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Book Spotlight: Al-thar by Sean Dow

Al-TharTitle: Al-thar
Author: Sean Dow
Publisher: Two Harbors Press
Pages: 466
Genre: Thriller

In Al-thar, (Arabic:revenge) Brent is living a tranquil life on the peaceful Philippine island of Masbate. But the FBI’s witness protection plan is not enough when you have destroyed the plans of the world’s most feared terrorist group-an assassin is on the way, and his plans are far worse than a simple bullet in the head.

With the violent destruction of his new island home, Dr. Holcomb is once again thrust into danger, this time on an international level. There are only two outcomes in this new high-stakes match, Brent’s painful and public death and the destruction of America’s, or the death of Saadullah Abul Ka-beir, and his council.

Brent brings together his cast of memorable friends from A Leafy Green World as he devises the greatest deception ever imagined. The action goes at a break-neck pace from the Philippines to Washington, D.C., and from a remote valley in Pakistan to the jungles of Sierra Leone in this novel that has been described as almost too real, and too timely.

 

For More Information

  • Al-thar is available at Amazon.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

Book Excerpt:

Washington, DC

 

“What the hell?” thought Tony Rossi.

Rossi, newly advanced to assistant director the FBI was coming home from yet another late night at the Hoover Building when the stoplight in front of him changed. There had been no hint of yellow, just a straight shot from green to red.

Tony had been absorbed, thinking about the conversation he had just finished with his liaison at the CIA. They had been picking up more chatter than usual. Whether it would be stateside or on foreign soil was anyone’s guess, but it looked like something was on the horizon, something big. Tony’s thoughts had also been drifting to Anne-Marie. For the second time this week, he had been forced to call off a planned evening—he wondered how much longer she would put up with this.

With the sudden light change, the limo in front had slammed to a halt, its nose just into the intersection. With his mind elsewhere, and the anticipation of the light staying green, Tony rammed into its back with barely a moment on the brakes. He was shocked by the force of the airbag, but was grateful just the same. Shaking off the daze, he looked through his windshield at the car in front of him.

Son-of-a-fucking-bitch! he thought, slamming his hand on the wheel. Who in the hell did I just run into? He had noticed earlier that the car had government plates, and he knew they didn’t give limos to run-of-the-mill, first-term senators or other no-name low-level officials, only to those who had risen through the ranks—this was going to be a very long evening.

 

Tony had no idea, when he took the assistant director position Mike Townsend had left at the FBI, that his world would be so disrupted. He enjoyed the responsibility but he might have passed had he known how much effect it would have on the rest of his life. He couldn’t even find the time to do his own laundry these days, having to hire out even such a simple, basic chore, and his personal relationships had come to a near complete halt.

On a social level, Mike had had it easy when he had the job. Having lost his wife to breast cancer years earlier, and with no intent to fill that empty spot in his life, he had no distractions. That had lasted until he had nearly poisoned Ginger Roberts, the senator in charge of the judiciary committee. In an effort to calm her one stormy winter morning, Mike had given her a near coma-inducing dose of an expensive single-barrel whiskey. The bottle had been given to Mike as a bribe. In an unusual twist of fate, an act that could have ended his career had instead started a relationship that was likely to lead to a proposal of marriage. The thought made Tony smile—maybe there was still hope for him to find someone, as well.

An indignant driver got out of the limousine, looking as if he was ready for a fight.

Shit! Tony thought, shaking his head. Just what I don’t need.

He had hoped to call Anne-Marie, apologize, and see if she could be talked into a late date, or at least a chocolate malt at Tiny’s. Now he’d be lucky if he got to his apartment in time to microwave a frozen gourmet treat from his well-stocked freezer before collapsing into bed, alone.

He rolled his window down, readying himself for the tongue lashing he was about to receive, when, in a freeze-frame moment, the driver’s head exploded—one moment angry, but normal, and the next, an eruption of gore. His tuxedo clad body hung briefly, like a prop from a Hollywood horror movie, before collapsing to the ground with the sound of his last breath escaping from the ruin.

Tony was instantly back to his military training. He dove across the front seat of his Bronco and rolled out the passenger door onto the pavement, positioning himself behind the front wheel after a quick assessment to make sure that his back was clear. Satisfied, he jumped up, ready to rush to the aid of the VIP in the limousine.

His car was rocked by bullets the moment he stood. His windshield starred, then exploded as more bullets whizzed past his head. Still more tore through the door panel, whining like angry wasps as they went past. They’re shooting at me, he realized, not the man in the limo!

A sedan accelerated through the intersection. It turned and aimed straight at him. Tony leaped just before it arrived, cartwheeling over the hood of his Bronco and landing heavily on his hip and shoulder. The sedan crashed right where he had crouched moments earlier, the impact causing the SUV to rise up on two tires before pausing a moment and settling back down with a protesting noise. He was safe from the sedan, but now directly in the original line of fire.

Bullets sparked off the pavement around his feet. Others punched into his Ford, some missing him by inches. Tony couldn’t see the shooters, but knew he’d be dead if he didn’t do something, and right away. With assailants on both sides there were no good choices but staying in this exposed position was definitely the worst of his options. He raced around the back of his truck, gun up, to confront the attackers in the car.

The driver was out of commission, slumped over the steering wheel, but the rear doors were already opening: two, no, three assailants.

Tony had a brief moment where he had the advantage as they were scrambling to get out. He emptied his magazine, squeezing the trigger until the firing pin landed on an empty chamber. It was not the fire discipline they had trained into him, but all three attackers were down.

In a move he had practiced so many times that it was fixed into muscle memory, he ejected the spent magazine and rammed home a fresh one. It was his last. He hadn’t expected a firefight in downtown DC, and he hadn’t come prepared for one.

He turned to face the others—it was one pistol against an unknown number of assailants. From the way the bullets punched through his car, Tony knew they must be armed with rifles—he would have only one chance, to flee. The Bronco was out of commission, leaving the limo as his only hope. If the keys were still in the ignition he might make it. If not, he’d take out as many as he could and then join his father on the wall of honor at the bureau.

The passenger-side door was locked, exactly as Tony had suspected, but he had to check. He raced around the front, firing blindly as he went, and dove through the driver’s door, slamming it shut as his right hand searched for the ignition. The keys were there, still in their slot, and the limousine started immediately. He reached for the selector but a strong arm wrapped around his neck just before he could drop the car into gear. His passenger must have mistaken him for one of the assailants!

Through his dimming vision, Tony could see the real attackers coming. He punched backward as hard as he could, repeatedly hitting the side of the passenger’s head, but each blow he landed was weaker than the one before, showing no effect. In a last-ditch effort, he seized a finger, bending it backward until it snapped. His passenger howled in pain, loosening his grip enough for Tony to get a breath.

“Let go, dammit! Let go or we’re both dead.”

Panicked like a drowning swimmer, the passenger immediately tried to re-establish his death grip but Tony was ready for him this time. He got his left arm up next to his throat, blocking the choke and giving him time to mount a better defense. He was about to turn to face the backseat when one of the attackers arrived at the window. He was armed with an AK-type weapon and was bringing it to bear, a triumphant smile on his face.

There was no time for Tony to reach his own weapon, and no time to free himself enough to drive away from the threat. This was how his life would end, on a grimy, oil-slicked street in the suburbs of Washington, DC, with Styrofoam cups and fast-food wrappers blowing around his corpse. A phalanx of sightseers would arrive, attracted by the gunfire and hoping to get a glimpse before the police had the area walled off. It wasn’t the way he’d planned to go, but then most people don’t get to choose, do they? The truly sad part was that he was just beginning to salvage his life from the ruins it had become after his divorce—the hope and promise that had appeared on the horizon were now to be snatched away.

He looked up to face his attacker—at least he would see who was about to kill him.

Two shots rang out, so close together that they sounded more like one. The attacker stopped, a puzzled look on his face. He fell against the door and then slowly slipped down to the ground, leaving a blood trail along the glass. A man in a business suit stepped up. He was on the passenger side of the limousine, and he had a large caliber revolver, which he held in a practiced way.

“Get the hell out of here,” the man shouted, firing two more shots toward a group of attackers. “There’s more coming!”

There was no way Tony was going to leave his rescuer alone against obviously superior odds. In a fit of strength, he broke away from his backseat passenger and stepped into the fray.

The attackers had not expected an armed response. This was supposed to be a simple hit against an unsuspecting weak American, and in Washington, DC, where no one was supposed to have a firearm. The armed reaction took them by surprise. In their moment of confusion, Tony and his new best friend centered three more with deadly fire, and sent the others running.

Unsure if all the shooters had left, Tony and his Good Samaritan crouched behind the limo. Fortunately, there were no more shots, and the sound of sirens soon reached them, piercing through the night air—a mass shooting in the nation’s capital tended to bring out the troops.

“Thanks, man,” he said to the businessman. “You saved my life.”

“Right place, right time,” he deferred. “Always happy to help.”

He shook Tony’s hand, searching for threats as he did so. Seeing none, he holstered his revolver.

“I probably ought to get going, though,” he added as he stood up. “It’s best if I’m not here when the police arrive.”

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Book Excerpt: A Leafy Green World by Sean Dow

A Leafy Green World

Title: A Leafy Green World
Author: Sean Dow
Publisher: Two Harbors Press
Pages: 449
Genre: Thriller

A Leafy Green World is a fast paced, action packed thriller set in the Pacific Northwest. Dr. Brent Holcomb has moved to Portland in hopes of resurrecting his life and his career. There, he meets Robyn-the girl from his dreams. All is going smoothly until he realizes Robyn and her friends are not what they seem. Now, wrapped up in the murder of an innocent man, and with nowhere to turn, Brent forms a bold plan-a plan that will put him on a dangerous course, aligning himself with domestic terrorists and ultimately, a deeply hidden cell of Islamic terrorists.

For More Information

Book Excerpt:

Upper Dir valley, Pakistan

“How well do you trust him?” asked the voice over the encrypted satellite phone.

Farouk was always amazed at the technology that allowed him to have a clear conversation with someone halfway across the world. It was an honor to have been put through—he was speaking to Saadullah Abul Ka-beir himself, the imam who was guiding the war against the great Satan. He was a merciless warrior, a genius, and a master of planning—the best hope Islam had ever had of ridding the world of the Jews and of bringing in the glorious caliphate, and Farouk was actually being allowed to speak directly to him!

Even with the encryption, he had been instructed not to mention names or give any salutations that could be used to identify the man on the other end. The Americans were always finding ways to listen in on their conversations. The only truly secure communication was by courier, and the time delay involved in that was often unacceptable. Going in person to see the imam was out of the question. It would take almost two days to fly to Peshawar, and from there it was another grueling six hours to reach the blessed valley in Upper Dir where the council was sheltered.

“Six hours, that is, in the daylight,” thought Farouk. Travel now had to be at night. The daytime skies were filled with silent death. So many heroes had died before their appointed time and with nothing to show for their deaths. The Americans struck wherever they pleased; there was no sovereignty, no shelter. Even in his own country, his leaders were forced to live like animals, cowering in damp caves and afraid to show their faces, lest the devils strike from the sky. It was an abomination, but it was also reality—Farouk prayed on a daily basis that he would live long enough to dance upon the graves of the infidels who forced the great leaders to live in such a demeaning manner.

In the meantime, satellite phones had become a necessary risk. They were effective, but information still had to be kept to a minimum, conversations as short as possible, and specifics avoided. No one knew if the enemy could listen in, but even if not, it would probably be only a short time until they could.

“I trust him completely, Sheikh,” Farouk said. “Enough to insist on a chance to bring this information to you. We have the opportunity to achieve the dreams of our people, and in our lifetime. This man is high in the ranks of a group that has lived for years amongst the devils, fighting them constantly, and they have never been penetrated.

“I also worked with his father, a man of great integrity whose efforts are largely responsible for my financial independence. I can say with certainty that this man can be trusted.”

“You realize what will happen to you and your family if you have been deceived?”

“Yes, Sheikh. As always, I put my life in your hands. We are searching his past and will watch everything he does, but I sense the beneficence of Allah in this man.”

“Very well. We will discuss this. In the meantime, continue your vigilance but do not go any further. You have already taken a great chance talking to him. You will find the fires of hell to be a welcome relief if your actions bring any damage to our cause.”

The call ended. No Salam alaikum, no Allah ysalmak, just silence. Silence and a feeling of dread. What if I have let pride interfere with my judgment? Farouk worried. Have I let the lion in the door?

 

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First Chapter Reveal: The Jungle Within by Charles M.

