Category Archives: Excerpts

Caught in the Middle of a Mafia War “Not My Time to Go” by Thornton Cline

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Thornton Cline, author of “Not My Time to Go”

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Chapter Seven

       If you’ve been following my monthly Indigo Sea Press blog, you’ll know that I have been focusing on stories of my angelic protection from my new ISP book, “Not My Time to Go”. In this blog I will be sharing with you of how I was caught in the middle of an ongoing Mafia war.

       It would be eight years before any more near-fatal experiences occurred in my life. I was accepted into the Ph.D program in music education at the acclaimed, legendary music conservatory, Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. I arrived in Rochester in August 1977 on a Greyhound bus. Rochester, New York was a wonderful cultural arts city and offered me many exciting opportunities in music. But while it was an amazing place to live, there was a downside–crime.  The administration at Eastman School of Music warned the students about the dangers of the downtown area.  They told stories of students being held at gunpoint and robbed in broad daylight. They warned of beatings, murders, rapes and kidnappings that occurred even during the daylight hours. The school advised students to walk together in parties or use a form of transportation other than walking. Most of the students, including me, ignored the warnings and didn’t take them seriously.

Late one night in November of 1977, I was camped out in a practice room, frantically preparing for a violin jury, where I would perform a difficult classical piece memory in front of an entire panel of distinguished judges. I thought that night would never end.  By three a.m. I was exhausted. I had to call it a night and headed home for a few hours of sleep.

         1977 was particularly violent for Rochester. Crime and murders had risen sharply due to a major Mafia war sweeping the city. The war was fought between two Mafia-associated families the Pistilli clan and the Giovanni family. There were numerous reports of deadly drive-by shootings, car bombings and families being sprayed with roofing nails placed inside homemade bombs rigged to front doors of the Mafia family homes. 

       That night in November, I was so exhausted after hours of practicing that I couldn’t keep my head up or my eyes open. I packed up my violin and walked the six flights of stairs to the ground floor.

      “I’m leaving for the night,” I said to the security guard.

     “Be careful,” he replied.

      As I left the school building, I could feel the gentle breeze of the early morning air. It left a cooling mist of dew on my tired face, promising to keep me awake on my long walk home. I was completely alone, with not a single person or car anywhere in sight. The morning was calm and peaceful. I was numb and basically walking in my sleep. As I crossed Elm Street, I passed one of those parking lots where you pay to park for a certain amount of time. Then I saw a lone man walking to his car. It seemed very late for a man to be out doing business. But I reassured myself that the man was probably drunk and had just left one of the nearby bars. As I passed the nearby lot, the lone man went to unlock his car door. Unexpectedly, a colossal, thunderous explosion rocked the streets, forcing me to the ground. A massive ball of fire billowed from the car and engulfed the man, lighting up the dark, peaceful night. I felt glass and shrapnel fall all around me on the sidewalk. I lay there shaking for the longest time, in a state of shock, scared to the death. 

       After awhile, I carefully and slowly crawled on the sidewalk, away from the fire. I felt my entire body to see if I was still alive. The police, firefighters and paramedics arrived shortly after that and began asking me a million questions.

       Needless to say, I completely forgot about getting any sleep. The paramedics checked my vital signs, but couldn’t find a scratch or cut on me. Despite my close proximity to the explosion, I wasn’t injured in any way.

      Some declared that night a miracle. Others said I was lucky to be alive. I knew better than that.  I was definitely protected by angels and the hand of God. Again. it was not my time to go.

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Happily Ever After (revised) by John E. Stack

(This is a revision of a previous blog in regards to Foster Care and Adoption.)

Stories. We hear stories everyday about people who were down and out, and they turn their lives around. They become successful and often wealthy. What about the stories we don’t hear? Are those lives successful? Do they pull themselves out or are they even capable of success?

We read stories where everyone lives “happily ever after.” Again, this isn’t always the case. This story about a kid is true. I’ll call him Calvin. This kid’s name may not be Calvin, and he could be either male or female. But, it is a true story all the same.

*****************************

It didn’t matter where he was or what school he attended, in his mind people always disrespected him, because of his clothes or the way he looked. Life really sucked when you were thirteen and stuck in middle school where no one knew anything about you. Nor did they even care!

“I said get out of my way,” yelled Calvin, as he pushed the boy against the locker. The boy slammed against the metal lockers with a loud bang.

“Calvin, in my office, now!” said Principal Stern. “I’m really tired of your attitude. We probably need to call your mom. These outbursts really need to stop.”

“Foster Mom,” replied Calvin, a little louder than necessary. “I don’t live with my mother.”

“I said – to my office, Calvin!” responded Mr. Stern.

All of a sudden Calvin was near tears. “Go ahead. Call her.” he replied in an almost angry tone. “If I get into trouble again, she will just call the social worker and have me put with a new family. So what does it matter if you call her. You won’t have to worry about me anymore either.”

Calvin was a kid in the system. Yeah, one of those foster kids. Those are the kids that the state has to pay money for someone to take care of them. Maybe you think that you’ve never seen one before, but you have. There are usually two types: one that you never notice and one that you can’t miss. The one you never notice usually blends in with their current family. They are dressed nicely and they are treated like one of the family. They get to go shopping at the mall and get to go on vacations with their foster family.

The other type of foster kid usually doesn’t match the family they are with. They might look kind of dirty, or they need a haircut, or maybe their clothes don’t fit quite right. Their pants are either too long or too short. Shirts are almost always second hand, stained or too big. It’s obvious that they don’t belong to the family they are with. They are treated differently, like when the family goes on vacation, the kid gets to go into respite care with another family. Life is definitely not fair.

