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Dorothy Thompson is CEO/Founder of Pump Up Your Book, a full service public relations agency specializing in online book promotion agency.

First Chapter Reveal: Scar Tissue by MC Domovitch

Scar TissueTitle: Scar Tissue
Author: MC Domovitch
Publisher: Lansen Publishing
Pages: 396
Genre: Romantic Suspense/Thriller/Paranormal

When successful model Ciara Cain wakes up in hospital, remembering nothing of the weeks she has been missing, her only clues are the ugly words carved into her skin. According to the police she was a victim of the Cutter, a serial killer who has already murdered three women. For her protection the police and her doctors give a press conference, announcing that because her amnesia is organically caused, her memory loss is permanent. But, whether her memory returns or not is anybody’s guess.
Overnight, Ciara’s glamorous life is gone. Her scars have killed both her modelling career and her relationship with her rich boyfriend. With nothing to keep her in New York, she returns to her home town of Seattle, moves in with her sister and goes about building a new life. But when her sister lets it slip that Ciara’s memory is returning, the killer comes after her again. If Ciara is to stay alive, she must keep one step ahead of the Cutter.

For More Information

 

Chapter One:

 

I don’t want to die.

That single thought pounded through her mind as she hurtled through the woods. The blackness had dropped all at once, and now the trees were merely darker shadows against a dark night. The rain came down hard. Lightning cracked, sounding so much like a gunshot that she muffled a scream. But she had not been hit. She was still alive. She ran on.

Branches and bushes whipped at her, scratching her arms and legs. She tripped over an exposed root and crashed to the ground, but was back on her feet in an instant.

A brilliant flash of lightening was followed by thunder. Ka-boom. Everything that had been black a moment ago became white. Had she been spotted? No, surely not.

A crunching sound came from her right. She whipped her head toward it and picked up her pace. Her breathing was ragged, short puffs of steam in the frigid April air. It couldn’t have been more than fifty degrees. Sweat and rain mixed with the dirt and blood from her countless wounds and ran down her face and neck in rivulets. Thanks to the adrenaline pumping through her veins, she was numb to the cold and the pain, but she would feel it later—if she got out of here alive.

Please God, let me live.

But she’d had no real food for days, no water except the occasional sip. Her body couldn’t keep going much longer. She was close to collapsing.

Must. Keep. Going.

If she wanted to stay alive, she needed to put as much distance as possible between herself and her captor. She had no idea how long she’d been running or in which direction she was going. Had her kidnapper even noticed she’d escaped? Was that monster already on her trail, getting closer with every passing second? A horrendous thought came to her. She could be running in a circle, her every step bringing her closer to her jailer. A sob escaped her throat.

Dear God. Please. Please.

She squinted, trying to see through the inky night. There had to be a road, a house, something, and then she saw them. Some distance away there were lights, and her last vestiges of hope crashed.

Flashlights.

Had a posse been formed? Were they closing in on her? In her panic, she tripped and came down hard, again. This time she thought she might have broken an arm. She was crying now. She’d come so close. But she would be caught. And she would die.

She looked up at the lights moving through the trees, and blinked. Could her imagination be playing tricks on her? She stared, and in moment of clarity she understood. Those weren’t flashlights. They were headlights. Headlights meant cars, and cars meant a road. Just ahead, maybe a few hundred yards farther, lay safety.

She had to keep going. She struggled to her feet, cradling her sore arm. She made her way, pushing through brambles and bushes until she came to a steep embankment. She crawled up and then over the guardrail. A car whizzed by, blaring its horn.

“Wait. Stop!” she yelled at the next one when it was still a distance away, but it drove by too. “Help me!” she shouted after it. She limped into the road, determined to make the next one stop. Tires screeched. There was a thud. And then she went flying through the air, coming to a bone-crushing thump on the hard pavement.

Through the mist in her mind she heard the sound of running footsteps, then a woman’s voice. “Oh, my God. Is she dead?”