The Jungle WithinTitle: The Jungle Within
Author: Charles M.
Publisher: Createspace
Pages: 308
Genre: Drama/Suspense

When Evan and Katie said “I do”, they expected to navigate life together side-by-side. But when a car accident and a tawdry affair disrupt life as they know it, Evan and Katie are forced to venture on alternate paths, alone. In the darkest depths of an unforgiving coma, Evan fights to survive the treacherous jungle of his mind. He embarks on a spiritual journey to understand the meaning of life and the beauty of death…forcing him to face his deepest fear. Meanwhile, Katie ventures through her own guilt. On a strenuous moral journey, she juggles the consequences of infidelity and the strain of caring for her unresponsive husband. But are their paths truly separate? Or are they simply on parallel journeys that are destined to converge?

For More Information

  • The Jungle Within is available at Amazon.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

First Chapter:

As Evan coasted along Highway 50, the hills rolled alongside him. Fall oak brush set the canvas on a cold, winter afternoon. The old wooden-post fence along the road looked as though a strong breeze might blow it over. The overgrown grass reached the bottom wire of the fence and was a hybrid mix of greens and yellows. Not much else was alive in the patches of open grass among the crowded trees. In an hour there would be dew frozen to the grass, and the cold westerly wind would chill everything to a frozen standstill.

Evan cruised at a steady sixty-five miles per hour as he jammed out to Bob Seger’s “Still the Same.” It was his song in college and no matter how many times he listened to it, he never tired of it. Evan’s thumbs thumped on the steering wheel to the rhythm of the song as his head bobbed back and forth. He sang along in falsetto, which would have warranted many jeers from those unfortunate enough to be within earshot. His clunky car was a bit older than most, but it was his, bought and paid for, and he made good time in it. It cut through the winter air as the sun was starting to set. Long, dark shadows nearly covered the car, but a few streaks of light managed to break through the sky, reflecting the now-red sun.

Forty miles away a doe was bedded down in the deep scrub oak, getting ready to make her rounds in an all-night grazing-fest. She licked her front legs and cleaned her nose with her tongue. She took her time, as though there were no natural predators of which to be concerned. In this neck of the woods, the only thing she had to fear was man. Man and his gun and his automobiles. She rose slowly, stretched her back legs long, and shook her ears rather violently. If only humans could sleep so well and wake so gracefully. As she breathed out and perked up her big ears to locate danger, her hot exhale mixed with the cold air outside, producing a visible sign of her presence. The setting sun was dropping at a brisk pace, causing its rays to lose their power.

Evan had graduated from college and landed an entry-level position at a marketing firm. Within a few years his outgoing personality moved him higher up the food chain. Everything appeared to be great in his life except for one thing…he was unhappy. He didn’t seem to fit into the normal molds that most people did. He dared to be different. He had the feeling, deep inside him, that he was meant for greater things; he was meant to have an impact. Without knowing his purpose, he felt lost. The thing that motivated him the most was his search for that elusive answer. That, and his deepest, darkest fear. Evan blocked out those thoughts and recalled pondering life’s questions about where he belonged and what his destiny was when he met Katie. The woman who would be the love of his life.

Evan could picture that meeting like it was yesterday. He was staring at her from across the coffee shop. Katie had the most beautiful face, with big, round, brown eyes and fair skin. Her dirty-blonde hair had been lightened by the summer sun. She was bubbly, enchanting, and when she smiled at him, he knew. She bravely made the trek between the tables to ask him out. She was bold that day, and he was glad she was. Evan might not have made the moves on his own.

Evan was handsome. He was about six feet tall with marble-like blue eyes and light brown hair. He had a slender, but athletic figure. He looked like the all-American boy. He exuded confidence and always appeared in-command, but on the inside, he was shaking.

Theirs was a typical marriage that began with a nice beach wedding in Florida. Both families got along well enough, and Evan and Katie looked like the happy couple in the picture that comes with the frame. Meadows with white flowers, smiles as wide as the sky, and hands locked together as if welded. Not a blade of grass or hair out of place.

Shortly after graduating and getting married, Katie began her career as a government welfare officer for a program that provided less-fortunate families with housing and food. This may have been the main reason that they didn’t have any kids yet. It nearly broke her heart every time she saw those poor children with runny noses and stains all over their clothes. They looked at her and made her feel guilty for all that she had. She would look them in the eye briefly, and then drop her head, knowing it was a staring contest she could never win. The children’s eyes were hard and unwavering. Those cold little eyes struck something deep within her, and drove Katie to help others because she wanted to help herself. She wanted to fix other people’s problems because she wanted to fix her own.

Like all married couples, they’d changed in many ways those first few years. While Evan had maintained his all-American boy-next-door appearance, he’d begun to notice those early tell-tale signs he wasn’t a college kid anymore. Katie claimed to be ten pounds heavier than she wanted to be, but he could never tell. In a world where every eye judges like they’re God, Katie never seemed to feel like she measured up. Lack of self-confidence was her downfall. Evan never cared about any of her perceived shortcomings. He thought she was beautiful, as did most everyone else. He told her constantly that she was perfect and all that he ever wanted, but it never quite filled her need for attention from others. This was the reason that while Evan drove down the road, happy-go-lucky and high on life, Katie was in the corner of a dimly-lit bar having a drink and flirting with Dylan.

The sun was nearly setting while the deer moved east. Evan was headed due north. A car zoomed past Evan, the first one he’d seen in a while. He’d moved on from reminiscing and was in the middle of a daydream, hoping that one day he and Katie could have children. They were financially stable and the timing was right, but they never seemed to be able to get it done. Still, when he was alone in times like this, he often thought of what it would be like to throw a baseball with his son or take his daughter to ballet class, making it to every game and every recital without fail. Katie worked hard and often long hours, but Evan was the one practicing for the days of family suppers and game night.

While Evan drifted deeper into la-la land, the deer was fifty yards from the road to his left. She quickly lifted her head from grazing; something caught her attention. She sensed danger and her fight-or-flight response kicked in as she trotted off with graceful legs carrying her quickly. She jumped the old wooden fence with ease. A vibrating phone made a distinct rattling sound in Evan’s cupholder. He looked down to see a text from Katie. Dinner with the program directors tonight. Be home around 10. Love you. Just as Evan looked up, the deer was in the middle of the road, not more than twenty-five feet in front of him.

It seemed like everything happened in slow-motion. Evan slammed his head into the back of the headrest, his hands in a white-knuckle death-grip on the steering wheel. The deer stood frozen in the middle of the road. Evan’s immediate response was to turn the steering wheel hard to the right. As the car tires led the car to the right, obeying Evan’s command, the driver’s side mirror ever-so-gently brushed against the hair on the ear of the frozen female deer. The car whizzed by her and off into the ditch. She twitched her right ear as if only a fly had landed on it and gave the same look of disapproval that an old lady gives a kid who flies past her on his bike.

Evan was ejected from the car but managed to escape from it rolling on him. He was propped up against a pile of oak brush. His labored breathing resonated in the cold air around him. Blood from a cut on his eyebrow trickled down his face, running into his mouth. The twisting of metal and flinging of dirt was enough to scare the deer off. A squeak from a wobbly hubcap rubbing against a branch kept on and on as if the friction that should slow it down was miles away. The left headlight shined as bright as ever, illuminating the dust settling in the beam like sediments in a vintage wine. That same beam shone right on Evan, his warm breath clearly visible in the cold, dark night. It all happened so perfectly. It was surely meant to be, as if fate wouldn’t have it any other way.

* *

 

Katie flagged down the waiter for another round of appletinis. She turned off her phone to eliminate any disruption in the evening’s events. She surveyed the room diligently, nodding in satisfaction. The bar was classy. Oak panels stained deep red layered the floor with matching rafters up above. It was the kind of place that lawyers and corporate business-types frequented. Tonight it was bustling with the usual crowd. Waiters played the dodging game, weaving in and out of groups perfectly without ever spilling a drop. As the waiter brought the drinks to the table, Katie shifted her weight and repositioned her legs. Whether or not she was aware of it, she moved ever-so-subtlety closer to Dylan. Katie had never cheated on Evan before, though she had come close a few times. Flirting and sending the wrong message to guys happened all the time with her. It made guys take chances that crossed the line with remarks and gestures most would consider inappropriate for a married woman. Katie desperately craved attention. The attention of any male in the room. Tonight she had Dylan’s.

Dylan was a smooth-talking man. His overall appearance reminded her of Evan, but with lighter hair and green eyes. The greenest of green. The initial conversation was mostly about work and where they saw themselves in their careers a few years down the road. Dylan was self-assured in a way Katie could only hope to be, and he had an air of sensuality about him that easily drew female attention. He knew exactly what he was doing, maintaining a casual demeanor. Dylan was no slouch, though. He knew Katie was married and didn’t care one bit. With the alcohol doing its thing, the talk got a bit more flirtatious, and the blood traveled from inside Katie’s body to the surface of her skin, where her cheeks flushed like the bloom of a spring rose.

“I need to visit the ladies’ room,” Katie said, taking the long way around the booth and crossing over Dylan. This was the closest they had ever been. He could smell her shampoo and for some reason, it turned him on more than any fine perfume could. It reminded him of something clean. Something pure. Something wholesome. All of which he fully intended to use to suit his own sinister designs.

“I’ll be waiting,” Dylan responded with a wicked grin. As Katie wiggled around Dylan’s lap and onto her own two feet, she straightened out her little black dress and checked her hair with her hand. Thank God you remembered to dress a little sassy on casual Friday. She was looking good tonight. Dylan knew it, the waiter knew it, and the group of stockbrokers she strutted by knew it. One even gave Dylan a once-over to see what was so special about him. Tonight, Katie could have any man in the world. She had swagger, she had confidence, and most importantly, she knew it. This powerful combination made Katie dangerous, but it was always short-lived because it always originated from the alcohol.

She pushed the double doors into the women’s restroom and made the ninety-degree right turn. She stood in front of the giant mirror, examining the woman looking back at her. Thoughts raced through her head as she decided if tonight would be the night she would cheat on Evan. He wouldn’t be home until late and long business dinners were not unusual for Katie. She could easily get away with it.

You can do this. You’re a beautiful woman with a gorgeous man who wants to show you some fun. There aren’t any kids to consider, and Evan will never know. You deserve this. She reapplied her shiny fruit-flavored lip balm, did a quick check of the left side, then the right side. You look good. Katie snatched her purse off the granite bathroom sink and made like she owned the place, her high heels clicking on the expensive marble tile as she left the restroom.

Dylan slouched slightly in his seat as he wondered what was taking so long. He saw Katie around the corner from the bathrooms and popped up tall, putting his arm on the back of the booth in an effort to appear smooth again. Dylan’s eyes were observing attentively, waiting to see what her next move was going to be. She sat down opposite him in the round booth and grabbed her appletini, swallowed the last of it in one big gulp, and whispered, “Let’s get out of here.” Dylan knew the small talk was over and his time had arrived, but he still had to reassure himself that this was actually going to happen. He couldn’t believe his luck. Dylan loved women. All shapes and sizes too. He had put more work into Katie than most, but only because she was married and seemed to need a little coaxing.

“Can I get you two another round?” the waiter asked.

“No, we’ll just take the check, thanks,” Dylan replied with a weak, underlying accent.

As Katie contemplated what was about to happen, the alcohol was taking over. Ever-so-slowly turning the shy and timid Katie into a glowing, confident, bona-fide woman. Dylan paid the tab and helped Katie put on his leather jacket. They eagerly stood up together in anticipation of the evening’s inevitable events. Dylan left the booth first and reached his hand out to help Katie down the small step. She graciously grabbed it. Contact.

“Shall we?” Dylan asked.

“Yes,” Katie responded quietly. It was such a simple answer for such a complicated situation. Dylan forcefully made his way through the crowd, nearly dragging Katie behind him. As they approached the exit, Dylan wrapped his arm around Katie. It was frosty out. The homeless man outside of the bar was shivering. Sucks to be out here in the cold. They walked past the man and up to the edge of the sidewalk to the well-timed arrival of a cab. Being the smooth man he was, Dylan opened the door and let Katie in first. He loosened his tie while looking around the street, in the same way a lion surveys for scavengers right before he consumes his prey. All clear.

“Downtown Grand, my good sir,” Dylan said as he ducked his head into the cab and closed the door.

* *

 

Evan appeared lifeless, like a doll propped up in a chair. His skull was cracked right above his left eye and on the back of his head. Outside, it was twenty degrees and dropping fast. The blades of grass were frozen stiff, and the small breeze made it feel even colder. His body temperature began to cool down as he went into shock. The tires on his smashed-up vehicle had finally stopped spinning. Evan’s untucked Banana Republic shirt was littered with blood and dirt along with a few randomly-placed rips. In a cruel twist of fate, Evan’s phone laid face-up a few feet away from him, Katie’s text message still on the screen for all to see.