Calvin’s story was typical. He didn’t know his birth dad. Brandi, his mom, never really had it together. She was really wild in school – bad boys, alcohol and drugs. She liked to party and it finally got to the point that partying became more important than anything else, even him. His mom was fifteen when he was born. Brandi’s dad told her mom, “She needs to keep the little brat, so she can see what it’s like to raise a child on her own. That will teach her a lesson to not go sleeping around.” They had helped out a little bit, but kicked her out after a while when she didn’t follow their rules.

Calvin was three when he was taken away. Calvin lived with the first foster family until he was six. The second liked kids with problems because the state paid them extra money. There were many others. But few really cared. His current foster mom really cared, but didn’t know if his anger problems could be controlled.

She also didn’t know, nor did he, but Calvin had a little brother.  His name is Bill and he was born when Calvin was ten.  Bill was born with cocaine and heroin in his system.  He is okay for now, but they do not know the long term implications of the drugs.  Bill was also taken away by Social Services and this time Calvin’s mom was put in jail.

***************************

I don’t know if Calvin’s and Bill’s stories will have happily-ever-after endings or maybe real-life endings, but they will have some sort of ending. Kids in foster care have a very slim chance for success. Often circumstances push them toward drugs, alcohol, prostitution, or some form of abuse. Those chances for success get better when they have someone in their lives that care.

In North Carolina there is, as I suspect it is in other states, a shortage of foster parents. This results in over-crowding of good foster homes and the outgrowth of lots of bad foster homes. There is always a shortage. Right now in NC there are 5 to 7 thousand kids in foster care.

Being a foster parent is a tough job. My wife and I have been foster parents for almost nine years and haves had 20 kids in foster care. We do new-borne babies and keep them until adopted. We fall in love every time. Of the 20, we adopted one, and wish we were 20 years younger so we could do more. I said it was a tough job, the toughest job you will ever love.

In November we will celebrate adoption Sunday. Check it out. There may be a life out there that you can change and give the gift of a “happily ever after.


***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo and Olivia’s Sweet Adventure.

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Excerpt From PASTOR LARSEN AND THE RAT by Lazarus Barnhill

Reverend Martin Luther Larsen—highly regarded, completely ethical, genuine and sincere—has dedicated his life to the pastorate. Now, in the face of the drudgery, church politics and frustration that are the usual professional hazards of the ministry, a dangerous and intriguing complication has slipped into his life: Ange. No one in Larsen’s close knit congregations knew of the existence of this woman, the daughter of a parishioner who appeared just in time for her mother’s funeral. For Larsen, Ange is more than mysterious. She is alluring, wise and astonishingly intuitive. . . . And then there is the issue of the large rat that seems to be taunting the members of his church.

Excerpt:

She had answered the door shoeless, wearing a close-fitting black dress and no makeup. Her black hair was just long enough to bounce when she let him in the front door and immediately turned toward the kitchen table, where packets of documents and possessions were stacked. He assumed she was going to hand him the items she had promised him at the funeral and bid him farewell, until he saw the magnum of red wine and the two glasses beside it. First he thought he would have to turn down the offered drink, and then he wondered if perhaps he should not have assumed. Perhaps she was expecting other company. She sat down in one of the two chairs at the table and crossed her bare legs.

“Can you sit down for a minute? It was nice of you to come all the way out here to pick these things up, Pastor Larsen,” she said.

He pulled out the chair and sat down. The daughter sat in the one he had always used in past visits. It was strange to him to sit in the chair Joan Celeste sat in when he visited her, where she graciously offered him crumb cake and lemonade.

“I came out here to Alton a lot, actually. Your mother was very dear to me. That is, she was just as nice and hospitable as she could be. And I always really appreciated that. I enjoyed coming to visit her.” He smiled. “Of course you mother very faithfully showed up every Sunday. It’s a long way from Alton to Manchester. But she never missed. When someone comes that far every week, you want to show your appreciation.”

Ange Celeste stared at him. It was a bit disconcerting to Larsen. Did she not believe that he visited often, or did she doubt his sentiments? Did she—perhaps cynical about church life or even an outright disbeliever—look down on the sort of pastoral relationship he described? The unexpected or incomprehensible reactions of extremely attractive women had always troubled him, made him feel like an unappealing buffoon.

“She liked you.”

Her words and the way she spoke them surprised him. It was almost like a pronouncement or a verdict Joan had handed down for her daughter to share with Larsen in her absence. And there was something about the tone she used. It was wiser and perhaps more intimate than he expected.

“Well. I liked her.”

“She told me about conning you into going to the fall festival here in Alton. And on a Saturday, no less. And she told me about your favorite wine.”

Without asking, she turned and grasped the magnum in two hands. Larsen’s mouth dropped. He stammered, started to protest that he was working, had other appointments to keep that Friday afternoon and could not drink. The daughter paid no attention to him, though, as she poured the glasses full.

“A nice Nebbiolo from Verità Wino, your favorite Italian winery.”

“. . . I really shouldn’t.”

She had anticipated his reluctance and brushed it aside. “One glass, Pastor Larsen. Only 12% alcohol. Undetectable.” She picked up the glasses and handed one to him. “A toast to my mother, the divine Joan Celeste.”

He laughed, somewhat anxiously, as they touched their glasses. “To Joan.”

The wine was as he remembered it: rosy and slightly tart with a lingering mellow aftertaste. And with the first taste he felt himself begin to relax. The second and third sips did not disappoint.

