Tag Archives: first chapters

First Chapter Reveal: External Forces by Deborah Rix

External Forces 7Title: External Forces
Author: Deborah Rix
Publisher: Dime Store Books
Pages: 268
Language: English
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
Format: eBook

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Treason, betrayal, and heartbreak.

A lot can happen to a girl between her first kiss and her first kill.

It’s 100 years since the Genetic Integrity Act was passed and America closed its borders to prevent genetic contamination. Now only the enemy, dysgenic Deviants, remain beyond the heavily guarded border. The Department of Evolution carefully guides the creation of each generation and deviations from the divine plan are not permitted.

When 16-year-old Jess begins to show signs of deviance she enlists in the Special Forces, with her best friend Jay, in a desperate bid to evade detection by the Devotees. Jess is good with data, not so good with a knife. So when the handsome and secretive Sergeant Matt Anderson selects her for his Black Ops squad, Jess is determined to figure out why.

As her deviance continues to change her, Jess is forced to decide who to trust with her deadly secret. Jess needs to know what’s really out there, in the Deviant wasteland over the border, if she has any hope of making it to her 17th birthday. Because if the enemy doesn’t kill her first, the Department of Evolution probably will.

Prologue:

I haven’t slept in forty-eight hours.

It’s part of the Special Operations Assessment and Selection course, twenty-eight days of grueling work. The two days of no sleep are meant to disorient us, part of discarding our former selves. There are three hundred of us trying to figure out how to do what we’re told, when we’re told to, and how to do it correctly. Jay and I weren’t assigned to the same platoon, which was unexpected. I’m in the “civilian” platoon; we’re the ones with skills that don’t generally require brute force. I think Jay is in some kind of elite group because I haven’t seen him, I’ve only seen the G-men platoon. They are all about brute force; they’re the ones that opted for genetic enhancement at age thirteen without the supervision of the Devotees. But Special Forces is, well, special, so they have to prove they’ve got more than muscle and I’ve gotta prove I’ve got more than a quick mind.

If I don’t make it to Special Forces, my life expectancy in the regular army could be pretty short. And if I’m a complete washout, I’ll have to go to my assessment with the Devotees and they’ll find out about me, making my life expectancy even shorter. I seriously need to pass.

Zero dark thirty is when I have to haul myself out of bed in the so-called morning. My drill sergeant has been yelling at me for most of the past two days. The word “why” has been surgically removed from everyone’s vocabulary. Any individual hesitation in following orders means at least one private is getting smoked, if not the whole platoon, which usually means push-ups. We’ve done a lot of push-ups. I stare straight ahead as the drill sergeant walks by me and continues down the row of privates. I made the mistake of “eyeballing” him yesterday.

Never. Eyeball. A drill sergeant.

First Chapter:

Three weeks earlier – May, 2125

My mother thinks I’m a Deviant.

It’s the kind of thing that can really throw a girl for a loop.

The Devotees missed it when I was born, she said, but one day they would come for me. That was a few years ago, she didn’t know I was home when I overheard her; I got out of there lickety-split.

And it’s not as if I haven’t noticed the way my mother looks at me sometimes. If they had taken me when they had the chance, maybe her other baby would still be with her. I’m pretty sure that’s what goes through her head when she looks at me.

So the early assessment notice wasn’t entirely unexpected. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Lots of kids are called for early assessments and nothing happens; they show up at school the next day. Some of them are all excited because they got called to become a Devotee.

But some of them, well, they don’t come back.

I’m in the parking lot of my high school, West Liberty. It’s prom night, and I came with my best friend, Jay. He’s still inside; he likes this sort of thing. I haven’t told him the early assessment notice came this afternoon. I didn’t want to ruin tonight for him. The humidity has made my dress even more uncomfortable than it was inside. Jay owes me. At least he won’t mind if I go home; it’s not that kind of date.

A car door slams shut. There aren’t a lot of kids who can afford the fuel to drive their own car to the prom.

Uh-oh. Blake.

I take a step back. Blake is a popular kid, with the right look, the right home, the right pedigree.

Right.

Despite my attempts to blend in and stay in the background, Blake noticed me this year. When I didn’t respond like all the other girls do, I became his target.

His car keys jangle as he drops them in his jacket pocket. I stand still; maybe he hasn’t seen me.

“Hey, freak,” he calls as he comes around the blue pickup I was hoping would shield me. “Not leaving, are you?”

I smell alcohol as Blake backs me up against the truck.

His slicked-back hair smells slightly astringent, and his tongue slides over his upper lip as he looks me over from top to bottom. A shiver of revulsion goes through me. I can’t imagine what girls like about him. I can hear some voices, but they’re at the other end of the parking lot. It’s just me and Blake.

“I’ve got an early graduation present for you,” he says quietly. His face is close to mine, and I can see beads of perspiration on his forehead. Slick from the humidity, his hand glides down my bare shoulder, as if he’s entitled to touch me.

I don’t think I want a present from Blake.

I’m surprised when my hand moves. There is a wet sound as Blake’s head snaps back.

Blood spurts, and it seems as if time has gone into slow motion. The blood sprays toward me. I move my head to the side to avoid it, and watch it slowly drift by, suspended in the air.

I turn back to Blake and a thrill zips through me. Thick, glossy blood creeps down his chin from his mashed nose. His mouth is open in shock; blood colors his teeth and gums. He moves sluggishly, and each blink seems to take effort.

Drip by slow drip, the blood falls from his chin onto his shirt. Fascinated, I watch each droplet burst on his crisp white collar.

A wet plonk hits my forehead as a sudden coldness envelops me. The grin I’m shocked to find on my face sags. Fat droplets of rain release the pressure in the air and mix with the blood on Blake’s shiny shoes.

Hands to his face, he doubles over as time suddenly speeds up again. The rain pelts down now. I take two steps to the side and run. I hear a sob and realize it’s me.

What just happened?

It’s the morning after prom, and Jay saunters along beside me as we walk back to my house. I met him half way, as per my usual. His t-shirt is a bit wrinkled, but that’s on purpose, to go with jeans that are a little baggy in back. He’s over six feet and gets asked if he’s a model, which he laughs at, but I know he’s pleased. He could be quite popular if he wanted, but he hangs out with me instead.

Jay and me are Fifth Generation. We’re the ones born between 2100 and 2120. We found each other in the seventh grade. We were the last two kids left when we all paired up for gym class. He asked me why I wasn’t moving when we were supposed to be heading out to the field. I explained that I was trying to activate my special powers so that I could use them to transport me far away. Usually that kind of talk would send kids running, and they’d whisper that I must be a Deviant. But not Jay. He blinked at me, then asked if I would take him with me, should my special powers ever actually work. We’ve been best friends since, and tell each other pretty much everything.

“So, can you come to the thing?”

Uh oh.

I think I’m supposed to know what he’s talking about.

“Uh, when is it again?” I stall for time. What thing?

I push my hair behind my ears to help me think. It doesn’t always work. I have shoulder-length brown hair, parted on the side. My no-nonsense look is how I think of it. I still don’t know what the thing is.

“Wait. Jess. You’re joking, right?” Jay says with a laugh that’s on the edge of anger.

“I’m sorry.” I do my best pleading cringe. “I’m a little distracted.”

The early assessment and whatever that was with Blake last night are the distractions. I can’t quite believe I punched him, broke his nose by the look of it. He’s probably going to have two black eyes. But more than that punch, as surprising as it was, is the way time seemed to slow down around me. I want to say it was shock, or some kind of temporary fugue state, but that’s not what it was. Something happened.

“My mother’s thing, remember?” Jay practically yells at me.

“Oh, that,” I say with relief. Jay’s mother is hosting a party to celebrate his seventeenth birthday. That’s what the thing is. It’s going to be awful.

“We met up, what? Five minutes ago? And you’re already trying to drive me crazy?” He pinches my butt. Hard. He’s pretty worked up about this party.

I yelp and dance around. “No way. You are not blaming your crazy on me.” I give him a solid punch in the gut. “You had years of exposure to your mother before we even met.”

I go rock climbing, so my arms are strong. I’ve never needed to go to the gym to work out and “stay in shape” like some of the other girls do. I’m five feet ten and a half inches and the coach at school said I have an athletic body; he tried to get me to go out for track and field. I don’t like the idea of people watching me like that.

But hitting Jay is like hitting concrete. He doesn’t even notice my punch.

“And of course I’m coming, I already told you. That’s why I didn’t know what thing you were talking about. I thought you meant some other thing.”

“You didn’t actually confirm with my mother,” he complains, “and I know how you feel about people, in general.”

“I don’t have a problem with people, in general. Just the idiots,” I say. “And your mother.”

It’s kind of a toss-up, I suppose. A mother like mine, who actively avoids you and has already decided you’re not worth the effort, or one who pays too much attention and has too many expectations.

Jay nudges me as an unfamiliar dark-haired boy, a bit younger than we are, walks toward us. He doesn’t look right at us, but he flashes us two crossed fingers with his right hand.

I look up ahead and see them coming our way. Three Devotees. Jay and I mumble the greeting in unison, “Blood of our blood, flesh of our flesh, soul of our soul,” and we look down as they brush past us in their crisp white lab coats. It’s best not to be noticed.

The Devotees work for the Department of Evolution —everyone just calls it Devo— and they do the work of Creation in partnership with God. The Department of Evolution is under the direction of Secretary Galton. Basically, she’s God’s voice here on Earth. In the midst of the genetic revolution a hundred years ago, when the Genetic Integrity Act closed America’s borders, strict protocols for border biosecurity were instituted to stop genetic contamination. But we were still in danger of being overrun by the Deviants on the other side. Galton took control, ordered the fortification of our borders and gave the military the authority to do what they needed to do. Most people agree; she did what was necessary for our survival by relinquishing certain powers to the military to ensure our protection. Including the ability to create proprietary, genetically enhanced soldiers. The G-men. Since then, Galton has been leading us through the current stage of evolution, Regenesis, removing unwanted traits and improving and enhancing our best traits with the guidance of God.

In Social Biology class, Devotee Theresa taught us that we must all work for the common good, whether we like it or not. The less intelligent are more fertile and must be discouraged from breeding. Only those with desirable traits are allowed to produce the next generation.

There’s this section, practically a whole semester of tenth grade, where we studied pedigree charts, and DNA, RNA, proteins, and ribosomes. DNA is a double helix that carries the genetic information for all life. If only one part of one gene is wrong, it can create a whole generation of imbeciles, and that is not in God’s plan. Or in Devo’s plan. All Devotees have that DNA double helix tattooed on their forearm, as a constant reminder of their purpose in life.

That’s what the crossed fingers warning represents, the double helix tattoo.

We come up to the old Palace Theater. It’s been shut down for a long time, and the large sign that hangs out front lost its first A, so it says PLACE. Someone found a way in down the side alley, and now kids hang out there. They say, “Meet me at the place.” If they’re overheard or an adult sees a message, it only says “the place.” So far it’s stayed secret. I’ve heard they have illegal sim-seats in there, ones that can scramble the biometrics and mask what you’re doing.

“Jess,” Jay says as he slows right down, “something’s wrong.”

“It’s time to wake up!” a skinny boy with curly red hair yells. He’s standing on a wooden crate, and people are hesitantly milling about. “People are dying! Out there, children are starving, and you send them poison. People are sick, and you send them plagues. The blood of our blood is on your hands!”

There are gasps at his blasphemy, but a few people cautiously move toward him in morbid fascination. His eyes are wild, there’s spittle on his lips. Jay grabs my arm to tug me backward.

When the bullet enters the boy’s left temple, it’s as if he doesn’t know it’s there for a moment.

He’s about to yell, his mouth opens, his lips form a word he will never say. Then he topples backward, and I hear the terrible thud as his head hits the ground. The people closest to him quickly step back. No one screams, no one looks up to see the Guardian with the rifle on the roof across the street. Everyone wants to blend in.

Another Guardian comes toward the Palace. The Guardians work for Devo and protect us from Deviants. The stiff collar somehow makes his slightly rumpled, brown uniform shirt look crisp. The yellow double helix is on the front of his cap, and above his left shirt pocket.

“Move along,” he says. “It was just a Deviant.”

We all know that the plain fact of his yelling out crazy stuff in the street like that is proof of his deviance. It’s what happens sometimes, but it’s most prevalent during adolescence. The deviance manifests and people become dangerous, psychotic Deviants, intent on our destruction.

The Guardian rests his hand on the butt of the holstered pistol hanging from his belt and waits for the brown panel truck with the whooping siren we can hear approaching.

Jay swears at him under his breath and keeps hold of my arm. We hurry off with the rest of the crowd, wanting to move as far away as possible. I look back in time to see somebody dart in behind the Guardian, dip a hand in the boy’s blood, and leave an angry red handprint on the front of the Palace Theater. A red hand. I’ve heard the whispers but never thought it was true. As I stare at it, I bumble into Mrs. Yamoto, one of my neighbors. She walks fast, gripping her daughter’s hand tightly. Last year, I saw the brown truck with the double helix on the side parked in front of her house. The Guardians had come to take her son.

Wes.

That was his name.

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First Chapter Reveal: The Knights of Galaria: The Crystals of Power by O.S. Gill

The Knights of GalariaTitle: THE KNIGHTS OF GALARIA: THE CRYSTALS OF POWER
Author: O.S. Gill
Format: Paperback, ebook
Length: 310 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace

PURCHASE AT AMAZON

For Kaz Silverwynd, graduation from the Galarian Knight Academy begins normally, but an the attempt on the life of Xul Xandu, the newly-appointed head of the Confederation of Nations, pushes Kaz and his team into an epic and dangerous adventure. The action ranges from the floating city of Civitas to the underwater empire of Aequoria to the moon colony of Ourea. Kaz leads his band of knights on a perilous journey to stop a madman from achieving his ultimate goal – the conquest of the world of Galaria. Added to the already volatile mix are the legendary Crystals of Power, a collection of beautiful but deadly jewels that could tip the scales of power toward good or evil.