Brian Donagan was headed out of town and decided that the best route would be Highway 50. He was on his way to pick up his kids from his ex-wife. They swapped custody of them every other week per the agreement in the divorce. He never took this road but, as chance would have it, he decided to this night. Brian spotted a light pointed away from the road a few hundred yards up. It looked like somebody possibly poaching a deer. He slowed down to get a better view, and as soon he got close enough, he froze in realization of what it was. Brian grabbed his phone and immediately called 9-1-1, giving his location to the operator. Brian exited his vehicle only to recognize how cold it was outside. Like a scolded child, he ran back to grab his jacket.

“Anybody there?!” Brian shouted. He saw Evan right away, but hit his knees to check under the car for any other injured people. “Hello?!” Brian shouted. Nothing. He ran over to Evan, who was showcased by the perfectly-placed headlight. Brian noticed the swelling on Evan’s face. Evan looked like a boxer on the wrong end of a tough bout. Despite what he saw, Brian was somewhat calm. Moving rapidly, he took his coat off and gently placed it over Evan. He hesitantly checked for a pulse. “Oh God, please be okay…. Hello, sir? Fuck! Please be okay, man. Please be okay.” Brian felt a pulse. It was shallow, but it was there. He noticed the faint tufts of steam coming out of Evan’s nose, which made him feel stupid for looking for a pulse in the first place. “You’re going to be okay, man. The ambulance is on its way,” Brian whispered. The somewhat-calm from earlier had quickly come and gone.

Brian looked down for clues as to who this man was and Evan’s left hand caught his attention. He noticed Evan was wearing a wedding band on his left ring finger. It was gold with a big dent where it was struck hard by something, most likely in the accident. It was still on Evan’s finger, but noticeably damaged, along with Evan’s arm. Brian could see the bone sticking out of the blue and white striped shirt. He placed his hand on his own head and almost cried. “Oh shit. Please let this man live, Lord. Please.” Brian also noticed the cell phone on the ground with a cracked screen. He picked it up and stuffed the phone into the front right pocket of Evan’s shirt. By this time nearly thirty minutes had passed, and Brian was becoming more and more of a wreck. Trying to waste some time with something productive, he phoned his ex-wife to let her know what had happened and that he would be there as soon as he could. He knelt down next to Evan and wondered who this man was. Where was he going? What caused him to roll his car like this? All of these questions raced through Brian’s thoughts as he realized just how fragile life really was. He had never seen a dead person, and he certainly didn’t want to tonight. He continually looked for the breath escaping Evan’s mouth. Brian was scared and completely helpless. Finally hearing the faint sound of the ambulance in the distance growing louder, Brian’s head dropped in relief. He was in charge and felt responsible for whatever happened here until someone capable of providing treatment arrived. That may have been far from the truth, but he wouldn’t be convinced otherwise.

The ambulance was traveling in excess of eighty-five miles per hour, but every second Brian waited felt like an eternity. The big vehicle finally made it, pulling to a screeching stop, and Brian let out a sigh of relief. His hot breath turned to steam in the air and left his face cold.

 

* *

 

“That’ll be thirty-seven fifty,” the cab driver said. Dylan extended his arm to pay the man with a fifty-dollar bill and told him to keep the change. He was on fire tonight and waiting for change was not on the docket. Katie was wrapped tightly in Dylan’s leather jacket as they walked into the entrance of the Downtown Grand. It was a tall, elegant building that rose above the street with windows taking in all the views that downtown had to offer. It had all the trimmings of an affair waiting to happen. They walked to the entrance and the bellhop swung the big door open with ease.

“Welcome to the Downtown Grand,” he said as he bowed with the grace of a Broadway star. They hardly noticed him as they blew right by, approaching the front desk smiling and playing.

“Stop,” Katie said with a devious smile as Dylan grabbed her ass. He took his hands off Katie and laid them on the desk. The name tag on the young clerk’s lapel read Natasha.

“Good evening. Welcome to the Downtown Grand. How may I help you?”

“Well…Natasha, we are weary travelers in need of shelter tonight,” Dylan said sarcastically.

“I think I can help you with that, how many nights?”

“Just one please,” Dylan said.

The keyboard clicks echoed in the large hotel entrance. As Natasha processed the request, Dylan’s eyes were locked onto his target. He grabbed Katie’s hand and kissed it. He just-so-happened to kiss her wedding ring. He never noticed, but Katie did, making her sick inside. She could have thrown up right there in the lobby but managed to hold it back. Her inner monologue gave her the confidence to shake it off without showing how she truly felt.

“Would you like smoking or non-smoking?” Natasha asked.

“Non-smoking please,” Dylan replied.

The keyboard noise continued on as Katie took in all the details of the spacious hotel lobby. This building. This is where it’s going to happen. Marble pillars in the entryway with a red carpet that led right up to the registration area. Can you think of somewhere better?

“I’ll need a driver’s license and a credit card to secure the room, which will be charged at checkout.”

Without a word, Dylan handed over his driver’s license and Platinum American Express card. As Natasha typed in Dylan’s information and ran the credit card, she stared at the screen, ignoring the public display that was happening between Dylan and Katie.

“There you go,” Natasha looked up and said with a smile. “Room 911. Elevators are right around that corner there. Can I help you with anything else?”

“As a matter of fact, you can,” Katie chimed in. “Send a bottle of your most expensive red to the room and put it on the bill,” Katie said with a smile.

“Sure thing, Mrs. Starks, and enjoy your stay,” Natasha said.

“I’m sure we will,” Dylan said.

Just like that, Katie Glover…AKA Mrs. Starks, was sacrificing five years of marriage for a smooth-talking man with a square jaw and broad shoulders. She knew the consequences, but she had already made up her mind. It would be almost too embarrassing to back out at this point. She eyed him as they left the elevator while walking arm-in-arm to the room. The key card slid in, and as Dylan removed it from the lock, the door made a clicking sound in conjunction with the little green light. Green for go. She blew out a deep breath in fear and anticipation.

Dylan, being the gentleman he was, held the door open as Katie walked in. He followed in behind her. Slowly turning around, he gently pushed the door closed. As the view into the hallway narrowed, the fantastic smile he was wearing widened.

 

* *

 

Evan was still unconscious as Brian stood back in bewilderment. He had watched medical shows on TV, but in real life, the paramedics were speaking gibberish. He took in the moment and caught a few words here and there while they loaded Evan onto the stretcher. “Internal bleeding,” “subdural hematoma,” and “intracranial pressure” were among the fancy words that were being voiced. A paramedic stepped out of the ambulance and began getting the stretcher board ready. The female paramedic holding up an IV bag walked by Brian and glanced over at him. “You did well, sir.”

“Thanks,” Brian mumbled. He wanted to be proud of his efforts, but he knew he did nothing special. It was all happening too fast for him. The paramedics seemed to move effortlessly and didn’t seem to care about Evan. Brian assured himself that they did care, but that they had a job to do. Plus, they do it every day and had probably seen much worse, so it had to be routine.

By this time, a state police officer had shown up. The officer walked up slowly and started talking to the EMTs. The EMT that had thanked Brian earlier was pointing to him. The officer looked over, shook his head, and headed his way. For some reason Brian felt like he might be in trouble.

“I’m Officer Collins of the State Police Department. I need to get a quick statement from you, sir,” the officer said.

“Of course,” Brian replied.

Brian told the officer that he drove by and saw Evan’s car on its back and called 9-1-1. There wasn’t much else to tell. As Brian was talking to the officer, his gaze diverted to watch the team load Evan into the ambulance. The driver of the ambulance helped to get the stretcher in and then closed the door behind them. She jogged briskly around the ambulance, got in, and hit the sirens. They wasted no time in speeding off with their cargo.

Two EMTs and Evan together in the ambulance was definitely a crowd. The female EMT, Julie, was on the phone with the hospital nurse, reporting all of the information they had on Evan and their estimated time of arrival, about twenty minutes.

Evan did not look well. He had dark, black circles around both of his eyes, and his face was swollen to the point of being unrecognizable. His neck was stabilized in a brace, while his body rocked back and forth from the vibrations of the ambulance flying down the two lane road. Although his body moved from the external forces, his mind lay perfectly still.

The siren wailed on as the ambulance made its way into the city. They were headed to St. Mary’s Hospital downtown. Julie hung up the phone while her partner was taking vitals and recording them on a chart. They made a left turn onto Washington Boulevard to enter the ambulance access of the emergency room. As Julie and the other paramedic unloaded Evan, Father Elders ran out through the ER doors and into the cold air to meet the team. While they all rushed into the hospital, Father Elders jogged beside the stretcher and grabbed Evan’s hand and squeezed it. He had been around long enough to know that despite a person being unconscious, they can still feel love. After all, Father Elders wasn’t in the body business…he was in the soul business.

 

* *

 

Katie walked meticulously around the room as if an inspection would ensure this place was good enough to cheat on her husband. She walked up to the window and started to close the big, heavy curtains. Maybe it was a subconscious effort to hide her intentions from the rest of the world. Dylan walked up behind her, put his hand on the small of her back, and began slowly rubbing her through her little black dress. Shivers went up her spine. While the caressing felt good, she couldn’t help but notice how the city below looked like a high-definition version of Pac-Man—the little cars with their lights moving around the maze. In all that was about to happen, Katie found space to wonder who they were and where they were all headed.

“Everything okay?” Dylan asked. Katie hesitated. This fantasy of other men was about to get real. Way beyond masturbating in bubble baths where she indulged her wildest fantasies with various men.

“Perfect,” she whispered, not moving her eyes from the window. “They look like ants down there, following some ordained path.”

Dylan grunted a half snicker. “Maybe they are ants. Have you ever seen how ants will take an injured or dead ant back to the nest and eat him?”

“Gross!” Katie laughed.

“It’s true. We are no different than them. All just animals.” As they enjoyed an awkward laugh, there was a knock on the door.

“Room Service!” the voice shouted.

Dylan reluctantly took his hand off Katie’s back so he could answer the door. It had taken him months to get his hand permission to be there and annoyed him slightly that he had to answer the door. He was greeted by a young man with the bottle of Ten Thousand Roses Merlot, two glasses, and a wine opener. Dylan set them on the counter next to the door and reached into his wallet, handing the young man a crisp five-dollar bill for his services. Dylan closed the door while grabbing all of the party favors at the same time. He wasn’t going to give Katie the chance to change her mind. As she stared outside, deep in thought, Dylan poured two full glasses of wine. He handed one to Katie and resumed his place next to her with the other glass in his hand. Katie looked beautiful holding the deep purple wine in the crystal glass, with the city lights glowing in the background.

“To the night, and whatever she may bring,” said Dylan as he held his glass up.

“To the night,” Katie echoed.

She raised her glass and tapped it delicately into his. A high-pitched clink resonated through the room with both of them taking bigger-than-usual swigs. They stood silently, enjoying the beautiful view of downtown once more, when from the left side of the window, an ambulance came into view. They watched its bright flashing lights weaving in and out of traffic as it made its way to St. Mary’s, finally coming to a stop. Dylan and Katie could see the paramedics racing feverishly around on the ground below.

“Look at the poor sap in that ambulance down there. Probably some old lady who fell down and broke her hip.”

Katie punched him in the arm jokingly. “You are so mean!” The ice was broken.

“Well, whoever it is probably didn’t expect to be headed to St. Mary’s tonight.” Dylan turned Katie’s face toward him and gave her a seductive grin. “But let’s not let it spoil our evening.”

Katie finished her wine quickly so it would do its work and numb her up. She sat the glass on the table, closed the curtain, and turned to Dylan. He grabbed her forcefully, just the way she liked it. Pulling her in for the kill. Their lips met and butterflies exploded throughout Katie’s body. Bliss. Dylan quickly undid the buttons on his dress shirt, starting from the top, then proceeded to remove the spaghetti straps holding up Katie’s little black dress. Once that was done, the dress slid off without effort. Just like that, beautiful Katie was standing there in her black lace bra with matching panties. She unbuttoned Dylan’s jeans and like a slow Texas two-step, he led her over to the bed, his tongue never leaving her mouth. Dylan was aggressive, but that was okay; that was his style, and she wanted it like that.

So many thoughts bounced around in her brain. So many thoughts, but none were of Evan or what he might be doing. For all she knew, he was pulling in a big pot at the poker game and taking a shot of whiskey to celebrate.

That notion couldn’t have been further from the truth.

 

* *

 

Father Elders continued to hold Evan’s hand until they reached the emergency room. Once inside, he stepped aside to let the doctors do their jobs. A nurse began cutting Evan’s clothes off, placing them into a clear, plastic collection bag. Father Elders rummaged through Evan’s pockets and collected his wallet, cell phone and watch, then headed back to the nurse’s station.

“Here’s his insurance card. Please try to find a next of kin and phone number,” the priest directed.

“Right away, Father,” she responded.