“I did not know Verità Wino produced a magnum size of their Nebbiolo.”

She looked at the bottle, as if seeing it for the first time. “Well I guess they do.” She smiled at him. “Mother said it was ironic that you liked this wine.”

He gazed at her. “Seriously? Why did she say that?”

“Because you are so much like it.”

“What?”

“The Nebbiolo grape takes an exceptionally long time from the moment it blooms until it’s ready to pluck.” She smiled. “And once you do skin it and start the fermentation process, it takes a very long time before . . . it’s ready for the bottle.”

He stared at her oval face, cream-colored complexion, dark almond eyes, pert nose and small mouth. She bore only the faintest resemblance to her mother, whom he had only known in her 70’s. How old was this daughter? Forty perhaps, at most? Was she a late-life child?

“What does that have to do with me?”

She had finished her glass and poured another. “I guess Mother thought you were a work-in-progress.” She grabbed his glass in his hand and steadied it as she brought the neck of the magnum onto the lip and filled it again.

“No thanks. . . . Uh. What did your mother mean, that I’m a ‘work-in-progress?’ Was I not the pastor she needed me to be?”

“I seriously doubt that, Pastor Larsen. . . . Sounds like you worry about that kind of thing though.” She took another drink.

He thought about it. “Every pastor worth his salt wants to be the shepherd his—or her—congregation needs.”

“How politically correct of you.”

He laughed. “Heaven knows I try, Ms. Celeste.”

“Ange”

“Ang?”

“No. Say it right. It’s pronounced ‘auhnjj.’ It’s French.”

“Ange.”

“That’s right.”

“Well, Ange, I take it you don’t have a great deal of use for church life and customs.”

Her head tipped to one side. “I don’t do religion the way my mother did. That doesn’t mean I’m not spiritual.”

***

Bio:

Lazarus Barnhill’s titles appear in several Indigo Sea Press genres. Among his first novels to be published was the police procedural The Medicine People. Later, co-authored with Sally Jones, he released Come Home to Me Child. His work is characterized by the unexpected twist and turn, by crisp dialogue and unpredictable endings.

Only $.99 on Kindle today! https://www.amazon.com/Pastor-Larsen-Rat-Lazarus-Barnhill-ebook/dp/B01GGIKF4A

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Murder in Winnebago County Prologue by Christine Husom

Although this book was published almost 8 years ago, it’s the first book in the series and will be new for those of you who haven’t read it.

Prologue

Alvie’s need to watch was unexpected and gripped her middle with an intensity that pushed the air right out of her lungs. A middle-aged woman guided Judge Nels Fenneman to a chair at the hospital admitting desk. Alvie forgot about leaving, forgot why she was there in the first place, and dropped onto a burgundy, faux-leather seat in the adjoining waiting room. She shifted so she had a clear view of the judge between the spiky fronds of a silk plant.

The booming voice the judge had used to command the courtroom was gone, replaced by hushed murmurs as he quietly answered the necessary questions. Alvie strained to hear, but his words didn’t travel the distance to her ears. Judge Fenneman’s wrinkled face was flushed, harsh under the fluorescent lighting, his color deepening to a purplish-crimson with each coughing spasm that interrupted most of his answers.

Alvie had spent much of the past ten years consumed with thoughts of the man. Fenneman was one of the people responsible for her son’s death. When Alvie wasn’t actively despising him, her hatred seethed just beneath the surface of her consciousness—a living, growing thing with fingers that gripped her throat in the dark of night and lit fires in her head and chest.

The cycle had been the same for years: obsess about what the judge and others had done to Nolan, push it away for a while, obsess, push away, obsess.

The woman with the judge looked vaguely familiar. Alvie studied her a moment and was hit with the realization she was a younger, prettier version of Fenneman. The woman must be his daughter. She had to be. Fenneman was not only still alive, but part of a family. Alvie had never thought of Judge Fenneman as a person before—not really. He was the monster who sat on his elevated bench and ruined people’s lives.

Her world had collapsed ten years before when her son died in prison, and no one cared. Had the judge even given it a second thought? She sincerely doubted it. So much for justice.

The judge’s daughter wrapped her arm around his shoulders and squeezed gently. Alvie felt ill. Her son would not be there to offer his comforting touch when she was old and sick. The one redemption, the thing that gave her purpose for going on, was the granddaughter Nolan had left for her. Rebecca was Alvie’s own little love.

A small brunette nurse approached the admitting desk and assisted the judge into a wheelchair, fussing over him and gently patting his shoulders. She cheerfully told him they would send him home in a few days, as good as new. Alvie grabbed a magazine and bent to hide her face as the trio headed toward her. When they passed, she rose and watched them turn into B-wing. Her granddaughter had a room on the same wing.

Alvie left the hospital quietly, as usual. The mere thought of making small talk and smiling at strangers made her squeamish. At five foot nine, size eighteen, she was a fairly large woman who favored brown or black clothing, even in the heat of summer. Her dull, steel-colored hair, lifeless eyes the same shade, and flat features—devoid of expression—rarely warranted a second look. Alvie moved through life mostly unnoticed. It was her choice and suited her just fine.

She needed a breath of fresh air to fill her depleted lungs, but had to make do with hot and muggy instead. Her clothes clung to her, heavy with perspiration, by the time she reached her car. Days like that, when humidity hung in the air like fog, Alvie longed for the crisp, dry cold of a Minnesota winter day. She cranked the air conditioning to full blast in her ten-year- old, blue Chevy Impala and headed down the curving drive to the main road. It was after nine o’clock—later than she had planned to stay.