A man’s voice, pleading. “I swear. It wasn’t my fault. She ran right in front of me.”

The woman again. “I think she’s still breathing. Call an ambulance. Now!” She leaned into her. “What’s your name, sweetheart?”

The words came to her from a great distance, growing further and further away, until they were only a faint echo. She drifted into nothingness.

 

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Book Spotlight: Cocktails and Mock-Tales by Julianne McLean and Mark Lynch

 

We’re happy to be hosting Julianne McLean and Mark Lynch’s new humor book, Cocktails and Mock-Tales!
About the Book:
Title:
Cocktales & Mock-Tales
Authors: Julianne McLean & Mark Lynch
Publisher: ASJ Publishing
Pages: 90
Genre: Humor

 

Cocktails and Mock- Tales is not just about alcoholic beverages. The book is about sensations that tickle your tastebuds and humour that tickles your fancy. It includes non-alcoholic beverages that the whole family can enjoy and even herbal recipes for the adventurous.
Have one extremely tall high ball glass and a giant cocktail shaker at the ready.
Ingredients:
Unlimited centilitres of wit and humour
9 cl or 3oz titillating snippets of history and gossip
Add flavours of exotic destinations
A dusting of spice mixed with satire
Several centilitres of high spirits (optional)
Shake with vigour. Garnish with an open mind and your own sense of humour
Now you are ready to truly laugh and savour Cocktails and Mock Tales!
Amaze your friends and family with your knowledge of the origins of international beverages and excite their tastebuds with these exotic
sensations.

For More Information

  • Cocktails & Mock-Tales is available at Amazon.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

Book Excerpt:

Daiquiri
The daiquiri is a family of cocktails of which the primary ingredients are white rum, lime or lemon juice and sugar.
The drink was supposedly invented by American mining engineer Jennings Cox who was in partying and experimenting in Cuba at the time
of the Spanish American War. Daiquiri is also the name of a beach and an iron ore mine near Santiago in Cuba.
Serves 1
6cl white rum
3cl lime juice
2cl sugar syrup
Sugar on the rim of the glass.
Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice cubes.
Shake well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Strawberry Daiquiri Mock-tail
Serves1
2 large strawberries
1⁄4 cup of white sugar
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
¾ cup of chilled lemon lime soda
4 ice cubes
In a blender, mix the strawberries, sugar, lemon juice and lime soda. Add the ice and blend until smooth. Pour into a chilled Tom Collins
glass. Garnish with a slice of lime or lemon.

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About the Authors

 

Julianne has created & organized targeted national launches, press coverage, television appearances, publicity events and community service affiliations for a varied range of entities including: “Masai Barefoot Technology” – therapeutic footwear company; award-winning cartoonist Mark Lynch’s book – “How Green is MyPlanet” with forewords from Spike Milligan and David Suzuki; best-selling recipe book, “Barbies for Blokes” with recipes from celebrities such as Peter Brock, Jeff Fenech and Guy Leech and the sequel “More Barbies for Blokes” (These later
publications were co-authored by Julianne); John Gill, eight times World Martial Arts Champion and Hornsby Council’s sports complexes that won the national award for “Best Swim School Promotion”. Julianne has just produced directed and written a DVD for Holland America Cruise lines based on their exercise programs and is publishing her new book “Cocktails and Mock Tales”.
Visit Julianne McLean on Facebook!

Mark Lynch our Australian cartoonist, describes himself as being born “sometime in the middle of the last century.”

