mystery reading magazine Executive Editor - Laurence O’Bryan Editor-in-Chief - Tanja Slijepčević Graphic Designer - Mirna Gilman Ranogajec
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ARTICLES Good Reasons To Kill by D. J. Adamson The Challenge of Writing an Engaging Mystery by Elisabeth Zguta Looking at life like a mystery By Patricia E. Gitt
31 SHORT BOOK EXCERPTS 32 36 39 44 48 53 58 64 68
A Timeless Celebration by Dianne Ascroft Blending In by Norman Brewer Five Years in Yemen: A Titus Ray Thriller Riptide: Sam McRae Mystery by Debbi Mack Tangle with Tara “Tara” Series Detective Crime Mystery General Jackson’s Last Hurrah by Joan Ramirez Your Hippocratic Oath by Jeff Shear The Girl by the Dumpster Jameson Tucker Owl Manor – the Dawning, by Zita Harrison
74 75 79
SHORT STORY The End of the Rope By Bob Brink The Sambici Gambit by James R. Callan
INTERVIEWS Mysteries in Paradise: An Interview with Mystery Writer Jeanne Burrows-Johnson By Geoff Habiger
You are very welcome to our Mystery magazine â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;18! From riveting mystery recommendations, explosive thrillers, mindboggling short stories and excerpts, we have an eclectic mix of mystery goodies for you! And if you look carefully, youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll find a couple of free books around the magazine. We start with a question - D. J. Adamson asks what are the 5 good reasons to kill. What are the 5 most common motives for murder? Only in fiction, that is. Mystery author Elisabeth Zguta shares the biggest challenges in writing mysteries and what to look out for. Patricia E. Gitt shares why is she looking at life as a mystery and how
it helped her in writing. Read an excerpt from A Timeless Celebration by Dianne Ascroft and discover your next favorite cosy mystery, page 33. Read an excerpt from an intriguing thriller Blending In by Norman Brewer, page 37. What would you do if you’ve waken up by the dumpster with no recollection on how you got there - and with an attractive girl next to you? Jameson Tucker says not to panic - more on page 65. Don’t miss mystery short stories from Bob Brink and James R. Callan - from page 76. And of course, don’t forget to check out our book recommendations, from cosy mysteries to gory thrillers there is something for everyone. This and much more in our new Mystery magazine! And if you have any ideas for articles or things you would like to see covered in our magazines, let me know. Tanja Slijepcevic Editor in Chief Mystery Magazine 2018
Terrorists as we know them are social misfits. Undisciplined. Extremists seeking martyrdom. But what if terrorists were well-trained, levelheaded, and innocuous? If they rejected martyrdom and valued escape to attack another day?
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Frannie Shoemaker and her friends go camping to get away from the real world. Reality intrudes on their week in the form of accidents, nature, and even murder.Â Available on Amazon!
When the CIA intercepts intelligence on a terrorist attack in Kuwait, Petra Shirazi, a former field agent, comes face to face with the Ahriman, one of Iran's deadliest assassins. Available on Amazon!
A role-playing game staged in the remote woods of the North East Kingdom, turns into a deadly pastime when a killer uses the game as a means to seize his victims.
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The Columbine high school massacre was the most lethal school shooting in modern US history when it took place on April 20, 1999. Here, I use a fictional scenario to explore possible motives spurring the macabre actions of two female mass shooters. 7
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The Red Umbrella Society by Khrys Vaughan The Red Umbrella Society was created to protect women, prevent them from being pitted against one another, and to hand down the Way to their daughters. Now weeks before celebrating another century of sisterhood, a plot is uncovered that places its future in peril. But ﬁnding the culprit may be even more devastating. And force Wyse Woman, Lucille Hanway, to choose between saving her friend and the organization she swore to protect. 2nd Place Winner. Missouri Writers Guild Fall Fiction Contest. Only at Barnes & Noble
Painting of Sorrow by Virginia Winters What would you do? Sarah Downing, an art conservator, hiding in witness protection, identiﬁes a masterpiece by Caravaggio. History says it burned in WWII Berlin, but here it is, on her easel. Soon she is ﬁghting to save the painting and herself. Someone betrayed Sarah—an agent, a friend? Her ex-husband Jimmy is standing on her street, outside her house, waiting. He knows the painting exists and will murder to get it. What Sarah does next sends her from Kingston to Italy in her desperation to survive, save the Caravaggio and rebuild her life. “Painting of Sorrow by Virginia Winters is a great story. A young woman with a dysfunctional past embraces a new life in Canada, and all is well until she discovers an old masterpiece. Unfortunately, others are aware of it too, and she is soon on the run for her life. Good story, tons of action and twists, plus a good ending - what more can one ask...” – By Geoff Lawson
The Afterlife Series Collection - Books 1 to 4: Paranormal Thriller Series Fans of 'Being Human' love these supernatural thrillers with a hint of dark humour.
Bangkok is a constant presence, creating a mood that is both exotic and noir. This novel shows you the Big Mango as it is rarely seen by foreigners.
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CAN OFFICE POLITICS LEAD TO MURDER? WHEN AOIFE STARTS A NEW JOB, A HORRIFYING DISCOVERY ON HER SECOND DAY PROVES THIS IS NO ORDINARY OFFICE. Â FANS OF PAULA HAWKINS AND GILLIAN FLYNN WILL LOVE THIS SUSPENSEFUL READ WHERE NOTHING IS WHAT IT SEEMS.
MURDER. ARSON. REVENGE. DETECTIVE INSPECTOR WEST INVESTIGATES THE GRISLY DEATHS OF TWO ELDERLY PRIESTS: ONE IN A SUSPICIOUS FIRE; THE OTHER OBVIOUSLY MURDERED.
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Crazy Love by Rachael Tamayo She’s his everything, his heart, his love and his future bride.But they’ve never met.Noah is teetering on the edge of sanity. His sick obsession for the beautiful stranger pushing him further and further to the brink of madness. His Emily. He greets her daily at the pharmacy where she works just to catch a moment with her. He’s a harmless guy, right? It’s just a crush, surely. But then things start to get scary. By the time Emily realizes the depth of Noah’s obsession for her, it may be too late. “Brilliant from beginning to end. If you read one book this year, read this one.”—Picky Bitches Book Blog Award winning thriller. Top ten best books of 2017 & Current semi-finalist in the Greenlight Screenplay adaptation awards. **15% of all sales are donated to the National Alliance on Mental illness.**
The Pharm House by Bill Powers The Pharm House is a foreboding and darkly suspenseful debut medical thriller by Bill Powers set in the hidden underworld of the global pharmaceutical business. Do you ever wonder how drugs get in those little brown bottles? Read The Pharm House and you may give it a second thought. “I could not put it down. Woke up in the middle of the night to read a few more chapters. I had just finished a John Grisham novel (Sycamore Row) and The Pharm House kept up the standards: for plot, pace and prose. Can’t wait until Dr. Powers writes another. I’ll be waiting for it.” – Amazon reviews
"A missing person tale with a strong setting and cast of characters...auspicious first novel puts a welcome focus on the players instead of transgressive twists."---Kirkus. Available on Amazon!
5 Good Reasons To Kill by D. J. Adamson Many crime and mystery writers get fixated on coming up with different ways to kill someone. But, I have always been more interested in the why, rather than the how, and have discovered in my numerous years that as Agatha Christie wrote, it is Easy To Kill. There are five reasons why we kill someone: Motive #5: Irritation. Edgar Allen Poe used irritation as a reason for killing in several of his stories. In Tale Tell Heart, the killer is irritated by the victim’s glass eye. In The Black Cat? No, it wasn’t the cat, but the killer’s nagging wife. Walling the cat up was pure accident. Many people can become irritated to the point of screaming, ranting, raving--killing isn’t that far of a leap. Motive #4: Id vs. Ego. The edge of sanity vs. insanity is within all of us. Just a mere toe length over the edge of psychological balance can send anyone tumbling off. It’s why therapists charge rates equaling those of a lawyer. It is the coveted secret for many, I’m seeing someone. We’ve got mother issues, father issues, sibling rivalry, lack of attention, too much attention, feel depressed, worthless, overlooked, overwhelmed. Most of you reading this have 15
probably dealt with one of these issues, although maybe not to the ultimate solution. Or if you don’t think you have one of these problems, just go to a therapist! Because at some point in your life, an emotional concern caused you to say, “I wish he/she/it was dead.” Remember, George in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men may have psychologically and morally reasoned that killing Lennie would keep him safe. But, without Lennie, George has a chance for a more balanced life. He takes on the ID and gives the EGO to Slim. Motive #3: Control. Serial Killers murder for power or revenge. And isn’t revenge just another way to rescript the past making it how you would have wanted it? Sex-related crimes are all about control and power. But so is morality. Religion has caused mass killings, war. The rationalization must be the thought that if everyone worships the same way, then there will be no more fear of death. Although, ironically, most religion is a false dilemma of good vs. evil. I have always feared evil. That’s why I like to write about it. It’s my control. I decide and most of the time, I win. But getting away from organized religion, television’s Dexter was psychologically convinced his victims were morally different than he. Same with Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley series. Motive #2: Love. Yes, number two! Love is not the definitive reason to kill someone however much it’s said, I love him so much I could just kill him. I love her to death. In William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily, she thinks since her father is dead, she is free to love. There was definitely a father-daughter issue here. Only, while her father controlled her love, she learned she was ineffective in keeping and controlling love herself. Her solution? Rat Poison. It kept her lover in 16
bed. Love can kill: Suspicion, mistrust, envy, jealousy, power, selfishness, manipulation, all in the name of love. It’s always been a good reason to knock someone off. #1 Motive: Money. Show me the money! Follow the money! I don’t think I have much to say about this motive. It’s an apparent reason understood. Greed is one of the seven deadly sins. Greed, gluttony, insatiability, self-indulgence, covetousness, materialism, need I go on? Putting this on a minuscule level, if you see someone’s newest iPhone, there is a little voice in the back of your head, no matter the age: I want one. The only thing that stops you from brutally taking it from the person who has it is the thin edge of sanity you hang on to. I sat beside a Catholic nun in an airport waiting room once. Seeing her reading a book involving a serial killer, I was astounded. Shouldn’t she be only reading gospels? Anyway, I asked her if she liked the book. She said she loved reading books about or with a serial killer because she understood how that element was God given to us as much as our desire for goodness. I completely understood what she meant. It is the psychological, religious, social human dilemma—that edge we all walk. D. J. Adamson is the author of the Lillian Dove Mystery series and the Deviation science fictionsuspense trilogy. LET HER GO, the third in the Lillian series has just been released. She is a professor and teaches writing and literature in Southern California. Her newsletter Le Cour de l’Artiste interviews and reviews author: http:// www.djadamson.com. Make friends with her on Facebook or Goodreads.