Father Elders walked around the nurse’s desk and grabbed a small, plastic bin. He placed the phone along with Evan’s wallet and watch in the bin. He stuck a piece of white tape on and labeled it with a Sharpie, “Evan Glover,” and put it in one of the lockers in the storage shelf behind the nurse’s station. Meanwhile, the nurse typed away on the computer and grabbed a pen and a piece of scrap paper from the cluttered desk. She had found Evan in the insurance system with information on his next of kin. Writing the details down on a piece of paper, she handed it to Father Elders who took it and made the trip back to the emergency room to check on Evan’s status.

The ER was filled with chaos. People talking over each other and beeps filled the room. Evan was surrounded by moving bodies who were prepping him for emergency surgery. Father Elders left the room, making his way down the hall and across the lower floor to his tiny corner office. The old wooden door was labeled St. Mary’s Chaplain. It was painted a dark shade of green that might have been there since the first days of the hospital. He opened the door, turned on the light, and sat down at his desk. He let out a sigh, hesitating for a minute. This was by far the worst part of his job. In fact, his whole career consisted of things like this, but it never got easier for him.

Father Tyrell Elders grew up in an inner-city black neighborhood. He and his friend, Eli, were playing hopscotch one hot summer day on the sidewalk. Two local rival gangs had clashed two weeks’ prior, meaning the Black Rangers were out for revenge. That morning they rounded the street corner in their low-riding older model Chevy Malibu, causing kids and adults alike to flee. Everyone knew what was coming. Tyrell grabbed Eli by the hand and started running as gunfire rang out. A few seconds later Tyrell was suddenly yanked back. He turned around to tell Eli to hurry up. That’s when he saw Eli had caught a stray bullet in the neck. Tyrell fell to his knees, staying with Eli as the blood left his body, pouring out onto the sidewalk into a massive puddle that continued to grow for a full minute. Even at eight years old, no one had to tell Tyrell that Eli was dead. The memory of watching his best friend bleed out was one he would never forget. The haunting vision of that day was what ultimately prompted him to join the ministry. He mostly kept to himself after that, save for attending Our Lady of Sorrow Catholic Church every Sunday with his grandmother. He found comfort in the Lord, and it was the only way the eight-year-old Tyrell could make sense of what he had witnessed.

Father Elders slumped back in his chair and dialed Katie’s number, putting the phone to his ear. He immediately heard the voicemail message, “You’ve reached Katie. Please leave me a message and I will return your call as soon as possible. Have a great day.”

“My name is Father Tyrell Elders,” he began. “I’m a priest at St. Mary’s Hospital. I’m afraid Evan Glover was in a car accident and is currently in our care. Please come to the hospital as soon as you can.” He placed the phone back in its cradle wondering how many times he had to make that phone call. Father Elders bowed his head and started praying aloud.

“Dear Heavenly Father, I pray to you tonight for your child, Evan. Father, we cannot expect to know Your will, but please look upon Evan and his family with eyes of mercy. All-powerful and ever-living God, we trust You with our souls. We are prepared to face any trial on Earth that You deem us capable of enduring, taking solace in knowing that everlasting life with You awaits. In Your name we pray, Amen.”

Father Elders stood up and headed back to the nurse’s station to see if any additional information on Evan had emerged. He stared intently at the trauma team that was rolling Evan down the hallway toward the operating room. It was crucial that they relieve some of the pressure caused by swelling on Evan’s brain and address any other life-threatening issues immediately.

“A message has been left for his emergency contact. I’ll keep trying to get a hold of her,” Father Elders calmly told the nurse.

 

* *

 

Katie was letting out dulcet moans, while Dylan grunted and quickened his pace, nearing orgasm. They had been at it for several minutes, shifting positions often until they found the one that gave them both the most pleasure. With Dylan now on top, Katie grabbed Dylan’s hips and pulled them closer in toward her as they both reached climax. The dance was over. Dylan slid off of Katie in intense relaxation, sweat dripping down both of their bodies. A deep exhale from Katie indicated her complete satisfaction. Boxes were checked off both of their lists. Dylan had bagged another hot woman. The fact that she was married was meaningless. And Katie had finally been fully satisfied by another man.

The guilt immediately took hold and swept over her in a frenzy. Katie nearly panicked with the comprehension of what she had just done. She wrestled with the internal chaos as she glanced over at Dylan. Dylan reached over to cuddle with her, but she wasn’t having it. Pushing him aside, she rose from the bed with a purpose.

“This is never happening again,” Katie said. She put a little extra emphasis on the word “never”.

“So you say…. I’m a charming man,” Dylan responded with a smirk.

“So you say,” Katie said playing along half-heartedly. She was ready to leave. This deceit was already taking its toll on her. She looked at the clock on the nightstand that read 11:30.

“Shit. I have to get home, Dylan. Evan is probably worried sick about me,” Katie said.

“I understand. You going to clean up?”

“No, I’ll just shower when I get home.”

“I’m going to stay here and watch some HBO. It’s already paid for, so, why not?” Dylan replied.

Katie held the sheet tight to her chest as she walked into the bathroom with her clothes in hand. Even though she just slept with Dylan, getting dressed in front of him just seemed wrong. She felt as dirty as the streaked and spotted up mirror in the bathroom. A normally flawless reflecting object littered with specks of imperfection. She closed the bathroom door and sat on the toilet to pee. She looked over to her right to see her face in the filthy mirror. Her hair was a mess and her cheeks were flush. What the fuck did you do? She rose up off of the toilet, flushed it, and began putting herself back together.

“What a crazy night, huh?” Katie asked as she left the bathroom.

“Yeah. Sometimes things just happen, you know?” Dylan said.

“Yeah. It was fun, but now it’s over. Good night, Dylan.” Katie put her hands on Dylan’s chest and leaned in one last time for a kiss. Dylan tried to pull her back in for another round, but she quickly dodged his efforts and walked toward the door.

“Goodnight, beautiful. Mwah!” Dylan smiled flirtatiously while making kissing sounds.

Katie shut the hotel room door behind her and began walking down the long, lonely hallway. Purse hanging over her shoulder, keeping a brisk pace to the elevator. She pushed the button and stared up at the lit floor indicator. 2…3…4…. Sighing at its slow progress. 5…6…7…8…. It finally reached her floor with a ding. The doors opened and Katie stepped into the empty elevator, pushing the first floor button. They slid shut, making a quiet hiss in the process. Katie immediately started to cry aloud in the elevator. She let out a few deep sobs, stopping occasionally to wipe her eyes, trying to regain her composure. The elevator came to a stop on the ground floor and the door opened, revealing another young couple waiting to board. They were smiling and laughing until they realized the woman inside the elevator was intensely distraught. Katie rushed past them, exited the hotel, and hailed a cab to the bar where she had left her car. Anger for what she had done took her over with a rage.

“Right here is fine,” she said to the cab driver. He pulled over next to a parking garage and put the car in park. Katie was so focused on what had happened that she forgot about her phone. She reached into her purse to retrieve some money when it finally dawned on her that it had been off this whole time. Evan is probably freaking out about where you are. Turn the phone on! Instead, she could say it was dead and use that as an excuse for not calling back. “Keep the change,” Katie said.

“Have a nice night, lady,” the cab driver replied.

Katie found her car keys, tucked her belongings under her arm, and walked into the parking structure. She made her way to her parking space, pushing the unlock button on the key fob. It gave her a closer look at her key ring that had a big letter “K” encrusted with fake pink diamonds. Evan had bought it for her on a business trip. It was the first time they had been apart since getting married and Evan had wanted her to know that he was always thinking about her. It felt twistedly ironic that it now made her think of him.

Katie opened the car door, tossing her purse into the front seat and turned the key in one continuous motion. The engine turned over despite the cold, and Katie shivered while she waited impatiently for the car to warm up. She rubbed her arms vigorously to help warm up, but it wasn’t working very well. Katie grabbed the steering wheel with both hands, reaching her right fingers toward the shifter when she broke down again. What had she just done? This stupid fantasy had gone too far. Was she going to tell Evan? Would she be able to live with what she did? She sobbed out loud while glancing in the mirror, grabbing a tissue to wipe the black mascara that was running down her cheeks.

Once she regained composure, Katie began the drive home with her poker face in full effect. Would he know by the look on her face? Evan was a smart guy and that gave her cause for worry. Katie made the twenty-five-minute drive to their house, making the time now half past midnight. She would have to explain to Evan how dinner turned into drinks, and that it was beneficial for her career to socialize at any opportunity and blah blah blah. Katie pulled into the driveway, quickly noticing that no lights were on in the house. That’s weird. He didn’t leave any lights on for me. Katie pressed the button on her garage door opener and the headlights illuminated an empty garage. Slightly worried, she pulled into the garage, jumped out of the car, and hurried inside.

Katie fumbled for the kitchen light switch in the dark house. It quickly became apparent that Evan had not been home yet. Suddenly remembering her phone, she frantically dug through her purse until she found it. She paced the kitchen floor while the phone went through its startup routine. Once complete, Katie saw a message from an unknown number. With the message playing in her ear, her face went from a soft, pink glow to pale like a ghost. Was she pale from the contents of the message or the events of the night. Perhaps it was both.

Holding the phone in her right hand, Katie pressed her left hand on her forehead and leaned on the fridge, slowly sliding to the floor. The mascara streaks that were once removed returned with a vengeance. She dropped the phone on the floor and talked to herself out loud. “What the fuck? What the fuck did I do?” Katie sobbed. She reclaimed her phone, grabbed her purse, and hastily made for the hospital that stood not even two blocks away from where she had sex with another man.

Katie drove past the Downtown Grand when a wave of guilt washed over her again, creating the need to suddenly vomit. Slamming on the brakes, she turned the car onto the side of the road and opened the car door, leaning her head out, quickly depositing roughly sixty-two dollars’ worth of fine wine into the gutter. After she wiped her mouth and shut the car door, her gaze shot upward to see a room on the ninth floor of the posh hotel lit up. Was it worth it? Dylan was probably up there bragging to himself about his new conquest. Maybe he was already planning his next one. Either way, she sped off in anguish.

Katie’s car pulled into the closest parking space she could find near the main building of the hospital. She ran as fast as she could in high heels to the emergency room. When Katie arrived at the entrance, there was a slight pause before the sensor opened the door. During that brief moment, Katie saw her reflection in the glass. She looked as atrocious as she did in the mirror of the hotel bathroom. The monster stared right back as the door whooshed open. She straightened her attire and resolved to put the whole thing behind her. She had to, at least for now. Now more than ever, Katie had to focus on Evan, the man she loved. She didn’t love Dylan, she loved Evan. What happened with Dylan was just an act of lust, not love. We are animals, just like Dylan said, right?

“Evan Glover! Is he okay?! What happened?!” Katie was frantic, slamming her purse into the counter as she ran up to it. It wasn’t an unusual scene for the ER, but the ER clerk was thankful that it a relatively quiet Friday night.

“Try to relax, ma’am. Are you his wife?” the ER clerk inquired. Katie nodded. “Let me see where he is.”

The clerk typed away as Katie squeezed her purse tightly into her chest, dreading hearing the worst. “He’s in surgery right now. That’s all the information I have at this time. A doctor will be out to update the family when surgery is complete. We have a nice, comfortable waiting area right around the corner.” Katie didn’t care about how nice the waiting room was and the look permeated outward. The clerk paused and looked into her eyes sympathetically. “I’m very sorry, Mrs. Glover. The doctors at St. Mary’s are the best. I’m sure they will do everything in their power to help your husband.”

Katie barely heard the encouraging words. Considering all of the night’s commotion, she had forgotten to call Evan’s parents. They lived about eight hours away in a small, rural town. Still crying, she wandered over to the couches to call them. The room was painted in sorrow. Magazines strewn about, old rickety chairs with holes in the seats, and a soda machine whose lights were flickering. Katie finally settled into a chair. It was difficult to see her contact list through the tears in her eyes, but Katie finally found the name and hit Send.

“Katie? Is everything alright?” Laura asked groggily.

“Laura. Listen, Evan has been in a car accident. I don’t really know what’s going on. He’s in surgery right now…that’s all I know.”

She could hear Laura shuffling around in the bed trying to wake up Jim. “Jim, wake up! Evan was in a car accident. He’s in the hospital. Get up! Katie, what happened?!” Laura asked.

“I don’t know. I was out at dinner, I got home and there was a call from the hospital saying that Evan was in an accident. I just got here, so I don’t really know anything yet.”

“Oh my God. Oh my God,” Laura sobbed and hyperventilated. Katie could hear the shifting of the phone. Jim had taken it from her to finish the conversation as Laura became more frantic.

“Katie, this is Jim. What is going on?”

“I don’t know! I’m at the hospital now. I Just know that he was in a car accident. He is in surgery right now.”

“Okay. Okay. Everything is going to be all right. Just stay there with him. We are going to pack some stuff and get on the road. We will be there in the morning. We love you.”