After doing a variety of Jobs, Mark became a QANTAS Flight attendant and he quips that “the next nineteen years of his life resembled an exotic beer commercial set in a variety of world- wide locations”.
Mark was editorial cartoonist for the leading publication, “The Australian” newspaper. His work has been enjoyed in more publications than you could count, ranging from Australian dailies, even ‘Le News Switzerland”. Mark’s cartoons appear in a variety of forms and diversity
world-wide including video screens in the Berlin and Munich subway system where they are seen by 1.5 million people a day.
Mark is the recipient of 48 international and Australian cartoon awards!
Mark lives in Sydney with his lovely wife, Jenny, and two sons and to learn more about Mark and see further cartoons, visit www.cartoons-a-plenty.com
http://www.pumpupyourbook.com

 

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First Chapter Reveal: Floor 21 by Jason Luthor

Floor 21

Title: Floor 21
Author: Jason Luthor
Publisher: Scout Press
Pages: 355
Genre: Sci-fi/Dystopian

The last of humanity is trapped at the top of an isolated apartment tower with no memory of how they got there or why. All travel beneath Floor 21 is forbidden, and nobody can ever recall seeing the ground floor. Beneath Floor 21, a sickness known as the Creep infests that halls of the Tower. A biological mass that grows stronger in reaction to people’s fear and anger, the Creep prey’s on people by causing them to hallucinate until they’re in a state of panicking, before finally growing strong enough to lash out and consume them. Only a small team known as Scavengers are allowed to go beneath Floor 21 to pillage the lower levels in search of food and supplies.

Jackie is a brilliant young girl that lives far above the infection and who rarely has to worry about facing any harm. However, her intense curiosity drives her to investigate the bottom floors and the Creep. To deal with her own anxiety and insecurities, she documents her experiences on a personal recorder as she explores the secrets of the Tower. During the course of her investigation, Jackie will find herself at odds with Tower Authority, which safeguards what remains of humanity, as she attempts to determine what created the Creep, how humanity became trapped at the top of the Tower, and whether anyone knows if escape is even possible.

For More Information

  • Floor 21 is available at Amazon.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

First Chapter:

THE GIRL’S STORY

Recording One

My name is Jackie, and it’s not so bad living here. Seriously. At least, I don’t think so anyway, but I guess it’s hard to say. Then again, I’ve never really been anywhere else. I’ve rarely even been below Floor 12. My parents won’t let me. They say things get bad down there, so I have to stay up here, on the higher levels.

Don’t get me wrong; I mean, I wish I didn’t have to. Things get kind of boring, walking the same halls every day. I’m always trying to find something new to do, but it’s kinda hard when you’ve lived your whole life in the same tower. Sometimes I’ll wander up to the rooftop, where we have the gardens. That’s where all of our food comes from, so we all take turns planting and harvesting. I don’t mind the work, actually, unless it means pulling carrots. Those suckers are really hard to yank out of the dirt.

When I think of it, it’s actually kind of annoying having to go to the rooftop, and not just because of the work. It’s really more about what we have to pass by as we head up there. So, the top level of the Tower is Floor 1. None of us are allowed inside, so every time we go up the stairs, we’re forced to stare at that big, golden number—the number “1” that sits on the locked entry door. I really wish I knew what was inside, but you know, nobody’s allowed in. Instead, we just have to pass by every few days when it’s our turn to work the gardens. You might as well string some candy in front of my face and tell me I’m not allowed to eat it.

Of course, you can’t just pick vegetables all day. That gets boring quick. Besides, most of the time I’m in school. Well, school’s probably too strong a word for it. We meet most days of the week in the library on Floor 6. Our teacher, Mrs. Bloom, tries to lead class the best she can. It’s just too bad our books aren’t great. A lot of them are about to fall apart, and most of them were scavenged from the lower floors. I’m not talking about something like Floors 13 or 14. I’m not even talking about Floor 21. I mean the books were taken from way down below . . . like, as far down as Floor 30.

I know, right? I can’t believe it myself. That’s what we have the Scavengers for, though. Without them we’d never get new books or supplies. They’re pretty much the bravest people in the Tower. They say that anyone who makes it onto a scavenging team is the type that could have been a police officer or even a soldier before all this happened. I mean, that makes sense. They wear all that riot gear, and it looks like they know how to fight. Sucks, though, since as tough as they are, every once in a while we lose one of them. That just goes with the territory of being a Scavenger.