———————————————

CHAPTER 1

     Kaz fidgeted in his uniform. He hated these things, ceremonies, galas; reasons for people to dress up and endure longwinded speeches that lasted for hours. True, this was his day. He shined at the top of his class as valedictorian. The seven long years that he and his friends spent at the academy were finally coming to an end. He felt nostalgic; reminiscing on the first day he came to Civitas to join the academy. He was all of eleven then, and the grandeur of the big city was a far cry from the tiny island he used to call home.

It wasn’t even in the realm of his imagination then that he would be standing here, graduating at the head of his peers and about to enter the corps as a lieutenant first class. His father would have been so proud, after all this was his dream for Kaz. It saddened him that his father would never see the man he’s grown into, having passed away two years ago. But, being a Commander General in the Corp himself, Kal Silverwynd would have been overjoyed at his son following so closely in his footsteps.

Kaz was just putting the finishing touches on his uniform which he knew, outside of the air-conditioned comfort of his dorm room, would keep him at a slow broil in the afternoon sun. After all, the plaza in front of the building that housed Corp’s headquarters wasn’t exactly known for its cool breezes; located at the foot of the one hundred storied government building and surrounded by multiple high rise buildings. But he knew he would have to grin and bear it if he was going to make a career out of wearing this very same uniform, sans the ceremonial medals and sash.  He thought however, that the designer could have created a more humid friendly uniform for this time of year. Apart from that he thought that it was very well made.  It consisted of a long white trench coat over an undershirt and a white pair of slacks. The trench coat extended to the knees and flared at the bottom.  It was closed by folding the left side over the right and then buttoned by eight rather large buttons that ran from just below the right shoulder down to just above the right knee.  The sleek white made anyone wearing it look regal, and the naval blue stripes running down the sides of the arms and legs made even the lowest ranking officer look and feel important.

He was almost finished; the only thing left was his father’s sword. He reached into the closet and retrieved it. This was his sword now rather, as he would use it from today onwards because he was officially becoming a knight. He had spent the better part of the morning polishing it, making sure it was show worthy. It was the best designed and most formidable rapier in the Corps. The long sleek shaft was made of Incendian steel and marked with blue engravings that were in the ancestral language of his family who were from Vegrandis Terra. Or at least that’s what he was told. He himself never actually learned the language. The hilt was an intricate array of broad rings that protected the hand of the bearer. It was bejewelled with blue quanzanite.  The engravings were also lined with blue quanzanite. Kaz was an excellent swordsman and with this rapier he knew he would be the best in the corps.

He was now thinking about the day and the tenseness that had surrounded the academy over the last year. The newly formed Confederation of Nations had seen difficulties in the form of a power struggle between different factions. Although a leader was finally selected, there were still some underlying tensions. What would eventually become of the academy and the Corps remained to be seen.

Kaz put these issues out of his mind. There would be plenty of time to ponder such things after he was made a knight, he thought. Now he checked himself in the mirror. His dreadlocked hair was neatly fashioned in a ponytail. His uniform was neat and showed no sign of wrinkle. He was noting to himself how clear his dark tropical skin had become over the years of living in this cooler climate. He imagined that it would only take a week on his native island to return to his natural dark complexion.

Suddenly he had the sense of someone approaching him from behind. He spun around quickly on the intruder, only to be greeted with a kiss on the cheek. “Have I ever told you how dashing you look in this uniform?” The words came from Kara Ravenstorm, Kaz’s squad mate and girlfriend.  She was also one of the very few people who could sneak up on him.

“Well, you may have mentioned it once or twice” said Kaz, smiling as he gave her a hug. “You look beautiful,” he said eying her. Kara’s uniform suited her well. The female uniform was similar to the males’ except the coat buttoned down the middle and then separated at the waist so that their trousers were completely visible.

Kara herself was always ravishing Kaz found, even though he knew his opinion may have been a bit biased. She was about four inches shorter than he was, about 5’5 or so. Her complexion was olive and her eyes slanted. Her ears were also pointy, as was the typical feature for the elves of Zanru.  She was a princess of Zanru and as customary in the royal family she went to the academy to receive military training. Her father expects her to return home for her royal duties upon graduation, but she would much rather stay in Civitas and have a career in the Corps, especially since she had already attained the rank of second lieutenant. She wore her hair short with two long braided pony tails that extended from the hairline just above the neck, to her waist.

“Well, we need to be off, the ceremony will be starting in twenty minutes,” she reminded him.  “Yes, I’m ready,” said Kaz. And with that they hurried down the corridor to the stairs.

The cadet dormitory was across the courtyard from the administrative building of the academy, which was adjoined to the Corps headquarters. And it was through there that they would have to pass to get to the ceremony. As they walked through the immense halls of the administrative building, Kaz had flashbacks of when he was brought here on his first day at the academy. He remembered how in awe he was. The huge marble floor of the rotunda, the magnificent stairway that led to the upper level offices. The large seal of the Galarian Knight Corps embedded on the floor. And the statues erected in the main hall of the greatest knights that had gone before. He remembered being captivated by the entire sight.

They moved through the administrative building and were now headed down the corridor that connected with the bottom floor of the headquarters. The headquarters of the Galarian Knights was certainly something to behold. It was an immense structure one-hundred stories tall. It housed all of the high ranking officials of the Corps along with diplomatic offices for countries around the world and the offices of the Civitas government.  The building, along with the academy was founded some five-hundred years prior when the Knight Corp was established. At the end of the last Great War, the countries across the world decided that to keep the peace they would do away with their armies and form a global unit tasked with policing the nations and keeping the peace. The creation of which was led by the then Chancellor of Civitas, Duke Von Maelstrom and the leadership has been kept in the Von Maelstrom family for every generation since.

They were halfway through the ground floor of the headquarters, when someone ran past them. “Vogt!” Kara shouted out. The person stopped and turned around. It was their friend and squad mate Vogt Von Maelstrom.

Vogt was the nephew of the Supreme Commander Bishop Von Maelstrom, and his heir apparent. The Supreme Commander had adopted him after his father Baron, which was Bishop’s brother, had died. A lieutenant first class like Kaz, the two always had a friendly rivalry going and were always trying to outdo each other.

“Why are you two just standing around? We’re late,” Vogt said slightly alarmed. “We have a clear fifteen minutes before the start of the ceremony,” Kara said, looking at the time on her watch.  Vogt was always a stickler for punctuality and would prefer to be early rather than just making it in time. “Relax,” Kaz said reassuringly, “Today is all about us.” Vogt looked unconvinced as he removed his spectacles to clean them, and nervously brushed his short blonde hair with his hand. “Well then, we better get going before you start to hyperventilate,” Kara chuckled. And with that she held him by his right arm and Kaz by his left, and the three walked out in tandem.

The plaza was already full by the time they got there. Most of the graduation class was already seated.  “I can see my mother down there in the reserved section,” said Kaz. “Well there’s no mistaking uncle Bishop up on the stage,” chimed Vogt. “Can you see your parents Kara?” he asked. “No, my parents couldn’t make it,” said Kara. “They’re on official business in Tandoor, but I see my elder brother and sister.” Though she understood the responsibilities of heads of state, she couldn’t help but feel disheartened at her parents missing this day.  After all, she hadn’t seen them in the two years since she last was home.

“Zarak and the others are over there,” she said, pointing in the direction of their squad mates seated in the second row. They made their way up the aisle, Kaz stopping to kiss his mother on her cheek. She of course did not have far to travel to make it there. Being the ambassador of Vegrandis Terra, her office was just upstairs, so Kaz got to see her fairly often. “I’m so proud of you,” she whispered to him.

When they reached their seats they were greeted with hugs and handshakes from the others. Zarak, Remus, Tanu and the Vor de Leigh twins Eri and Evet.  They each were from different regions from across the world and they each were very talented at what they did, and Kaz was very happy to have had them on his team for the past few years, although they would soon be splitting up, going into their different special fields.

Zarak Tol, the six foot four inch tall Divi from the Divum islands in the north east of the continent was looking to have career in reconnaissance, where he would carry the rank of second lieutenant. He was winged as all Divi were, with about a twelve foot wingspan from tip to tip. He sat with his white wings tucked neatly behind him and his long blonde hair smoothed back.

Tanu Tanu was from Incendia and was looking to have a career in the sniper division.  He was a gunnery sergeant and there was none at the academy better than him with a photon rifle. There was no mistaking him as an Incendian, they were typically short, and he was five feet tall. Red skinned, with yellow irises and pointed ears. Their canines protruded more than the other races, making them look more like fangs.  His long jet black hair was braided into a ponytail that was almost to his waist. And he was wearing his customary white cowboy hat with the naval blue band around it that matched his uniform although it wasn’t actually part of it.

Remus Bane was seated next to Tanu. The sergeant major was the team covert and martial art specialist. He was from Ourea, one of Galaria’s four moons and the only one that was habitable. The Luna, as his people were called, were a warrior race, though a civilised one, and most were trained in Ourean martial arts from a very young age. They also looked more feral than normal humans, though Remus was only eighteen so his facial hair wasn’t as heavy as most Ourean men. He always liked to wear his hair short and spiked.

And then they were the Vor de Leigh twins, Evet and Eri. The brother and sister were born in the northern city of Quelos. The Quelians were a race of humans naturally susceptible to magic, as were the Vor de Leighs who were raised by their grandfather a Master Wizard. They were identical and had red hair, Eri’s long and curly and Evet’s short and cropped. They both had grey eyes and freckles.  They were going into the special abilities division in the Corp with the rank of junior sorcerer. Their uniform also differed slightly from the others. The knights in Special Abilities regiment wore hooded cloaks rather than trench coats although the colour scheme was the same.

“Wow, I can’t believe that even Tanu got here before you guys,” said Eri, intentionally trying to fret Vogt. “Well, we had to make an entrance didn’t we,” Kara quipped. “We’ve been here for a little while,” said Zarak, “I really wish they’d get on with it.” “Hold on, I think it’s starting,” interrupted Vogt. “Well then that’s my queue to take my seat,” said Kaz, who as valedictorian was to be seated on the stage along with the other speakers. He went up the steps and took his seat to the left of the podium on the very end.

Bishop Von Maelstrom was making his way up to the podium. Kaz was noting to himself, how in shape he looked for his forty-five years. He was six feet three inches tall and of sturdy build. His black hair was slicked back and greyed at the temples and his moustache thick and curled at the ends.

“My fellow knights, faculty, students and honoured guests…” his speech began. Kaz was already zoning out and looking around him. Some of his professors and drill commanders were sitting to his left. He noticed a distinguished looking older gentleman in a red robe sitting six seats away, right next to the podium. Kaz recognised him as Xul Xandu the newly selected General Secretary of the newly formed Confederation of Nations. He was a frail old man, with a pointy nose and white hair only at the sides and back of his head. But Kaz new that he was well loved and respected the world over.

”..let me present to you Mr. Xul Xandu,” said Von Maelstrom, finishing up his speech. Xul took the podium to a rousing applause and began speaking, what he said Kaz was unsure of because he had zoned out again. My, how he hated these things. He was now looking into the crowd. He looked at Kara and she gave him a wink. Tanu was making faces. He was now taking in the skyline around him on this bright beautiful day.

Then he felt something. He couldn’t quite explain it, but he felt as though something was wrong. Kaz, from very young had a unique skill of observation and also sensing peril. And right now peril was exactly what he was sensing. But why was he? Was it something he’d seen? And where was it? He scanned the skyline again and nothing. But there must have been something he was sure of it. He concentrated, looking and the buildings in front of him. Then he saw it, the glint of sunlight reflecting off of something at the top of the ten storey building at the opposite end of the plaza. It was a sniper, he was sure of it. And it looked like he was aiming at Xul. He didn’t think, he just reacted, and he sprang from his seat and darted toward the General Secretary. He caught him in a full on tackle and Xul buckled, tumbling towards the floor of the stage.

Kaz felt the projectile pass him before he heard it, the sound however was deafening as it exploded on the wall at the back of the stage. The assailant was using high charged photon blasts. The next three seconds felt like an hour. At first everything Kaz heard was muffled and he felt surreal.  Then everything became clear suddenly and sharply. He heard the screams of the crowd and people scampering for cover. He knew if the sniper was using high charged photon, then he wouldn’t be very safe behind the table where they had landed. He knew it would take the rifle five seconds to charge at that strength and he had maybe two left.

Suddenly he heard two shots ring out, but they weren’t directed at him. He peered over the table and saw that Tanu had drawn his photon rifle and fired upon the snipers position. The assailant took off. “Get after him!” Kaz shouted to Tanu.

#

      Tanu gave chase; first he leapt ten feet in the air. He could have done this of course because the force of gravity in Incendia was twice that of the rest of the world, because of the gravitational effect that Nyx the night moon had there. So his leap was four times that of any of the other races under normal gravity. While still in the air, Zarak grabbed him by both shoulders and they both flew off to the rooftop to apprehend the culprit.

The sniper had already cleared the building he was on and was running along the one behind it by the time they got there. He was fast. Tanu figured one good shot in the leg with his rifle set on stun should bring him down. He took aim. Before he could line up the shot however, the assailant looked back and fired several shots in their direction. His aim was uncanny. This caused Zarak to swerve to his right and hit a communications dish. They fell and rolled to a stop. “You alright?” asked Tanu. “I’m fine, just winded,” Zarak replied, “Don’t let him get away.” Tanu sprang into action. He ran to the end of the rooftop and took a giant leap over to the adjacent building. At the same time the sniper was clearing the chasm between roofs two buildings over. His jump rivalled that of Tanu’s.

Tanu knew at this rate he would never catch up to the assailant. He had as much range on his jump, and he was definitely faster, the distance between them was growing by the second. He got down on one knee and steadied his photon rifle. He centred the cross hairs on the assailant. He realised then that the quarry was about to take another leap. He changed his aim to where he judged the sniper to land. The sniper leapt, one long lingering leap, or so it felt to Tanu. Just as he was about to land, as his foot was about to touch down on the top of the roof, Tanu fired. Perfect! It caught him across the knee. Tanu watched as his legs buckled and gave way beneath him. With the speed he was travelling before he was hit, the velocity caused him to bounce once or twice, and then he slid about twenty feet and came to a stop.