“I love you guys. Please hurry! And drive safe!” Katie said as she hung up the phone and went silent. She was at a loss for words with nothing to say to anyone. She buried her head deep into her lap. So many thoughts and emotions were running through her mind. Katie wanted to blame the affair for what happened to Evan but couldn’t quite commit to the connection. She wondered how long poor Evan suffered and how it all happened. Would things have gone differently if Katie hadn’t turned off her phone? What was the last thing she said to him? It was a lie.

Katie stared down at the cold, cheap tile between her knees when she suddenly became aware of the wet spot in her underwear…the remnants of a man she didn’t love. She cried harder. Katie thought of the last time she was with Evan. It was just the night before that they had made love in the shower.

Katie had gotten home early and had dinner waiting for Evan. He had stopped at the grocery store to pick up chives so Katie could complete her recipe. He’d decided to get her roses, for no reason at all. There was nothing special about that day, but both Evan and Katie had been in a good mood. They enjoyed a few glasses of wine together before getting ready for bed when Evan jumped in the shower. He leaned his head back into the stream of water, closing his eyes, when he was unexpectedly surprised by Katie slipping in, wrapping her arms around him. The shower was in full steam mode by that point as the two began to kiss. Katie was and had always been the aggressor, the shower was no different. It wasn’t long before the kissing led to more. She raised her left leg and pulled Evan closer and into herself.

Katie snapped back to reality only to realize where she was. It dawned on her that she’d had sex with two men in two days, but prior to yesterday, she had only had sex with two men in her entire life. She moved over a few spaces to lay down on the uncomfortable hospital couch, crying herself to sleep. That hot shower was millions of miles from where she was now…maybe even farther.

It was four in the morning when a doctor finally walked in to find Katie balled up on the couch, asleep. He gently tapped her on the shoulder. “Mrs. Glover?” the man asked.

“Yes,” she responded sleepily. Katie looked up with big, kitten eyes waiting to hear the fate of her husband.

“Mrs. Glover, I’m Dr. Setter. I’m the chief neurosurgeon here at St Mary’s. Your husband sustained significant injuries in the car accident. In order to relieve the pressure caused by the swelling on his brain, we removed a piece of his skull above the right eye and a piece from the parietal bone,” he gestured toward the back of his head. “Evan also sustained a compound fracture to his right arm, four fractured ribs, a collapsed lung, and damage to his left kidney. He also broke his number-four lumbar. At this point, we don’t have reason to believe he is paralyzed, but it’s too soon to be sure. He will most likely require additional surgeries as the swelling subsides. Right now Evan is recovering in the ICU, but he is in a coma, ma’am. He is going to have to fight to come out of this one. I’m very sorry.” Katie couldn’t decide if this was good news or bad news. He was alive at least.

“Oh my God. Can I see him?” Katie cried as she jumped up from the couch.

“You can, as soon as he is stabilized. It won’t be long, I promise, Mrs. Glover.”

Dr. Setter disappeared from where he had emerged. The silence in the waiting room became just as apparent as when she had first arrived. Katie decided that taking a quick trip home to shower and clean up would be best for everyone, especially her. She wiped her eyes and dug through her purse to find her keys. Katie knew she looked terrible and that fixing herself up to feel fresh might just be enough to handle the stress that was sure to continue. She received a call from Jim as she was heading out the door.

“Hi, Katie. We are a few hours out still, but we are making good time. The roads are pretty clear. Are there any updates on Evan?” Katie relayed all the information she had just received from Dr. Setter.

“Okay. Well, we will be there soon. Take care of our son. We love you,” Jim said. I think I already helped your son out by sleeping with another man.

 

It was a quarter till six in the morning. Freshly showered and dressed in some jeans with a plain sweatshirt, Katie returned to the hospital, speeding most of the way there and back. As she walked through the double doors, that familiar smell of hospitals hit her. Disinfectant and cleanliness. It’s next to godliness, right? She felt the need to throw up again, but managed to refrain this time.

Katie approached the help desk near the hospital’s entrance and greeted the clerk. “Hi, again. What room is Evan Glover in?”

“Good morning. Let me get that info for you, just one second.” Katie nervously picked at her fingernails while the clerk looked up the information. “He’s in room three-zero-eight, sweetie. Right that way to the elevators.”

The hospital seemed to have woken up since being there last. There were people buzzing around, all headed somewhere. Katie’s heels clicked in cadence as she made her way to the elevator. She couldn’t shake the thought of how trips to the elevator could forever alter the course of her fate. There was a man already waiting at the bank of elevators when she got there. All of the lights for the up-arrow were lit. One set of doors opened with a “ding,” and inside was a man in a wheelchair with a young girl standing behind him. With a little effort, the girl got the wheelchair moving, clearing the elevator. Katie was nervous as she stepped on. She had no idea what to expect when she saw him. She was thinking this might be the last time she saw Evan alive. He might already be dead, for all she knew.

“What floor?” the man asked with a pleasant smile.

“Three, please,” Katie replied. They both stared intently at the LCD floor indicators until the doors opened on Katie’s floor. She exited the elevator and walked into the ICU section of the hospital. It was booming with hurried people carrying charts, phones ringing, and pages over the intercom system. Katie was looking for Evan’s room. It wasn’t that easy because some of them seemed to be in some order and others were not. She made the turn past the nurse’s station when a young woman in scrubs asked if she was lost.

“I’m looking for room three-o-eight,” Katie said.

“Mr. Glover?” the lady confirmed.

“Yes. Can I see my husband now?” Katie asked.

“Yes, but you are the only one allowed to be in there. His room is just around the corner on the left.”

“Thank you,” Katie said with a polite smile. She rubbed her eyes and wiped her nose with a tissue as she neared Evan’s room. She was a mess, and she didn’t know how she was supposed to feel. Everything that had happened in the last twenty-four hours had her brain on an emotional rollercoaster. She prepared herself for what she was about to see. Picturing her darling Evan looking like she last saw him, hair slicked back from the water in the shower, the crooked smile on his face that melted into intense ecstasy as they made love. She knew it wouldn’t be like that, but she had no clue what she was about to see. She took a deep breath and exhaled as she turned the doorknob, creeping into the room.

The room was dim and there was a steady beeping from the machine measuring Evan’s pulse. The entire top of his head was wrapped in bandages with his face completely covered in black and blue, indicating that he had danced with the devil. Tubes coming out of his nose, mouth, and side of his chest completed the picture. She wasn’t even sure it was him. Katie couldn’t even cry. She put her hand over her mouth and tried to let the necessary sobs escape, but only silence came.

Staring at Evan, the reality of it all finally hit Katie, and the tears once again streamed down her face. She walked slowly over to Evan’s side, putting her hand on his. What do you say to someone in this condition?

“Evan, Baby. I’m so sorry,” Katie sobbed. She stroked his hand. There was barely any room to feel his skin with the IV and tubes running everywhere. She looked at his hand, immediately noticing the missing ring and the tan line where it used to be. It resonated strong in Katie’s heart. The symbol of their eternal love was broken. “Baby, I’m here for you. You are going to be okay. I promise.” The only words she could think of.

Katie remained at Evan’s side for twenty minutes when someone opened the door. She turned her head to see who it was as a team of doctors entered the room. They were all carrying charts, and none of them had pleasant looks on their face. One of them stepped forward and approached Katie with his arm extended outward.

“Mrs. Glover, I’m Dr. Oakum. Evan will be under my team’s care. We need to evaluate him to determine our path forward. I have to ask you to leave the room momentarily, and I will speak with you afterward.”

“Okay. I’ll go wait outside,” Katie responded as she stood to leave. She walked out of the room and headed over to the breakroom for a cup of coffee. She looked at her watch. It was getting close to seven in the morning. Katie called her boss and let him know the situation. Mike assured her that she had the full support of the office and to take as much time as she needed. Katie knew that the news would soon spread to all of their circles and that she’d be overwhelmed with the attention. She thrived on attention, just not that kind of attention.

Katie sipped her coffee, staring out of the third-floor window of St. Mary’s Hospital. Her mind once again went back to the night before. What was she thinking? This all seemed liked her fault. She thought of what Dylan had said about being ants and how it could have some truth to it. Katie cared about Evan, his parents cared about him, and the doctors, in some fashion, cared about him, but there were billions of people on the Earth that would never know Evan Glover and his contribution to life. He was just another ant on the trail. The nest would move and grow with or without him, just as the outside world would continue on without him. She suddenly felt sorry for him, not because of the state he was in, but because of that fact. The world would move on without him. She leaned her head against the hospital window while the raindrops outside collected and flowed down the pane without resistance. Just like the tears that were streaming down her face.

After what seemed like an eternity, Dr. Oakum and his team finally started trickling out of the room. He stepped out from the pack, approaching Katie with a serious look on his face. This can’t be good.

“Mrs. Glover. Evan is stable right now, but we need to take him upstairs to run some more tests. We are going to check his neural activity and run an MRI to see the full extent of the damage. Again, he is stable right now, but he isn’t breathing on his own. I want to be honest with you, ma’am. This could go either way. He may be in a coma, but I encourage you to talk to him. People believe that it helps, and if he can hear you, he’s going to need all the support you can give him. I’ll come back and update you when we have more information.”

“Thank you, doctor,” Katie replied.

Shortly thereafter, a nurse accompanied by one of the doctors, wheeled Evan and all of his equipment out of the room and down the hall. Again, Katie wondered if that would be the last time she would see him. She watched a pile of sheets wrapped in bandages disappear down the hall and out of sight. Except, that pile of sheets wrapped in bandages happened to be her whole life.

Hours passed while Katie took a few phone calls from friends asking if she needed anything. She was in a fog. She couldn’t be sure at this point if all of this was real or a dream, but she knew one thing. She had made a terrible mistake the night before, and she couldn’t let it go. The guilt will go away. Don’t worry. She tried to convince herself on the inside. It didn’t work.

Jim and Laura sprinted down the hall when they saw Katie. They looked just as terrible as she did. Jim had on an old baseball hat with some worn out jeans. Laura was wearing jeans and a sweater with a vest. Her once-brown but now graying hair went down to the tops of her shoulders. She had flyaways sticking out all over. Jim and Laura were an active, healthy couple, but today, they looked every bit their age. They all embraced in a small group and shed some more tears. Katie explained all she knew to them. Now it was a waiting game.

Evan’s room was filled with machine noise. Pumps moving air, monitors reading heart rates, and blood pressure machines hissing. He lay static in his room while outside, Dr. Oakum was updating the family. The damage to the back of Evan’s head would likely affect his ability to see, but fortunately, the spinal fracture they discovered didn’t appear to have severed any nerves. Evan’s neural activity showed that it was not that of a normal, healthy person. He was not responding to external stimuli and only time would tell what the outcome would be. Jim, Laura, and Katie took in the news with the helpless feeling that usually accompanies this type of thing.

“You can go in now,” Dr. Oakum concluded as Father Elders approached the family.

“Hi. I’m Father Elders. I’m very sorry you have to endure this trying time.” He extended his hand to Laura, Katie, and then Jim. His black suit was cleanly pressed, matching his dark skin.

“I’m Jim, and this is my wife, Laura. We are Evan’s parents,” Jim said.

“I’m Katie, I’m Evan’s wife.”

“I wish I was meeting you all under different circumstances, but may I ask you a question? Is Evan a man of faith?” Father asked.

“Yes, we are all devout Catholic,” Jim replied.

This was true except for Katie. Evan’s parents were displeased that Evan and Katie did not have a Catholic wedding, but never publicly made a fuss about it.

“That’s great. Please talk to Evan. I believe he can hear you, but if not, his soul can hear you and he needs our help. Our God is a good God. Believe in Him, and He shall give Evan everything he needs,” Father said.

“Thank you, Father,” Jim replied.

While all of that was taking place outside in the hall, inside Evan lay perfectly still…except for his eyes.

 

 

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First Chapter Reveal: Cable Car Mystery by Greg Messel

Cable Car Mystery banner

Cable Car MysteryTitle: Cable Car Mystery
Author: Greg Messel
Publisher: Sunbreaks Publishing
Pages: 180
Genre: Mystery/Romance

On the hottest day of the year in San Francisco in 1959, Private Detectives Sam and Amelia Slater are contemplating fleeing the city for their Stinson Beach house. However, when Sam decides to take a cable car ride to run some errands on the lazy summer day, he’s suddenly thrust into the spotlight when he rescues a woman who fell onto the busy street. Sam pulls the mysterious red haired woman out of the path of an oncoming cable car in the nick of time. The entire incident is captured by a newspaper photographer who splashes Sam’s heroics all over the front page. Sam is troubled not only by his new status as a city hero, but by the rescued woman’s plea for help. She whispers to Sam that she didn’t fall from the cable car but was pushed. She is frightened and disappears into the crowd before Sam can get more details. A San Francisco newspaper launches a campaign to find the mystery woman and Sam hopes to cross paths with her again.