The Challenge of Writing an Engaging Mystery by Elisabeth Zguta A good mystery engages the reader with a great hook, challenging plot, unique characters, and an atmosphere of suspense, all intertwined with a good structure. The curious reader turns into the investigator and pieces the clues together to unveil the stories behind the characters. Writing a mystery novel is a challenge–layers must lead to a resolution to the primary questions: ‘Who? What? Why?’ There are building blocks for a successful mystery. 1) Like any good entrance, a mystery needs a strong opening hook: Pique their curiosity and desire to keep reading. Think of it as your ten second shot to intrigue the reader enough so that they’ll invest themselves to the pages ahead. Grab the reader’s attention, pull them into the story, then lead them into your world and assist them in solving the mystery. Some say there are rules, like not to use weather in an opening line. However, no rule is steadfast. Let’s examine an example from the book Dead Silence by Randy Wayne White: “On a snowy January evening in Manhattan, I was in the Trophy Room of the Explorers Club when I saw, through frosted windows, men abducting a woman as she exited her limousine.” This sentence shows us the weather, and he’s also looking into the pane of glass, another taboo is looking at a reflection, however using those elements here gives the reader so much insight that it’s beneficial to ignore the norm. 18
The hook will always work if your opening line has a mysterious tone and grasps the reader’s interest. 2) Embellishing the plot: Use the traditional red herrings to mix-up the plot and escalate the possibilities. Most writers like to drop hints of possible suspects, perhaps a secret agenda, there’s a smorgasbord of possibilities, anything that can be used to confuse the reader about the true antagonist and agenda. Utilize such devices like a magical sleight-of-hand trick. Readers enjoy deciphering the evidence to guess who the culprit might be. By scattering red herrings throughout the story, you’ll create a more complex and exciting plot. One word of caution: if using red herrings be prepared to explain them and tie up loose ends. No reader likes to feel duped. Reinforce the plot with good dialogue, used to peel the layers of the characters. Suspenseful dialogue pushes the story ahead when used correctly. 3) Unique characters make a story memorable: Write suspenseful dialogue, truthful to the character. Conversations reveal the uniqueness of the speaker and need to sound organic, matching that character’s voice. Reading dialogue aloud is a good method to determine its effectiveness. A character may say one thing but means another—or tell only halftruths—these triggers ramp up the suspense. To add explosive dynamics to the plot have a character give information that contradicts what the reader already knows to be true, or he/she could withhold information that the reader knows to be a flat-out omission. Lies! They always ramp up the stakes! Have your character say something bizarre and unexpected. A good 19
example of this technique done well is the script of “Twin Peaks” written by David Lynch and Mark Frost. The main character of this cult mystery TV series is Agent Dale Cooper, a quirky yet mysterious man. His uniqueness shows with his off-the-wall remarks like: ‘The owls are not what they seem.’ This line is memorable, and many fans quote lines from the show still, years after it originally aired. Unpredictable characters can mash-up the plot’s tension. Engrossed, the reader will crave to see what the crazy character will do next. Anticipation spikes the tension. Using the art of characterization: what they say, do, how they look, and what they hide, can contribute to the plot and mood. 4) Craft a mysterious mood using the setting and descriptive language: The surroundings can act like one of the characters, influencing the others to react. An example: a setting with the traditional thunderstorm creates a mood while forcing everyone into the house where the crazed serial killer sits in wait. It moves the plot. Turn an old troupe into something original and memorable by adding your twist. Settings like dark woods or a cemetery add an immediate eerie quality based on our expectations. Add some descriptive language to multiply the perception of urgency in the scene. For example: add to a desolate lane its narrowness, then the passageway exposes its confinement and the character experiences claustrophobia. Now a reader can empathize. Use experiences of the senses in the prose with descriptive language so that the reader can react to smells and visual context that help propel the tension and suspense and moves the plot forward. 5) Use your story’s structure to retain a well-paced story: 20
A joke is good only if you hit the punchline at the optimal time. The same tactic applies with a mystery. Your chapters should control the pace. Keep the reader hooked until the end of the book by ending each chapter with a promise of a big reveal in the next. Lure the reader with the glimpse of more to come and control the flow, by creating seamless scene transitions.Cultivating fear of the unknown is the pillar of good mystery writing.
breather now and then.
Each chapter should unveil a discovery. Allow the action to rise throughout the story on a major scale, a continual ramp-up of suspense. Also within each chapter and each scene at the minor level. The tension should build but allow for a
The elements playing against each other, and the friction between the questions and answers, delivers the heart-pounding tension of the great mystery novel. Who doesn’t like a puzzle? Let the reader become an active detective. Readers invest their precious time with each page, and they will become a loyal fan if you show them the breadcrumbs. Trust the reader. Give them the clues to solve the crime–but don’t hold their hand. Your readers are clever, respect their intellect. When these components of a mystery story are brought together: the opening hook, plot techniques like red herrings, dynamic dialogue, and unique characterization, atmosphere and mood created with descriptive 21
language, all bound together by with a solid story structure, then the story harmoniously delivers a powerful climax and resolution with a punch. The reader requires that A-HA moment. They should be able to go back and see how things unfolded and why. The red herrings should make sense now, the true motives fall into place, and the identity of the culprit should satisfy.Leave the reader feeling good about the ending and craving to read your next book. Happy writing. Elisabeth Zguta is an Independent Author and Publisher. A curious person by nature, she investigates unusual subjects, hoping to share something unexpected. Her goals are to entertain her readers and touch their emotions, while delivering thrills. Currently Elisabeth lives in the Memphis area but she grew up in New England and also lived in upper New York and Florida states. An avid reader, Elisabeth is also a mother of four grown children and two grandchildren. She worked as a Buyer for new product development teams until she left office life to write fiction. Elisabeth writes paranormal mystery, supernatural suspense thriller crime novels and often uses folklore and Native American legends, to add the flavor of history, some romance, too. Check out her suspense thriller novels: Curses & Secrets 3 book series, and Murder In The North East Kingdom
Close to losing his soul, will Rick's ultimate success in drug and arms dealing finally lead him to face up to reality?
When investigative journalist, Alexi Ellis, falls victim to the Sunday Sentinel’s cutbacks, she heads for Lambourn. But this idyllic country paradise harbours secrets. A woman has gone missing under mysterious circumstances and Alexi still has a nose for a story.
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LOGAN IS THE FIRST PERSON YOU’D CALL FOR TWO-FISTED DETECTIVE ACTION! And three times Logan means three times the adventure.
PEDIATRICIAN AND AMATEUR GENEALOGIST ANNE MCPHAIL FINDS THE DEAD BODY OF LIBRARIAN JENNIFER SMITH, THE WOMAN SHE PLANNED TO MEET AND HER JOURNEY TAKES A DANGEROUS DETOUR INTO JENNIFER'S PAST OF EXTORTION AND BLACKMAIL.
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Available on Amazon!
Looking at life like a mystery By Patricia E. Gitt
Only when I began writing novels, did I realize that I had been looking at my life as a puzzle. I never set out with a plan but took delight in following unknown paths. I was excited about being challenged to find answers to new problems, expanding my knowledge with new locations, ideas and situations. Early in my career in public relations I learned that there were two kinds of employers. One wanted you to have done the same thing for five years. They wanted you to bring that expertise to their company. Something like writing a mystery series. Both in life and writing, working with the familiar is comforting and enables you to focus on building upon known particulars and experiences. Then there were those employers seeking talented people with a variety of skills to round out the experience of their staff. By thinking outside your comfort zone, you experience a flexibility of thinking. For a manuscript it may require research into unknown subjects. In a career it can spark an entirely new approach to a business situation. I fell into the latter group. The positions were always breaking new ground. You werenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t asked if you could do a task, you were expected to find a way to implement it. Whether it was working with a drug being developed to cure cancer, or a new technological advancement, it would be my job to explain the unknown to others.
This is a roundabout way of explaining the way I look at the start of a new novel. After I ask myself what if, I set about building a plot with individual pieces. Depicting the background of my main characters, envisioning locations and of course, the all-important elements of method-means-opportunity of the malcontent set on causing the protagonist harm. The first piece of the puzzle is to build a life for each of my characters that sets them apart from one another. In writing a character, I try to illustrate the influences behind their actions. Those elements developed long before the person appears on the page. Complications of birth, or family dynamics, or self-imposed limitations. Because I write mysteries, I must weigh good versus evil influencing each twist and turn in the plot. Since no one is inherently all good or evil the drama is depicted in the battle between the two, sometimes in the same person. And when did you ever see a jigsaw puzzle without a setting? A master scene into which the myriad of pieces must all fit. In a mystery the location narrows the field of possibilities for introducing characters and elements to the plot. In life, settings will influence day-to-day activities. Is it a community, business, family? As in life, each frames the tale. But writing is also about creating emotional chemistry for each character. Are they acidic, explosive, passive or a combination that adds to the volatile mix? In a jig saw puzzle this would be done with color and graphics. In a novel it is created in word pictures. In a career it is done by the personâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s visible mode of dress, response to specific situations, behavior and personality.
And lastly gather all puzzle components into an integrated whole. In a mystery you build suspense. In a career you are adding to your skills and expertise. So do you live and write like a mystery puzzling out life as you go? Or, are you gifted with knowing your path and build along that road? Neither is better. Both may even be instinctive. That’s life. Patricia E. Gitt is the author of novels featuring women, mystery, crime and success. As a former executive in public relations she worked with many outstanding women in finance, healthcare, fashion and pharmaceutical industries. She says, “I wanted to read novels featuring their strength, qualities that made them successful, and how they balanced dynamic careers with their private lives.” Patricia earned her B.S. from the University of Vermont, and her MBA from Fordham. During her career as an executive in public relations, she served as Chapter President of American Women in Radio and Television, and was listed in editions of “Who’s Who of American Women”, “Who’s Who in Finance and Industry”, and “Who’s Who in Professional and Executive Women.” Her novels include CEO – a driven life examined, ASAP – A settling of scores and TBD – A game changer and FYI An Unintended Consequence. Please visit www.pegpublishing.com for additional information. 26
War, economic crisis in America, and terrorists plotting unspeakable revenge against Alexandra all converge in this page-turner of historical fiction. Available on Amazon
WHITE DEATH, A Detective Al Warner Novel by George A Bernstein Detective Al Warner is back at work after the deadly encounter that ended the hunt for The Prom Dress Killer. The suspicious accidental drowning of 5 factory workers; the Cuban & Colombian drug cartels rushing toward turf war; and an exploding rash of deadly ODs from fentanyl-laced heroin—White Death—ﬁll Warner’s plate. Soon all erupts into a series of stunning revelations and deadly confrontations, with Warner once again in mortal danger. Fans of Alex Cross & Gabriel Alon will love Al Warner “This was a great book you don’t want to put down I really enjoyed it can’t wait till the next one!” – Amazon review “A chilling thriller based on America’s opioid crisis in an all-too-real scenario,” by S.L. Menear, Award-willing Author
MURDER IN PALM BEACH: The Homicide That Never Died by Bob Brink A shotgun blast into a Palm Beach home fells a prominent citizen. This novel is based on a 1976 murder and contains explosive new information as to the killer and the ultra-important person involved. An ambitious prosecutor pins the deed on karate expert Mitt Hecher. Did he do it? This is a story of redemption wrapped in a mystery displaying power, sex and violence, plus a heart-rending love affair. Author Bob Brink, an award-winning journalist, was a reporter at the location of the murder. “Bob Brink (puts) you right in a scene. His descriptions are spot-on with realistic dialogue and rich texture in his characters. The book’s seamless transitions move across time toward a breathtaking climax.” - Kate Newton, prize-winning author 28
Death at Crooked Creek by Mary Ann Cherry In this newly released art mystery, Jessie O’Bourne is delighted to be the invited guest artist at the Crooked Creek Art Expo held annually in Montana during March. Mother Nature is still blasting the area with snow and ice, however, so Jessie moves herself and her tomcat, Jack, out of her cold, but beloved motorhome, the Hawk, into the warmth and luxurious accommodations of the old log lodge hosting the art show. When Jessie discovers a dead body was hidden in the Hawk during her absence, she’s thrown into a complex murder investigation tied to the death of a teenager. Soon, threatening notes and tiny toy tractors are delivered to her door and she calls on her big Norwegian friend, Detective Sergeant Arvid Abrahmsen, and old ﬂame, Sheriff Russell Bonham, of Sage Bluff, to help investigate. Surrounded by painters and sculptors, Jessie is horriﬁed to think that one of her talented friends is a killer. FBI art theft agent, Grant Kennedy, arrives in Crooked Creek to attend the auction and joins forces with Arvid and Russell. Their goal is to ﬁnd the murderer before the latest death threat slipped under Jessie’s door becomes a reality. “…I’ve read a few murder mysteries in my time, but few of them have been as cleverly crafted with as many red herrings thrown in as Death at Crooked Creek by Mary Ann Cherry. This is superbly written...” - Grant Leishman for Readers Favorite
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A Timeless Celebration by Dianne Ascroft Excerpt from Chapter 2 She was enjoying the afternoon. It had turned out to be fun to get out and meet people, but she really wasn’t ready for anything more than friendship with a man. James was always there in her mind. The pain was lessening but it was nowhere near gone yet. It wasn’t time to think about a new relationship yet, despite Marge’s attempts at matchmaking. But she did have to agree with her friend: it had been a good idea to get out today. As she stood, staring off into space, a hand gripped her upper arm. She jumped and turned to find Marge leaning close to her ear. “Lois, I don’t believe it!”