Dusk was settling, and as the streetlight came on, Alvie’s gaze was drawn to its reflection spanning across the water of a pond. Funny, she had never even noticed the large drainage area before. Alvie immediately knew there was a reason she had seen the pond that night. She had visited her granddaughter once or twice a day for a week and had not spotted the pond, not once. Until now.

The five miles to her home south of town passed in a blur. Alvie locked herself in and let out a small yelp. She paced and paced, excitement mounting with each step. Ideas bounced to a staccato rhythm in her brain as her heart pounded out its own beat. She walked back and forth late into the night. Eventually, she won control of her thoughts and gathered them into a neat little plan that had logical meaning.

Perhaps the judge would not be going home after all.

Christine Husom is the author of The Winnebago County Mystery Series

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January’s Paradigm Launch—J. Conrad Guest

January’s Paradigm is the novel that started it all.

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Photo courtesy of Craig David Butler

It’s been nearly fifteen years since the second edition of January’s Paradigm went to print and nearly twenty-five years since I sat down to write the first words: I stepped out of the dark, smoky habitat of Earl’s Place.

Two more January novels followed, and I’ve since seen six more of my babies published. I’ve learned much over the years about myself and also about the craft of writing. Should the learning ever cease, I will lay down my pen.

I was resistant to even read January’s Paradigm these many years later. As a matter of fact, I cringed at the prospect for fear that I would wish to rewrite large portions of it. Certainly there were many sections of narrative I would write differently were I writing it today.

In preparing this edition, I wished to maintain the integrity of as much of the original text as much as possible, not only to show where I was in my life twenty-five years ago, but also to show the progress I’ve made as a writer and a stylist.

The changes are minor, mostly to do with formatting and structure. I resisted the urge to add or revise narrative, with a very few excep­tions—what can I say? I’m a perfectionist and never could refrain from tinkering, which is why I rarely revisit my novels once they go to print. I can always find ways to improve a text; never perfect, I can only achieve “closer to perfection.”

January’s Paradigm holds its rightful place in my body of work, and I remain proud of this endeavor.

Below appears another excerpt.


“Look, Susan. I have a basic understanding of the tarot. I can appreciate that Monica has a thorough understanding of the cards, their symbols and meanings. She knows how they relate to one another once they’re laid out on the table, but it’s all just a parlor game. To think that the random placement of cards can in some way foretell what’s going to happen to someone is just, well, ludicrous.”

I was about to sum up all I’d just said when I stopped short.

Coming through the revolving doors and walking at a brisk pace was a woman with purpose, a woman on a mission. The woman from the photograph.

Kate.

I looked left, then right. There was no place to go, nowhere to hide.

Kate had spotted me and was coming toward me; a confrontation was inevitable.

So abruptly had I cut short my advance that Susan had gone on a step or two before realizing I was no longer at her side. Now she came back to me, the hurt of a moment ago gone, replaced by a look of con­cern. She placed her hand on my shoulder.

“Joe, what is it, what’s wrong?”

Where at first Kate had seen only me, she now saw the two of us.

Kate saw.

Her former deliberate pace faltered. A dawning look of realization appeared on her face: the phone call, my blunt dismissal of her and now the woman at my side, dark and beautiful. Younger than she and more voluptuous, but there were enough similarities for her to fill in the blanks and draw her own conclusions.

She closed the remaining distance between us at a perfunctory saunter.

To the casual passerby we looked to be a trio of good friends meeting in the lobby to discuss the beautiful New York spring weather and where within walking distance we might find a worthy dining establishment, for we were loath to take a cab when the weather was so pleasant.

I thought she looked older than in the photograph; then again, maybe it was the intensity with which she was peering at Susan.

Oh, she’s good, I thought.

My previous fear of confrontation was gone, replaced by detached aloofness. I had been born for moments such as this, to observe with dispassion and then react with all the passion the occasion demanded.

She must be seething inside.

Yet on the outside she was the consummate actress, the essence of cordiality.

“Introduce me to your friend,” she asked with spurious sweetness.

Susan, for the first time aware of the waves of pestiferous prejudice emanating from the eyes of the newcomer, looked as if she’d rather be anywhere else at the moment.

I smiled; I was truly enjoying this.

Kate was taken aback. She was leery of my smile; it put her on the defensive, where she wasn’t used to being. Her preference was for offense, where she could control and manipulate. Where she could gauge the reactions of her adversary and, as her position of authority grew, plot additional schemes to further enhance her grasp on her hap­less victim.

“Kate, Susan. Susan, Kate, my soon to be ex-wife.” Very matter-of-fact.

“I phoned earlier.”

Kate eyed Susan suspiciously for any sign that would betray what might have transpired in Porter’s penthouse apartment.

Susan portrayed innocence, and the tension rose another level.

“I could’ve sworn I dialed the right number.”

“Well, you know the phone company. Probably just a crossed line or something.” I made certain as our eyes briefly met that she knew exactly with whom she’d spoken.

“Yes, the phone company,” she said, seeking another tack.

“Actually, I’m more than a little surprised to see you here, Kate. The last time I saw you, suitcase in hand, you were heading out the door in avid anticipation of your new life with, oh, what was his name? You know I don’t believe you introduced me to your friend from the service station. How rude of you.”

Kate’s eyes went wide with shock. No doubt she had expected me, considering my circumstances, to be groveling in the face of her wrath. Instead, here I was casually discussing her departure and ignoring com­pletely an explanation of Susan.

“So what can I do for you, Kate?”

Kate was reeling. I savored the moment and watched as she shifted gears to try another angle.