Meanwhile, Amelia is troubled by the sudden disappearance of her elderly neighbor. Two thuggish younger men who now occupy the house next door say he took a sudden trip. One night when she’s alone Amelia grabs a flashlight and finds some disturbing clues in her neighbor’s garage. What really happened to her neighbor? Amelia is determined to find out.

Award winning author Greg Messel spins a new tale of intrigue in Cable Car Mystery, the sixth book in the Sam Slater Mystery series set in at the 1950s in San Francisco.

For More Information

  • Cable Car Mystery is available at Amazon.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

 

THE DARK APARTMENT

May 29, 1959

It had been a beautiful early summer day in San Francisco but the evening fog was rolling in, seemingly pulling a cozy blanket over the sparkling city as 28-year-old Debra Norton returned from her Friday night date with John D’Angelo, a tall, handsome, dark-haired man she had met at work.

It was their first date. He was so unlike the men who had been part of her life in recent years. He seemed kind and gentle. John seemed like just what she wanted in a companion but she reminded herself it was too early to make such an assessment. It could be the beginning of something good for Debra who, at the urging of her sister, had fled Seattle to make a new start in San Francisco.

John was truly an artist and Debra’s job had been the most unusual experience of her life.

She began working at the wax museum on Fisherman’s Wharf at the beginning of May, where she performed a variety of tasks. Debra had secretarial and clerical duties but at times she was a ticket taker. Over the four weeks she had been at the museum, she had learned enough about various exhibits that she directed patrons and answered their questions. That part was really fun.

John, on the other hand, was the creative talent behind many of the museum’s famous wax figures. He actually created the figures which attracted tourists who visited Fisherman’s Wharf. She’d met John on the first day at her new job, but initially their paths didn’t cross because he was always in the upstairs studio.

Nevertheless, recently, John had been finding excuses to leave his work studio and chat up Debra. A few times she looked up and noticed him watching her.

Now on their first date, John had taken Debra out to dinner. He was very attentive. There were nice little touches many women would probably take for granted, such as pulling out her chair to seat her at the table and opening the car door for her.

After the dinner, they went to the late show at the Embassy Theatre on Market Street and saw “A Summer Place” with Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue. It was just the kind of romantic movie Debra loved but had never seen.

She shared a popcorn with her handsome co-worker. About halfway through the movie, he took her hand. His hands were manly but soft. He held her hand as if it were some delicate object of art which might break if treated carelessly.

They continued to hold hands until he gave her a good night kiss on the steps by the front door stoop near the entrance of her San Francisco-style townhouse apartment building. She seemed euphoric as she began to descend the steps to her second floor apartment. Debra stopped halfway up the steps and turned to look at the front door. She could see John standing outside the glass door watching her ascend the steps. She smiled and waved before resuming her climb up the stairs.

She smiled to herself knowing John was watching her.

Debra’s lighthearted contentment was shattered when she slowly walked towards the door of her apartment. Her sixth sense kicked in. Something just didn’t look right. A little voice in her head told her to bolt and go retrieve John, but instead she pushed ahead.

About the Author

Greg Messel

Greg Messel has spent most of his adult life interested in writing, including a career in the newspaper business. He won a Wyoming Press Association Award as a columnist and has contributed articles to various magazines. Greg lives in Edmonds, Washington on Puget Sound with his wife Jean DeFond.

Greg has written nine novels. His latest is “Cable Car Mystery” which is the sixth in a series of mysteries set in 1959 San Francisco. “Shadows In The Fog,” ”Fog City Strangler,” “San Francisco Secrets,” “Deadly Plunge” are sequels to the first book in the series “Last of the Seals.” His other three novels are “Sunbreaks,” “Expiation” and “The Illusion of Certainty.”

For More Information

 

BOOK TRAILER:

 

 

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Giveaway!

Greg Messel is giving away an autographed copy of his book, FOG CITY STRANGLER, & an autographed copy of his book, SHADOWS IN THE FOG!

 

Terms & Conditions:

  • By entering the giveaway, you are confirming you are at least 18 years old.
  • One winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter to receive an autographed copy of his book FOG CITY STRANGLER and one winner will be chosen to win an autographed copy of SHADOWS IN THE FOG
  • This giveaway begins May 2 and ends on June 30.
  • Winners will be contacted via email on July 1.
  • Winner has 48 hours to reply.

Good luck everyone!

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First Chapter Reveal: The Hidden Reality by Stephen Martino

The Hidden RealityTitle: The Hidden Reality
Author: Stephen Martino
Publisher: Light Messages
Pages: 318
Genre: Science Fiction/Political Thriller

In the year 2084, the brilliant inventor, Alex Pella, finds himself at a precarious crossroad between the pursuit of justice and preservation of his own sanity. While attempting to undermine an international New World Order government created by the financial juggernaut known as The New Reality, he must also face the hidden truths about his own genetic heritage that are slowly destroying him. After receiving an ambiguous message sent from a former New Reality executive who died 2 years prior, Alex learns that the only possible means to confront this New World Order is to defeat a long-forgotten enemy almost 2500 years old.

 

THE HIDDEN REALITY is the second stand-alone novel in a trilogy starring Alex Pella, created by New Jersey-based neurologist and entrepreneur Stephen Martino. With his fusion of history, politics, and science fiction, Martino joins such masters of the thriller genre as Dan Brown, James Rollins, and Michael Crichton.
Martino’s villain is a corporation run by a cadre of ruthless international bankers known as The New Reality. Directed by the most corrupt and morally unscrupulous of the bunch, Myra Keres, the company has economically seized control of the world’s governments and the population’s personal freedoms in the process. In order to save humanity from this despot ruler and the unwonted atrocities to which she plans to perpetuate on the world, Alex Pella must infiltrate the company and face an enemy that has unknowingly haunted both him and history for almost 2500 years.
Martino says he wrote THE HIDDEN REALITY more than just to entertain the reader. He wanted to create a modern day Orwellian ANIMAL FARM to allegorically forewarn his readers of a possible dystopia future that awaits all of mankind if humanity continues to proceed down its path of self-destruction.

 

In THE HIDDEN REALITY, Martino has included such hot-button contemporary topics as genetic cloning, unprecedented economic debt, the rise of big government, and the threat of a New World Order run by the economic elite, while bringing the reader back almost 2500 years into the past when the ancient city state nation known as Greece fought the mighty Persian Empire for world domination.
All of these elements, Martino maintains, separate his book from the pack. He calls THE HIDDEN REALITY “issue-oriented fiction. There are real concerns facing society today that threaten both the sovereignty and prosperity of our future generations. Though fictional, my novel addresses some of these issues and predicts the potential consequences we face as a nation and the world if they are not properly addressed today.”

For More Information

First Chapter

 

September 4, 2084 London, England

A YOUNG MAN IN HIS late twenties stood confidently behind a large, circular table made of clear glass. With his well-tanned, stubbled face and wavy, beelined honey-colored hair that reached his shoulders, he appeared more ready to catch the next wave than to speak at this meeting. His tan suit with a large butterfly-like collar and unbuttoned white shirt completed the look.

Most of the other 20 executives at the meeting also appeared less than adequately dressed for such an occasion.

In the center of the table a crisp image was meticulously engraved on the glass. It represented not only the symbol for their company but also that of the New World Order it created—a vibrant triangular diamond with a perfect, golden circle at its center. Above the symbol, a holographic image of a globe with countries coded in different colors rotated slowly.

“As you can see by the green color on about half of the countries,” the speaker from the public relations team went on to say with little enthusiasm, “The New Reality virtual services is actively utilized by at least 50 percent of the population. Though this percentage has increased by almost two-fold since the first quarter in 2083, we are still about 10 percent shy of reaching this year’s expectation.”

He pointed to one of the large canvas painted portraits at the front of the room. “As our former president and CEO of The New Reality, Albert Rosenberg, once said,” he continued in a monotone voice, “failure to meet expectation, no matter how grandiose these expectations may be, is still a failure.”

He attempted to rouse his fellow colleagues around the table with this famous quote, but none seemed interested with the words from the deceased old man or with the presenter’s lack of enthusiasm.

Although the painting depicted Albert as a younger gentleman with large blue eyes, curly, gray hair, high cheekbones and an intense demeanor, most remembered how he looked before his death three years ago—decrepit and skeletal. Some incorrectly assumed he was a casualty of The Disease, which once ravaged the planet and led to the untimely deaths of millions of her inhabitants. The real reason for his demise proved much more dubious in nature.

“Sit down!” a man by the name of Jules Windsor bellowed from across the table in an English accent. “Just sit down. Your total lack of understanding and ignorance of the subject is making me go completely out of my mind.”

Jules stood up from behind the table and pointed at the door behind him. “No, better yet, why don’t you just take yourself and that God-awful ensemble you call a suit and get the hell out of here. Go. Now. Be quick about it.”

The man giving the lackluster presentation then slowly backed away in disbelief. Because of Jules’ worldwide reputation as a great philanthropist and highly esteemed member of The New Reality board, he was taken aback by such a negative reaction.

“But…” he attempted.

Jules once again pointed at the door, curtailing all further discussion.

Unlike most others around the table, he was exquisitely dressed in a designer black pinstripe suit with a red tie and similarly colored handkerchief protruding from his right breast pocket. Just above six feet tall with wavy blond hair and an athletic physique, his physical prowess overpowered all those at the table. His large, black, penetrating eyes only proved to accentuate his ominous presence.

The man whimpered away from the table like a beaten dog. The door dematerialized upon his exit.

Not many noticed his departure as all eyes now squarely focused on Jules Windsor. Once a man of Albert Rosenberg’s inner circle, Jules was now relegated to the London office to oversee advertisement and distribution of The New Reality virtual products across the globe.

Still riling in the fact that Albert did not allow him to run in the general election for the leader of The New Reality, he begrudgingly took the position with plans of greater success in the future.

After The Disease had ravaged the planet for over a year, the world was subsequently left financially bankrupt. Though the illness did not precipitate this financial ruin, it was the final act that led to its collapse. Years of deficit spending, mounting debt, growing unfunded liabilities, poor central financial planning, and complete waste of taxpayer money produced the problem. The inception of The Disease proved to be its tipping point. Led by Albert Rosenberg, The New Reality was there to reap the benefits of the world’s financial ruin. Fueling the economic crisis by providing loans to countries around the globe that had no means to repay them, he took control of the governments when they universally defaulted on their payments. Thus marking the end of all local, territorial sovereignties and the rise of a central, economically controlled New World Order run by The New Reality.

“Look at you all around this table,” Jules admonished, as if scolding wayward children. “You all come here, to my office, dressed like shaggy vagabonds.”

He pointed to a gentleman who wore running pants made from synthetic rayon woven fabric with long slits along the sides to maximize air flow and a baggy black-striped shirt that looked similar to a poncho and said, “Or worse yet, some…” He was at a loss of words. “God knows what even to call that terribly unfortunate outfit.”

The man began to chuckle, somehow thinking that Jules’ reaction was funny.

“You think it’s amusing?” Jules asked as he closed in to where the man was sitting. The closer he approached, the less the man found it humorous. Jules’ broad shoulders, chiseled jaw, and focused expression made further laughter next to impossible.

Those few in the room who actually knew Jules on a personal level, shuddered at what was to happen next. Despite his popular reputation, Jules was actually an intense businessman with relentless determination and an abundance of self-confidence.

Jules placed his rather large and muscular hand around the back of the man’s neck. The pain was so intense that he felt paralyzed and could do nothing in response but wince helplessly in pain. He tried to speak, but only tears came out. The other people around the table were in shock. Instead of helping the man, they sat motionless in fear. Jules finally released his grip. The man slumped to the floor and began to gasp for breath as if he had choked.

“Crawl on out of here hooligan,” Jules reprimanded. “You will disgrace my board room with your insolence no longer.”

The man quickly obliged. Mustering what little energy he had left, he crawled to the doorway and rolled out of the room once the door dematerialized.

He turned to the woman and the rest of the men at the table. Many began tucking in their shirts, adjusting their jackets, or simply attempting to sit up a little straighter. “So,” Jules went on to ask as if nothing had occurred, “do any of you want to finish this dreadful presentation you traveled from far and wide to present to me today?”

No one dared to answer. Though he understood the fear he instilled upon his guests, Jules was certainly disappointed that not a single person was willing to speak. Always looking for a mental challenge or good intellectual argument, he quickly realized by the blank stares from the woman and men around this table that he would receive neither at the moment.

He pointed at the painting of Albert Rosenberg. “Your esteemed colleague left off by mentioning expectation. Would anyone like to further explain what Mr. Rosenberg meant by expectation?”

Though Albert was Jules’ uncle, he seldom acknowledged this familial bond any longer. The people who were chosen to run the enterprise shared little of Jules’ political or even moral beliefs, and he was appalled by Albert’s nominees and even more appalled by the political policies that The New Reality had created. From the time Jules was a teenager, he had worked tirelessly with his uncle and had helped financially to bring this company to its economic prominence—not the pathetic candidates who were nominated. Many of his ideas were those used to consolidate The New Reality’s power and create a financial empire never before seen on the planet.