At this time Zarak had caught his breath. He picked up Tanu and they made their way to the roof that the sniper was on. “Don’t move one muscle!” exclaimed Tanu as he and Zarak landed. They saw that his rifle had landed a good few feet from him so he posed no immediate threat.  He was wearing a black trench coat and black pants and combat boots, on his head a black wool hat. There was something plastic and strange looking about his face. He looked like he was devoid of any emotion. “Who are you?” asked Zarak. The sniper took a long glare at them and did not say a word, and then Tanu and Zarak saw something happen that took them by surprise and they had no time to stop it. The sniper brought his jaws to a clench, then his head moved sharply from side to side and his neck contorted. When he came to a stop his face had a blank look on it (well a bit more blank than it was before) and a metallic liquid was coming from his mouth. “He’s an android?” said Tanu quite puzzled. “Why would an android want to attack the General Secretary?” Zarak said in a most confused manner. “Let’s find out shall we,” said Kaz who was now landing next to them riding a hover cycle along with a team of knights who were patrolling the area.

#

     Kaz walked up to where the android lay. “I guess he would rather expire than divulge anything,” he said to the others, “Must have been programmed that way.” He knelt and turned the android’s head until he could see the back of his neck. The machine’s faceplate came off in his hand, revealing the true face of the machine. It was plain and ovular, with green glowing eyes that were fading out as the android lost power. “The serial number has been scratched off,” He said, “Whoever’s behind this was going to lengths not to be caught.” An android’s serial number is like a birth certificate. On Galaria, androids were once used as common house appliances and were regarded as such. About one hundred years ago they gained independence through a law that dictated that beings with artificial intelligence were free thinking and had a right to exist without master. These freed androids founded a city in the desert a few hundred miles north of Civitas called Andros. They have an android president and are a recognized member of the Confederation of Nations. This city was now an attractive tourist hotspot with many casinos and hotels and several forms of leisurely entertainment. There was also an industrial district where androids were continued to be made for the growing demand of a workforce on Galaria. They would be paid and allowed to live freely in whatever city they worked in. They were also stamped on the back of the neck with a serial number which would contain the factory information and date of creation.

Kaz checked the pockets of the android’s coat. “There’s nothing in here,” he said. “Nothing that can tell us who sent him and why he was trying to attack Xul Xandu.”  Zarak stepped up beside him. “How are we going to find out?” he asked. “Well all androids have a processor chip that they need to survive,” Kaz said. “It’s like their heart, and the information contained in the bios should tell us which factory made him.” “I’ll have the Corps analyst come over and retrieve him and get us that information,” he was saying this while paging forensics with the directive and coordinates for retrieval.

The analyst team arrived quickly, as they would have been just a few streets over at the headquarters. They gathered what remained of the android and took him to the lab. “Let’s get back to the others and report in,” said Kaz. Zarak and Tanu followed him and they made their way back to the plaza.

On their arrival, they saw that the once packed seating area of the graduation was now scant. The area had been secured by Knights and Xul Xandu had been removed, presumably to the headquarters for his safety.

The others were still in sitting in the plaza waiting for them to return and with them was Baron Von Maelstrom. “It apparently was a hired android assassin sir,” said Kaz, as he disembarked his sky cycle and he filled in the Supreme Commander on all of the details of what had happened on the rooftops. “I see,” said Von Maelstrom, pondering heavily. “Well, we’ll wait until the gents in analysis give us a report, until then there is little to go on at this point. You all should go and get ready for the graduation party.” “But sir!” Kaz protested, “We need to get on top of this, and find out who orchestrated the attempt on the Secretary.” Baron Von Maelstrom gave his subordinate and student a smile and spoke to him reassuringly. “Kaz, I understand your eagerness to get out into the field and do your job, you’re a Knight now and after all these years of training that would come natural.” “But,” Kaz interjected.  “No buts young man,” the Commander cut him off. “This is a day that you and your peers have earned. Also, there is absolutely very little any of us can do until we get that report. Go to your party, relish in your accomplishments and I expect you to report for duty first thing in the morning to start on this mission.” The Supreme Commander, ever the natural leader, gave Kaz a look that was as kind as it was firm. “Yes sir, I understand,” said Kaz, not daring to protest anymore.

And with that he, Zarak, Tanu, Vogt, Remus and Evet made their way to the grand ballroom on campus where the party was being held.  The girls were allowed to wear evening gowns to the ball and had gone off to change. The guys remained in uniform.

The grand ballroom of the academy was located on the north side of the campus. It was an old and opulent building, dedicated to the school a few hundred years prior by the Ravenstorm family from Zanru, Kara’s ancestors. It also bore their name. As the young men walked through the massive doorway into the foyer, they could see that the other students, family members and faculty had already gathered there. The atmosphere in the ballroom was tense, as people were discussing the events in the plaza. The entire setting had an uneasy feel to it as if the patrons feared something else might happen.

“Well if you need me I’ll be at the buffet table,” said Tanu, who was walking away from them and not distraught like the other patrons.  The perennial glutton, they knew not to expect to see him until it was time to leave. A waiter was passing with a tray of Tandoorian champagne, everyone but Zarak took a glass.  He had issues with items of intoxicating content in the past, particularly banga, a natural fermented fruit which was plentiful in his homeland of Divum. “I think I’ll just have water,” he told the others. They nodded understandingly. “Isn’t that Jade over there?” Evet said to Vogt, pointing in the direction of their classmate, who was chatting with some of her girlfriends. “Why so it is,” Vogt replied, eyeing the Aequorian beauty to whom he was trying to take out for the past two weeks but they could never get the timing right. “Let’s go over and say hi,” he said while cleaning his spectacles. Evet did not need to be convinced. He was more than happy to play wingman if it involved talking to a group of pretty girls. And off they went.

As Kaz looked around the room, he saw a myriad of faces belonging to people that he had befriended, conversed with or simply seen across the quad over the last seven years. Some of them he would see more often if they were stationed in Civitas. Others he may only see on certain ceremonial occasions. And some he may never see again as they took up stations across the world. Just then he noticed someone approaching from his left. It was his mother, looking very elegant in her long flowing blue gown. Her dreadlocks, usually almost to her knees were pinned up and styled on this occasion. “I’m so proud of you all,” she said kissing them each on the cheek. “Thank you Mrs. Silverwynd,” said Remus and Zarak almost in unison. “Thank you mother,” said Kaz. “I’m afraid I must cut this evening short however, I have some affairs of state to attend,” Ursula Silverwynd told her son and his friends. “I understand, I know how it is, I will see you later,” said Kaz to his mother. Indeed he did, when he was growing up, his mother was always engaged in her work. This was something he had grown accustomed to. And with that she was off.

“I think I’ll go get some fresh air,” said Remus. “Okay,” said Zarak and Kaz as they watched him head upstairs and out onto balcony. The others knew he was not the most social of people, in fact the only reason he probably showed up was because of the occasion. But parties and events on a whole were not usually frequented by Remus Bane.

“May I have this dance?” Kaz heard someone say as they tapped him on the shoulder. It was Kara; she was wearing what had to be the most beautiful red dress Kaz had ever seen (not that he often gave critique of dresses, red or otherwise). He had never seen her looking so radiant, probably because until now he had mostly seen her only in uniform. “Well if you insist,” he said smiling. An Aequorian waltz was playing and it was one of the very few formal dances he knew, so he was thankful for the timing.

This left Eri and a rather awkward looking Zarak. It was awkward probably because he has admired the young sorceress for a while now, but lacked the confidence to have ever expressed this to her.  Taking in how she looked in her yellow gown, and with her almost glowing red hair pinned up, he was totally in awe. “Well let’s not be outdone shall we?” Eri said extending her hand to Zarak. “I don’t know,” said Zarak, “Divi aren’t the best dancers, even with the wings tucked away. I guess we’re more coordinated in the sky.” Eri gave him a reassuring smile “Well we’ll figure it out together,” she said, “It’s not as though there’s a spell that I can caste to make us masters of the Aequorian waltz, at least I don’t think so. I would have to ask my grandfather about that sometime.”

Kaz was thinking about how graceful Kara looked dancing. This was another thing that came from her upbringing. Royalty was normally well trained in the arts, languages and social skills. Kara was more so that most. He had never met anyone so well rounded. She also had this look on her face, almost like it was the best night of her life. Or maybe he was thinking that because it was his. Whatever the reason it was something that he would have loved to have gone on forever.

The waltz came to an end much sooner that Kaz was hoping for. The crowd applauded. “Where are the others?” Kara asked, looking around for her friends. “Well Zarak and Eri are on the other end of the dance floor,” Kaz said pointing in the direction of their two friends. “Vogt and Evet are over by the base of the stairs talking to Jade and her friends. Remus is on the balcony. And I’ll give you three guesses as to where Tanu is,” he said with a smirk. “I’ll only need one,” she chuckled, “Let’s get the others and join Remus shall we? It’s such a lovely night; I think we should take in a view of the city.” Kaz agreed, signalling to Zarak and Eri to meet them over by the stairs.

“Sure Vogt is a pretty good sharp shooter, but I’m much more effective with my quanzanite orb,” they heard Evet bragging as they walked up to the small group.  He was trying to impress the girls with his tales of heroics. “You really must excuse my brother,” said Eri coming up from behind, “He’s not usually this modest,” the sarcasm was thick in her voice. “No but I thought I would tone it down a notch just for tonight,” said Evet unfettered. They all laughed.  “We were all thinking of going up to the balcony to take in the view,” Kara informed them, “You all are more than welcome to come.”

“Why that’s an excellent idea,” replied Jade, “It was starting to get a bit crowded in here.” Her two friends nodded in agreement. Kaz couldn’t quite remember their names, but he knew they were in a younger class and he could tell like Jade they were Aequorian. Which wasn’t hard to miss because Aequorians were easily identifiable by their slightly fin shaped ears which were also gills. Other than that they looked like humans in every way.  Jade herself was a tanned complexion with short brown hair. She had fine features and light-brown eyes. She had always had a pleasant demeanour about her as well; in fact Kaz could not remember ever seeing her without a smile.

They all headed up the wide winding stairway. Kaz looked over at the buffet table which was down and to his left. He saw Tanu was still making his rounds, obviously elated at the available feast. They made eye contact and Kaz signalled that they were headed outside. Tanu made a gesture indicating that he would join them in five minutes. Or at least that’s what Kaz thought. He could have easily been saying after five more servings. “I guess we would know in five minutes,” Kaz was thinking to himself.

They walked through the wide doorway leading to the massive balcony, which had a panoramic view of the city. They could see Remus was standing at the far end of the platform looking towards the sky. “Missing home?” Kaz asked approaching him. “I guess,” Remus replied, “It’s kind of hard not to at a time like this and when you can just look up in the sky and see your city’s lights.” Ourea of course could be seen very well from Galaria. It was one of the three moons visible during the day. On mornings it could be seen in the eastern skyline, but at this late hour in the evening, because of Galaria’s rotation, it was in the west heading towards the horizon. The lights in Lunar City, its capital were just beginning to come on and lit up that portion of the sky. “When was the last time you were home” asked Kaz as he arrived next to his long time friend. “Summer break, two years ago,” remarked Remus, “The space elevator was down last year, so I didn’t get a chance to go.” “Yes, I remember that, it was down for maintenance,” said Kaz. He could see that Remus was really missing his home.

“I’ve never seen the city from up here,” said Kara, “It’s absolutely marvellous.” They all agreed. The cityscape was stretched out before them on all sides. The financial district to the south had the highest concentration of tall buildings; a vast array of shadows and lights. The industrial district was to the west, a cluster of much smaller buildings, but spread out over a larger area. The massive tower of the Knight headquarters was obstructing their view of the east and the residential area that was located there. And over to the north, the Atlas Mountains, or at least the very summit of them.

The reason they could only see the tops of these mountains, was because Civitas was a floating metropolis, hovering over the site of the original city which was destroyed during the last Great War. Bombarded and left in ruin and radiation, the city as it were, was uninhabitable. But left unattended the site which was quanzanite rich would have been open to every pioneering industrialist the world over, to drain its reserves dry. A decision was made to create a second city on the site above the radiation. At first the idea of using massive pillars was introduced. But then it was argued by engineers that much weight over the course of time left to the elements would be too much for any known material. So the decision was made to create a massive carrier and build the city upon it. It was kept afloat by using solar powered quanzanite crystals. The energy was so renewable that they would never be without power and the city could remain in its state for as long as there were people to maintain it. This new city was now known as Civitas Tabernus, but people simply referred to it as Civitas.

It was totally dark now. Kaz was relishing in the glow of the city lights and wondering about the future. He was thinking of the apartment he would move into when he left the dorm, and of his new post as Lieutenant First Class, and that he already had his first mission. Never had the phrase ‘what will tomorrow bring’ had so much meaning to him until now. Kara came up beside him and took his hand. She gave him a smile, which he returned. The air was starting to chill now; Kaz could feel himself starting to get goose-bumps, and he could see Kara was as well. He put his arm around her. “Hey Eri,” he said, “What can you do about the temperature?” The young sorceress put her hand on her chin as if she was beginning to ponder. “Let me see….” she said. She paused for a moment, and then exclaimed “Okay, I got it!” She was always happy to be casting one spell or another. She muttered something from the ancient language of her native Quelos, Kaz couldn’t determine what, not that he would have understood even if he had heard it properly. At the end of her incantation, she put two fingers to the side of her lips and blew.

Then, as if protruding from her lips, a stream of golden mist formed. It got thicker as it flowed, and soon it was surrounding them all. All at once it felt warmer, like a summer’s morning. The feeling made Kaz think of lazier times, when he would visit his home and go sailing during long holidays from school. They were all embodied in the glow, and even though they could feel the wind picking up now it made no difference because they were kept warm by Eri’s spell.