“What?” “I can’t find it.” “What are you looking for?” “The watch.” “Your watch?” “No, the one from Isabella Morton,” Marge hissed. “Isn’t it on the desk where you left it before the speeches?” Marge shook her head. “Did it fall off ? Maybe it’s under the desk.” “No, I’ve looked all around the office. There’s just the box where I left it
on the desk.” “Want me to help you have another look?” “Yeah, thanks.” The two women crossed the room and walked the short distance to the end of the hallway. In the office, they searched the top of the desk, all the drawers in it and every other surface and shelf, but half an hour later there was still no sign of the watch. “Would one of the other staff have moved it somewhere for safekeeping?” Lois asked. “Nah, I’m responsible for it. No one would’ve touched it.” “You’re sure?” “Positive.” “Then what’s happened to it?” Lois frowned. She couldn’t remember Marge locking the office when they left earlier. “Was the room unlocked all afternoon?” “Yeah. People are honest around here. I never even thought of locking it.” Marge raked her hand through her hair, messing up the carefully hairsprayed coif. “Man, I’m in for it now. I’ll probably get the sack.” The sound of heavy footsteps approaching the office made both women look toward the doorway. Dave Stewart poked his head through the door and grinned. “Everyone’s leaving and I’m locking up now. You ladies planning to stay here tonight?” Marge stared at him speechlessly. “Everything alright?” Dave asked. When Marge still didn’t speak, Lois smiled at the man. “Yeah, we just lost track of time chatting here.” Dave laughed. “Well, everyone knows what Marge’s like when she gets going.” He looked at Marge again. “I think this is the quietest I’ve ever seen her. You sure you’re alright, Marge?” Marge gave Dave a weak smile. “Yeah, sure. We’ll get out of here. Don’t want to keep you from your supper. Are you barbecuing burgers tonight?” “Yeah, every Saturday night during the summer. Nothing beats burgers in the back yard.” 33
The two women lifted their purses and silently followed Dave from the room. Marge stopped and locked the office door before they made their way to the front entrance where they left Dave. They still didn’t speak as they walked down the two flights of stairs and around to the parking lot behind the building. “Oh dear, now what?” Marge looked dejected as she gazed at her friend. “If I can’t get that watch back, I don’t know what I’m gonna do. I really like it at the museum. I don’t want to lose this job. And I won’t get another archivist’s job around here. I don’t want to commute to TO every day.” Lois gripped her friend’s forearm. “You’re not gonna lose this job. It has to turn up. It didn’t just walk out of there on its own.” “I know but—” “Can we get into the building tomorrow when no one will be around so we can have another look?” “I don’t have a front door key. Just one for my office, which I’ve never used before today.” “Well, come around to my house and we’ll go over everything and see what we can remember about this afternoon. Maybe we’ll be able to figure out what’s happened to it. I’ll meet you back at the house.” “I can’t tonight. I’ve got to drive Mom over to her cousin’s in Georgetown for supper.” “Well, come around to my place in the morning then, when your mom’s at church.” “Okay, thanks. I’m so glad you’re here.” Lois squeezed her friend’s arm again and gave her a determined smile. “Don’t worry. We’ll figure this out. Try to relax and enjoy the evening with your relatives. See you in the morning.”
Dianne Ascroft is a Canadian who has settled in rural Northern Ireland. She and her husband live on a small farm with an assortment of strong-willed animals. A Timeless Celebration is the first novel in the Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries series. Her previous writing includes The Yankee Years series, historical novels set during the Second World War in Northern Ireland. To learn more about Dianne and her writing, visit her website at http:// www.dianneascroft.com, or follow her on Facebook: http://www.facebook. com/DianneAscroftwriter and Twitter (@DianneAscroft)
Bikers, Rockers & the FBI from Sam Jacobey A Dark Romantic Read for MA only! Tori’s life is incredible – can you handle the ride? Read in order - Ebook, PB, AUDIO & FREE on KU http://myBook.to/ANewLifeSeries From Book 1: A New Life Series is an epic adventure. TORI FARRELL’s life IS one wild story... escaped from a biker gang and running from drug lords... used by the FBI and hoping to protect her present from her past... IT’S DARK - IT’S BRUTAL, and it’s WORTH EVERY MINUTE OF IT!! (Mature read, 18+ for graphic sexual content and violence, including rape)
Blending In by Norman Brewer Chapter 1 Without warning the rocket-propelled grenade fell just short of the press conference getting underway near the gates of the Russian Embassy. Shrapnel ripped into the shoulder-to-shoulder reporters and cameramen and on to the two men standing at the podium. Cries rang out and shredded bodies flew. Russia’s ambassador was killed instantly. The U.S. secretary of state went down with multiple wounds. On the opposite side of 2650 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W., a wiry man in a tan trench coat had just limped down a side street, away from the heavy black gates, when the RPG struck. “Damn, I said ‘Not a go!’” the spotter screamed into his phone. He quickly composed himself, taking in what he could see through the dust and debris. “Okay, one notch up. One notch left.” After the briefest pause, a zip-like flight and instantaneous explosion again pierced the air as a second grenade hit the diplomats and media. “Dead on. Fire again,” ordered the spotter. Behind him, he heard a man shouting in his ear. “You son-of-a-bitch, you are part of this.” The spotter saw the third explosion, erupting through the expanding cloud of dust. “You’re good. Get out of there.” He turned to face the wizened man who had been approaching when he told his shooter, 36
“Not a go.” Suddenly the old man, spittle flying in his excitement, attacked with his cane. “I’m a vet and I know when someone’s calling in artillery! Damn you! Damn you!” The spotter raised his arms to ward off the wild blows, uncertain how best to counter his feeble assailant. The threat turned real when a Metropolitan Washington police cruiser careened onto Wisconsin just a block away. The old man kept screaming, “He did this! He did this!” as the officer spun from his car, reaching for his handgun. The spotter’s Glock was already out of his coat pocket. He coldly leveled it, firing two shots into the officer’s face. With his left hand he grabbed the old man’s belt buckle, pulled him forward and shoved hard, shooting him twice in the chest as he stumbled backward into shrubbery. Walking north on Wisconsin, the spotter felt lucky that the old man hadn’t knocked off his wide-brimmed fedora or the false gray beard and sunglasses protecting him from the embassy’s prying security cameras. As uniformed guards stumbled from the carnage, frantically trying to spot the assailant, he broke into a brisk walk, forgetting his limp. Alarmed residents streamed from their homes, onto the sidewalks and into the street. The spotter was willingly swallowed by the rapidly forming crowd. As approaching sirens wailed from all directions, what had been a quiet rush hour in upper Georgetown dissolved into confusion. People scurried about in search of answers, wandering into the street and further clogging traffic. Angry drivers swore, some trying to reverse direction. Police struggled to set up a perimeter, finally halting Wisconsin traffic north and south of the embassy gates. But no way could first responders control the frantic pedestrians. The spotter easily worked his way across the intersection at Massachusetts Avenue, beyond the law’s immediate reach, and walked north up Wisconsin past Washington National Cathedral. It was the highest 37
point in the city, with the central Gloria in Excelsis tower soaring nearly three hundred feet above street level. Millions of people from around the world have sought solace and peace within its gently lit cross-shaped nave. Now the iconic landmark had an infamous chapter. The spotter’s flight nearly paralleled that of another man walking north on Thirty-eighth Street, away from the cathedral. He had a purposeful stride. Blocky but lean, he wore sunglasses and a baseball cap pulled low on his forehead. Though the winter day was chilly, he could feel a light sweat beneath his workman’s clothes, perhaps from exertion, perhaps from stress. Approaching a non-descript sedan, he hit a button on his key fob, pulled a distinctive backpack from his shoulders and dropped it in the trunk. As the spotter crossed Woodley Road a dumpster caught his eye. He resisted an urge to toss his Glock, taking a calculated risk should he be stopped. But he knew every dumpster, grate and crevice in the area was sure to be searched. He wanted to dispose of the gun and his silly but effective disguise. But properly, far from Washington. Besides, should something go horribly wrong, the gun would enable him to wreak further mayhem – or to deny authorities a live suspect. He walked on. The gunner turned left on Macomb and, as planned, stopped the sedan just before Wisconsin. He had to double park. In short order, he saw a car approaching in his rearview mirror and knew he would be expected to drive on. But as he put the car in gear he saw the spotter, walking briskly. Within seconds they blended into traffic fleeing the chaos of the attack. Norman Brewer is a former director of employee communications for the Transportation Security Administration in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Previously, he was an award-winning reporter and editor. He is retired and lives in Bethesda, Md. Blending In is his first book. 38
Five Years in Yemen: A Titus Ray Thriller Tuesday, October 13 Douglas Carlton, my boss and the head of the Middle East desk at the CIA, wanted to see me. As I travelled north along the Capital Beltway on my way to his townhouse in McLean, Virginia, I thought about our last conversation. It had taken place in his office at the Agency twenty four hours earlier when he’d signed off on my three month leave following the successful completion of Operation Peaceful Retrieval. At the time, Carlton had seemed upset, and I’d wondered if his disgruntled attitude and the Top Secret file on his
desk were related. He’d hinted the file contained the components of a new intelligence operation, one I would have been offered had the Deputy Director of Operations (DDO) not just given me a leave of absence. Although I’d tried to pry the details out of him, he’d only offered me the bare facts; Jacob Levin—a CIA contractor who’d disappeared in Iraq five years ago—had been spotted in Yemen, and the DDO wanted to know what he was doing there. Carlton had also implied the operation had political ramifications attached to it, and that it required the President’s approval before it could be implemented. More than likely, the political aspects of the 39
operation had been the reason for his crankiness. Playing politics, while putting America’s security at stake, was one of Carlton’s pet peeves—one of many. He’d refused to tell me what the politics of the situation were, and after we’d said our goodbyes, I’d walked out of my boss’s office thinking I wouldn’t see him again for three months. That had brought a smile to my face. For the past six months, we’d worked together on three separate operations, and I was looking forward to some time off. No, scratch that. The only thing I was looking forward to in the next three months was spending time with Nikki Saxon. Although Nikki and I had only known each other a short time, I’d surprised myself yesterday by asking her to marry me. As soon as I’d put the ring on her finger, Carlton had called and invited me to drop by his townhouse in McLean. “It’s nothing urgent,” he said. “Come by tomorrow around seven.” “Should I pick up dinner for us?” “Sure, grab us a pizza from Listrani’s. I’ll call it in.” Of course, he would call it in. That’s what Carlton did. I was a Level 1 covert intelligence officer at the CIA, and Douglas Carlton was my handler. He handled things. Most of the time, I let him. **** Carlton had ordered us an authentic Italian pizza with Genoa salami, Kalamata olives, portabella mushrooms, goat cheese, and mozzarella. I wasn’t a big fan of goat cheese. Carlton pointed to the white clumps on my plate. “You don’t like goat cheese?” The two of us were seated across from each other in Carlton’s dining 40
room. Even though having a pizza didn’t seem to call for such a formal setting, I hadn’t been surprised when Carlton had directed me over to the dining table when he’d answered the doorbell. When Carlton’s wife, Gladys, had been alive, she’d always insisted on eating the evening meal in the dining room. Even if she and Carlton had only been having sandwiches, she’d been adamant about this rule. Following Gladys’ tradition, Carlton had laid out two china dinner plates, a full set of cutlery, and cloth napkins. “Goat cheese reminds me of that goat farm in Afghanistan,” I said. “That’s something I’d just as soon forget.” “Oh, yeah,” Carlton said, nodding his head, “the goat farm in Kandahar. I’m sure that’s not a pleasant memory.” We reminisced for a few minutes about the operation that had cost the lives of two Agency personnel. Then, Carlton pushed aside his plate and said, “After you left my office yesterday, Deputy Director Ira gave me the go ahead to begin preparing the protocols for Operation Rebel Merchant. That’s the assignment I told you about yesterday.” “You never mentioned the name of the operation.” “It didn’t have a name then, and, frankly, I was surprised the DDO signed the authorization to proceed. I didn’t think he’d do so without the President’s approval, but he said he wanted to have all the background work done on it when he takes it to the President’s desk in January.” “January? Why the delay?” “His timing has more to do with the political overtones of the operation than anything else, but you’ll understand more about that when I brief you on the details.” He leaned across the table and pointed his finger at me. “Of course, you understand this is an unofficial briefing; strictly off the record.” Carlton prided himself on not being a rule breaker, and I had always worked hard to help him maintain that illusion. “We’re just having pizza together. What’s official about that?”