Though his uncle never showed him any love or affection, Jules did not require it. Instead, he received something far greater: respect and responsibility. A promotion by his uncle meant more than a hug. A raise was more prized than an affectionate pat on the back.

“Well,” Jules went on to say, “despite what was so horribly just taken out of context, what Mr. Rosenberg referred to when speaking of expectation is a concept known as reflexivity.”

He looked around the table at even blanker stares. Knowing that few, if any, understood his reference, he continued, “The theory of reflexivity was first popularized by a great man and professor by the name of Karl Popper. Does anyone know of him or his work, The Open Society and Its Enemies?”

No one answered.

He shook his head, “William Shakespeare once wrote, ‘Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven.’” Imploring those around the table, “Please let us all not whither in this ignorance. Listen to what I am about to teach.”

Jules walked over to the painting of Albert Rosenberg and stood in front of it. “Reflexivity is simply a matter of cause and effect. If the cause is expectation then the effect will be its outcome. However, this simple domino effect is bidirectional in many instances whereby cause and effect can become blurred and at times indistinguishable from one another. And that is what we call reflexivity. It can occur not only in economics but also in business or even politics.”

He felt intellectually enthralled by the subject and could speak on it for hours. He continued with a little more baritone to his voice. “Let me give you an example. If the expectation for a product or even service is high, then the cost of its stock will rise accordingly. If the stock begins to rise, the expectation for this product or service will thus rise accordingly, making the cause and effect one in the same—creating a reflexive relationship.”

Jules swung his fist and hit the painting’s wooden frame, sending it crashing to the floor, smashing the glass-covered canvas upon impact. Shards of glass scattered across the tan carpet.

The people around the table shuddered at the sacrilegious action.

Jules smiled at the reaction, realizing he had properly conveyed his point. “You see, some reflexive relationships can build until they are unsustainable and come crashing down like this painting, crumbling under the false pretense of a ballooning cycle.”

He stared at the youth around him. Though they were at most only 10 or 20 years his junior, he felt this new generation being created by The New Reality was already lost. “So what do you believe?” he asked one of his guests wearing a rather conspicuous red sports jacket.

The man just shook his head, not knowing how to respond. Jules walked over to him and again asked, “What do you believe? What are your expectations? What do you want out of life?” “Well,” the man feebly responded, “my wife and I are going on a two week virtual New Reality experience later this year. We’ve been saving for it for some time now.”

Jules scoffed at the response, insulted by both the man’s ignorance and self-absorption. “Where is your drive or aspiration in life? If that is your greatest ambition, then you surely live a petty existence.”

Jules shook his head and began to walk around the table. Glass crunched under his feet. He put his hands behind his back and looked down as he perused the room. “Don’t you see what The New Reality has done not only to all of you but also the world? They are creating a generation of mediocre, mindless sheep. While The New Reality’s New World Order takes away more of your individual freedoms, rights, and even integrity on a daily basis, you are all so self-absorbed in total nonsense that you fail to notice what is so blatantly occurring.”

Jules laughed and continued. “Rome gave its population the Coliseum and spectacular gladiatorial displays to suppress the masses. Now, two thousand years later The New Reality gives you virtual experiences, mind-bending drugs, an inundation of free, highly-censored media, and a myriad other self-indulgent activities. Instead of reading the great Aristotle or the modern day philosopher Winston Burke, you peruse the bantering of the latest pop star. Instead of worshiping great minds like Heisenberg or Einstein, you venerate men who can carry a silly ball quickly or some underage, socially immoral adolescent who can gyrate to an algorithmic computer-produced song. Classical literature has been replaced by the holograms of pop culture. Conformity has supplanted innovation and enlightenment.”

“Don’t you see?” he said as he approached another painting on a different wall. “This is all just a smoke screen created by The New Reality to suppress the people of the world. While you all pursue your materialistic, self-destructive, and selfish behaviors, The New Reality and its economic cronies are becoming wealthier by the day at your expense and your personal freedom.”

Jules gestured to the painting of a smiling, middle aged, hazel-eyed female with short, cropped hair, sharp, yet fair facial features, and a mildly bulbous nose and on the wall. “Sure, there are some who understand what the esteemed President of The New Reality, Myra Keres, is perpetrating, but most say nothing in fear of negative repercussions. Plato wrote, ‘We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.’” He beseeched them all, hoping to inspire some initiative on their part. “Who of you or your pitiful generation will embrace this light?”

Jules attempted not to laugh as he mentioned Myra’s name. The election that brought her to this position was fixed by Albert Rosenberg from its inception. Her opponents were simply political puppets used to create a facade of a genuine election. The votes were never counted and the media coverage of the event was a carefully orchestrated event by the New Reality meant to provide the world’s population with a false sense of importance and power.

All those around the table sat uneasy on their chairs, not daring to utter a single word. Expecting Jules to smash Myra Keres’ painting just as he had Albert Rosenberg’s, an already tense situation grew even more uncomfortable.

The door dematerialized and a beautiful, young woman sauntered through the opening. Dressed in a blue dress, she cleared her throat and politely said, “Excuse me. Mr. Windsor. There’s a package that was delivered to your office that said Urgent—Must Open Immediately. I didn’t want to bother you sir, but…”

Jules’ whole demeanor instantly became at ease. Her blue eyes, long brown hair and pouty lips almost made him lose his train of thought. “No bother Marie,” he politely interjected. “I was just finishing here.”

Jules had a propensity for a beautiful woman and a long list of former acquaintances that grew by the day. He never found his secretary’s interruptions at all intrusive; in fact, he looked forward to them.

The woman and men around the table exhaled with a great sense of relief as Jules exited the room without speaking another word to them. Their reprimand had finally ended, and each could not wait to return home as quickly as possible.

***

Jules paced in his office, awaiting the package. Usually he would have disregarded such a seemingly unimportant message, but the public relations team the top brass at The New Reality sent to meet him was woefully inadequate and not worth any more of his time. Plus, the mere thought of how Myra Keres became president of The New Reality instantly placed him in an irritable mood. He never understood why Albert Rosenberg would choose such a crooked, unscrupulous, and morally bankrupt person to take over his company. She had a body-bag list too numerous to count lining her way to success. In addition, her policies of a strong-fisted New World Order that corrupted the population would never survive. Eventually, the sense of individualism and intellectual enlightenment would again rise like a great Renaissance and make her control over the masses nearly impossible.

Like the man himself, Jules’ office was immaculate and exuded an air of elegance. The natural flow and curvature of the Greco-Roman furniture with its cream-upholstered cushions, dark wood chairs and master desk, and white, lush draperies were offset with an assortment of modern fluted class sculptures in the shape of different colored exotic plants. Unlike all other rooms throughout the building, there were no New Reality logos or pictures of its current or former leader. Jules believed such visual distractions in his office would only be detrimental.

The door dematerialized and Marie began to walk through the opening with a large pizza-shaped box held out in her hands. Before she could fully enter the room, the box unexpectedly seemed to stand still in the air and slide across her arms until it abutted her chest, halting any further progression. She momentarily stumbled on her heels, both surprised and confused by the interruption.

“Is everything alright?” Jules asked in the most pleasant demeanor. She pushed the box forward with her body, and like a slingshot it flung about 10 feet into the room and hit the mosaic-tiled floor.

“I hope it didn’t say FRAGILE along with URGENT,” Jules jested, trying to diminish some of his secretary’s embarrassment.

Marie stood in the doorway almost in a state of shock, not understanding what had just transpired. “But,” Marie finally said with confused look on her face, “it seemed to just fly on its own. I really didn’t do anything.”

“No worries,” Jules responded while picking up the package. After placing it on his desk, he traced slowly over the box’s white strip that ran diagonally from one corner to the other, releasing the adhesive binding. The box instantly opened and white packing foam protruded.

“Thank you, Marie,” Jules finally said, curious as to what secret the box held. Without a return address on its front and with only a clear sticker continuously blinking URGENT on it, the package had no indication from where or from whom it originated. Jules patted down the packing foam and upon contact it collapsed, forming tiny white beads that fell to the bottom of the box. Captivated by the contents, he barely took note of Marie exiting the room or her again mentioning how the box flew through the air of its own volition.

Neither did he notice all the commotion that started to commence around his office building. Flashing red lights, sirens and even a muffled voice on a bullhorn did little to garner his attention. Two fully armed and internationally sanctioned World Order Guards, or WOGs as they were known colloquially, flew by his office windows, each riding their own silver, chariot-like heliocrafts named after the Greek sun god Helios.

The white beads continued to trickle down to the bottom of the box, revealing a beautifully ornate, circular shield. Jules gazed upon it, perplexed by the urgency of this gift. Though clearly recognizing its historical significance, he was at a loss to understand why he needed to see it right away.

A few more WOGs flew by the windows as other sirens and police began to converge on the building.

The intrinsic beauty of the shield was not lost on him as he looked in awe at the craftsmanship of this ancient artifact. The sun surrounded by the earth, moon and a few constellations were engraved in the center of the silver-plated shield. Then, like layers of an onion, different gloriously sculpted scenes encircled this central point. A city at peace lay above the sun and constellations, while a city at war was depicted below it. Surrounding these scenes were three separate engravings of men reaping bushels of corn from a king’s estate, workers plowing a field, and young girls picking grapes along a bountiful vineyard. The following layer tempered its adjacent, inner scenes of serenity. A bull being ripped apart by two lions was engraved prominently at the top while two more pleasant engravings of sheep grazing and young men and women dancing framed each of its lower sides. At its outmost edge, a flowing ocean encircled the inner scenes while a rusted strip of metal wrapped tightly around the edge secured its perimeter.

As the foam continued to collapse, Jules noted a transparent, rectangular strip of plastic lying inconspicuously to the side of the box. Taking the message card in one hand, he contemplated if it would provide him some clue to its origin or its urgent nature. Jules knew this shield was formerly the prized artifact of Albert Rosenberg’s Greco-Roman collection. But who sent it was a different story. Rumored to be the actual shield of Achilles, written of in Homer’s epic poem The Iliad and usurped by Alexander the Great, Albert prominently exhibited the relic in the center of his massive display.

The card’s perimeter began to blink a bright red. The intensity of its illumination made Jules wince. A succinct message then became apparent on the card. In three large capital letters, the word RUN appeared. Jules looked at both the front and the back of the card, perplexed at the message. Hoping more was to come, he awaited patiently, trying not to be blinded by the flashing light.

The door to his office dematerialized. “Marie,” Jules asked, assuming his secretary had entered. “Would you happen to know from where this package here originated? I’m awfully confused—”

Jules looked up, hoping to receive an answer. Instead of seeing his beautiful secretary at the door, a fully assault-ready WOG began to enter. Dressed in a pure black uniform with a New Reality diamond and gold emblem on each shoulder, gray helmet and crimson visor, this anonymous soldier headed towards Jules. As the WOG began to raise his weapon, only one thought came to Jules’ mind.

RUN!

 

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Announcing A. Star’s WISH FOR ME BOOK BLAST

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We’re happy to be hosting A. Star’s WISH FOR ME Book Blast today! Please leave a comment to let her know you stopped by!

Wish For Me

Title: WISH FOR ME
Author: A. Star
Publisher: Independent
Pages: 172
Genre: Steampunk Fantasy Romance

When the snarky Glory St. Pierre discovers the gold mechanical vase in her deceased grandmother’s basement, she has no idea that she has uncovered a priceless treasure: a genie lamp. With a real genie inside. A very sexy genie with a not-so-sexy grudge against the entire human race.

Irving Amir hates being called a genie. He’s a Djinn, and he is none too happy to be in the service of Glory, who is as intolerable, and beautiful, as humans come. Now he owes her his gratitude for freeing him and three wishes. Damn his luck.

But an arrow through the shoulder alerts Irving to the fact that he is being hunted, and after a truce dinner with Glory ends with them both almost being killed, hating each other goes right out the window. As feelings change and love starts to develop, they must dig through the secrets and lies to find the truth…a truth neither of them will ever see coming.

WARNING: Not suitable for ages 18 and under. A significant source of bad language, sexy times, and dirty jokes. If you suffer from a lack of a sense of humor, take with plenty of wine. If the symptom persists, see a doctor.

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Book Excerpt:

“Irving…” I breathed.

He brushed his lips over mine. “Yes?”

“What are you doing?”

He chuckled. “I’m sure you are quite aware of what I’m about to do.”

“But you’re injured,” I tried. “You should be resting.”

“The only thing I should be doing is this.” And he kissed me, slanting his mouth over mine and taking full advantage of the power he wielded over me.