“Aye, it’s freezing up here!” Tanu shrieked as he came onto the balcony, “Have you guys lost your minds?” “Oh, do be quiet and step inside the mist,” Eri said to him. “Oh ho, didn’t see that,” said Tanu as he dashed into the warm mist. “Civitas sure is pretty from up here,” he observed.

They continued to talk and reminisce of the days gone by at school. They laughed as they remembered how scared Tanu was his first time aerial training. Or when Remus, Vogt and Evet were in a training rescue mission and had to be rescued themselves.  They were solemn when they remembered the day they received the news that Kaz’s father had passed away, and how sad they all were, for he was a beloved vice principal.

It was getting late now; there were no more hints of sunlight in the western sky. Night was fully upon them.  “We should probably head back to the party,” said Vogt. “It probably looks like the valedictorian and his friends abandoned it,” he joked.  “Yes, we probably should,” said Kaz, agreeing with his friend.

All of a sudden the wide doors of the balcony swung open, and what would seem like the entire array of attendees poured out onto the large terrace. People were gushing out of the main hall seemingly trying to get an impressive vantage point.

“What’s going on?” Kaz asked one of students that were walking past them. “Why didn’t you hear the announcement just now?”The young knight replied. “They’re getting ready to set off the fireworks.”

Kaz had forgotten about this part of the graduation gala. Although he himself had never been to one, he had seen the fantastical display of lights on the night of the ceremony from his dorm room.  He and his group were still close to the edge of the balcony. They turned and walked back to the rail before that spot was taken up.

No sooner had they gotten to the rail, the light show began. They were two large rockets to start off, that exploded high above them and spread out over the sky in a massive white and blue light, the school colours. They lit the night sky and gave the illusion of daylight all around. They were followed by a series of rockets that exploded and made intricate designs across the sky. Some that spun like pin wheels and some that took the shapes of animals and objects.

This went on for a good few minutes and then it all settled down. Then they heard a rumbling. One last rocket, this one bigger than all the others that had gone before was racing through the sky. Kaz had seen this before, he knew what it was going to be and it was always breathtaking. The large rocket got to its apex and detonated. At first it wasn’t obvious what it was going to be, just a series of large explosions then smaller ones as light scattered across the sky. Then, a new series of explosions added colour and definition to the picture that was forming.

It was the seal of the Knights of Galaria. The massive shield, with two swords crisscrossed behind it; the picture of the world on the shield was in front of a massive ‘G’. The banner across the bottom read “For Honour and Galaria”; all of which was in vivid detail.

Kaz and everyone else were thoroughly impressed. They thought this was a magnificent way to finish the night.

“Well, I believe I’m off to bed,” said Kaz to the others. “We have an early start tomorrow.” “Yes, I believe I will turn in as well,” said Vogt. The others nodded in agreement, for they knew that tomorrow they would embark on their first official mission. And what a mission it was. Someone tried to assassinate the General Secretary of the Confederation of Nations and they were the ones assigned to find out whom. Oh what an adventure tomorrow would bring and they couldn’t wait.

They said their goodbyes to classmates, professors and training officers alike and one by one left the chilly balcony. Kaz walked Kara back to her dormitory. “Are you ready for tomorrow?” she asked, fixing the collar of his uniform.  “I hope so. But I can’t help but feel a little nervous,” he replied. “Don’t worry, you’ll be fantastic, we all think so,” she said. And with that she gave him a kiss. Now it certainly wasn’t the first time they’ve kissed, but it was particularly nice tonight because it seemingly alleviated whatever jitters Kaz was feeling about tomorrow’s mission.

“Good night Ms. Ravenstorm,” he said as he stroked her cheek. “Good night Mr. Silverwynd,” she said with a smile. And with that Kaz was off to his dormitory to receive a much welcomed rest. It had been a long day and he knew tomorrow would be filled with many uncertainties as he began his charge as a Knight of Galaria.

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Filed under First Chapter Reveals

Read-a-Chapter: The Sons of Jude by Brandt Dodson

read a chapterRead a Chapter is *NEW* added feature at As the Pages Turn! Here you’ll be able to read the first chapters of books of all genres to see if you like them before you buy them. Today we are featuring the crime thriller, The Sons of Jude, by Brandt Dodson. Enjoy!

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Purchase from Amazon

When Chicago detectives Frank Campello and Andy Polanski are assigned to investigate the murder of Trina Martinez it seems like an ordinary homicide. An unfortunate young girl in the wrong place at the wrong time has been brutally murdered. But their investigation is halted by a wall of silence, a wall erected by powerful interests that will render their inquiry a lost cause.

Then they enlist the support of reporter Christy Lee – and come under immediate fire. Polanski is arrested. Campello threatened. Christy is attacked.

It’s the case that every cop gets. The one that changes his life. The one where justice is elusive and the hunter becomes the hunted.

Frank Campello and Andy Polanski are The Sons of Jude.

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Chapter One

Chicago Police Department

District 28 Headquarters

Monday, 11:00 a.m.

Detective Frank Campello stood in the doorway of the 28th district’s second floor squad room.  It was his first day back since the shooting, and everything looked the same.  Gun-metal gray desks stood nose to nose, the walls were still covered in nauseating beige, and the sound of hushed conversations filled the room, punctuated only by the occasional ring of a phone or the squeak of a chair. Everything was the same – except for Rand’s riderless desk.

Campello passed his late partner’s work station and slid out of his black leather jacket, draping it over the back of the chair.  A swarthy looking man of stocky build with close-cropped black hair and deeply-set brown eyes,  Campello preferred casual clothing to the department’s more generally accepted business attire.  On this day, he wore a black long-sleeved shirt that clung to his muscular frame, brown slacks and cordovan loafers.  A Sig-Sauer nine millimeter pistol rode on his right hip.

Taking his CPD mug to the coffee maker at the rear of the room, he met Detective Angelo Silvio.

“Welcome back, Frank.”  Silvio was stirring non-dairy creamer into his coffee. “I’m sorry about Rand.  He was a good cop.”  He tossed the stir stick into the receptacle and lifted the cup to his lips, pausing to blow before drinking.

“Thanks Angie.”  Campello filled his mug and returned the carafe to its nook.  “It’s hard to believe he’s gone.”

Silvio sat on the edge of the table that held the coffee maker.  “Things like this are always hard to believe.  How can a man like that, so full of life, be here one day and gone the next?”  He shook his head.  “It doesn’t make sense, Frank.  It just doesn’t make sense.”

“I’m sorry about Rand,” said Shelly Tertwiller as she approached. “I know you two were close.”  Tertwiller, a recent transferee to the 28th, was a detective with just two years less time on the department than Campello’s twenty.  Her coffee-colored eyes studied him from beneath a furrowed brow.  “You ok?”

“I’m ok.”

“I know everyone says this, but if there’s anything you need …”

“I appreciate it.”

“For what it’s worth, the buzz around here says you’ll come out fine on the other thing.” She was referring to his hearing before the IPRA, the all-civilian review board that replaced the previous Office of Professional Standards.  Campello’s killing of the suspect who killed Adams had automatically guaranteed him a review by the board.  All police-action shootings, regardless of their merit, went before the IPRA.

“I’ve already been exonerated, Shelly,” Campello said.

“Last week, wasn’t it?” Silvio asked.  “Where’ve you been Tertwiller?”

She gave her partner a hard look.  “Who’s talking to you, dummy?” She patted Campello’s hand. “That’s good to hear, Frank.  We’re all here for you.  You don’t stand alone.”

“I know.”

“We’re family.  When one of us goes down, we all go down.  It’s always been that way and it always will be.”  She held out her fist and he bumped it with his. “By the way, how’s your dad doing?”

“As good as can be expected.  He’s more forgetful, but he seems to like Marimar and they treat him well.”

“You see him?”

“I do.  Going this evening, in fact.”

She smiled.  “Good. Again, let me know if you need anything.”

“I will.  Thank you.”

“I mean it,” she said, turning toward him even as she was walking away.  “You need help with your case load … paperwork … whatever.  Bill and I have your back.”

Bill was her husband and a detective with the 31st.

“Got it.  Thanks Shelly.”

“Well,” Silvio said, “got to get to work.”  He held his hand out to Campello who shook it.   “We’re going to Jeep’s tonight.  You’re coming, right?”

“Absolutely.”

Silvio smiled and slapped him on the back.  “Excellent.  Five o’clock.  First round’s on you.”

Campello grinned and reluctantly went to his desk to begin his first day without Rand; his first day without his partner and friend.

He dropped himself into his chair and undid his tie.  His desk, like the others in the room, was nose to nose with his partner’s, an arrangement that facilitated communication.  Across the great divide, Campello could see Rand, sitting with his feet up and a smirk on his face.   Hey buddy, how ’bout them cubs, huh?

Campello reached across the desk tops and took Rand’s mug in hand.  The Cubs emblem was nearly worn off and the white ceramic cup was chipped and stained from years of coffee abuse.

He rolled the cup in his hands before putting it in the left hand drawer of his desk along with his pistol.

Campello stabbed the computer power button with his forefinger, brooding on old memories until the machine booted up and the CPD emblem emblazoned on the screen.  Then he opened a window to Adam’s case load; it was significant – weighty, even – and there was little doubt the district commander would re-assign some of them.  But Campello wanted to review them so he could have a say in which ones stayed with him and which went elsewhere.  The list represented a lot of effort and team work – and he did not relish the idea of losing control after all the time they had put into them.

He scrolled down the list and began by first making note of the ones that were set to go to trial.  He ran his finger down the screen as he copied the case numbers in a spiral-bound steno’s notebook, silently mouthing them to himself.  His hand stopped halfway down the list at an unfamiliar file number.  It matched no known classification, suggesting it was a dummy, something Rand had likely been working off the books, anticipating an upgrade to official status in the future.

Campello made a note of it and then circled it.  He would research it later.

“You got a minute Frank?”  He looked up to see Julio Lopez, the district commander.

“I was just going over some of Frank’s cases.”

“You can do that later.”  He pointed his chin toward his office.  “Come on back.”

Campello slid the notebook in a drawer of his desk and snatched his CPD mug.  He paused at the coffee maker to top off the cup.

“Close the door, will you?”  The boss said, settling in the chair behind his desk.

Campello pushed it closed and sat across from Lopez.  The office was Plexiglas on three sides, floor to ceiling, and both men felt their meeting being covertly watched by the entire crew.

“You doing okay?”

“Yeah.  I’m fine.”

Lopez gave him a distinct non-believing look.

“I’m fine, Julio.”

“You have more time coming, Frank.  Take it if you need it.”

He shook his head.

Lopez’s eyes searched him, studied him, before accepting his statement on face value.  “Okay.  I guess you are.”

“Anything new on the shooting?” Campello asked.

“You mean, is there any new information?”

“Yep.”

“No.”  He focused his gaze on Campello. “The IPRA cleared you.  Don’t worry about it.  You did the only thing you could.”

“I wish I’d fired sooner.”

“Don’t.  Rand’s time was up.  There was nothing you could’ve done.  We all know the risk when we pin on the star.”

“Maybe.  But that doesn’t help much.”

Lopez sighed.  “No, I guess not.  But it’s true.  You’ve got two choices, Frank.  You can blame yourself for this, or you can see it for what it is and get on with your life.”

“That’s what I’m trying to do.  That’s why I’m back.”

“Let it go.  Move on.”

“I have to move on, Julio.  I have no life beyond the job.  I have nothing else.  The department is my family. The fact is I don’t belong anywhere else.  There’s no one at home so I’ve got no reason to stay there.”  He lifted the mug again, and then paused to grin over the top of it.  “God knows I haven’t done so well in the marriage department.”

“Yeah, well, me either.”

Campello lowered the mug and set it on the edge of the commander’s desk.  “Four times for me.”

Lopez winced.  “Ouch.  Okay.  You win that one.”

Campello crossed his legs.  “You didn’t call me in here to chit-chat.”

“No.”  He folded his hands, resting them on the desk.

“What, Julio?  Just say it.”

“We’ve got a transfer coming in.”

“Who?”

“It wasn’t my idea.  It was arranged before Rand took a hit.  But with his passing, I thought you’d be the right guy for –”

“Who?”

Lopez sat back in his chair and ran a hand through his hair. “It’s Polanski.”

The flush of anger was immediate and Campello fought to control himself.  “Polanski?”

“The brass wants him transferred.  Since his allegations about the other shooting, the one in the thirty-first, he’s become too hot for them and a danger to himself.  The rioting there has escalated and they want him out of the district before he brings them any additional unwanted attention.”

“I don’t blame them.”

“I want him to work with you.  At least until I can figure out what to do with him.”

“No.”

The commander crossed his arms, his expression growing mulish.  “I need for you to keep an eye on him, Frank.”

“No, Julio.”

The commander nodded toward the squad room.  “Those people out there respect you.  You’ve got a lot of time and a good record with the department.  There isn’t an officer in that room that wouldn’t walk into hell with you.  I need someone who commands that kind of respect to keep an eye on Polanski.  So far, we don’t have the rioting and unrest going on here that is occurring in the thirty-first.  Your killing of the suspect who gunned down Rand is justified in the mind of the public.  But if Polanski stirs up the same concerns here that he did in the thirty-first, we’ll see the same kind of trouble.  The brass doesn’t want that and neither do I.  I don’t think you do either.”

“I don’t want to work with him, Julio.”

Lopez sighed.  “It isn’t up to you, Frank.  For what it’s worth, it’s not up to me either.”

“What do you mean?  You’re the commander.”  His voice was rising.

“I mean I have bosses too, and they want him here and you’re open right now.  I can’t let him work alone.  I don’t trust him.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.  You’re replacing Rand with Polanski?”

Lopez glanced toward the squad room and then leaned forward in his chair.  “I’m not replacing Rand with anyone.”  His gaze locked on Campello, his tone quietly emphatic.  “Stuff happens.  Rand’s gone and I have a new man who happens to be Polanski.  So you’re going to work with him, and you’re going to do it now, or you can take more time off and then work with him when you come back.”