**** I followed Carlton across the hall to his office. Although it was only half the size of his study in his house outside of Fairfax—a country estate Gladys had always referred to as The Meadows—his office still contained an executive style desk and a bookcase full of books. He gestured for me to take a seat in one of the guest chairs. Once he’d taken a seat behind his desk, he said, “I’m guessing you must have figured out this was the reason I wanted to see you tonight.” “Oh, sure,” I said, nodding my head. “I knew that.” Actually, I didn’t have a clue, but it was never a good idea for your boss to know you were clueless. “Since you’ll be back to active status in January, I’ve already put you down as the primary for the mission,” he said, opening up his laptop. He paused and looked over at me. “That’s pending the DDO’s approval, of course.” “After the success of Peaceful Retrieval, the Deputy and I are on speaking terms again, so I don’t think that should be a problem.” Carlton didn’t say anything. I took that as a good sign. I felt certain he’d tell me if he disagreed with me, although I admit a few words of confirmation from him would have made me feel a little better. As Carlton entered some keystrokes on his computer, he said, “The DDO has named the operation Rebel Merchant because the focus of the mission will be Jacob Levin, our missing contractor. As I told you yesterday, Levin was recently spotted in Yemen.” “I don’t think I ever met the guy.” “No, probably not. That’s why I wanted you to take a look at his PDS and tell me if anything jumps out at you.” Although I knew Carlton didn’t have the Top Secret file on Operation Rebel Merchant in his possession—Agency rules wouldn’t allow its removal from CIA headquarters—he was still able to access the CIA’s data files on his encrypted laptop, and, a few minutes later, I was reading 42
Jacob Levin’s PDS. A Personal Data Sheet (PDS) was the biographical summary on an Agency employee. It included background, areas of expertise, status, postings, medical history, and a dozen other potentially embarrassing private details about an individual. The most embarrassing thing about Levin’s PDS was how often his colleagues had described him as “boring, nerdy, and geeky.” But, except for one anomaly, there was nothing in his background I considered a red flag. Luana Ehrlich is an award-winning author, minister’s wife, and former missionary with a passion for spy thrillers and mystery novels. She began her series of Titus Ray novels when her husband retired from the pastorate. Now, she writes from an undisclosed location, trying to avoid the torture of mundane housework, grocery shopping, and golf stories. However, she occasionally comes out of hiding to visit with her two grandsons or to enjoy a Starbucks caramel macchiato.
Riptide: Sam McRae Mystery by Debbi Mack JUNE 2006 CHAPTER ONE The pounding woke me. I felt for the bedside lamp, turned it on, and looked around the unfamiliar room. The swimsuit flung onto the broken wicker chair told me I was in the right place. My best friend Jamila and I had rented the condo for a week, a gift to ourselves before pressing flesh at the annual bar association convention in Ocean City, Maryland. I usually bypassed the conference, along with Brussels sprouts and whiny kids, whenever possible. Jamila shamed me into going, since she was slated to speak. The topic was legal ethics. There wasn’t a room at the convention center big enough to accommodate everyone who should have attended. We had checked in on Saturday, aka “change day” in the world of beach rentals. Not that I’d know. This was my first vacation in forever. I’d left my case files, my calendar, my briefcase, and my cares back in my office on Main Street in Laurel. My neighbor Russell was looking after my cat Oscar in my stead. Russell is like the gay father I never had. He’s not a huge cat fan, but he’s a great friend. 44
More pounding. The noise came from the front door. I glanced at the bedside clock. 1:35 A.M. What the fuck? The banging resumed. I rolled out of bed, trudged to the door and opened it. Jamila stood in the short hall between our rooms. She held a creamy white bathrobe closed across her sizeable chest. Jamila looked amazing for someone who’d been startled out of bed in the wee hours. Despite pillow-tousled hair and sleepy eyes, she was a dusky Queen of Sheba in figure-revealing silk to my anemic court jester in striped men’s pajamas. “Who on earth could that be, Sam?” Jamila hissed. “I don’t know.” My words were stupid and obvious. Another round of pounding. I moved to the door and peered through the peephole, before our visitor pounded his knuckles bloody. On the other side stood a uniformed cop. Sighing, I opened the door. “Good evening, ma’am,” the cop said. “Good morning, you mean.” Wail on my door in the middle of the night and you’re guaranteed an audience with the Wicked Witch of the West. The cop took a step back then recovered quickly. “Sorry to wake you at this hour—” he started. I cut him off. “Please tell me this doesn’t have to do with our friends on the first floor. I thought we had that straightened out.” “No ma’am. This is far more serious.” It better be. And quit calling me ma’am. I heard Jamila shuffle up behind me. A female officer moved into view. She consulted a notepad. “Are you Stephanie Ann McRae?” she asked. “Right. What’s this about?” The woman ignored me. “And you’re Jamila Williams?” “Yes.” Jamila sounded tired, unsure. She moved closer. “Is this yours, Ms. Williams?” The man held up a plastic bag containing a decorative tortoise shell comb. The four-pronged, fan-shaped comb 45
was distinctively marbled. Jamila blinked. “Can I see that?” He handed it to her for inspection. “It … looks like one of mine,” she said. “One that I lost. Where did you find this?” The cops exchanged a look. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but you need to come with us.” “What?” I said. “What the hell is this?” “Ms. Williams, we need to take you in for questioning.” Adrenaline pumped through me, bringing me to full alert. “Questioning?” My voice was shrill. “What’s going on?” “William Raymond Wesley has been murdered. We just need to ask you a few questions at the station.” The man droned on. The night had turned surreal. I tried to get more specifics, but Jamila silenced me with a raised hand. Probably didn’t want to look uncooperative. Reluctantly, I backed down. Everyone seemed to move in slow motion. The woman escorted Jamila to her room so she could get dressed. Who the hell is William Raymond Wesley? Then, I remembered. Jamila emerged in a warm-up suit. With a firm hand on Jamila’s arm, the female cop escorted her while holding onto an evidence bag with her pajamas and robe. Jamila and I exchanged a look that said she, too, recalled how we’d met the victim. Debbi Mack is the New York Times bestselling author of the Sam McRae mystery series. She’s also published two standalone books--a young adult novel Invisible Me and a thriller called The Planck Factor. Debbi’s also published Five Uneasy Pieces, a short story collection that includes her Derringer Award–nominated story “The Right to Remain Silent.” Her 46
short stories have appeared in various anthologies and publications, including Shaken: Stories for Japan and three of the Chesapeake Crimes anthologies. Debbi also hosts a podcast called the Crime Cafe, which features interviews with crime, suspense, and thriller authors, and more. A retired attorney, Debbi has also worked as a journalist, librarian, and freelance writer/researcher. She enjoys walking, cats, travel, movies, and espresso--not necessarily in that order. You can find her online at www.debbimack.com. You can also find her film blog at debbimacktoo.wordpress.com.
TANGLE WITH TARA ‘TARA’ SERIES Detective Crime Mystery CHAPTER ONE The young girls whimpered. Six of them cowered side by side, bound with quarter-inch chains secured to the wall, and looked at Detective Tara Woods with tormented eyes. Eyes that had seen the worst kind of hell, a nightmarish hell that would burn in their memories for the rest of their lives. Tara whispered into the radio to her partner. “Dobbs, get your tail down here. I’ve found them.” Thankful these girls hadn’t met the same horrific fate of the two young bodies now laying in the morgue, she positioned her gun in front of her. She beamed her flashlight around the dark and dank basement that smelled of feces and stale air. A large rat scampered across the dirty floor in front of her. She clamped a shaky hand over her mouth to keep from screaming. Damn, she hated rats almost as much as she hated sick bastards who preyed on young girls. Dobbs gave the “all clear” signal and she relaxed. With all units hidden 48
outside the mid-fifties style home, they would lay in wait until the sicko returned. And, she would do everything in her power to make sure he never hurt an innocent, again. Tara turned back to face the poor girls and took the horrendous scene in further. Dirty, blue plastic dog bowls full of food scraps sat on the floor in front of each one. Evidently, the girls’ lunch. She put on a glove and reached down to pick up one for forensic. Flies swarmed her hand. Her stomach churned. But, she’d seen much worse. The bowl was still warm. Warm? Her hand went to her gun. With her flashlight beaming and her pistol drawn, her sharp gaze searched the deepest corners of the basement. Shadows bounced off the wall from the furnace and shelves, but no other soul was in the room other than her and the girls. Damn it to hell, they had just missed him. How? She’d had men stationed around the neglected, two-story home thirty minutes before they’d entered the premises. There’s no way he could’ve gotten past them. She felt a chill run down her spine. She turned to Dobbs as he came down the short, narrow stairs. “He’s still here. The food’s still warm. Just poured in.” Detective Matt Dobbs rubbed the stubble of blonde hair on his head. “Can’t be. We searched the place top to bottom and every room. We came up empty.” “He’s here. Search again.” Tara turned away knowing Dobbs trusted her instincts well enough to not question her. His shoes pounded back up the stairs as he shouted orders. They would search again. And, again if they had to before they captured him. She replaced her pistol and knelt in front of the first girl, who didn’t look to be more than twelve or thirteen. The girl shrank back as far as her chains allowed. She drew herself up into a tight ball. Her chest heaved with harsh breaths and sobs. Tears left curvy roads down her dirt-ridden cheeks. 49
“Honey, it’s okay. Sh…, it’s okay. I’m Detective Tara Woods. Everyone is safe now.” God, she hoped she was telling the truth. Tara let her gaze follow the chain until she saw the padlock and cursed. She got on her radio and requested a heavy-duty chain cutter from her unit outside. Just a few more minutes and the girls would be free. She’d get them out of this hell hole. “Can you tell me your name, honey?” The young girl with dirty, matted, blonde hair and dark bruises showing through the rips in her tattered, bloody clothing nodded. Through swollen and cut lips, her voice raspy, she answered. “Sara.” Tara gripped the girl’s trembling hand and smiled to sooth her fear. Sara, she remembered, was the first girl who’d gone missing six weeks earlier. Then, for each week afterwards, another had disappeared. Twelve-year-old Beth. Then Amy, Susan, Paige and now Toni. All in their early teens. Fresh. Innocent. But, no longer. And, no clues found to help their case. Until, the lousy pervert made the biggest mistake of his sorry life when security cameras captured him watching little Toni ride her bicycle out of a convenience store parking lot not far from Tara’s own apartment. The tape showed him approach Toni, and with a grown-up strength, he grabbed her by one arm. While she fought for her life, he pulled her into an older model, dark-blue van. Pitching the bike into the ditch by the roadside, he sped off into the night, out of sight. No fingerprints except the child’s were found on the bike. The camera’s pictures were fuzzy, but they were able to get part of the New York license plate number. Melinda, their young and energetic computer guru, ran a match on the numbers which led them to a stolen vehicle. No surprise there. Working with the local officers patrolling the areas where Toni and the other five girls were snatched, they realized that all of the victims lived 50
within a five mile radius. Included in the radius were two unsolved murdered victims around the same age as the missing. A little before midnight on Monday, the cops spotted the van parked on the street four miles away at this rundown address in a neighborhood where only crack heads, prostitutes and lowlifes lived. Tara and Dobbs made it there within minutes after they received the call. Hearing a whimper, Tara turned her attention back to the girls as she waited for Dobbs to return. She wanted to scream. She wanted to make things right for them, to turn back time to when they were safe. She wanted to kill. Only the badge inside her pocket kept her from hunting the sick bastard down and putting a bullet between his eyes. But, he would pay his dues. She would make certain of it. The girls would need professional help later and for months and years to come, but for now, more importantly, they needed to believe they were safe from the monster who’d raped and abused them physically and mentally. After a visit to the hospital the teens and their parents would be taken to the 13th precinct headquarters where the girls would be questioned while things were still fresh in their minds. They would finally be released to continue on with their wrecked life. And then, their nightmares would begin. Award-winning author Jeri Lynn Stone lives in a small Arkansas town with her husband. They love to camp and they live between four beautiful lakes and each are within twenty-five miles from their home. She’s been writing for about twelve years and is currently working on her fourth novel in the Detective Crime Mystery ‘Tara’ series. Taunting Tara, Teaching Tara and Tangle with Tara is available on Kindle and 51
paperback. Texas Authors Association recently honored Tangle With Tara with a First Place award. Her Romantic Suspense Shadowâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Justice was released October 2018. Amazon Author Page amazon.com/author/jerilynnstone Also, available through these major distributors Draft2Digital https://www.books2read.com/u/3GY5EK Friend me on Facebook: http://facebook.com/jerilynnstone Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jerlynstone Subscribe to my blog: http://www.jerilynnstone.blogspot.com
General Jackson’s Last Hurrah by Joan Ramirez General Jackson wasn’t expecting company at midnight. He stifled a belch and listened to the moonlit conversation as the summer heat attacked his sweat glands. “Robbing the Park Avenue bitch was stupid,” an angry male voice that sounded kind of young said. The General poked his nose out of his South Bronx cardboard dwelling to catch a glimpse of the interlopers. He watched a young woman lift a burlap bag into an adjacent dumpster. “You were the one who messed up, Arturo. Who told you to take Mrs. Weatherly’s jewelry? If she dies, we’ll go to the slammer.” She stepped away from the grime-coated dumpster and closer to the light. Decades had passed since the General’s last woman. God, what he wouldn’t give to fondle the firm, ample breasts protruding out of her blouse. He’d be so much better for her than this skinny pipsqueak. Arturo squeezed the last bit of nicotine out of a cigarette pressed between flaking lips and threw it in the dumpster. “I should’ve cut out the old lady’s kidneys. They go for big bucks in the organ harvesting market.” Carlotta slapped his face. “Stop talking stupid and watch what you’re doing. A fire will bring trouble.” Arturo hoisted himself over the dumpster, found the butt, and smashed it against the corroded container. “Satisfied? Don’t worry about the old lady. When I left her townhouse, she was screaming for the cops.” Carlotta saw shadows of figures in the distance. “Men in uniform walking. I’m out of here.” Arturo scratched his mustache. “I’m not leaving the stuff behind.” She grabbed his sawed off shoulders. “If you hadn’t messed up, I’d still be working in Mrs. Weatherly’s house.”