I wish it had only been a kiss though, but it was so much more than that. I couldn’t define it. All I knew was that he made me want to spend all of my wishes on his lips, keeping them soft and perfect and available to me twenty-four hours a day. I fell into the kiss, allowing my arms to encircle Irving’s waist and my nails to claw his back.

Damn, his lips were soft. Like homemade whipped cream and strawberry drizzle. I whimpered as he deepened the kiss and his tongue slipped between my lips and tangoed with my own. My hands moved from his back to his head, and I tried to give back as good as I was getting. But I couldn’t get close enough. I wanted more of him. All of him. Damn, if he didn’t start taking my clothes off soon, I was going to implode and bathe the room with my desire.

But when he pulled away, I felt relieved, like I had just been saved from making a terrible mistake. How I could feel that way after a kiss like that blew me. I didn’t know where the feeling came from. I wasn’t the type of girl who ran from a man like Irving. A man with a sexy accent and eyes that could sear my soul. A man with a smile that put the world on pause. A man with a body that I could spend days riding like a roller coaster that never stopped. So why did I want to escape him all of a sudden? What the hell was wrong with me?

“Glory, I–”

“Please don’t ever do that again,” I interrupted. I looked up into Irving’s violet eyes and hoped he could hear my plea.

He frowned. “Do what?”

“Kiss me, dumb ass.” I pushed at his chest, but he refused to budge. “Move.”

“You did not enjoy my kiss?” I almost laughed at how wounded he looked.

“It’s not that. I just don’t want you to do it again.”

“Because you did enjoy it?”

I glared. “No.”

A slow smile stretched across Irving’s lips. “You are the worst liar, Glory St. Pierre.”

“Get the fuck off me, Irving.”

About the Author

A. Star

A. Star is a fan of dirty passion. She loves to read it, and she damn sure loves to write it. She is the author of the Mythos: Gods & Lovers series and the Djinn Order series. She is a night-owl and a coffee junkie, and the only sneaker she would be caught dead wearing are Converses.

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Book Spotlight: Not Quite So Stories by David S. Atkinson & Enter Giveaway!

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We’re happy to be a part of David S. Atkinson’s NOT QUITE SO STORIES blog tour today! Be sure to enter the giveaway!

Not Quite So Stories

Title: NOT QUITE SO STORIES
Author: David S. Atkinson
Publisher: Literary Wanderlus LLC
Pages: 166
Genre: Absurdist Literary Fiction

The center of Not Quite So Stories is the idea that life is inherently absurd and all people can do is figure out how they will live in the face of that fact. The traditional explanation for the function of myth (including such works as the relatively modern Rudyard Kiping’s Just So Stories) is as an attempt by humans to explain and demystify the world. However, that’s hollow. We may be able to come to terms with small pieces, but existence as a whole is beyond our grasp. Life simply is absurd, ultimately beyond our comprehension, and the best we can do is to just proceed on with our lives. The stories in this collection proceed from this conception, each focusing on a character encountering an absurdity and focusing on how they manage to live with it.

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  • NOT QUITE SO STORIES is available at Amazon.
  • Pick up your copy at Barnes & Noble.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.
  • Watch the book trailer at YouTube.

Book Trailer

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Book Excerpt:

TURNDOWN SERVICE

Margaret’s heels clicked repetitiously on the polished marble floors of Finklebean’s Mortuary. The sharp sound echoed down aisles of metal-faced vaults in the chilled, solemn hallways. Her steps were quick but purposeful, her stride constrained by the tight skirt of her starched navy business dress. An invoice was clutched tightly in her talon-like hand. Someone owed her an explanation…and that debt would be paid.
Catching sight of the plain brown wooden door hidden off in a back hallway bearing a faded Caretaker’s Office sign, Margaret halted, causing her heels to clack loudly on the stone. She pursed her lips as she scrutinized the sign. As if using the white metal sign with flaking black letters as a mirror, she adjusted the smartly coiled chestnut bun of her hair. Then she shoved open the weathered door and marched inside.
“Excuse me,” she called out sternly before looking what the room happened to contain, or even whether it was occupied.
A portly man in old blue coveralls sitting at a rough wooden worktable looked up at her calmly. Long stringy gray hair framed his face around a set of coke bottle eyeglasses perched on the end of his reddened bulbous nose. A metal cart, half full of plastic funeral flower arrangements, was positioned next to the worktable. Individual plastic flowers littered the table surface.
Unlike the somber and silent polished gray marble trimmed in shining brass of the hallway outside, the caretaker’s room felt more like a basement or garage. The walls were cinderblock, unpainted, and the floor was bare concrete. Obviously, the room was not used for professional services.
“My bill is incorrect,” Margaret said, thrusting the invoice out at the frumpy little man between a thumb and forefinger, both with nails bearing a French manicure. “You maintain my grandfather’s plot, but this month’s bill is way over the usual twenty-five sixty-three…nine hundred dollars more to be precise. You may not be the person in charge of this, but you’re who I found.”
The older man quietly looked at her still presenting the invoice even though he had made no move to take it. “Name?”
“Margaret Lane,” Margaret said curtly.
“No,” the caretaker shook his mess of oily old hair. “I won’t remember you. I meant your granddad’s.”
Margaret pursed her lips again. “Winston Lane.”
“Ah, yes.” The heavyset man leaned back in his chair, putting his hands behind his head and cocking out his elbows. His belly pushed on the table slightly, causing loose plastic flowers to roll around on the tabletop. The flowers were separated into piles according to color: red, white, yellow, purple, and orange. “Winston Lane. His is over on hillside four, I believe.”
“I’m sure.” Margaret crossed her arms, still clutching the invoice. “So why do I have a bill for over nine hundred dollars?”
The caretaker hunched forward, setting his chin on a pudgy arm and wrapping a flabby hand around his mouth. “Let’s see…Winston Lane…bigger than normal bill…oh, that’s right!” His face brightened with recollection.
Margaret smugly waited for the expected rationalization to begin, the extras and add-ons designed to take advantage of the gullible grieving. She wouldn’t be so easily manipulated.
“He got an apartment.”
Margaret’s expression cracked.
“That’s what the extra money is,” he pleasantly explained. “It’s to cover the rent.”
Margaret stared, blinking occasionally. A thin purple vein throbbed angrily at the side of her neck.
The man smiled. Then he pushed his round glasses further back up his nose and grabbed one of the plastic funeral arrangements from the cart. It had a block of dense green foam set in a fake bronze vase and various colors of plastic flowers stuck in the foam. The man pulled all the flowers out in a single movement and set each in the respective colored pile on the worktable. Then he placed the vase in a pile of similar vases on the floor.
“You…rented my grandfather an apartment?” Margaret finally asked. “Why?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” the older man snorted, dismembering another arrangement. “He rented the apartment, not us.”
Margaret sneered, having recovered her self-possession and indignation. “Sir, my grandfather is deceased.”
“Yep,” the caretaker agreed. He started quickly taking vases from the cart, ripping them apart, and then tossing the materials in the respective sort piles. “Guess he didn’t like the plot he picked out. Maybe it wasn’t roomy enough, I don’t know. Some things like that you just can’t be sure of till you get in a place and stay there a while. Anyway, he must not have liked something about it because he went and got himself that apartment. He wouldn’t have done that if he’d been happy where he was at.”
Margaret stood rigid. The toe of one foot tapped irritably. “How could my grandfather possibly rent an apartment? He’s dead!”
“How couldn’t he?” The caretaker snorted again. “It’s a great apartment. Plenty of light. Nice carpets. Good amount of space. It’s got a nice pool, too. Not that pools make much of a difference to a guy like him, being dead and all. Anyway, take a look; happen to have a photo of the place right here. Can’t rightly remember why.”
The man handed Margaret a bent-up photograph he pulled from a coverall pocket. It depicted a pleasantly-lit living room with vaulted ceilings. Tasteful black leather and chrome furniture was arranged around a delicate glass coffee table. On top of the coffee table sat her grandfather’s mahogany coffin, looking just as stately as it had at her grandfather’s funeral service.
Margaret glowered, unsure what to make of the photograph, noticing after a moment that she was chewing her lip as she ground her teeth. Her brain couldn’t keep up, it was all just too ludicrous for her to grasp. The man sorted more funeral arrangements. “So…you’re telling me that my deceased grandfather rented an apartment. Him, not you.”
“Yep. That’s the long and short of it.” The man jammed the photograph back into his pocket.
“My dead grandfather.”
“Yes’m.” He took the last arrangement off the cart and disposed of it as he had the others. He paused to dust off his hands. Then he grabbed a vase from the floor, jammed a plastic flower inside from each stack, and set the newly arranged arrangement on the cart.
“How could anyone rent my grandfather an apartment!?” Margaret threw up her arms. “He’s dead! The landlord couldn’t do that!”
“Sure they can,” the caretaker countered, paying more attention to the funeral arrangements than Margaret. “The building is zoned for mixed use.”
“Mixed use?! He’s dead!” She wiped her hand down her face slowly, stretching her skin as it went.
“So? He’s residing there. That’s a residential use. Certainly isn’t commercial.” The caretaker accidentally shoved two red plastic flowers in the same vase. Laughing at himself, he ripped them out again and started over.
Margaret stepped back, perhaps wondering if the caretaker was insane as opposed to just conning her. That would explain the photograph.
She crossed her arms loosely and tilted her chin upwards just a little, trying to mentally get a handle on the situation. Her brain felt like an overheated car with no oil in the engine. “I’m sorry, but that’s very distracting,” Margaret commented, pointing at the plastic flower piles on the worktable. “Is there any way that you could stop a moment?”
“Sorry.” The older man shook a thick calloused finger at an old clock on the wall, stopped as far as Margaret could tell. “I got to get this done.”
“But…what exactly are you doing? You’re just taking them apart and putting them back together.”
The rumpled man gestured at the flowers. “Well, people pay us to put these on graves, don’t they?”
“Right…”
“They come from a factory, don’t they? Someone paying someone else to bring something a machine made? I don’t think much of that. My way, there’s at least some thought in it.”
Margaret did not respond. Instead, she watched the man fill up the cart again. The arrangements looked exactly the same as before.
“Anyway,” the caretaker went on, “don’t you owe your granddad?”
“Pardon me?” Margaret puffed out her chest.
“Sure,” the man said, peering up at her through the finger-smudged lenses of his glasses. “He said when he bought the plot that you were going to take care of it and he was going to leave you money to keep going to school. He thought you should start working, but helped you out since you were going to mind his spot.”
Margaret swallowed, ruining her attempt to look indignant. A few beads of sweat gathered at her temples.
“You figure you’ve done enough?” The man had his head held low, hiding the tiny smirk on his face.
Margaret’s eyes widened. Her arms hung limply at her sides and her shoulders slumped. “But…”
“Hey, that’s between you two. I just take care of things like I’m paid to. If he wants his plot, I do that. If he wants a two-bedroom palace, I do that instead.”
Margaret absentmindedly twisted an old, ornate gold ring on her finger. Suddenly, her eyes narrowed as if the light in the dim room had gotten brighter. The meticulously squared corners of her mind twisted and stretched deliciously. “That’s right…it was a deal.”
“Come again?”
“I agreed to have his plot cared for.”
“And?”
“Well…” Her lips slipped into a pointed grin. “I pay you a fixed monthly amount to care for that plot. Apparently this apartment is his plot now, so the rent should be part of your monthly care. I expect you to take care of it accordingly. After all, caring for his plot is caring for his plot.”
“Now see here–”
“Regardless, I can’t help but think,” she went on, “that it reflects poorly on your services if grandfather isn’t happy with his plot, not mine.”
The caretaker gawked at Margaret, his mouth hanging loose. “Is that what you think now?” The older man finally growled.
“It is,” she responded with a saccharine tone, “and I expect that all future bills will be for the correct amount.”
“Hmph,” he huffed, settling back into his chair. “Wonder what your granddad would say about that.”
Margaret smirked. “You’re welcome to go and ask him, if you think it will get you anywhere.

About the Author

David S. Atkinson

David S. Atkinson is the author of “Not Quite so Stories” (“Literary Wanderlust” 2016), “The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes” (2015 National Indie Excellence Awards finalist in humor), and “Bones Buried in the Dirt” (2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards finalist, First Novel <80K). His writing appears in “Bartleby Snopes,” “Grey Sparrow Journal,” “Atticus Review,” and others. His writing website is http://davidsatkinsonwriting.com/ and he spends his non-literary time working as a patent attorney in Denver.

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David S. Atkinson is giving away one paperback copy each – BONES BURIED IN THE DIRT & THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL PANCAKES!

Terms & Conditions:

  • By entering the giveaway, you are confirming you are at least 18 years old.
  • Two winners will be chosen via Rafflecopter to receive either BONES BURIED IN THE DIRT or THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL PANCAKES
  • This giveaway begins March 1 and ends on May 27
  • Winners will be contacted via email on May 29.
  • Winners have 48 hours to reply.

Good luck everyone!

 

 

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