“Work with a turncoat?  Are you serious?”

Lopez spread his hands.

Campello stared at him in disbelief.  “When does this happen?”

Julio slid a note across the desk.  “We just got a call.  There’s a body at Navy Pier.”

“What?  Now?  I haven’t even had time to clear the case load and …”

But he no longer had Julio’s attention.  The commander was staring into the squad room at an immaculately dressed man standing just outside the office door.

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Read-a-Chapter: French Illusions by Linda Kovic-Skow

Read a Chapter is *NEW* added feature at As the Pages Turn! Here you’ll be able to read the first chapters of books of all genres to see if you like them before you buy them. Today we are featuring the memoir, French Illusions by Linda Kovic-Skow. Enjoy!

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French Illusions

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Dog Ear Publishing (October 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1457514575
  • ISBN-13: 978-1457514579

In the summer of 1979, twenty-one-year-old Linda Kovic contracts to become an au pair for an wealthy French family in the Loire Valley. To secure the position, she pretends to speak the language, fully aware her deception will be discovered once she arrives at her destination. Based on the author’s diary, French Illusions captures Linda’s fascinating and often challenging real-life story inside and outside the Château de Montclair. The over-bearing, Madame Dubois, her accommodating husband, Monsieur Dubois, and their two children are highlighted as Linda struggles to adapt to her new environment. Continually battling the language barrier, she signs up and attends classes at the local university in the nearby town of Tours, broadening her range of experiences. When she encounters, Adam, a handsome young student, her life with the Dubois family becomes more complicated, adding fuel to her internal battle for independence.

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Chapter One

The Dubois Family

 

1

 

Je suis américaine. Je ne parle pas français.”

It took equal parts sign language, broken English and even more broken French before I understood the train attendant in Paris. Two more transfers? You’ve got to be kidding, I thought.

Cursing my high-heeled shoes, I dragged my luggage down endless platforms before boarding my final train. An hour later, just as the sun set across the Loire River, we pulled into Songais. Only three other people disembarked and went off their separate ways, hastening around me as I wrestled my suitcases into the station.

Filled with both apprehension and excitement, I surveyed the room, looking for Madame Dubois, but no one there fit her description. Wandering over to one of the tall arched windows, I pressed my face against the pane, peering left and right.

The Songais train station sat along a narrow cobbled street, lined with one white stone building after another, each attached to its neighbor. The structures varied in height, either two or three stories, their rooftops gabled, some with severe peaks. A few buildings presented Juliette balconies trimmed in black wrought iron, their built-in flower boxes filled with raspberry-red geraniums. Seeing no cars or people in either direction, I refocused my attention inside the building.

As I waited, a million thoughts jumbled through my head. How would Madame Dubois react when she discovered my lie? What would I do if she refused to let me stay? Was there a train back to Paris tonight? Even if I could persuade her to let me stay, what about her husband?

The longer I waited, the more agitated I became, starting whenever I heard the slightest sound. A woman entered the station, her heels tapping a steady beat on the linoleum floor. When I saw she carried a suitcase, my heartbeat moderated.

“Avez-vous du feu?” My body jerked as a handsome young man leaned toward me.

Fumbling through my reference guide, I found the word feu, which meant fire, and tried to make sense of his question. Convinced this was a come-on, I glared at him and refused to answer. His shoulders slumped and he shook his head as he walked away. A few minutes later, it occurred to me he merely wanted a light for his cigarette, but by then he had vanished.

“Bonsoir, Mademoiselle Kovic.”

I spun around and saw a tall, statuesque woman, far advanced in her pregnancy, walking toward me. A burst of adrenaline discharged in my brain. With each step, her dark blue wool coat opened, exposing a large belly. Stopping in front of me, her lips forming a thin smile, she extended her hand in one swift motion.

“Bonsoir, Madame Dubois.” My voice quivered as I clasped her palm against mine.  “Good evening” was one phrase I managed to learn, but what to say next? “Parlez-vous anglais?”

Madame Dubois frowned and tilted her head sideways. “Yes, I speak English fluently, but you speak French, correct?”

“The truth is, I speak only a few phrases.” Inhaling deeply, I continued. “I realize this must come as a shock, but I hope you’ll let me explain before you make a decision whether or not to let me stay.”

Her eyes hardened, the color drained from her face. Seconds ticked away as I swallowed firmly against the bile rising in my throat.

Finally, she spoke. “Clearly, I am stunned by this turn of events, but you are here now. As you can see, I do need an au pair very soon. We will discuss the situation with my husband and decide what to do then.”

She motioned with her hand for me to follow her and moved toward the exit. I felt so relieved by her words, it took me a moment to react and pick up my bags.

With her nose raised higher than necessary, Madame Dubois led us around the few remaining passengers and out the door to her Peugeot.

“Put your things back here,” she said, opening the trunk with her keys.

I shoved my bags inside with a grunt, slid into the front seat and Madame pulled out of the train station’s side parking lot. As she maneuvered the car through the town’s slender streets, I studied my new patron. She appeared to be in her early thirties. Her thick blonde hair was pulled back from her face into a low ponytail, emphasizing her prominent nose. Unadorned by makeup or lipstick, no one would have called her pretty, but her alabaster skin glowed flawlessly, and her reserved demeanor suggested self-assurance in her social standing.

Hoping to ease the tension, I ventured, “Is it far to your home?”

“No, we live only a short distance from town.”

“How convenient,” I said, twisting to gaze out the window, marveling at an ancient stone church and then catching a glimpse of a grand, elegant chateau rising above the town, its multi-towered turrets extending skyward.

“Have you lived here long?”

“I grew up in Songais and so did my mother before me.” Madame Dubois’s voice sounded cool and aloof. “I would not consider living anywhere else.”

Her chilly reception increased my anxiety. I shifted my position, trying to relax my clenched teeth. At least she didn’t put me back on the train immediately. Somehow I would have to persuade her and her husband to give me another chance and let me stay on as their au pair.

 

Five minutes later, Madame pulled the car off the main highway onto a private road marked with an ornate metal gate. We progressed slowly along a gravel driveway through a forest so dense it formed a tunnel in front of us. As Madame rounded a bend in the road, I caught my first glimpse of the Château de Monclair on the hillside.

Built in the mid-1800s, it stood three stories high, topped by tall gables decorated with medallions and leaf designs. Elegant dormer windows on two sides protruded from the roof. Red bricks dominated the building, but cream-colored stones framed all eight of the massive paned windows, four on the first level and four on the second. An intricate stone railing encircled the court off the first floor, and the area below opened up to a massive expanse of grass lawn. We pulled up to the front entrance and I glanced at Madame Dubois, my mouth agape. “It’s unbelievable.”

She smiled and dipped her forehead, a regal motion like a queen to a servant.

The interior of the Château de Montclair proved equally impressive. The ten-thousand-square-foot structure housed eight bedrooms, five bathrooms, a library, and various formal and casual rooms. Moving around the interior, our heels clicked on the gleaming marble floors, the sound resonating upward from the foyer, emphasizing the soaring grandeur of the building.

Twelve-foot ceilings, six-foot tall mahogany wainscoting and intricate built-in dark wood cabinetry highlighted the superior artisanship of the 19th century. Period furniture and ancestral art, placed to perfection, made me feel I was touring a museum rather than a home. In almost every room, elaborate colorful flower arrangements welcomed us. The bouquets looked freshly picked—possibly from a garden somewhere on the grounds.

Several times Madame Dubois hastened me along, her fingers gripping my elbow when I stopped to gawk at a sculpture or a painting. “Come this way and I’ll show you the upper floors of the chateau.”

We climbed the stairs to the second landing and strolled down the hallway, Madame pointing toward closed doors as we passed by. “These are the children’s rooms, but they are already in bed.”

My eyebrows lifted in surprise when she said this. Leaving the children alone to fetch me from the station seemed irresponsible, but then again, it was only a five-minute drive.

When we reached the master bedroom, Madame grasped both handles on the double doors and opened them with a flourish. A large, exquisitely carved mahogany bed dominated the room, complemented on either side by matching nightstands. On the opposite wall, a mirrored dressing table accommodated several perfume bottles with crystal stoppers. Beside the six-foot tall window, a dozen burgundy-red roses sat on their own stand, and two graceful armchairs took their places nearby. The royal and light blue silk bedspread and elegant floor length blue-patterned drapes finished the room.

Standing still, drinking in the scene before me, I obeyed with reluctance when Madame Dubois waved me toward the exit.

Continuing up the stairs to the third floor, we entered the first bedroom on the left, one of four on this floor.

“This room is reserved for my au pairs,” Madame Dubois said, prompting a wide-eyed double take from me.

The diminutive room contained a graceful barrel-arched dormer window with two built-in wardrobes on either side. Below the window, a compact desk invited au pairs to sit and write while enjoying the view of the valley below. A small, narrow bed rested against the opposite wall, and a comfortable stuffed chair filled the corner. The adjacent room contained a small sink, but nothing else.

“It’s lovely, but where is the bathroom?”

“Down the hall,” she replied, pointing with her forefinger. “I suppose all of this is quite different from your home in the United States?”

“That’s for sure. I never imagined I would live in a place like this.”

Madame Dubois crossed her arms under her chest. “We will see . . .  My husband and I will listen to your explanation first.”

Descending the stairs, I contrasted my own home with the Château de Montclair. Raised in a humble family with very few extravagances, my reference for this kind of wealth came from television and the movies. My parents shopped at second-hand stores and discount grocers, always settling for the less expensive choice in order to save a dime or two. Over time, they saved and accumulated money, acquiring several low-income rental properties. Influenced by hardships during the Great Depression and World War II and always looking toward the future, they remained hesitant to spend money on anything deemed “unnecessary.”

For the last three years, I lived in one of their apartments while I worked and attended college. Although I appreciated the discounted rent, I dreamt of one day moving into a chic residence in a more sophisticated part of town.

Madame’s voice brought me back to the present. “I’ll pour us some lemonade, and we can wait for Armand in the salon.”

Holding my drink, I followed her into the room, and we sat in two armless chairs near the fireplace. A few minutes later, Monsieur Dubois, debonair in an expensive business suit and tie, sauntered into the room.

Broad-chested and of average height, his brown eyes and olive skin augmented his good looks and suggested a Mediterranean influence. He glanced my way, but before acknowledging my presence, he greeted his wife. Strands of dark wavy hair fell forward as he kissed her on the cheek.

He then turned to me. “Bonsoir, Mademoiselle Kovic.”

The bile revisited my throat. I pushed it down.

Armand, Mademoiselle Kovic ne parle pas français,” she told him. Miss Kovic doesn’t speak French.

Monsieur Dubois scowled and wasted no time dissecting the matter. “I do not understand. The agency assured us that you spoke French. Who wrote the letters for you? Why would you take such a chance?”

“I know it was foolish of me and I’m sorry.” Swallowing back tears, I tried in earnest to explain how and why I had deceived them, my voice cracking on several occasions.

After I finished, neither of them spoke, their cold blank stares daunting. At last Madame Dubois broke the silence. “This is your explanation?”

She didn’t understand how much I wanted the flight attendant position with World Airways. I’ve never wanted anything so much in all my life, I thought.

Desperate now, I leaned forward and offered some final heartfelt words. “You have every right to be angry with me, but I really am a good person. I promise to work very hard as your au pair, and I’ll practice my French daily if you’ll only agree to let me stay.”

A look passed between Madame and Monsieur Dubois, and then he rose from his seat. “We will need a few minutes alone to discuss the matter. Would you mind waiting in the foyer?”

“No, of course not.”

I exited the room, doubt swirling inside my brain. Did I convince them? I wasn’t sure.

While I waited, I chewed my bottom lip, pacing back and forth, my hands clasped behind my back. When Monsieur called me back into the room, my lungs froze in my chest.

“Madame and I have decided to let you stay. As you can see, we have very little choice with the baby coming so soon. We hope this deception is the last we will experience while you are here.”

A long lingering breath escaped from my mouth. “Thank you so much.”

Monsieur Dubois offered me a tenuous smile and his voice softened. “I am sure you are exhausted. Why don’t you go up to bed? Everything will look brighter in the morning after a good night’s rest.”

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE | ITUNES

Reprinted with permission from French Illusions by Linda Kovic-Skow. © 2012 by Dog Ear Publishing

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Read-A-Chapter: Paranormal Suspense Thriller ‘Cocaine Zombies’ by Scott A. Lerner

Read a Chapter is *NEW* added feature at As the Pages Turn! Here you’ll be able to read the first chapters of books of all genres to see if you like them before you buy them. Today we are featuring the paranormal suspense thriller, Cocaine Zombies, by Scott A. Lerner. Enjoy!

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  • Paperback: 206 pages
  • Publisher: Camel Press (November 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1603819037
  • ISBN-13: 978-1603819039

Samuel Roberts, a small-town lawyer in Urbana, Illinois, is contacted by a prospective client accused of selling cocaine. Nothing Sam hasn’t handled before. Or is it? Thomas is accompanied by a mysterious and exotic beauty named Chloe. Who is she, why is she paying for Thomas’s defense, and why is the accused so antsy around her?

Soon after Sam takes on the case he is plagued by terrible nightmares. Only, in these nightmares, when he dreams of death, people die. Realizing that he is out of his depth, Sam enlists the help of his friend, Bob Sizemore. Bob is oddly insightful about the supernatural and deeply suspicious of big business and the government. Sam and Bob soon discover that a major German pharmaceutical company has been using human guinea pigs to test a highly addictive and dangerous derivative of cocaine first developed in Nazi Germany. Combined with ancient herbs provided by a Voodoo priest, the substance has become increasingly addictive and dangerous.

After Thomas’s head shows up in Sam’s refrigerator, suspicion naturally falls on him. Now he has no choice but to face the forces of evil head on. But how do a small-town lawyer and a computer geek defeat an enemy with the power to enslave mankind?