Arturo spat on the pavement. “You’re in this too, stupid bitch.” The curtain of fog lifted as night and day changed hands. Carlotta pointed. “NYPD.” She pulled on Arturo’s jacket zipper. “We have to stash the jewelry.” He pushed her away. “Watch the hands. This coat is real leather.” Carlotta kicked him in the shin. “Do something, big mouth, before we land in a jail cell.” Arturo pointed to plants rotting in dirt. “Let’s leave it under there.” When they left, the General crawled out of the box and dusted street dirt off the Army jacket he’d preserved from the Vietnam War. He dug up the loot and hid it among his meager belongings. He could do with a bit of food. First, he’d freshen up at the hydrant down the block. Bathing was a luxury few in his position could afford, but the General always found a way to wash his face and hands. After securing his hygiene kit, he rounded the corner to Manny’s Bodega on the other side of the schoolyard. Preoccupied with tallying a customer’s bill, the owner stood with his back to the General. Jackson stepped up to the counter and bowed “Top of the morning to you.” Manny saluted, went to the back, and brought out two muffins. “On the house.” The General bowed and took off. The next night, Arturo and Carlotta returned. After making himself presentable, the General approached the couple. “I have your stuff.” Arturo pulled out a switchblade. Carlotta saw anger in the General’s eyes. “Put that away.” Arturo persisted, aiming the sharp point at the General’s nose. “How do we know you didn’t take our stuff ?” The veteran urinated in his pants. “Let the girl look.” Carlotta located the burlap bag. “It’s all here.” She slapped Arturo’s bottom. “This old guy is honest.” The General swallowed the lump in his throat. 54
“Thanks, miss,” he said when his tongue started to work. Carlotta reached into her pocket and pressed something into the General’s hand. “Here,” she said. “This is for protecting our stuff.” When the veteran opened his fingers, he stared at three, fifty-dollar bills. He steadied himself against the wall to keep from falling. “Young woman, you’ve purchased lifetime property insurance. On my honor as a former soldier with the United States Army, I’ll guard your belongings from here to eternity.” Arturo spat on the ground. “Crazy old man.” Carlotta smacked his hand. “I trust him to keep his word. Stash the stuff and let’s go.” The General crawled into his box to squirrel away his fortune. While sleeping off a hangover the next evening, the General heard Arturo and Carlotta. When he crawled out to greet them, he noticed blood seeping out of a wound in the man’s chest. “Go back to sleep, old man,” Carlotta said. “I’ll handle things.” The General went wild at the sight of blood. “I knew they’d return. We couldn’t hold them off forever.” He rummaged in his box. “I must radio for a medic. I can’t let my comrade die.” Carlotta tried to ease Arturo’s pain. He pushed her away. “Get out of here before they kill you.” Carlotta dug up the burlap bag and stuffed her pockets with jewelry. She pressed a diamond and ruby pin into his fingers. “Why’d you fight with Carlito? You know he’s better with a knife.” Arturo coughed up blood. “Beat it before the cops arrest you.” Carlotta kissed him on the lips. “I’ll find a way to get help.” She ran across the schoolyard. “Come back,” the General cried, but darkness swallowed Carlotta. Visions of wounded and dying soldiers from the Vietnam War flashed before the General’s eyes. “Hold on sonny; I’m going for reinforcements.” 55
He stepped over Arturo and rummaged on the surface of the dumpster for some beer or booze to calm his nerves. Nothing. The General ran into the bodega and approached Manny. “A soldier is bleeding to death near my home. I need backup.” Customers strained to look at the filthy vagrant as they waited on line to pay for their groceries. Manny lifted the bum by his flea-bitten collar and carried him to the back of the store. “Listen to me, old man. Until now, I’ve treated you like an uncle, but if you scare away my regular customers, no more food. Cool it. I’ll call 911.” The General rubbed his neck. “Hurry, the enemy is gaining on us.” As Manny called the police, he watched his wife, Rosita, approach the bum. “You’re disgusting.” The General shook a grease-smeared finger. “Do you know what it’s like to die in combat?” A short while later, the stockier of two police officers approached Manny. “Who made the call?” The veteran arched his shoulders and saluted. “General Adam Jackson reporting for duty, sir.” He leaned into the officer who backed off when the General opened his mouth. “They tried to interrogate me, but I wouldn’t talk. My lips are sealed.” Manny took the officer aside. “The war messed up his head.” Jackson watched as the officer fingered the handle of his gun. “You won’t take me without a fight,” the General said. When the officer tried to calm the disgruntled veteran, the General lifted the gun out of the cop’s holster. “Everybody down. He has my weapon,” the officer yelled. Manny threw himself on top of Rosita. The second officer aimed his gun at the General. “Put down the weapon.” When the General ignored the order, the officer fired, striking the veteran in the heart. As he lay dying, the General called out to the officer. “Give the kid in the yard a decent funeral.” 56
Manny took a look at the fallen veteran. “Waste of life.” The officer removed a two-way radio clipped to his shoulder. “Ten ten, one dead and a possible crime.” A few minutes later, a team of paramedics burst in the door. While his partner gathered names, addresses, and phone numbers, the officer turned to Manny. “Sir, we need to check out what the old man said.” Manny bit his lip and turned to one of his customers. “Will you take care of Rosita for me?” “Sure, honey,” the woman, said, holding the pregnant woman’s arm. Manny led the officer into the courtyard. He froze at the sight of Arturo’s lifeless body. “That does it,” the bodega owner said. “After Rosita gives birth, we’re returning to Columbia.” When they walked back to his bodega, two detectives were questioning his wife. He handed them a wad of napkins. “It stinks real bad out there.” The detectives signaled to the officers. “Stay here. We’ll be back.” A month after Arturo and the General were laid to rest, the police found Carlotta working in a soup kitchen on the Lower East Side. She’d gone there to keep a low profile. When Carlito, the drug dealer who’d wasted Arturo, came after her, Carlotta ran into a downtown precinct, returned what remained of Mrs. Weatherly’s jewelry and money, and told her story, figuring a jail sentence better than an early grave. ### Joan Ramirez has published mystery stories online as well as photojournalism article. She’s also the author of Jamie is Autistic:Learning in a Special Way, Go for it Leadership Handbook, Let it Go, Let it Flow Leadership by Motivational Press, and Secret Desires. She is currently working on her suspense series set in WWII.
Your Hippocratic Oath by Jeff Shear “Ebola Reston isn’t communicable to humans.” “It is now,” Robert Weaver, an epidemiologist, told Dr. David Vant, his neighbor. He wanted Vant and his family to take his advice and to take a vacation far from Eastern North Carolina where they lived. In other words, get away while it’s still safe. It was a Saturday, and Robert Weaver was packing his car and his family to return to their summer home in Asheville, which he’d closed in preparation for winter just a week earlier. He was escaping. His friend, Dr. Vant, was a physician, a family doctor, a man of science, or as much a man of science as 40 years of practice and a newly purchased villa on the French Riviera will leave of such a person’s professional ethics. As close as he came to medical science was his subscription to JAMA, the periodical bible of the profession, which piled up six months deep and unread in his office. Weaver raised his index finger to draw his point. “Don’t forget. Monkeys carried Ebola to Reston, Dave.” Reston, Virginia is as much a place as it is a town, a half hour’s drive from Washington, DC. It housed a primate facility where monkeys imported for science were quarantined before being shipped to laboratories for experimentation. In 1989, a unique form of Ebola erupted there, which resulted in the name Ebola Reston. Ebola is the deadliest filovirus known in nature. “Ebola Reston never jumped to humans,” Vant countered. “So, what’s the story, and where the hell are there monkeys around here?” Weaver answered slowly. “Trojan Game Farms.” Vant laughed. “I’ve been to canned shoots at Trojan. No monkeys there 58
except for a few local red necks.” He laughed. Weaver didn’t. Moyock, North Carolina was a wooded area infamous for its paramilitary training grounds. Hunters visited there and opened their wallets wide to enter Trojan Game Farm, where they could “take” Screw Horn Antelope ($6,500), Arabian Oryx ($9,500), Bongo ($35,000), Water Buffalo ( $5,000)… Trojan maintained a long list of imported African wildlife available for canned hunts. “The rains landed the monkeys at Trojan six months ago after Hurricane Matthew flooded the Dismal Swamp.” “Monkeys? What did they do float?” Vant thought he was funny and considered Weaver to be a man prone to exaggeration. “There was a population of 150 crab-eating monkeys, part of an illegal underground trade that wound up getting dumped there when the flood waters didn’t recede.” Vant took note of the species. “Same monkeys they had at Reston. You know that.” “That’s what I’m talking about. Some of the ones here were sick from an infection. They probably picked it up from the swamp rot. Trojan wasn’t happy with my visit, but the state ordered it. They were especially pissed after I identified the sick monkeys as crab eaters. They wouldn’t let me test them.” “Test them, why, you thought they carried Ebola?” “A janitor broke with some kind of virus two days ago.” “And you’ve got lab reports already?” Vant sounded skeptical, a small smile cracked across his stony face. He was an imposing man, fit, tanned, craggy and cautious; only his neck wattles clued his age, which was a good country mile past 70. The men spoke to each other along the white rail fences separating their horse farms. Vant gently pushed at his friend’s shoulder, a mock gesture mimicking a shove. “You say you’ve got a headache? That’s the opening act. Ebola’s coming. Steer clear of me, ya hear?” he joked and soon grew more serious. “What makes you think there’s a filovirus in these parts?” “When I saw the janitor, he was bleeding from every orifice, vomiting, 59
running a high fever, eyes glazed, mumbling incoherently.” Dr. Vant wasn’t buying Weaver’s alarming diagnosis and suggested a series of other infections that produced similar symptoms. “Dave,” Weaver sounded annoyed, his eyes narrowing, “Look it,” he paused, “the military folks, the paramilitaries who own the farms around Trojan warned me off after they learned I got a sample of the janitor’s blood from Mustang Medical.” Mustang’s a nearby clinic. Vant turned aside to clear his throat and gazed up at the pillar-like thunderheads gathering over the farm. “Just what we need, more damn rain.” He looked back at Weaver. “You’re sure we’re talking filovirus?” “Yes, but I can’t tell you much more.” “Somebody at Mustang had to know.” Weaver’s face darkened. “Bruce. I know Bruce.” Everyone knew Bruce; he cheated at poker. Dr. Bruce Elder had died a day earlier in a fatal car crash when a semi-truck wandered across a two-lane blacktop into Elder’s green Mini Cooper.” “Terrible thing about Bruce,” Vant said. “The family holding a wake?” Instead of answering, Weaver worried. “I think someone at Trojan was trying to shut him up.” The man’s an alarmist, Vant thought. “Don’t get paranoid over an accident.” “Well, Term Lab over in Elizabeth City had a fire last night.” Vant did not get the point at first but blinked his blue M&M eyes. “Tell me Elder sent them his tests. Did they? I mean, did he? And how the hell can they test for filo. I thought you said Bruce did the testing.” Now, Vant straightened. “They don’t have any electron microscopes in these parts.” Only such a powerful beam device could detect the seven protein string known as Ebola, which, left in the wild, could burn through whole populations faster than the black plague. “Elder had one. He bought it off Craig’s list in Raleigh for $8,500.” Vant nodded and mumbled something about gambling money. He listened with his mouth open. “Trust me,” Weaver continued, “Bruce Elder had no idea what he was looking at. He sent the samples up to Elizabeth City because he was curious, but I saw the pictures he’d taken.” 60
