth. Elizabeth opened her jaw enough for the strap to slip between her teeth and bit down. A sharp moan escaped through her clenched teeth. She arched her back as agony coursed through her body.
"I know, honey," Mother spoke gently. "I know." She lifted the bunched hem of Elizabeth’s nightgown and peered into the dimness. The crown of a dark head bulged from between white thighs. "I can see the babe’s head. Push now."
Elizabeth coiled as she made herself sit up. Her face creased in a grimace as she forced her muscles to push. Rivulets of sweat cascaded down her face from the strain. With a cry, she fell back onto the bed and moved the belt to the side of her mouth. She gasped for air.
Eliza turned back to the window and pushed aside the curtain to peek outside.
"What are they doing?" Mother dabbed a damp cloth on Elizabeth’s forehead.
"They’re arguing with Lucas," Eliza murmured.
The yelling outside the log cabin was clearer now. Jumbled hollers separated into words.
"Get out, Mormon!"
"Better run, Saints!"
"We’ll burn ye out an’ eat yer cow!"
Foul jokes about Mormons and polygamy circled the cabin as curses echoed off the log walls, followed by a clear and chilling "You got five minutes to clear out before the torches land on your house!"
Eliza gasped and jumped away from the window. She and her mother exchanged horrified looks.
A low voice rumbled, trying to reason with the mounted Gentile mob. "I beg of ye, my wife is birthing. Let her have the babe in peace. Then we’ll go."
"Nah, sir, that’d be just one more Mormon we’d have ta get rid of."
"We don’t need more of yer thievin’ kind here," a higher-pitched voice shouted.
Wood popping in the fireplace and Elizabeth’s groans broke the thick silence.
Eliza fought a wave of panic and ran to grab a blanket for protection from the night’s cold air. Her eyes searched the small cabin for anything they needed for Elizabeth and for their escape, but her mind raced too fast to think.
Elizabeth spat out the leather strap. A wail flew from her mouth. "No! My babe—"
Through the walls, Lucas’ voice vibrated. "I have four women and a boy with me." Tension laced his voice. "We have harmed no one. We tried to be good neighbors. Mister Matthews, we threshed together. Mister Jones, I helped ye raise your barn. Allow my wife to give birth. Then we’ll leave peaceably."
"How many wives you got, boy?" A round of chuckles echoed from the mob.
"Like you, I have but one wife."
Lucas is trying to connect with them, Eliza thought.
Eliza looked between Elizabeth’s legs. The baby’s head hadn’t moved. She ran to the window and pushed aside the curtain.
Elizabeth cried openly in pain and fear.
Mother looked up, her face stricken. "Jack. Eleanor. Where are they?"
"Eleanor took Jack to the barn when Elizabeth’s time came."
"Do what ye will to me. I give myself unto ye, freely." Lucas began to weep. He tossed his musket onto the ground and held out his arms. "Here I am for ye. I pray ye leave my family be."
Laughter exploded from the mob. Eliza didn’t hear the joke for the roaring in her ears.
Eliza ran to Elizabeth. "Mother, help me!" She heaved Elizabeth to the bed’s edge. Elizabeth moaned. Her weight was full on her haunches as she sat on her baby’s head.
"Eliza, find Jack! Find Eleanor!"
"Mother, they can run out the back door." Eliza’s eyes flooded with tears.
Weeping, Mother grabbed the quilt. With Elizabeth’s arm over her shoulders, Eliza gripped her sister’s waist and staggered to the door. She flung it open.
Mounted horsemen ringed the house. Flares from their burning torches hurt her eyes. The mob fell silent as they studied the three women.
Lucas ran to Elizabeth and hefted her in his arms. She groaned and clutched her abdomen.
"In the name of all that is holy, can ye not see? Will ye let my wife birth in the safety of her home?" Tears streamed down Lucas’ face. "I beg of ye—"
Whoops erupted as the riders spurred their horses. Several flung their torches onto the house’s shake roof. The dry wood exploded into flames. Eliza and her mother ran into the darkness for the cottonwood grove to the west. Lucas ran behind them carrying his wailing wife.
Mother turned back. "Jack! Eleanor!"
Eliza grabbed her mother’s hand and pulled her along.
Screaming horses and the hollers and curses of the riders pushed her onward. The roar of the flames engulfing the house muffled the gun shots.
The brutality dimmed behind them as they neared the grove. Eliza’s lungs burned from the frozen night air. She gripped her mother’s hand and dragged the woman when she fell. Lucas’ boots thumped behind her, his breaths ragged.
Behind them, Eliza caught sight of Jack and Eleanor leading the cow from the burning barn. They fought off the mobsters from grabbing the cow’s harness. A rifle butt smashed down on the boy’s head. A horseman dragged off Eleanor.
Eliza, Mother, and Lucas ran deep into the grove. Hidden behind thick bushes, Eliza and her mother collapsed. Lucas tripped over the brambles and crumpled beside them, dumping Elizabeth onto the ground. He knelt, bellowing in grief. Lungs heaved as Eliza and her mother knelt by Elizabeth. They placed their hands on her face and stroked her hair. "Elizabeth!"
She didn’t respond.
Enter a world where women share a husband—only a curtain separates intimate moments as jealously, pain, and despair build each day in their male dominated world. Discover a tenderness between sisters rent apart as evil individuals twist a religious course to fit their malicious intentions. Don’t miss this absorbing mystery of a pioneer journey of Latter day Saints, its blessings and curses in the infancy of its church.
We are so very proud to be announcing the release of Barbara Townsend's Debut novel on August 22, 2014. This is a very well researched, well presented mystery that will have you hooked to the last page, while very adeptly immersing you into the life that her characters were forced to endure because of the time, the challenges, and the sake of their religion.