“I thought we could—”

“You thought wrong.” All trace of humor was gone from my voice.

A look of desperation, then, “Please. Can’t we go someplace where we can talk? Alone?” A brief glance at Susan.

A mistake—the momentary flicker of loathing for the usurper of what she believed to be rightfully hers didn’t pass my eye unnoticed.

If I were someone else, I surely would’ve been taken in by her per­formance, a sucker for a woman in distress, vulnerable to her, albeit feigned, vulnerability. But I wasn’t someone else, at least not the person she thought I was. That gave me the advantage I needed, slim though it might be.

“You had your chance to talk, but you opted instead to walk. You obviously felt no obligation for an explanation then, and why you feel obliged now is beyond me; and believe me when I tell you I feel no onus to waste my time listening. Now if you will excuse us, Susan and I have to be on our way.”

I’d rejected her, something she’d probably never before experi­enced, at least not from the likes of hapless Robert Porter. Not that it would do much good, for she was beyond redemption, too used to having her own way.

But a blow had been struck nevertheless. Her subtle ploy of manipulation had failed. Now, if I knew anything at all about women, because I’d made good on my last statement by taking Susan by the elbow and moving past her and not wanting to be upstaged, Kate would have to throw all caution to the wind and try a full frontal assault.

Well, I ruminated. Whatever gambit she has in mind, I’m ready for it. The years may change, but a woman scorned can be counted on to react in pretty much the same fashion.

“You know, you men are all alike.” Her contemptuous tonality was not affected. The years of abuse she’d heaped upon Porter may have cost him his self-esteem, but Kate too had paid a price. How could she respect a man who would allow himself to be degraded in all the ways she had?

“I called earlier because I thought there might be something in our marriage worth salvaging, some strand to cling to, to weave back into something worthwhile. I can understand you not wanting to talk about it on the phone, so I take the trouble to come over here so we can talk face-to-face.”

She glanced at Susan with knowing eyes that saw only what they wanted to see: a made-up truth that lacked any. Insistent upon placing all of the blame on me, she turned her glare back on me.

“But now I understand. You told me you loved me and that you couldn’t live without me. But the truth is, you’re doing just fine without me. Oh you talk a good game, but look at you now. You’re doing just fine, aren’t you?”

I listened with amusement as Kate’s voice rose as she vented her pent-up frustration, while my nonchalance merely stoked the fire. Por­ter might cringe at the unwanted attention this little scene was attracting from those in the lobby who’d stopped to listen. Even Susan, who was used to being on stage, looked ready to blend into the crowd and sneak away without me. But I was enjoying every minute of it, mostly because my indifference served to fan the blaze of a fire that was threatening to burn out of control.

“What bar did you find this whore in anyway?” Kate shouted.

That was my cue to take action. I’d known the accusation was coming. Kate wasn’t about to let Susan get away unscathed. I hated to have her made a part of this; she was certainly innocent of any wrong­doing, guilty only in Kate’s twisted imagination. What I did next was a blow struck for Susan as much as it was for Porter.

Moving with surprising speed, I grabbed a fistful of Kate’s hair. Considerably shorter than Susan’s, I still managed to twist it around my fist once. I pulled back firmly and her head bent back on her neck at an awkward angle. My other hand went around her throat, while my fore­arm rested on her breastbone between the breasts I recalled from the previous night’s dream, swollen with desire then, and I felt no desire of my own.

I stepped forward, forcing her backward until her retreat was cut off by the unyielding barrier of the ceiling support in the center of the lobby. I leaned forward until my nose was but a finger’s breadth from hers. I was right, she was much older than the photograph showed. From this distance, makeup did little to mask the substantiation. Her skin looked wizened by too much time in the sun, with crow’s feet—“laugh lines” she would defend—around her eyes.

So this is what Porter wants so desperately to maintain as a part of his life.

To Kate, I whispered with all the venom the moment demanded, “You know a thing or two about whoring around, don’t you?”

At that moment a hand, large and its grip firm, alit upon my shoul­der. It was no threat, I knew, so long as I didn’t threaten the woman at my disposal with further menace.

“Why don’t you let the lady go?” The voice, an aged baritone, be­longed to the owner of the hand on my shoulder.

My glower never wavered, my grip never weakened. What I saw in Kate’s eyes was most gratifying: fear. Fear that I would do bodily harm to her. But there was more than just that most primordial emotion. I also saw the realization that something had gone terribly awry. Upon her arrival, she’d expected to have it all her own way, waltzing back into Porter’s life and with just the right line making him think she’d come to her senses, that she needed and even wanted him back in her life.

In actuality her intent was to merely wrap his puppet strings around her pinky finger so she could once again make him dance to the tune of her own deceitful, self-serving needs.

Now she could see that her grasp, at one time so sure and viselike, had suddenly become less than tenuous. She didn’t have a clue as to why her grip had slackened, only that a third player had entered the game, younger and more beautiful than she. And because this was something she hadn’t foreseen, her endgame would have to be radically altered if she were to regain control of the center of the board. The new player would have to be captured and removed.

In my mind’s eye I saw what Porter had seen on that last, fateful day. The sights and sounds of what would turn his life upside down and inside out: his wife in naked ecstasy upon their bed, the stranger with his head buried between her thighs, much like the fiend in my dream from the night before, the wet sounds of his tongue working its magic mingled with the soft whimpers of her pleasure.

My anger surged at the audacity of the woman. The affair had meant nothing to her. She’d done it out of boredom simply because she could and because when it was over, she knew it would be child’s play to coddle Porter into taking her back.