“Did you send the photos to the CDC?” the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. “No.” “Why not? You should send the images to USAMRID. They handled the Virginia outbreak.” He referred to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Maryland. “They diagnosed the Reston bug. They’d know.” Weaver stepped back. “I’m no hero.” He took another step backward, adding distance between himself and Vant. “You didn’t handle anything at Mustang did you, any samples?” Vant asked. “It’s not airborne.” “It was for the monkeys in Virginia.” “I know. I know.” He kept backing away from Vant, who said, “You could be infected. Keep away from your family. Camp out. Isolate yourself.” Now Vant had taken a step back. “You wanna take this on, Dave? This is no good all around.” “Stop a damned minute, Robert. Are you running from the bug or something else?” His mind flashed to Bruce Elder’s green Mini Cooper. Robert Weaver stood about 10 yards away from Vant. The men looked at each other, Vant solemn, Weaver alarmed. “Bruce is dead. Term Lab is in ashes. Everything I touched is gone. So you take care of yourself. I don’t want to be next, understand? Not me, not the family. If you like, I’ll leave you the picture of the virus on my front door after we’re gone. Your choice.” Vant stood thinking, watching his old friend turn and begin to walk off. He called after Weaver. “Leave this to me.” Weaver heard him but never turned and continued walking, taking inventory of his contact with Bruce Elder, wondering when he washed his hands. He remembered using hand sanitizer. That was good. But it wasn’t Ebola he feared as much as the Elder’s violent death and the ashes from the lab up in Elizabeth. Ebola was a killer, but he feared it 61
might not be the only murderer lurking around Moyock. That afternoon Dr. David Vant told his trophy wife Mary Jane Jean he’d bought her a first-class plane ticket to New York as a surprise, and that included three nights at SOHO’s chi-chi Crosby Hotel. She asked for his black American Express card, and he gave it to her. She was so happy, she relieved him of all his sexual tension and took two hours to do it before she packed three suitcases and was out the door. As evening came on, Vant walked the half mile to the front door of the Weaver household and gazed at the photo Weaver left for him. It was past twilight. He saw the classic shape of the shepherd’s hook, Ebola’s seven protein signature. Vant knew a nurse who worked at the CDC in Atlanta. He would hand deliver the picture the next morning. The half mile walk to his home in near darkness was daunting. But he had intentionally left the table lamps burning in his iving room. In the darkness, the house stood out on the low rise above the horse paddocks. Vant stared at it and thought it looked beautiful. He enjoyed the crisp weather, which he felt prepared for. At 1 a.m., three simultaneous rounds of buckshot cracked the night air. A moment later two more shots rang through the house. After a second, the front door blew off Vant’s home, and a figure fell through it, sliding on top of the door as it surfed down a flight of ten concrete steps. The man atop the front door had been torn open by the blast of a small Claymore-type mine. Another man dressed entirely in black lay wounded and dying on the stairs, calling “Mama.” In the doctor’s bedroom, a third body blocked the entry. The man was still alive and begging for help. Vant checked around, careful to avoid the light sensing booby traps he set. He touched his throat and felt for a pulse. It was strong, and Vant had taken an oath to the ethical standards of his profession. He stood over the wounded man for a time and finally stepped on his back to enter the bedroom. The man screamed with pain. Vant removed a .45 caliber Kimber Custom Target II from the safe under his bed. Racking 62
the slide, the doctor loaded a round into the chamber. Dropping the pistol’s magazine, he replaced the bullet he chambered with another. Now the gun carried eight 230-grain hollow-point bullets. The dying man called for the doctor to help him. “I can’t feel my legs,” he begged. “You’re a doctor, please.” Vant felt nothing for any of the dead men around the house and less for the dying man at his bedroom door. He had a home on the Riviera. Walking over to the wounded man, the doctor pointed his .45 at the man’s temple. “You’re from Trojan?” Vant asked. The man’s voice was weak but clear. “We were here to warn you not to kill you.” “I don’t know what you people are doing with monkeys on your farm. You don’t either, do you?” The look of terror a man’s eyes takes on is not very different from tears, but the eyes are wider. The eyes of the man lying at the doctor’s feet bulged with fear. Vant felt no sense of duty, no pity, perhaps some anger. The drive to Atlanta that morning took him nine hours. Jeff Shear’s the author of the book an investigation into a weapon’s deal between the US and Japan, entitled The Keys to the Kingdom. The book was published by Doubleday.
The Girl by the Dumpster Jameson Tucker It was a late and hopelessly hungry night that started it all, the kind of night that takes you around the bend and down the street to the bad side of town, the kind of night where you meet someone like her, the kind of night that almost always, invariably turns out bad… There was a pregnant full moon hanging in the night sky like a beacon that night, the smell of pancakes and Ben-Gay lotion in the air, and a dog was barking somewhere in the distance. The hormones were barking, too, running in circles and yanking at their leash like hungry Chihuahuas hot on the scent of a taco. The only thing on my mind that night was burritos, big hot juicy ones with extra cheese and guacamole and a little sour cream on the side, the kind that make women scream and old men cry in their soup. Alas, the restaurants were already closed and I was low on coin anyway; with no better plan in mind, I headed for the seedy side of town. The next thing I knew? Morning. We both woke up by a Dumpster in a nameless back alley behind a nameless watering hole of a bar. The pavement was sticky, and smelled of cheese, and there were used breath mints stuck to the side of her head. Obviously it had been a night to remember and then some, if only I could. I couldn’t, and maybe that was for the best. The sky and seemingly everything beneath it was gray and ugly and had the unhealthy pallor of an old woman’s armpit, the really scaly kind that smells bad and hints of things best left unsaid, the overall morning-after ambience all but screaming of things best left unremembered. A lingering aftertaste of fetid shellfish seemed pretty much to concur. I shook my brain for a beat, trying unsuccessfully to rustle it back out of 64
whatever hole it had crawled into during the night, and that was when I got my first hazily clear-sighted look at her: She had a curious seductiveness about her, my nameless trash-side companion, in a sort of sexy, almost altogether skanky way, the swell of her tastefully half-exposed breasts full and gently swaying like mismatched potatoes on the clearance shelf of the local Gag-Mart, then bobbing for ground when she tried unsuccessfully to stand, one hanging precariously lower than the other; she was leggy almost to a fault line, though she obviously hadn’t shaven in a spell, her eyes gently drifting like lazy, heavy-lidded moonpies, bloodshot, yeah, but with a smile beneath them that could no doubt light up a room if it was a couple hours after dusk and you had the drapes pulled tightly closed, a few teeth missing from the picture but the mouth obviously as pure as the driven-on snow nonetheless. She attempted to shake her hair loose as I watched, a wild, matted frenzy of a mane fit for the most squalid of jungle queens, more than a little graying, sure, but mostly only at the undyed roots, their tangled mass making me wonder suddenly just what sort of exotic lifeforms might be skulking about deep within their dark and shadowy depths… “Viola,” she slurred suddenly, all but breaking me out of my rousing reverie. From the look and smell of things, she was probably still loopy drunk from the night before, and more than a little gamey from the whole affair, too. Thinking about it, I was probably running a close second hard on her heels right behind her. “Come again?” I always did have a smooth way with words, particularly in social situations and the like. “Viola,” she said again, a little clearer this time, waggling the naked toes of one foot in the air at me for emphasis, something gray and sticky clinging precariously to the underside of her soiled arch. “Viola Rowe.” Her wayward shoe, I noticed suddenly, was seemingly nowhere in the vicinity to be found. “Oh,” I answered carefully back at last, the light bulb finally flickering to
dimness above my throbbing head. Quick study, me, always have been. “Slick,” I informed her with a little half-smile, wavering a hand in her general direction as best as I was able without toppling back over and into the filth. “I’ll say.” “No, no,” trying to correct her obvious misunderstanding now by waggling my dirty fingers at the air between us. “Slick. Nick Slick. I’m a…” What was I again? Obviously the night had taken a harsher toll on my overworked noggin than I had realized. “I’m a… well, I work as a detective, sort of. You know, a P.I.” “A P.I.?” Giving me that look of utter perplexity now the way the neighbor’s dog sometimes did when he stumbled upon me in the neighbors’ backyard late at night. “Yeah, you know, a private eye, a gumshoe. A work-for-hire kinda guy, a… a private dick.” “Private dick, hmm?” She leaned herself carefully back against the grimy surface of the nearby Dumpster for a beat, regaining some of her wayward bearings maybe, her tattered excuse for a skirt riding carefully up toward the Promised Land in the process. It seemed to leave little to the imagination, that skirt, though I found mine to be working overtime nonetheless. “I like private dicks,” she added mischievously, a little girlish playfulness suddenly lighting up her weathered face, “Slick.” “Most girls do, particularly when they need one,” I shot matter-of-factly back, my hopelessly suave demeanor rising to the occasion right on cue, and that was when I first felt it, in that oh-so-spontaneous moment of au naturel early-morning bonding there by the aroma of the overstuffed Dumpster, just like a longtime married couple discussing the day over coffee, the kind of moment you just can’t plan or make up no matter how many Hallmark cards you try to steal your lines from, the kind of moment you just know could maybe, just maybe be the start of something good, something special maybe, if only you can get past the smell. “So, what do you do?” I asked her on a whim, hoping maybe to keep the moment going a little longer while I could. 66
“Funny job, a dick,” she answered back instead. Something in her fogged-over eyes told me she was more than a little impressed, enamored maybe even, or maybe it was just the string of drool on her chin, the unmistakable look of obvious awe nonetheless cutting through the bloodshot haze like a chainsaw. Women are funny that way sometimes. “It’s a living,” I informed her with the tiniest little hint of pride, my instinctive professionalism automatically kicking itself into gear even as I tried to stand myself up out of the garbage. The ground felt wobbly, uneven even, but it felt like it might just hold me up for a duration, assuming I was lucky enough to stay up. I turned to take in my reeking surroundings a little better, now that I was upright and at least borderline conscious, and that’s when everything went suddenly wonky. I heard a muffled scream behind me, more of a half-drunken moan actually, and I caught the tiniest, briefest glimpse of somebody; somebody or something. The whatever it was was on her like a fat kid on a creamsicle, and even as I moved to intervene, I heard the briefest little flutter of movement behind me and everything went abruptly and irretrievably black. Jameson Tucker is author of the Cosmical Pub series, as well as The Zombie Shuffle, and Nick Slick, Private Dick: A Twisted Tale of Smokin’Hot Zombie Noir Gone Mad..., from which The Girl by the Dumpster is excerpted. Find all that and more at: http://www.jamesontucker.com And, you can also visit his Cosmical Grub blog at: https://cosmicalgrub.wordpress. com/blog/ Free 20th to 24th November!