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Chapter One

I’ve been a lawyer for about ten years. In that time I have always worked for someone else; first for a small law firm and then for the public defender. For the first time in my career, I had opened my own office. The office itself is nothing special, a ten-by-ten foot room on the top floor of a six-story white mason block building. It has about the same dimensions as the jail cells I try to keep my clients out of. The building was originally designed to house apartments, but the architect did not put in enough closets. So the owner was trying to attract anyone who would bite. The result is that some floors contained offices, and others, apartments.

After I moved in I gave the walls a fresh coat of white paint. Actually, eggshellwas written on the can, but it looked white to me. I bought two file cabinets, three chairs, and a wooden bench at a used office supply store. I arranged the office so that the one comfortable chair sat behind the large desk and the two armchairs faced it. The desk is the only nice piece of office furniture I own. It is mission style and made of smoked oak, built around the turn of the century. My father, who gave it to me, claimed it was made by Stickley, but I doubt it. I have a laptop computer and a printer on my desk and pay enough money to get all the research tools I need online.

I also have a secretary named Susan who comes in a couple hours on the weekends to help with typing and filing.

Looking around, I realized I had everything I needed to practice law—other than clients, of course.

As if in answer to my thoughts, the phone rang. “Law Office,” I responded in a too cheerful voice.

“Is Samuel Roberts there?”

“This is he,” I said, grateful it wasn’t a call for Domino’s Pizza. They had a phone number similar to mine and despite just opening the office I had already received a number of calls for pepperoni and extra cheese.

“I was told you do criminal work.”

“Sure, what can I do for you?” I asked.

“It’s not for me but for my friend. Can we make an appointment?”

“Sure,” I said, pretending to be looking at something other than a completely empty calendar. “How about Friday at nine a.m.?”

“Could we get in today, by any chance?”

“All right, how about four?”

“Thanks.”

The caller sounded like she had money but it might have been wishful thinking. In the world of criminal law, most potential clients don’t have money. It is always a mistake to allow clients to pay over time in a criminal case. If you lose, your clients will have to pay fines and costs, and your bill isn’t a priority. If your clients go to jail, they’re out of work and have no way of paying. Also, clients who go to jail tend not to care about their lawyers being paid. If you win, clients don’t need you anymore and so won’t feel the need to pay you.

I played Halo on the computer until four p.m., when there was a knock on the door. “Come in,” I said.

In came an African-American man with a shaved head. He was six foot two and couldn’t have weighed less than  three hundred pounds. He had a four-inch scar above his right eye. With him was the woman I must have spoken with over the phone. She was probably five foot six and had long, straight black hair and bright green eyes. She looked tiny compared with her friend, but there was no doubt who was in charge. She was wearing a green dress in a snake-skin pattern. It was so tight I was concerned that it would rip when she sat down. Her perfume filled the room, replacing the smell of my fresh paint with a scent both sweet and hot, like a mix of honey with Tabasco sauce.

The woman wore a gold necklace with a strange pendant strategically placed so as to draw the maximum attention to her large breasts. The pendant was a gold chicken’s foot squeezing a very large, pink, heart-shaped diamond. If the diamond was real, money was not an issue. Her gold men’s tank-style Patek Philippe watch probably dated back to the 1940’s. This woman could more than afford my rates. Her friend, however, was wearing torn blue jeans and a white muscle shirt. She might be able to pay, but my guess was he couldn’t. I sure hoped she liked this guy.

The woman spoke first. I couldn’t place her accent. “My name is Chloe,” she said, extending a hand, which I shook. “My friend is Thomas. Thomas is charged with selling cocaine. He didn’t do it. He needs a lawyer to get him off. Can you do that?”

“I can give him good representation. If you want a fortune-teller, I’m afraid I can’t help you.” I immediately regretted the sarcasm, but she ignored it.

“He is being charged with a Class X felony. With his record he could be in the Department of Corrections for the rest of his life.”

A class X felony subjects a defendant to a term in the penitentiary from six to thirty years. In addition, if convicted, the defendant would serve eighty-five percent of the imprisonment rather than fifty percent for most crimes. There is a possibility of an even lengthier sentence, depending on other factors such as the defendant’s record.

“Why don’t you sit down and tell me what is going on,” I said, looking directly at Thomas. Chloe began to speak. “Chloe,” I interrupted, “what Thomas and I speak about is privileged. The attorney client privilege assures our conversations can’t be used in court against him. If you are present, it would be considered a waiver of that privilege and you could be subpoenaed to testify about our conversation. Would you mind waiting outside?”

What I said was legally correct but I doubted that the State would know to subpoena her. I was really just trying to get rid of her and I think she knew it. She left without another word.

Thomas seemed more at ease the minute she left. I entered his address and phone number in my computer. From his slight accent, I guessed he must have spent time in the Caribbean. He had a tattoo depicting two snakes intertwining around a cross on his left upper arm that reminded me of the symbol doctors use—the caduceus. Although the symbol used in the medical profession has only one snake, not two.

“I have sold crack in the past,” he said, “but just to get money or drugs for my own use. I spent some time in the Illinois Department of Corrections and don’t want to go back.” I nodded. “While in the joint, I found Jesus and accepted him as my Savior.”

Of course, I thought, everyone finds Jesus when they have all day to look. From my experience more people find religion at the Stateville Correctional Facility in Joliet then Jerusalem, Mecca, and Mississippi combined.

He continued, “I have a ten-year-old daughter, and I don’t want to miss being a part of her life. That’s why I wouldn’t risk selling drugs and going to prison. Since I got out I have been completely clean.”

“Are you still on parole?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he responded.

That was odd. I wondered why they would let him out on bond and not issue a parole hold.

“What does the government claim you did?”

“Sold coke, but I swear I didn’t. Why would I?” he whined.

For money or drugs, I thought, why does anyone sell drugs?

“What is your last name and date of birth?”

“Traver, October 30, 1964.”

I did a quick computer search of the circuit clerk’s website to find Mr. Traver had five prior drug convictions, including two class one felonies. He had three prior convictions in the last ten years. Each of those convictions was after the birth of his daughter. The fact that he was out of jail was shocking. It looked as if he had posted a $50,000 bond. That was a lot of money for the man in front of me to come up with—a lot of money for anyone to come up with.

I was good at judging who was trying to deceive me. You learn quickly in the Public Defender’s Office. Despite all this crap about finding religion and his daughter, I believed Mr. Traver. Something about his demeanor made me trust him.

“Why would the police lie about you?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said, “a lot of the cops in this area hate me. They can’t get over my past. Who knows? Maybe I just look like someone else.”

“If you want me to get involved, I will need a retainer of five thousand dollars,” I said.

He looked shocked. I knew it was more than he could pay, but I had an office to run. And if he could pay to bond out, he could certainly pay me.

“Can I talk to Chloe?”

“Sure.”

He left the room and Chloe came back in with a wad of cash in her hand. I guessed it was $5,000. She handed me the money and I took it.

As I walked them to the door, I told them that I would file an entry of appearance and a demand for discovery. “When I get the police reports, I’ll let you know,” I said. I waited until they left to count the fifty hundred-dollar bills.

My mind wandered as I speculated where Chloe kept the roll of money in that tight dress. I didn’t remember her carrying a purse. The money reeked of her scent.

Reprinted from Cocaine Zombies by Scott A. Lerner. © 2012 by Camel Press.

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Read a Chapter: Erotica Fiction ‘Fem Dom’ by Tony Cane-Honeysett

Read a Chapter is *NEW* added feature at As the Pages Turn! Here you’ll be able to read the first chapters of books of all genres to see if you like them before you buy them. Today we are featuring the erotica fiction, Fem Dom,by Tony Cane-Honeysett. Enjoy!

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  • Paperback: 252 pages
  • Publisher: Chardonnay Press (August 15, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 098584762X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0985847623

When faithful wife Tara Drew suspects her advertising executive husband is seeing a Dominatrix, she sets out to trap him in the act. She pays the Dominatrix to teach her how to please men by dominating them and inflicting pain. But her plan to snare her husband has very bizarre consequences. Way out of her comfort zone as an undercover Fem Dom, Tara discovers a kinky world that both intrigues and disgusts her. But now she is the one with a secret life that she doesn’t want her husband to find out about. A sexually fueled, fast-paced story about women who want to control men.

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CHAPTER 1

It was 10.00 a.m. and the hell months were over. The bitter, biting, bastard of winter had faded into a brief spring and now the very welcome beginnings of summer. The sleepy, upscale suburb of Eden Prairie was as pretty as it sounded. And so was one of its imported residents, 34 year-old Tara Drew.

Tara didn’t have a job. Not a real paying job anyway. She didn’t need to work as Clem’s fat monthly paycheck more than provided for the two of them. But she wanted to do something to make herself feel useful instead of merely cleaning house and waiting for Clem to come home to a hot meal every night. To alleviate the boredom of her Groundhog Day existence, Tara played Good Samaritan, feeding those less fortunate than herself, because if there was one thing Tara could do well, it was bake. The lucky recipient of her culinary prowess was the Saint Augustine’s homeless shelter in Bloomington and her twice-weekly deliveries there gave her a sense of purpose.

“Very nice,” Tara said softly to no one in particular as she pulled a tray of piping hot banana and walnut muffins out of the oven. While they cooled, Tara finished wiping down the dark granite countertops in her perfectly color-coordinated designer kitchen. The brushed chrome Viking stove and matching cooktop beautifully complimented the vast Sub Zero refrigerator, which seemed to take up half a wall. Sure, she was house proud and why not? It was a house worthy of pride. What’s more, keeping six thousand square.

feet of real estate tidy and clean kept her busy. This was Tara’s world but she was going quietly crazy.

Downtown, the imposing glass façade of the Kemp building on Nicollet Avenue housed the opulent offices of the Bergenson & Adler Advertising Agency located on the forty-second, forty-third and forty-fourth floors.

Clem Drew swiveled around in his Herman Miller Aeron chair, kicked up both feet on the glass-topped desk and cupped his hands behind his head. Staring out of the floor-to-ceiling windows at the other faceless steel and glass monoliths, Clem was feeling very content about his life right now and he had good reason. The phone on his desk rang. Clem leaned back and grabbed it.

“This is Clem.”

“You lucky bastard!”

“Mike?”

“Damn! How’d you pull that off?”

“What can I say?” Clem smiled, smugly.

“Let’s go start our own agency. Bring that account with you.”

“Very funny. Go into business with an old hack like you?”

“Fuck you. Hey, let’s grab lunch this week.”

“Love to.”

Somewhere else in the Kemp building, a man wearing headphones listened.

Clem hung up and chuckled then resumed his view. The downtown skyline could’ve been any big city in North America. But it wasn’t anywhere: it was Minneapolis, slap bang in the heartland. Yes, the land of ten thousand lakes and more Fortune 500 companies per capita than New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Handsome Clem Drew was senior VP and executive account director at Bergenson & Adler, the highest grossing advertising agency in the mid-west. He was forty-three years old with over twenty years experience in the ad biz and nearing the pinnacle of his profession.

Clem’s sky-high office was modern and minimal. With its clean white lines, it could be said there was a touch of that German zeitgeist about it, though the only thing Clem had in common with Germany was his company-paid silver Mercedes S600. The week had been particularly rewarding for the hard working ad man. Thanks to his marketing savvy and strategic planning ability, Clem’s team of creatives and account managers had landed a whopping account  – the $200 million Rebakor business. The sports clothing and running shoe manufacturer was a global brand and this was a huge win for Clem’s agency. And there it was in print on the cover of the trade magazine Advertising Age  – ‘Bergenson Runs Off With Rebakor Account.’ 

They had indeed and Clem Drew was quoted throughout the article. It was a serious chunk of change for the company coffers but also terrific PR for the agency and for Clem. The kudos belonged to him. His agency had beaten out some tough competition from BBDO in San Francisco, Saatchi’s in New York and Chiat Day in Los Angeles. Those agencies were heavy hitters but Clem’s pitch for the Minneapolis agency had hit it out of the ballpark.

He was now clearly the heir-apparent to succeed the old man; ageing advertising supremo and CEO, Frank Bergenson. Frank was about to retire and he had yet to choose his successor. This win had put Clem in pole position ahead of the only man who could pip him at the post, Kurt Fitzgerald.

“Congratulations, Clem! You sonofamofo!” Earl Chambliss bellowed, as he walked into Clem’s office. Earl was CFO and handled all the contracts. “They’ve signed all the paperwork. We are now officially the agency of record.” Clem winked as Earl shook his hand.

“Thanks, Earl.”

“Frank is pissing his pants he’s so happy. What a way for him to go out, huh? Biggest fish he’s ever landed. You’re gonna enjoy that big office of his upstairs.” Earl chuckled loudly as he wandered off down the corridor.

Clem Drew looked the personification of the successful business executive in his bespoke suits from Barney’s, crisp white Brooks Brothers shirts and snappy silk ties. Look sharp. Think sharp. That was the Drew philosophy.

“Justine? Who’s next?” Clem spoke into his desk intercom.

“Internal with media buyers. One o’clock,” a young female voice replied through the speakerphone.

“Can you move them to noon? I have a two o’clock pre-pro downstairs.”

“Sure. But that reporter from the Star Tribune is coming in at eleven to interview you, remember?”

“Reschedule that. Too busy.”

Tara hurried back to her shiny black Lexus SUV still wearing her spandex yoga pants. Clem would be home in two hours and she hadn’t put the lamb chops in the oven yet. She’d collected his three freshly dry-cleaned shirts, bought him some new socks from the Von Maur department store and had even remembered to pick up more of the frozen coconut lollipops she knew he loved from Kowalski’s grocery store. All in a day’s work for the man she loved.