Monica’s words came back to me: “He will be defeated in battle and will no longer perform for her what she needs. Therefore, she will return to you.”

“Buddy,” the voice said again. “Let the lady go.”

My grip relaxed but I never took my eyes from Kate’s as I said, as much for her sake as the owner of the hand still on my shoulder, “If you knew the lady like I know the lady…” I let the unspoken sentiment sink in a moment, and then I let go.

Moments later we were in a cab heading for Greenwich Village. I trembled slightly. Part of it was due to the adrenaline-primed excite­ment of the moment, but there was more too.

That other part of me, the weaker part that had made itself known to me the moment I’d arrived in this continuum, had also thrilled at the way events had climaxed. But now it was in a state of panic, as if what had transpired in the lobby of the apartment would set into motion ac­tions that would result in consequences that could never be undone. It also sensed loss as well as an uncertainty of the future.

I felt Susan’s scrutiny and turned with a smile meant to be reassur­ing. I failed.

She’d seen a side of me that was not very pleasant. No, more than that, a side that was ugly, the book Joe January that she’d earlier argued was violent for the sake of violence. Where before I’d seen trust in her eyes, I now saw something else: reassessment.

I heard Monica speak the words as surely as if she were in the cab with us, “You are not who you pretend to be.”

I winced inwardly as I thought of how Susan must now see me: less than desirable. But then, had she ever looked at me with desire?

No. Affection, yes, but not desire. She’d just witnessed an angry man with violent tendencies.

You really would have struck her, wouldn’t you? her eyes accused.

No, I wouldn’t have struck her. I wanted to, and God knows I’ve done a lot of wayward things in my long and tumultuous life; but I’ve never hit a woman, not even in my dreams. Nor would I start now.

But it no longer mattered; her look told me everything I needed to know. She would have to watch what she said to me, lest she make me angry.

For the first time in my life, I saw myself as others must see me and I hated what I saw. I hated that passionate part of me that seethed and boiled beneath the brittle exterior that kept others at a distance.

“I’m sorry,” I said flatly, not knowing what else to say. “She man­ages to bring out the worst in me.”

No longer able to bear the pained look in her eyes, I turned away, preferring instead the passing panorama of the New York cityscape as the cab sped toward its destination.


 

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January’s Paradigm Launch—J. Conrad Guest

Launch for January’s Paradigm is tentatively Monday, February 15.

What started in 1990 as therapy for a bruised and bloodied heart soon turned into a passion to see it published. It took eight years to achieve that desire, well worth the wait.

Like most of my novels, January’s Paradigm is a very non-traditional romance. Or as Current Entertainment Monthly, Ann Arbor, Michigan, wrote: “J. Conrad Guest has taken the heartbreak of sexual betrayal and turned it into a romance-fantasy.” Current Entertainment Monthly also wrote, “Readers will not be able to put it down.”

Below appears another excerpt.


 

Seven

I arrived at The Oasis at eight-forty. Two of the three members of The Tri-Stars—Shauna was not one of them—were onstage doing a sound check. I’d hoped to arrange a chance meeting with the dark-eyed beauty before the first set. A quick reconnaissance of the establishment, already near-capacity, merely served to disappoint; she was nowhere to be found.

I paid the doorman the cover charge.

Porter’s bankcard had come in handy. From whence my knowledge of ATMs came, like my inherent ability to operate the computer, I ignored. The access code to the bank machine was something I attributed to a lucky guess. Porter and I shared the same date of birth forty-six years apart, so stated the driver’s license tucked away in the wallet in my back pocket. I simply punched in the number “10” and, adding forty-six to my own birth year, “56”, and walked away from the ATM a hundred dollars richer, taking comfort in the fact that Porter was going to finance this little vacation in 1992.

I pushed my way through the crowd toward the bar.

My fruitless attempts at locating Porter had increased my thirst. I needed to unwind with a good, stiff shot of bourbon chased by a beer.

Suddenly the populace surrounding me parted, and I came face-to-face with Shauna. She was shorter than I imagined she would be. What last night I’d taken to be stage makeup turned out to be natural; her complexion was dark and flawless. Her jaw was square; her high cheekbones were tinged with rouge. Beneath the finely-arched twin prosceniums of her eyebrows, her eyelids were shaded green; and they highlighted to perfection the fathomless brown eyes now studying me as intently as I was studying her.

The moment seemed long; it was long, I dimly noted, and threatening to go on even longer. If I didn’t find something to say, the moment would be lost.

Fortunately she came to my rescue.

“Don’t let me get in your way.” Her tone was husky, the measure playful.

My heart beat rapidly, but I managed to blurt, “Aren’t you the lead singer?”

Smooth, real smooth—like a kid meeting his idol for the first time.

“Shauna.” Her smile was as white as it was wide. And genuine, I was pleased to note.

“Joe January.” I offered my hand and was delighted when she took it. “Can I buy you a drink?”

“No thanks, I don’t drink.” And then, perhaps in response to the hurt look I was certain she couldn’t help but notice, she added, “How about a cola?”

I smiled and led the way through the crowd to the bar, where I ordered and paid for the soft drink. Shauna, accepting the glass I proffered, smiled her dazzling smile and I reflected, for the mere price of a cola. I’d gladly pay a thousand times that amount to bask in the warmth of that smile in a more secluded place.

“You going to be here awhile?”

The question at once both surprised and pleased me. “Actually I just got here.”

“Wait here. I’ve got to finish the sound check. It shouldn’t take but a minute or two, and I’ll be back to visit a while before our first set.”

As if to prove her probity, she left her glass on the bar in front of me.