Owl Manor – the Dawning, by Zita Harrison Excerpt A fierce gale blew that night, asserting its dominance over nature. Rows of conifers lurched from side to side, and swirling leaves blocked his sight. Gilbert rode up to The Brass Nugget and tied his horse to a tree, then looked through the window to see if he could perchance spot the master. But, of course, Mr. Bradstone would not be in the saloon; he did not like to be around people. The door to the gambling room slammed open, and a young woman walked unsteadily into the bar. A tattered hat with a big flower covered her dirty, brown hair, and she wore an old, worn bustier under a shabby, lavender jacket—a street walker. She had probably been entertaining the gamblers. A few people glanced up at the clatter of her high heels and looked away, too inebriated to care. The girl walked over to the bar, grabbed the few dollars the proprietor slapped onto the counter, then headed out. She was just the sort who would attract the master’s attention, Gilbert thought. So he waited and watched. As she walked down the street, a man stepped out of an alley. From the cloak he wore, Gilbert knew at once who it was. They spoke in low voices. The girl giggled. The man put his arm around the woman and steered her back into the alley. Gilbert’s heart clenched in fear. Please, 68
Master, please, Gilbert thought. Just have your way with her, then let her go. But he knew what the master intended, and it was not sex. He walked stealthily up to the alley and dared to peek around the corner. There was no one in there. It yawned like a great, empty mouth, black and cavernous, all the way to the opposite end, past which Gilbert could see the vague contours of trees. The master and the girl were gone. In the throes of panic now, Gilbert sweated and trembled. He could not breathe. He wanted to turn back and forget about the whole thing, return to the safety of his room at the manor, huddle in front of the fire, have a glass of brandy. Slowly, he entered the alley. It stank of something foul, echoes from his past, a time when he slept on the streets and ate rotting food. At the end of it was a small path that led to some woods behind the buildings on Main Street. There was no sight of either the master or the girl. His mind screamed at the thought of entering those woods, of witnessing what he knew would be transpiring there. But he had to. He needed absolute proof. But did he really? Did he really need to see to know? Maybe if he actually witnessed the atrocity he was helping hide, he would be able to summon the strength to stop it. And there would be no further questions. He entered the woods. A short distance ahead, he could hear murmursâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; the masterâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s low voice and the girl tittering. Keeping behind the tree trunks, he followed the voices and soon came to a small clearing, in shadows except for one sliver of moonlight that pierced the trees, setting the stage for a macabre performance. Two shapes shifted in the dark, one larger and one smaller, and fragments of them lit up in the moonlight as they moved. Gilbert heard the shuffling of their bodies as they came together. He heard the smacking sounds of their kisses, heard the girl moan. They continued like that for a few minutes. Perhaps the master was only interested in sex after all, he thought. 69
Then, in a split second, it changed. The larger shape was suddenly bearing down on the smaller one. He felt rather than saw the smaller shape begin to convulse, and all at once, the stabbing moonlight fell on her face. Gilbert watched in transfixed horror as her countenance showed first confusion, then terror. He wanted to rush out and drag the master off her, to stop the abomination that was taking place. But he was frozen in both mind and body, arms and legs leaden, breath coming in shallow, rapid bursts through his dry mouth. He wanted desperately to look away, to run, but he could not. He was bound grotesquely to the scene. Drowning in abject misery, Gilbert watched helplessly as the woman struggled, gasping and thrashing like a fish angled, and finally, after one last shudder that wracked her body, was still. In his head, he heard her heartbeat go from a rapid thudding that echoed through the trees, to a slow, labored plodding, and then to a boundless silence. He felt like his own heart stopped too. And then he felt nothing. A crushing numbness engulfed him that he had no wish to emerge from. Because to emerge would be to acknowledge what he had just seen, felt, and he did not think he could survive that. Without a sound, Gilbert turned and returned to where his faithful horse waited patiently. He could have done something, should have done something, but had failed to. His fear of the master had held him captive. What should he do now? As he mounted his horse, his heart leapt in terror. An owl sat on a wooden post by The Brass Nugget, deathly still, its pale eyes piercing, accusing. Gilbert wondered if the myth he had heard was trueâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;that the owls in the town of Denver carried the souls of those who had been murdered; if this owl bore the soul of that poor woman in the woods.
The wind whipped and stung his face on the way home, as if punishing him for his inaction. His mind was inundated with thoughts of what he would say to Mr. Bradstone. How would he react when he found out Gilbert had followed him? And what would he think if he knew that Gilbert had watched? He could wait until the body was discovered to say something. But who knew how long that would take? What if it was never discovered? And what if the master killed again in the meantime? Gilbert managed to reach the manor before his master, who, he assumed, would detour to take care of the body. He took his horse to the stables, then went directly to his washroom, where he splashed icy water on his face in a frantic attempt to clear his mind. Then he changed his shirt and helped himself to a little of the master’s brandy in the drawing room. It slid down his throat like liquid flame, searing, soothing, melting away his worries, and he began to feel more up to the task that lay ahead of him. He would say he had noticed the master leaving at night and had been concerned for his safety, then wait for his response. All of a sudden, Gilbert’s thoughts were interrupted by a clamor of hoots. Owls. From the sound, a whole battalion of them. The hoots burst into a terrible screeching, clacking, hissing, and Gilbert ran to look through the window just in time to see a whirlwind of feathers and talons descend on the master who had just ridden up. They dove at him, wings battering, claws stabbing, beaks ripping. Mr. Bradstone roared, his arms flailing uselessly at the owls, his horse rearing up. Seizing a poker from the hearth, Gilbert rushed out to his master’s side with no thought to his own safety, swinging the poker in wild, broad circles, expecting to be assaulted himself any minute. Soon more servants rushed out in their nightwear, and Grenville, the head gardener, finally had the sense to grab a rifle and fire it in the air. The owls, continuing their deafening racket, lifted up in a cloud of 71
feathers and flew away. Mr. Bradstone lay in a fetal heap on the ground, arms over his head. At first, the master refused to rise from the ground. He lay in the dirt, groaning, and waved away anyone who tried to help him. Finally, crouching next to him, Gilbert said, “You must come inside, Master, and let us tend to your wounds.” Then he slowly raised his head. The light from the house shone on his face, and Gilbert gasped. There were bleeding gashes on his forehead, cheeks, arms. Gilbert, on the other hand, though he had been right in the middle of it all, was strangely, completely untouched. But what stunned him was the look in Mr. Bradstone’s eyes. They were wide with shock, deranged. He had never seen him like this. When he and Grenville tried to help him up, his legs collapsed under him. They had to lift him and carry him indoors. Zita Harrison, author, blogger of all things Art, cover designer, is a lover of Gothic Literature. As a child, she avidly read ghost stories. In high school, she fell in love with Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, a love that continued into adulthood. Her writing is inspired by Pablo Picasso’s words: “A work of art must make a man react, feel strongly … He must be seized by the throat and shaken up … he has to be made aware of the world he’s living in and for that he must first be jolted out of it.” She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband. Her books, cover artwork and blogs can be found at zitaharrison.com or on Facebook at: https://bit.ly/2RwXrEV.
Working in Paris as deputy head of a bank's internal security department, Eric notices a high-speed trader's uncanny ability to predict extremely profitable trades. Eric knows the trader's success is more than just luck.
Youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve never met a copper like Ted Darling. A Specialist Firearms Officer turned detective. With black belts in four martial arts. Has he made the right choice in switching jobs?
Available on Amazon!
Available on Amazon!
About to quit her job as vice president of corporate communications, Katherine Cunningham jumps at the unexpected opportunity of assisting Thomas Sweeney, CEO of Marathon Nutritionals, as he rushes to resolve a corporate crisis.
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THE END OF THE ROPE By Bob Brink It was Saturday, and Gerhardt Rutgers’ sons, Matt and Wilfred, were washing up for breakfast after helping with the farm chores. The sun peeked from the eastern horizon. “Boys,” Gerhardt yelled, entering the house, “come along.” They saw that his usually stony face registered concern, even alarm. He cranked the Model T, and it coughed and shook into an idle. They drove off down the northwest Iowa road, Gerhardt wrestling with the steering wheel as he negotiated the deep, muddy ruts caused by the spring rains. Gerhardt told them something bad had happened at the Bernie Wubbina farm, four miles to the southwest. Wubbina was a squat man of forty-one years with a gentle, easy-going manner. Another neighbor had driven by the Rutgers farm and told Gerhardt the sheriff was at the Wubbinas’ place. Several black Model T’s were parked at the end of the long driveway. One of the cars had Sioux County Sheriff in big red letters emblazoned on the driver’s side. Gerhardt and the boys advanced warily to a circle of farmers and the sheriff. They surrounded an open, narrow well, 75
peering over the edge. Three of them—hefty men—held a thick rope in large, gnarled hands. “I’ve got ’er!” came a hollow, urgently strained voice from below. “Pull me up!” The three men bent down, their broad backs arched, gripped the rope lower, and gave a mighty upward thrust. They repeated the maneuver until a man’s rubber-encased feet came into view, then the man, wearing a black rubber suit. The diver’s hands grasped the ankles of a woman, and the others in the circle grasped him and the woman, laying her limp body on the ground. Her dress and matted hair were soaked, and her face was ashen, the mouth agape and the open eyes staring crazily at nothing. Gerhardt and the boys saw that it was Emma Wubbina. Wilfred spun around and covered his face. Matt stumbled backward, and Gerhardt’s jaw dropped. To their left, Gordie Wubbina, age sixteen, began to collapse, his face frozen in shock. His father, Bernie, caught him and led him staggering half-consciously into the house. The men carried the body inside, and the sheriff ’s deputy said he would summon a hearse. Gerhardt approached the deputy and asked if he knew how Emma Wubbina could have removed the thick oak well cover, which had been bolted at angles into the concrete sides of the unused well. A strong, voluptuously shaped woman of five feet seven inches, she nonetheless would not have had the strength to accomplish the feat, even with tools, and none was found. The deputy said Bernie had reported finding the well open after he woke at 5 a.m., saw that Emma was not in the house, and went outside to check. Bernie had roused Gordie and driven with him to the sheriff ’s sub-office in Millersville. The deputy said he would have to investigate.
Two weeks later, the banner headline in the weekly Millersville Bulletin read, “Well Victim Mystery Solved.” A young, muscular, handsome blacksmith in Millersville, one of three in the town, had admitted having sexual intercourse with Emma Wubbina after he finished shoeing Bernie’s team of horses, while Bernie and Gordie were away helping a neighbor harvest hay. He had come to the house to be paid, and Mrs. Wubbina greeted him wearing only a corset and brassiere. After they made love, she asked him to break open the well cover, telling him her husband was going to have the well filled with dirt. The deputy surmised that she replaced the cover before her husband and son returned so they wouldn’t notice it was off, then arose during the night, removed it, and plunged headfirst down the well. Wilhemina Rutgers, the boys’ mother, had died of pneumonia four years before. For months after the well incident, Matt had a frequent nightmare. He would be waiting beside the well, and when the diver emerged with the woman, his mother’s face would appear, smiling wanly. He would waken and sob silently until sleep overcame him. One weekend morning that summer, Gerhardt rose before dawn to begin the farm chores. He climbed the stairs to the barn’s haymow to pitch alfalfa down a hatch to the cattle. Setting the lantern down, he grasped a pitchfork and stepped toward the pile of hay. In the lantern’s glow, the outline of a form loomed above, seemingly suspended in the air. Moving closer, Gerhardt could see that the form was a body. He glimpsed a slender rod extending from a rafter. Edging ahead, he saw that it wasn’t a rod, but a rope, and at the end was a head. “Oh no!” he gasped, dropping the pitchfork. “Matthew.”
Bob (Robert) Brink relocated at age 6 from southwestern Michigan to his parentsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; home state of Iowa and grew up in the Des Moines area before moving to a small farm at age 14. After a torturous coming-ofage, he embarked on a newspaper career that took him to Joliet, Ill., Chicago, Milwaukee, Tampa and West Palm Beach, in which vicinity he has lived for a number of years. He garnered several writing awards, and the magazine where he was copy chief won an award for Best Written Magazine in Florida. While doing freelance writing and editing, Brink became an author, ghost-writing a book and completing two novels. MURDER IN PALM BEACH: THE HOMICIDE THAT NEVER DIED, published by Precipice Press, was released March 20, 2016. He is at work on another mystery novel.