As Tara drove from Bodyworks Fitness back to her home on Dunkirk Crescent, she planned the evening in her head. A nice dinner, accompanied by a 2009 bottle of Robert Mondavi merlot and then maybe a little ‘hootchie-coo’ as she liked to call it. It was yet another attempt to try and rekindle the flame that seemed to have gotten down to the candlewick for her and Clem. He’d been so obsessed over the past four months with winning the Rebakor business that their relationship and, particularly, their sex life had taken a back seat. Tara was putting on a brave face but inside she was not happy and her frustration was starting to show. The more she did to support her husband, it seemed the less he appreciated it. But she understood the pressure Clem had been under and, anyway, it was not in Tara’s nature to mope. So, here she was once again doing her best to make him happy and perhaps he might start to pay her some much-needed attention. They just weren’t communicating they way they used to. Clem was working late most nights and was too exhausted at the weekends to do anything with Tara.

The two had started their relationship in Los Angeles nine years earlier. Tara was just a few years out of UCLA and Clem was working his way up the corporate ladder at Ogilvy & Mather on Wilshire Boulevard. They’d met when Tara had interviewed at the agency to be an account planner. She didn’t land the job but she landed Clem. They were a good match for each other and spent most of their free time outdoors, planning tennis and cycling along the beaches, from Malibu to Redondo.

Nowadays, southern California seemed a lifetime away. Tara had grown up in in the sleepy town of San Luis Obispo, just north of Santa Barbara and south of Big Sur. Those wonderful childhood summers in Morro Bay and Pismo Beach were now but a distant memory. She had good, traditional parents who both worked honest jobs but she remembered how her Dad never lifted a finger when it came to helping her mom around the house. But then he never really needed to. Tara’s mom ran his life for him: cooking, cleaning, and waiting on him hand and foot. Funny thing was, her mom seemed to enjoy it and her dad certainly never complained. It often crossed Tara’s mind that she might be turning into a carbon copy of her mother the way she doted on her father. No, Tara didn’t want to be like that but in truth, she already was.

“Jesus, Clem. Are you allergic to art or something?” Silver-haired CEO Frank Bergenson huffed as he walked into Clem’s stark office and looked around at the bare white walls. Clem swung around in his chair and smiled.

​“Hi, Frank. You never come down to this floor.”

“Now I know why. It’s damn boring. Maybe I could lend you a Vermeer or a Brueghel to liven up this place. I don’t like bland.” Clem smiled at his boss.

“Clear walls keep a clear mind.”

“Don’t bullshit a bullshitter, Clem.”

The Bergenson & Adler CEO carefully lowered himself on the stylish but patently uncomfortable Le Corbusier black leather chaise.

“Crap, this thing’s not butt friendly, is it? Guess this must be a piece of art after all because it certainly isn’t a goddamn chair,” Frank bitched, almost falling off. Clem stifled a laugh as Frank smoothed out his slightly crumpled dark brown suit jacket so it faced front again.

“I assume this rare visit is because you want to thank me for making you even more stinking rich than you are already,” Clem winked as he stood up and walked over towards his boss.

“It is, it is. Thank you, Clem. You did the agency proud.” Frank rolled off the Le Corbusier and stood up. “They just signed off on all the contracts, so now it’s ‘officially’ official. We got the entire business. The whole kit and caboodle — TV, print, all outdoor, radio, cinema, point of sale, even stupid fucking hats if they want them.”

“Yeah, Earl just dropped by to tell me.”

“Good. Because you’re going to run the entire account….” Frank paused. Clem beamed the smile of a man who just be given two free tickets to the Superbowl on the fifty yard line.

“It’s going to be a pleasure, Frank,” Clem butted in exuberantly.

“…with Kurt Fitzgerald,” Frank finished.

Clem’s feeling of elation just got hijacked.

“What? Fitz? Why Fitz? He had absolutely nothing to do with winning the business. Fitz has his accounts, I have mine! That’s how we work, Frank. You know that.”

Frank put a hand on his shoulder. “Clem. You know how much I think of you. But this is a two hundred million dollar account. Even the brilliant Clem Drew can’t handle all that.”

“Try me,” Clem said flatly as he took a step back and retreated back behind his desk.

“Clem. I want you to suck it up and work with Fitz. Put your ego to one side and consider the greater good – the agency.”

Clem felt like he’d just been punched in the gut. He’d toiled for four months on the huge Rebakor presentation. This was his baby. Sure, it had been a team effort but Fitz’s role had been zero. Clem’s team had won them the business. But now it seemed like Frank didn’t have faith in Clem’s ability to handle the day to day running of the account. It was more than just ego on Clem’s part. He didn’t like Fitz and trusted him just about as far as he could throw him.

“Give me two months and I’ll have the entire campaign buttoned down,” Clem said with his usual gung-ho spirit. The Rebakor account would need graphic designers, web designers, copywriters and art directors working on it full-time to produce advertising campaigns from direct mail inserts and radio spots to television commercials and billboards nationwide. A group of IT guys would need to be hired to create a powerful interactive bulletproof website and to get webvertising campaigns rolling out. It certainly was a mammoth task.

“Clem, you’re smart. Very smart. Jesus, I wouldn’t have hired you if I didn’t think that. But I also hired Kurt Fitzgerald and he’s a different kinda smart.” Clem wasn’t buying Frank’s argument. “When I retire next month, you two are just gonna have to learn to work together, so you might as well start now. If you want my job, Clem, you’re going to have to be a leader and a team player. Learn how to manage Fitz and you two will get along fine.”

“Fitz is too impetuous,” Clem muttered as he walked back to his desk.

“And he thinks you’re too conservative,” Frank snapped back as he started to head for the door of Clem’s office.

“Too conservative, my ass!” Clem frowned.

“Look. You have four other accounts to run, Clem. Have you forgotten that? You’ve been so focused on Rebakor for the past four months you’ve been ignoring them. Do you even know the status of those guys?”

“I’m working on the marketing plan for Best Buy and I’ve just briefed creative on Zell Travel. I have a meeting with the Delfry client on Thursday and Arkitrade are coming in for a meeting this afternoon,” Clem said confidently, knowing he was totally up on everything. Frank smiled.

“Okay, okay. I know you can lead, Clem. Show me you can work with people who don’t see eye to eye with you. Put on your Obama hat.”

“I thought you were a Republican,” Clem quipped.

“I am,” Frank said. “And thanks again for all your hard work. The agency really needed that business. See you later.” Frank walked out of Clem’s office and down the corridor towards the elevator and back to the sanctity of his opulent corner office upstairs.

Clem banged his hand down on his desk in annoyance. It was no secret amongst the rank and file that he and Kurt Fitzgerald were rivals, now his boss was expecting the two of them to partner up. This didn’t make any sense. Fitz was not a man to be trusted. Frank Bergenson had deliberately split his agency right down the middle and, in effect, created two ad agencies in one with their own separate accounts. It was a shrewd move on Frank’s part. He knew the competitive nature of the two: Clem and Fitz were like two pit bulls, straining on their corporate leashes to continually out-do each other. And that meant bigger bonuses for the better team. The winner in all this was Frank, of course, as he saw his agency’s billings grow and grow.

Clem was a west coast Pepperdine boy while Fitz was a Madison Avenue hard ass who’d worked his way up the corporate ladder more by Machiavellian shenanigans than any brilliant marketing know-how. That’s how he’d ended up in the mid-west. He’d pissed off enough people in Manhattan to reach his sell-by date earlier than his ego had anticipated. Kurt Fitzgerald was smart but not that smart. He’d gotten headhunted to Bergenson & Adler two years earlier and coming from the big New York shop Doyle Dane Bernbach, he pulled in a great salary package. But he was here for more than the money – it was about the opportunity to run his own shop and get back at the boys on Madison Avenue that’d thwarted his ambitions there. What Fitz didn’t know, or what his ego would never admit to, was that his last boss at DDB had paid a headhunter to find Fitz a job as far away as possible. Minneapolis was in the middle of Bumfuck, Nowhere from a New York perspective and Fitz had taken the bait.

Whether Frank knew that or not, or whether he cared in the slightest, was anybody’s guess. But anytime he got a chance to bring in an employee from either coast, he saw it as an image boost for his mid-west located ad agency. Anyway, one thing was certain, Frank was a wily old fox who knew exactly what he was doing. His agency had quadrupled in size over the past decade and was showing no signs of slowing down even in the struggling economy. The Rebakor win was proof of that. But he was also smart enough to know it was time for him to get out of the business. It was a young man’s game nowadays with the impact of the Internet and web advertising really kicking into gear.

Frank was seventy-four years old and too set in the traditional business model of advertising to embrace these new ways. He didn’t know how to Google, Tweet, send an email or what a URL happened to be. Fact was, he should have retired years ago but the agency was his baby, his life’s work, and he wanted to make sure his legacy was in safe hands. The question was, in whose hands?

As long as he could keep his two generals vying to become his successor, the agency would be fine. Trouble was, what would they do to each other once he was gone? Only one of them could sit on his coveted throne. And while Clem was seemingly the man who would be king in everyone’s eyes, the only eyes that mattered were Frank Bergenson’s.

The lamb was roasting, the potatoes were simmering and the peas were just coming to the boil. In fifteen minutes, her husband would walk through the door from the garage and dinner would be waiting. It was all about timing, as any half decent cook will tell you and Tara’s timing was right on the button. She glanced up at the kitchen clock. Five minutes to seven.

Clem’s silver Mercedes sped along Shady Oak Road and turned left into Cherry Lane. He was tired. It’d been a long day and he was still very irritated about the whole Fitz thing. It just didn’t feel right. Something was going on and he didn’t like it. Fitz hadn’t put in the graft Clem had. Why should he now be on equal terms with him? Clem wondered. None of it made any sense.

Tara took the sizzling lamp chops out of the oven just as she heard the garage doors open. The island counter was set for two and culinary aromas floated tantalizingly around the kitchen to intoxicate anyone with even the faintest appetite. Clem walked in carrying his laptop in a shoulder bag and talking on his cell phone.

“Yes, Justine, I know but we need the final layouts ready to take to the client tomorrow. And no, I’m not doing a dog and pony show on Skype. No way. There’s never enough damn bandwidth anyway.”

Tara smiled to her husband as he walked through the kitchen towards the stairs. He acknowledged her with a raised eyebrow. She wasn’t going to interrupt what sounded like an important call. Clem continued his phone conversation as he went up to their bedroom. It was obvious her husband was not in the best of moods but a glass of vino would soon fix that, or so Tara thought. She poured the Mondavi.

Moments later, Clem appeared from upstairs, minus jacket and with his tie loosened. Tara handed him a glass of the velvety smooth red nectar. She enjoyed working out and had a lean and toned body to prove it but boy, did she love a glass of wine in the evening.

“It’s your favorite. Lamb chops with all the trimmings!” Tara announced with a proud smile as she placed the lamb chops with rosemary on two warm dinner plates. Clem took a gulp of wine and walked into the living room.

“Maybe later. Sorry, honey. I’m not remotely hungry.”

Tara stared at the two perfectly prepared meals. She’d gone to a lot of trouble once again but this was not the first time this had happened over the past four months. Tara gritted her teeth. She wasn’t going to make a big deal of it. After all, Clem had been under a lot of stress at work and if the guy wasn’t hungry, he wasn’t hungry. Tara walked into the living room and over to Clem who was now slumped on the couch with his feet up, shoes off and TV remote in hand flipping channels. He stared at the changing TV screen without any trace of emotion.

“Honey, you have to eat,” Tara said, hoping he’d magically change his mind and suddenly develop an appetite.

“I’ll heat it up later,” Clem said, not bothering to look away from the television.

“How was work?” Tara asked, sitting down beside him and trying to hide her own frustrations. “You seem very annoyed about something.”

“Same old bullshit.” Clem hit the remote again, in no mood to engage in conversation. Getting Clem’s attention when he was in one of these moods was an exercise in futility so Tara walked back into the kitchen. Clem continued to stare mindlessly at the plasma screen.

“I’ll put both the plates back in the oven. We can eat later.”

If Clem didn’t want to talk, he didn’t want to talk and she wasn’t going to try and force a conversation out of him. He looked pretty wiped as it was. Tara opened the warming drawer of the oven and carefully slid the two plates onto the rack. She knew the chops would be tough as old boots and she was not a happy camper. Tara walked back into the living room and sat down beside her distracted husband.

“They work you too hard, honey. I thought all the pressure was off now that you’ve won the business.”

“It’s not the work, it’s the fucking politics. Frank Bergenson’s playing mind games with me and Kurt Fitzgerald.”

“Oh, just enjoy your wine and chill,” said Tara, as she topped up Clem’s glass, hoping to lighten his mood.

“The old man is loving watching us both duke it out for his job. After everything I’ve done for his agency, I deserve his damn job.”

“Well, I appreciate you. I know how smart you are. You should be their next CEO. That Frank’s an idiot.”

Now that the Rebakor pitch was over, she’d been expecting Clem to be back to his jolly old self. Tara was a good wife and she had a deep love for her husband but it was getting increasingly hard emotionally for her to be supportive. Clem was putting so much energy and effort into getting the impending CEO position that he had nothing left for her. He was coming home a spent force. It was like he was turning into a different person.

While Clem was living his life in the fast lane, Tara’s was plodding along. Every day was the same old same old for her, like  Groundhog Day. She was tired of living her life vicariously through Clem. And where was the affection? Tara couldn’t remember when they’d last had sex. It was time to get their marriage back where it had been before Clem had become so blindingly ambitious. Hell, maybe Clem just needed a blowjob to get him to unwind.

While Clem stared silently at two boxers beating the crap out of each other on ESPN, a seductive smile crossed Tara’s face as her hands slid over his stomach and then down to the zipper of his pants. She slowly pulled at the zipper tab.

Clem flinched. “No, I’m shot.”

He grabbed her hand and pushed it away. Tara pulled back from him feeling totally rejected. What man turns down a blowjob? Clem flipped the remote and the fighters were instantly replaced with a re-run of The Honeymooners and annoying canned laughter. It was in stark contrast to the mood in their living room at that very moment. Tara stared at Clem with an expression of anger and frustration. She got up, walked over to the television and yanked the power cable out of the wall socket. The screen turned black, so did Tara’s mood. She stood defiantly in front of the TV with her arms crossed tightly. Clem took a very deep breath then puffed it out like a party balloon slowly deflating.