I watched her departure, fascinated by the gentle motion of her hips, snug inside the leather pants that perfectly accentuated her perfect figure. I couldn’t help but be taken aback by the way she’d so completely managed to disarm me in so brief a time.

I watched her on stage, her manner supremely confident, her voice clear and resonant in its purity. Her interpretation of the lyrics, even though it was just a sound check, was genuine. She sang from the heart.

I suspected that her contentment stemmed from being on stage and that getting paid was simply the icing on the cake.

What served to perplex me was my sudden intrinsic capacity to decipher this. Never before had I cared or taken the time to perceive anything beyond the superficial. Yet now I was mystified by the warm and comfortable feeling, the security that accompanied the very pleasant discovery that something beyond exterior could entice me.

Typically a woman of such depth would only intimidate me. Now, however, something inside of me thrilled at the expectation that she could somehow appease the malaise I’d recognized last night while in the embrace of another; and that instead of providing the comfort I so desperately sought, last night’s encounter had afforded the catalyst that had resulted in my encore appearance here tonight.

Shauna finished her sound check and, true to her word, was making her way back through the crowd to where I waited at the bar, nervously turning my shot glass around and around in my hand. My heart rate picked up as she approached.

“You sound terrific.” I’d never been any good at making small talk, but I spoke the truth.

“Thanks.” Her tone was sincere.

But then she probably accepted the same compliment dozens of times nightly in the same affable way. Talented as she was, it hadn’t gone to her head.

“I’m surprised to see you back tonight.” No accusation, just an observation. “You left after our second number last night. I was afraid my singing had been an affront to your musical palate.”

She was teasing me now, and that was something I wasn’t used to. I had no idea how to respond to her jest. When I failed to reply, she pushed her advantage further.

“I’m surprised at the company you keep. She didn’t look to be your type.”

Feeling totally outclassed and outmaneuvered, I stammered something about my friend having taken ill and requested that I take her home early. If Shauna saw through my smoke screen, she gave no indication.

“Well, you’re back tonight,” she said. “And my confidence in my singing has been restored.”

In the span of a heartbeat, she’d managed to break and then restore my self-assurance. She looked at her watch.

“You going to be here after the first set?” She sounded accusatory.

I smiled and nodded my acquiescence, ecstatic at the prospect of her return.

“Oooh,” she purred, setting down her empty glass. When had she time to finish it? So lost in the depths of a gaze that was at once innocuous yet mischievous, I hadn’t even noticed her drinking it. “He can smile,” she playfully provoked. “Now if I can just get you to loosen up and talk, you might be able to help me pass an otherwise long and boring night on stage. And as long as you’re buying, I’ll need another of these.” She indicated the empty glass. Her smile positively beamed, and I felt my heart leap into my throat. She winked and was gone.

The first set ran nearly an hour. Near the end I found myself squirming in anticipation. Several times I’d refused the advances that a man alone in a singles bar in 1992 seemed to invite. Finally they stopped, my propensity toward the barstool duly noted by the female patrons who’d hoped to lure me into tending to their lonely needs.

I watched as Shauna manipulated the crowd. Instinctively she sensed their mood and knew what they wanted to hear, providing respite, usually in the form of something she and the band wanted to play, at just the right moment. Her movements were sensual, yet not vulgar. And her voice was magnificent in its range and flexibility. She rocked, finding somewhere within the raw power to rattle the chandeliers. Her interpretation of the two blues tunes that provided a reprieve from the intensity of the rock-and-roll intonated the pain of the lyrics, while the sole ballad of the set was sung with the pure innocence of an altar boy during Sunday morning service. She had a natural affinity for people.

I didn’t think for a minute that she was bored with performing.

The breaks between sets, I suspected, were from her point of view a chance for the band to catch their breath and slake their thirst, but more for the sake of the dance floor patrons who discovered the ten or fifteen minutes between sets enabled them to recharge their batteries.

Feeling that I’d simply serve as a diversion until the next set got underway, I felt the ego that Shauna had managed to build up nearly an hour ago deflate.

Shauna was just now telling everyone to sit tight. The band would be back in a few minutes to rock down the rafters. Those on the dance floor shouted their approval.

I signaled the bartender for a refill for me and a fresh cola. I’d just finished paying for the refreshments when Shauna slid up onto the stool beside me. I was startled; the thought that she might seek company elsewhere had briefly crossed my mind.

“Thanks,” she said, slightly out of breath as she took the soft drink and downed nearly a third of it. “How’d you manage to keep this stool empty?”

“It wasn’t difficult.” I’d never found difficulty in maintaining my distance when I wanted to.

“Not with a scowl like that, I imagine it wasn’t.”

I felt the heat rise in my cheeks. Her eyes sparkled as she laughed and my embarrassment turned to ire. I didn’t like being the butt of someone’s jest.

Shauna placed her hand on my knee in reassurance. I was amazed at the lightness of her touch; and just that quickly, my anger was defused.

“We sound okay?”

I was grateful for the change in direction to another topic. Perhaps now I could maintain control of the conversation for a while. I nodded and queried, “You do any original material?”

“One or two.” Then, in response to my raised eyebrows, she added, “People come to hear what’s popular, and popular is what gets air play; and unfortunately, since we get no air play, we aren’t popular.”

“I find that hard to believe.”

“Hard to argue with statistics. We play anymore than we do, and the dance floor tends to thin out.”

I decided to take a risk. “Don’t tell me; the ballad was yours.”

It was her turn to look surprised.

Yes. How did you know?”