Point is, life is only livable because of them since it’s not like we’re rolling in things to do. Sometimes I’ll sit around in the lobby with the other kids and watch movies on the Blu-Ray player, but that doesn’t always work. For instance, if it’s a really cloudy day, then the solar panels on the roof will die out, which always sucks for everyone. If we want light then, we have to burn candles, and we don’t have many of those. Then again, we don’t really have lightbulbs, either. Well, we have a few. Want to take a guess where we get those from? Yeah. Scavengers. We get everything from them.

I kinda always wanted to be one. Who wouldn’t want to be? They get to see stuff from a long time ago, before we had to live on the top of the Tower. Speaking of that, nobody really talks about the Before, and I’m not even sure how much anyone knows about it. I guess it makes sense to think that once upon a time we lived on the lower floors. Maybe even the ground . . . if there is a ground. I’ve never met anyone that’s seen it, not even the Scavengers, and they’ve been farther down the Tower than anyone.

When you stop and think about it, I mean, our lives don’t make sense. We couldn’t have always lived up here, right? It gets me pretty antsy thinking about it because, I mean, this is a tower, so we had to have come up the stairs at some point. Didn’t we?

I don’t know, and thinking about it gets me frustrated. When I’m in this kind of mood, I go to the rooftop and look out. You can actually see other towers rising up in the distance. Some aren’t even that far from ours. I stare at them, and I’m just like . . . is anybody over there? Is anybody looking back at me? Does anybody know or remember we’re trapped in this place?

Or are we all that’s left?

After I’ve gotten myself sufficiently depressed, I’ll stare over the edge of the roof, trying to see how far below I can look. Thing is, it’s impossible to see much. This tower just vanishes into the Darkness. Nobody, and I mean nobody, even knows why. It’s just blackness down there.

Oh, about Floor 12. Yeah, that’s where the Creep really starts. The Creep? It’s this . . . gunk. Super-disgusting stuff that you shouldn’t touch because it makes you feel weird, and the lower down the Tower you go, the more you see it. It starts to cover the walls, and it’s kinda gross. It’s really slick, like saliva, and it looks all muscle-y. Almost alive. Good thing you don’t have to worry about it when you’re higher than Floor 11. Still, I wonder what it is. We all do. I know that when you touch it, you can start hallucinating. I did once. Well, okay, I’m lying. I’ve touched it a few times when I’ve been on the lower levels, which is why my parents made the rule that I couldn’t head down there in the first place. I mean, I don’t pay attention to them, but I get why they don’t want me going that far below into the Tower. The Creep makes you see . . . things. Shadowy things. Sometimes they’re right in front of you, but most of the time, they’re in the corner of your eye. They say that by Floor 21, you don’t even have to touch the Creep to hallucinate, which is a total trip. Must suck to live down there.

Still, I wonder. I wonder about this all the time, actually. I wonder about what’s below Floor 21.

Um, Mom told me I should start recording my thoughts when I’m in these kind of moods, so this one might be short. I mean duh, it’s my first one. At first when she said I should record myself, I was like, okay, no. Because she’s crazy, and I don’t want to seem crazy, too. That’s no exaggeration by the way. I mean, she’s been a total whacko ever since I turned thirteen. Also, I mean, who cares about what I have to say? It’s not like I’m ever going to listen to this.

But . . . here I am. Probably because I really am going as crazy as her, but also because I go nuts thinking about how nobody else cares that we’re trapped here. I get it, we’re alive, so we should be grateful. But do you know how insane it makes me being the one person asking “why” when everyone else is acting like this is just the way things are? God.

Anyway, guess I’ll try to keep this up. I’m supposed to meet with Allison tonight. Don’t know what we’ll do. Try to find a new movie in the Blu-Ray collection, I guess. I think one of the boys said the Scavengers hauled up a game system from the Deep Creep. I haven’t seen one since I was a kid. The last one we had broke when I was, like, ten. That’s what? Seven years. Dang. I’d really like to play a video game again.

 

 

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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.

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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

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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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