“It’s all work, work, work with you, Clem. There’s never any time for us anymore,” Tara complained.

“Look, it’s not you, Tara. That’s the ad business. It’s never been a nine to five gig, you know that.”

“Come on, Clem. Do you work to live or live to work?”

Clem looked at Tara for the first time that night. “I’ve been in this damn business long enough to know when someone’s fucking with me,” snapped Clem. “If I don’t make CEO then Fitz will. And the first thing that prick will do is fire me. Then what? Well, I’ll tell you what. We’ll have to up sticks and move. I got hired right before the recession hit and I’m on a big stick, you know that and there aren’t a ton of jobs out there.”

Tara felt a bolt of emotion shoot through her but she knew that arguing about her needs seemed useless and trivial when Clem was on a rant like this.

“I thought as you climbed the corporate ladder your working life would get easier,” Tara said, getting a little choked up.

“That’s funny,” Clem said sarcastically. “I want CEO. And I deserve it. Jesus, I’ve earned it, dammit! It’s my inheritance after reeling in Rebakor. Biggest account that agency has ever won.”

Clem got up from the sofa and plugged the TV back into the wall. He sat back down and flipped it on again.

Tara spent the rest of the evening busying herself around the house rather then try to engage her husband who was obviously not even interested in talking let alone having an orgasm. Clem went to bed early that night after finishing off the bottle of merlot all by himself and popping a couple of pills. By the time Tara climbed into bed, Clem was asleep. She felt bad about their earlier confrontation that evening so she snuggled up against his warm, naked body and gently stroked his shoulder. She felt a lump on Clem’s back. She studied it as best she could in the dark. It looked like a painful red welt.

Strange that Clem hadn’t mentioned it.

 

Reprinted from Fem Dom by Tony Cane-Honeysett. © 2012 by Chardonnay Press.

 

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Read a Chapter: ‘My Life & 1000 Houses’ by Mitch Stephen

Read a Chapter is *NEW* added feature at As the Pages Turn! Here you’ll be able to read the first chapters of books of all genres to see if you like them before you buy them. Today we are featuring My Life & 1000 Houses by Mitch Stephen. Ordering information follows. Enjoy!

My Life & 1,000 Houses: Failing Forward to Financial Freedom by Mitch Stephen is an exhilarating autobiography of an amateur entrepreneur who stumbles upon the long standing revelations of business, money, love and life while struggling to find his own financial freedom. This journey eventually culminates into the purchase and sale of over 1,000 properties but make no mistake, this book is about falling down and getting back up.  As thought provoking as it is entertaining, this memoir and motivational story of self-empowerment will touch the gamut of your emotions; laugh and cry, but more importantly, be inspired to never give up.

Chapter 1

THE ALL AMERICAN FAMILY

* * *

Sometimes you don’t know how good you have it.

It’s true: If you’re born in Eden, you don’t know you’re blessed. My childhood was picture perfect and I thought the world simply ran like that. I thought that everyone’s mother was beautiful and caring and everyone’s father was handsome and hardworking. My younger brother, Kleat, and I were truly blessed. We had a father who never shunned one iota of his responsibility to provide for and lead his family, and we had a mother who stayed at home and nurtured us with the conscious and deliberate agenda to raise two strong, caring, and loving sons. Looking back I can’t think of one thing we ever wanted for or that I’d change. Together, my parents provided a home and family right out of a 60’s sit com, Father Knows Best or Leave It to Beaver. We were a family right out of Mayberry, but even better, we had air conditioning!

My father, Rod Stephen, was born in Eastland, Texas, and grew up ‘round about the depression. He volunteered for the Marines and completed his commitment. By the time my brother and I were born, Dad was a coach for the Longview Lobos High School. My mother, Margaret Rita Turk (Rita), was raised in El Paso when she wasn’t on the Indian reservation in New Mexico. Her grandmother (my great grandmother) was full blooded Mescalero Apache. We could all be stalking deer on the great hunting lands, but Great Grandma told the white man to stick their papers where the sun don’t shine…and who could blame her? Mom would achieve education on her own but there is no doubt that her very special heart and soul was an extra special gift from God. In Okinawa, Rod accidentally on purpose fell in the pool next to Rita, and a few years later my brother and I were walking the planet.

My brother Kleat and I were born in Longview, Texas, and we had a very close relationship. We climbed trees, built forts, hunted and fished, played all kinds of games, and excelled in athletics together. Later, I’d wonder, did I ever have a girlfriend he didn’t kiss? Generally speaking, we were two peas in a pod.

One time when we were in elementary school, I remember Kleat coming home all beat up. I asked him who did it and he told me that one of the twins down the street did it, but he didn’t know which one it was. The twins were my age and bigger than most. I headed out the door and found the identicals laughing about the event on the street corner. When I asked which one of them beat up my brother, they refused to tell me. I couldn’t tell them apart either. Heck, no one could tell them apart. So I beat them both up! After that I figured I needed to teach Kleat how to fight. I’m not so sure that was a good move. As brothers do, I’d have to fight him more than most. But we always got past it, as brothers do.

My family likes to hunt. My brother and I have hunted since we were very young. Of course, one of the primary concerns in the early years was that we not get hurt or hurt anyone else with our firearms. My father taught us verbally everything he knew how to
about gun safety. He was constantly watching how we handled our guns, where the barrel was inadvertently pointed, how we loaded and unloaded our guns, whether the safety was on or off—always, always, always counseling us.

I’m the oldest and of course the first to start shooting. Carrying a full-fledged firearm was new for me. The responsibility of educating a young son about firearms and safety was new for Dad. He wasn’t sure if I was getting it. Yes, I was hearing him, but did I really understand the importance and the huge responsibility of handling a rifle?

He wasn’t sure, and he couldn’t rest until he knew without a doubt that I understood the full weight of the situation.

One day he asked me if I wanted to go to the shooting range. He said he wanted me to help him sight in his old 30-30 rifle. I was proud that he fancied me as a good shot, so of course, I said, “Yes.” We hopped into the truck and off we went.

When we got to the range we set everything out on one of the shooting tables. Dad told me to take the rifle out of the case. I knew what he was waiting for. He was waiting for me to check immediately to see if the rifle was loaded or empty. It was the first rule of guns. “Never touch a gun without checking to see if it is loaded.” You touch it, you check it. The last thing I ever wanted to ask my father was, “Is this gun loaded?” That question would get you lit up. You don’t ask—YOU CHECK THE WEAPON YOURSELF!

Dad watched me check the rifle’s chamber for shells. I cocked the magazine open and gazed at the insides. He leaned in to look at the same time. He saw it was unloaded, same as I did, but still he asked me, “Is it safe?” I answered, “Yes Sir.” He made his point with his words and with an intent look directly into my eyes.

After we grabbed some sandbags, he instructed me to take a seat at the table. We made a few adjustments with bags while I was in the shooting position. Dad asked, “How’s it feel?”

“Pretty good,” I said. I had the butt of the rifle pulled in tight to my shoulder with my cheek down on the stock. With one eye shut, I could see that the barrel set nicely in line with the target one hundred yards ahead of us. I’d never shot his gun before. It was one of those sacred moments. Dad was about to let me shoot his 30-30 rifle.

As a marksman, I’d already achieved excellence with my Crossman “pump” BB gun. Carrying a gun or shooting wasn’t new to me, but the big rifle was a bit intimidating.

DAD: Think you can put one in the bull’s eye from here son?

ME: I reckon I can.

DAD: This trigger has a long draw on it. It takes some getting use to. I’m not a real fan of dry firing a gun, but why don’t you try it once or twice and get a feel for it.

ME: OK.

I closed the magazine and got down on the target. I took a deep breath and pulled the trigger slow at first but, then, I yanked it. “CLICK,” the gun dry fired. I knew, without a doubt, I would’ve missed if this had been the real thing.

DAD: You jerked it didn’t you?

ME: Yes Sir, I sure did. That trigger does take a long time to go off.

DAD: Try it again. This time you’ll know more what to expect.

I cocked the empty gun again and started to bear down on the target.

DAD: Take your breath and pull so slow you don’t even know when it’s going to go off.

CLICK. The hammer flew forward striking to the firing pin.

DAD: That was perfect! Cool as a cumber! You’d have leveled that deer.

ME: Yes Sir, I would’ve that time but sure is a long pull.

DAD: Awe, you’ll get used to it in a few more times. Hey, let’s take a break and go get us a cold soda-pop. I saw a machine around front. Here’s some change. Go get us both one will you?

I disappeared around the front of the little house/office. When I got back, we sipped our sodas and talked about the upcoming deer season. It was starting to get hot.

DAD: Hey, what do you say we try this one more time before we start using expensive ammo.

ME: OK, but I hate to shoot your gun dry like that. Sure it’s alright?

DAD: Yea, it’ll be alright. I got it ready for you too. One more time won’t hurt it.

I got into position while Dad was coaching me to take my time. “Nice and easy…take a breath and then…nice and slow…squeeze the trigger.”

BANG! The gun went off! It roared like all the thunder I have ever heard in my life, all happening at once! The adrenaline shot through my body, fear – shock – panic. I jumped up off the gun and looked at my father with eyes that must have been big as saucers…more fear and panic, and then embarrassment. My heart had all but leapt out of my chest. My ears were ringing. I was stone cold, petrified. And stunned! My father grabbed me with one hand and the rifle with the other. Holding the rifle way away from his body with one arm, he clinched the front of my shirt at the collar and pulled me to him with his other arm. His face was within inches of mine. He had big tears in his eyes and he gritted his teeth. A single drop was forced from the corner when he closed his eyes and said, “Son, the gun is always loaded. No matter what you think, no matter what anyone tells you, no matter what you might suspect, the gun is always loaded, son. The last three words were barley audible but whispered directly into my ear I heard them, “It’s always – loaded!”

My father had slipped a shell into the rifle when I went for the sodas. He did it to make an impression on me he feared his words were not making. I just thought I understood that my rifle could go off and kill somebody. I got a new understanding that day. All the coaching, all the fireside chats at camp, all the talking in the world would not, could not, accomplish what my Dad did with one very carefully placed 30-30 shell that day.

A few days later, I asked him why he’d gotten choked up that day on the rifle range when the gun went off. He welled up somewhat again,

“Because I love you. I love you so much and I don’t want the potential of that gun to ruin your life. If your gun ever kills you or anyone else I will never forgive myself. I want you to enjoy the outdoors, to experience the wilderness and the thrill and cunning of the hunt. But it comes with a risk. That gun is dangerous. It’ll kill you dead as a door nail in a heartbeat. It can steal all of those good times away in the flash of a muzzle.”

Dad continued, “You see, when I was a kid, my gun went off. Unfortunately it was not orchestrated like yours was. I could have killed someone—anyone—who would have been standing in the path of my bullet. I got lucky and no one got hurt, but I have never forgotten that moment when my gun went off unexpectedly. It made an impression that has lasted all my life. I think, no, I know, it takes an unexpected discharge before that gun will ever get all the respect you can give it. When it happens you’re almost sick with the realization of what could have happened. I wanted you to get that experience without having to take the chance I had to take to get it. I was overcome because I could tell by the look on your face when that gun went off that you had gotten that experience. I was relieved.” As a student of life, I’ve learned almost everything meaningful in this fashion. It has to happen to me in real time for me to get the lesson once and for all. Yes, for many of us, learning is in the living.

My high school days were picture perfect; all district this, most popular that, played drums in the local rock-n-roll band, and had a dang pretty girl friend. I drove a 1979 midnight blue Trans AM complete with T-Tops and an oyster white, leather interior, straight off the show room floor (thanks Mom and Dad!). I thought I was the coolest thing in town, but it was really just a very cool time. I’ll never be able to thank my parents enough for all they gave me and did for me. It simply cannot be done.

I had average grades in school and excelled in football. I’ve often wondered what I’d be like today if it hadn’t been for athletics in school. It’s been said that athletics can build a strong inner fortitude. I’m certain that it did in my case. At 125 pounds, I was probably one of the smallest 4A starters in Texas. I started my first varsity football game as a sophomore at the running back position in 1976. At the time, in 4A high school, that was a big deal. I really had no business starting on a 4A high school team but, lucky for me, our team didn’t have anyone better. I was never the fastest man on the field, but with a lot of help I managed to gain my fair share of yards. The main thing I had going for me was that my mind was right. It was not a conscious decision to prevail over my lack of size. Simply put, I was never told that I couldn’t, so I did.

After the graduation ceremony, we all went to the last “Class of ‘79 Keg Party.” When I woke up the next morning the bleachers were empty.
It was only natural for me to try to find a new stadium. I spent the next year working out and training. When I walked on my first college football field in San Angelo, Texas, five years after my high school debut, I weighed a meager 165 pounds soaking wet. The front line was averaging over 300 pounds per man.

During some testing for quickness and speed, I found myself paired up beside a lineman to run the forty-yard dash. He weighed in at about 325 pounds. I thought to myself, “This guy isn’t going to push me to my best time.” Well, that was wrong. I barely managed to outrun the big man by 1/100th of a second. I wasn’t that slow. The big man was just that fast! I watched as the other running backs got tested. The Astroturf all but rolled up behind the speed demons as they crossed the finish line. With every official time they recorded, my heart sank a little further. There was no way I could compete at such levels. In all my eighteen years, quitting football had never been an option, not even a remote thought, but the handwriting was on the wall. I was going to get cut from a football team.

My dreams of football were dashed. It was a very confusing time, and I lingered for awhile through 1980 and 1981. Eventually, I did what any red-blooded American boy would do. I packed up my Trans AM, took the t-tops off, cranked up Boston on the cassette stereo, and headed for California. Why, you might ask? Well, red-blooded American boys don’t need a reason to go to California. They just go.

— Book excerpt from My Life & 1000 Houses by Mitch Stephen. Purchase your copy at Amazon.

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