The Sambici Gambit by James R. Callan He stood facing Mr. Sambici. Rico never sat in this office. He came in, got his orders, and left. Usually, he said little more than “Yes, sir,” or, “No, Mr. Sambici.” Once, he said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Sambici. It won’t happen again.” Just thinking about that visit sent a chill crawling down his back bone. Like now. Rico didn’t know what this was about, and he had been standing here for a long time, maybe two minutes, and Mr. Sambici had not even looked up. He started to clear his throat, make sure the man knew he was here. But of course he knew. He knew everything. Never seemed to look or listen. Yet, he always knew what was going on, who did what, who messed up. A drop of sweat rolled from Rico’s forehead down his nose and hung on the end. It caused his nose to itch and he wanted to wipe it off. But he didn’t want to move, distract the man. Rico wrinkled his nose, but the drop stayed there, continuing to irritate. As the seconds crept by, the aggravation grew, until Rico had to grit his teeth not to reach up and wipe it off. He had killed people with his bare hands, but he couldn’t stand that drop, clinging to his nose. Slowly, he reached up to brush it off. At that instant, Mr. Sambici looked up, stared at Rico with those flat glasses. Wherever Rico saw him, the light always reflected off those glasses so Rico could never see his eyes. “I’ve got a problem. Can you help me with it, Rico?” “Yes sir.” “I want you to kill Edo. Can you do that?” Lines appeared across Rico’s forehead, and his pronounced brows 79
hunched down over his eyes. “Edo? Our Edo? I mean, the one who works for you?” “Yes, Rico. That Edo.” He paused, pinning his minion with his intense stare. “Can you do that?” The lines on Rico’s forehead deepened and he looked down at the desk. He swallowed and slowly raised his eyes to look at his boss. “Ah, yes sir. But I thought—“ “Don’t.” Mr. Sambici picked up some papers and started studying them. “Take care of it today, Rico.” The tall, muscular man turned without a word and left his boss’s office. Rico headed for the TV room, then abruptly turned and hurried outside, climbed in his Jeep and drove around to the back of the horse stables. He didn’t want to run into Edo just yet. Out of sight from the main house, Rico turned off the engine and slouched down in the seat. He’d killed men before. He and Edo had offed a bunch of guys the boss wanted dead. But Edo worked for Mr. Sambici. He’d been here—Rico tried to think back—maybe three years, about half as long as Rico. He liked Edo, counted him a friend. And he got the job done. He was a good guy to work with. Now, Rico had to kill him. It never bothered him to pop some bum Mr. Sambici wanted out of the way. Never thought twice about it. This was different. He knew Edo. They watched the Cowboys games together, drinking beer, laughing at the refs. Edo had showed him that bar out on 6740, the one with the sexy waitresses. They got drunk there last week, and had to lean on each other to get to the truck. Rico wanted to ask Mr. Sambici why. Why kill Edo? But no one asked Mr. Sambici why. He gave the orders. Nobody questioned them. Once he asked Edo to kill one of his own cousins. Edo didn’t ask about that. He just did it. Now, Rico had to kill Edo. No questions. Just do it. He reached in his jacket pocket and pulled out his 9 millimeter. Checked it. Flicked the safety off, then back on. Damn. He didn’t want to 80
kill Edo. He started the Jeep and pulled back around the barn and parked near the house. The idea crept into his mind that he could go in and check with Mr. Sambici. Maybe… . No. He had not misunderstood. The Boss said very clearly—kill Edo, and do it today. “Hey, Edo, we got a job.” Edo was seated in the TV room, drinking a Coke, watching a football game. “What’s he want now?” Edo’s attention remained on the game. “You know out on the ranch? Where we planted those two guys what was stealing from him?’ “Yeah.” “He thinks—” “Hot damn!” Edo slammed his Coke down, spraying brown liquid all over the coffee table. “Did you see that? He grabbed that ball with one hand and two Jets hit him and he still held onto it.” He let out a yell. “Mr. Sambici thinks some animal’s been digging around. Said you could see a foot, or something.” Rico shifted his weight, worried Edo might go ask Mr. Sambici about it. But, he needed to get Edo out there without causing him to be suspicious. “What a play!” Edo hit the back button on the remote and watched the play again. “I ain’t never seen a better catch. Ought a give the sucker a bonus.” He took another pull on the Coke. “What was you saying? Some animal digging up those two thieving bums? I told you to plant ‘em deeper.” “Yeah. Well, you wasn’t helping much on the digging. Let’s go see what we gotta do.” ranch.
They threw two shovels in the back of the Jeep and started for the
“Don’t know what the big deal is,” said Edo. “They’re in the middle of a thousand acre ranch. Ain’t nobody gonna see ‘em, ‘cept you and me.” 81
“Just following orders.” Rico glanced at Edo, then looked back at the road. Following orders was the truth. He didn’t want to kill Edo. But you didn’t argue with the Boss. “Mr. Sambici takes guys out there to hunt sometimes. Took the mayor and the sheriff out there last year. He don’t want none of ‘em to see nothing like that. Guy drops a buck and trips over a dead foot going after it.” “Yeah. I get it.” Rico kept his eyes on the road. Edo was talking about the football game, but Rico wasn’t listening. Why did he have to go and kill him? Couldn’t the boss just fire Edo if he didn’t want him around any more? Twenty minutes later, they pulled through the electric gate and into Sambici Ranch. The fly ash road wound through pine trees, across an open area, and back into a thick forest. After about a mile, Rico stopped the Jeep. “Grab the shovels. Let’s see what we gotta do.” Rico slid out of the car and glanced around to see Edo opening the back of the Jeep and pulling out the shovels. Rico slipped the 9 millimeter out of his pocket, thumbed the safety off , then eased the gun back out of sight. They’d walk over in the direction of the old graves. He’d let Edo get a few steps ahead. Rico would call him and when he turned around, he’d shoot him. Rico wouldn’t shoot his friend in the back. Friend. He is my friend. Maybe my only friend. And I’m gonna cap him. He shook his head. Why was he doing this? ‘Cause I ain’t got no other choice. He shuffled around the front of the Jeep. Edo tossed a shovel and Rico reached to catch it. He was looking at the shovel, but out of the corner of his eye, he saw Edo’s hand come up. A gun was aimed squarely at Rico. Instinctively, he turned and ducked, but the bullet caught him in the side, slicing through his chest, puncturing both lungs, before ripping a large hole in his other side. The force of the bullet knocked him back. He stumbled once and fell. Edo walked over to look down at the wounded man. 82
Rico’s voice came out a wheeze. “Wh—why’d you … do that?” “Orders. Mr. Sambici said to drop you. I was going for a heart shot. You know, quick. But you moved.” Rico brows furrowed and he groaned from the searing pain in his side. He tried to get his breathe, but the pain was too much. “He—.” “Said to kill you. Hey, I’m sorry, man. You never did nothing to me. But …” He shrugged. Rico’s eyes closed. He struggled to open them. “He told me to kill you.” Edo shook his head. “Figures. Guess he didn’t need two of us no more. Maybe a game to him, see who’s left standing.” Each movement slashed Rico with pain, but he managed to get his hand in his pocket. He couldn’t get any air, couldn’t breathe. He gritted his teeth to keep from crying out. He’d show Mr. Sambici. He forced his fingers onto his gun. I ain’t never failed to … After a successful career in mathematics and computer science, receiving grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA, and being listed in Who’s Who in Computer Science and Two Thousand Notable Americans, James R. Callan turned to his first love—writing. He has had four non-fiction books published. He now concentrates on his favorite genre, mystery/suspense/thriller. His twelfth book released in May, 2018.
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Mysteries in Paradise: An Interview with Mystery Writer Jeanne Burrows-Johnson By Geoff Habiger Many of us have visited, or would like to someday visit, a tropical paradise. Hawaii is often a destination of choice for many people seeking a holiday escape. Long barefoot walks on sandy beaches, a chance to frolic in the surf and sun, relax in a 5-Star resort where waiters bring you fancy drinks with little umbrellas in them as you sit by the pool. Maybe itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s diving into the people and culture that make Hawaii so special as the fiftieth state of the United States, a place where the cultures of the West, Asia, and Polynesia blend together. If you were to ask author Jeanne BurrowsJohnson sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d probably point out these many aspects, but for Jeanne Island life is not complete without a dash of mystery as well. Jeanne is the author of the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian Mysteries, a series of cozy mysteries that are set in Hawaii and feature retired travel journalist and researcher, Natalie Seachrist, as the narrator and sleuth. Two books, Prospect for Murder (2016) and Murder on Mokulua Drive (2018) have already been published, and a third book, Murders of
Conveyance, is due out in April, 2019. The Natalie Seachrist series if filled with the people, culture, and history of Hawaii and the people who live there, and a lot of that history and culture form the tapestry upon which Jeanne crafts her stories. Jeanne has kindly agreed to answer some questions about the Natalie Seachrist series, and her own craft of writing. Geoff Habiger (GH): What got you interested in writing a mystery series set in Hawai’i? Jeanne Burrows-Johnson (JBJ): As the initial concept for the plot of Prospect for Murder, the first Natalie Seachrist mystery, was conceived prior to my moving to Tucson in 1995, there was never any question about the setting for the book. Except for historical essays, all of my concepts for fiction have centered on life in the Hawaiian Islands. GH: Natalie Seachrist, the amateur sleuth in your books, has been compared with Miss Marple and Jessica Fletcher. Did you purposely try to make a character that would be compared with them? How did Natalie come about? JBJ: Originally, I envisioned a male protagonist for Prospect for Murder. And although I always planned to center the story on a set of fraternal twins, I had thought the male would be the sleuth. But after writing several chapters, my authors’ salon found my character’s voice more in keeping with that of a woman, so I was forced to change directions. As to the character herself, I wanted her to be somewhat close in age to me, rather likable, and in seeking a mechanism by which I could weave many historical elements into the plot of the mystery, it seemed ideal to have her be a journalist who had followed a variety of stories in her 89
career. I never intended for Natalie to be compared to any character in novels, film, or television. However, I understood that perception of her when one of the first reviewers described their pleasure in her being somewhat familiar to their own fictional experiences. GH: Your books highlight the places, people, and culture of Hawaiâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;i. What is it about the Islands do you think that lend them to being a setting for mysteries? What makes the Islands an appropriate setting for your writing? JBJ: Mysteries can occur in any setting. Like most writers, I focus on subjects and locales that are familiar to me. Having been a resident of Hawai`i for over 22 years, there is no other setting I would choose for my fiction. I am fortunate that people from across the world find the richness of Island scenery and culture to be of interest, regardless of whether they live there, have visited there or anticipate travelling there. I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Hawai`i and worked for a couple of years as a graduate teaching assistant in the universityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s World Civilizations program. Therefore, I easily draw upon innumerable aspects of multiculturalism and incidents in global history which augment the already rich environs and lifestyle of the Islands. GH: Natalie is a thoughtful, methodical sleuth, using her skills as a former journalist to great success. But she also gets help from others. Who are the people (and animals) that assist Natalie in her investigations, and what skills do they bring? JBJ: In each of my plots, Natalie draws inspiration and help from a variety of peopleâ&#x20AC;Śand her feline companion Miss Una [the Hawaiian name for tortoise]. While I decline to have animals that speak in adult fiction, Miss 90
Una draws Natalie’s attention to details in scenes that help solve the mysteries I explore. And, with the expansion of the series, there have been growing opportunities for the cat’s curiosity, and paws, to reveal key evidentiary elements. Private investigator Keoni Hewitt [who begins the series as Natalie’s friend] aids in Natalie’s examination of the crimes she envisions with the skills of a retired homicide detective. His former partner, Lieutenant John Dias of the Honolulu Police Department, is the official investigator of the deaths in which Natalie is involved. And although she, and Keoni, are ostensibly aiding in his crime solving, his revelations of evidence help to confirm what Natalie envisions and suspects. GH: Natalie has a special gift, where she can dream and see events that have happened in the past. Do you worry that having a bit of a preternatural ability for Natalie makes her unreachable for readers? How do you balance her ability in the stories, because it’s not just a matter of her having a vision of who the killer is, right? JBJ: I believe successful authors write for a demographic of readers that is likely to be drawn to their characters, plots, and style of writing. I focus on a readership that includes well-educated women and men [often mature] with active interest in history and multiculturalism—and acceptance of varied philosophical practices. Since many people, especially women, experience vivid dreaming if not outright visioning, I have found my readers are comfortable in accepting a protagonist who is prescient. In fact, their responses express pleasure in glimpsing 91
snippets of historical and character background information that they would not have otherwise. One key to presenting Natalieâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s visions is through their acceptance by other characters. For example, initially, Keoni is unaware of her prescient gifts, but when Natalie eventually reveals her visions as the source of many details that are impossible to explain otherwise, he is nonplussed. Having had an Irish aunt with the gift of kenning, his former partner, Lieutenant John Dias is likewise accepting of this source of crimesolving assistanceâ&#x20AC;Śespecially as they prove truly beneficial to his work. In addition, by having Natalie reticent to discuss her dreams and visions with everyone, I am accepting that such a gift is not an element in the lives of the general public. Thank you, Jeanne for taking the time to answer my questions, and to give us a glimpse of Natalieâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s world. The Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian Mystery series can be found at online retailers, independent booksellers, and wherever you buy books. Geoff Habiger is the co-author of Unremarkable, a supernatural thriller that blends gangsters and vampires in 1929 Chicago, and Wrath of the Fury Blade, a fantasy novel that takes the police procedural genre to a whole new world. He lives and writes in New Mexico.
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