“It seemed your style.” I was beginning to regain my balance; but before I could pose my next question, Shauna once again changed tack.

“How come you weren’t out on the dance floor?”

And just that quickly, my advantage was lost.

“There’s no one here I care to dance with.”

She bestowed her laugh upon me for the second time, a wonderfully-melodic sound.

“You weren’t so choosy last night.”

My face burned with embarrassment.

She didn’t call my earlier bluff, I thought, helpless. Just my luck she now thinks I’m lying.

I wanted to say, “That was before I met you,” but my discomfiture held me in check. In the end I settled for a shrug that said, What can I say? She laughed again. I felt myself redden further; and then, just in time, she put an arm around my shoulders and apologized.

“I’m sorry, Joe.” It was the first time she’d used my name, and I marveled at the mellifluous way she said it. “It’s just that you’re so easy.”

I waved my empty glass at the bartender. I hadn’t been aware that I’d even been sipping it since she’d joined me, let alone that I’d finished it. Shauna checked her watch.

“Listen, buy me another cola.” She laid her hand on my arm. “I’ve got to go backstage and freshen up. You know, do the things we women have to do to keep guys like you watching us.” I doubted she had to work very hard at it. “Be right back.”

I was struck by the energy level she was able to maintain.

Adrenaline, fueled by caffeine, I guessed as I held up her empty glass. It certainly isn’t alcohol.

During her absence I tried to think of some way I could arrange to meet with her in a more neutral setting without seeming like I was coming on too hard, something with which she was probably quite adept at dealing. My efforts frustrated me.

I can’t hold an intelligent conversation with her. How can I land a date?

Suddenly I feared her motives.

What makes you think she’s even interested in you? More than likely she picks someone out of the crowd nightly just to keep that caffeine high going.

I felt compelled to leave.

Here I was a man out of time twice removed, sitting calmly in a bar without a clue as to how I got here. I sat, a man in doubt of the actual authenticity of his own reality, trying to deal some broad who gets her kicks out of watching me squirm in discomfort. No one had ever been able to do that before, which only added to my feeling of inadequacy.

Without a doubt, I should be back at Porter’s trying to figure a solution to the equation, not how to get this self-styled rock queen between the sheets. I can get sex anytime without having to go through this.

And then I remembered last night, how lonely and unfulfilled I’d felt, despite the level of physical gratification I’d attained.

Well, I rationalized, settling myself back down onto the stool. Maybe there are answers to my questions that can be ascertained through an association with her.

Any chance to argue myself out of staying disappeared with Shauna’s reappearance; her smile immediately convinced me that I’d made the right choice.

“I’m delighted to see you haven’t abandoned me.”

“To be easily replaced, I’m sure.”

She took my sarcasm for humor and leaned over to whisper, “Save a dance for me?”

Then she was gone, leaving me with an uncomfortable sensation of comfort.

My thoughts swam. I was experiencing emotions and input to those emotions never before encountered. I was attracted to this Shauna, but not in the usual sexual sense. Not that I didn’t find her alluring. There was a time, in another century perhaps, when all that I would care to concern myself with would be the exploration of the dark, deep secrets concealed beneath the sexy attire that served to promote the image of a rock star. But that image spoke in terms of a rather warped reality.

Here I am, it said, on stage for the adulation of one and all. Welcome to my fantasy. A fantasy that guarantees stimulus to senses of sight and sound; listen to my voice, watch me move. Now, if you dare, try to emulate my undulations. You are all a part of my fantasy, for without you I am nothing. Yet I remain apart from your fantasy. Here I stand, symbol of your want, your hunger, your desire and your lust—one and all, male and female—but rest assured you can never have me.

But equally disturbing since my arrival in 1992 was my troubled sleep, dreams plagued by a demon and haunting images of another, alternate self. One that was weaker, more emotional than I.

Yet even in my conscious state, I was being tormented by uncertainty, accosted by unfamiliar feelings of denial, distrust and betrayal. And now I’d discovered that a new passion had been awakened—a passion heretofore unknown—a passion for emotional intimacy.

Yes, I had to admit that my attraction to Shauna went far beyond the superficial. It exceeded my rather curt allegation that perhaps it was she who held secret the knowledge that would empower me to see past the barriers that had so surreptitiously been placed before me.

To be sure, she fascinated me. Certainly the package she came in was enough to turn the head and raise the blood pressure of any red-blooded American male, but there was more. Something mysterious—and God knew I loved a good mystery, almost as much as I loved endeavoring to sate the needs of my sexual appetite.

Part of the enigma was the simple fact that I found her to be a puzzle; and that was something I’d never before equated with the fairer sex, preferring instead to imagine them as merely an end to a need.

I couldn’t deny that Shauna had awakened in me two needs: a need to be in her company—for in that company, I presumed to find comfort to ease a loneliness that until last night, in the lazy afterglow of sex, I hadn’t been aware even existed—as well as a need to discover more about the conflicting passions she seemed to have brought to the surface.

I felt unguarded, helplessly open to her scrutiny, and I found that threatening. Something inside me told me that in order to more fully understand these new sensibilities, as well as my attraction to Shauna, I would have to become more open and vulnerable. That insight served to further threaten me; yet my instinct seemed to promise an end result that could prove more gratifying in more ways than any other result I’d previously sought as an end.

But what of her needs? What if I were simply a diversion? Her interest in me, the way she looked at me and the interest I purported to be in that look, seemed to be genuine; yet she was a performer.

I tried to picture her nightly selecting a different paladin to keep her supplied with caffeine while amusing herself with small talk at their expense and couldn’t.

I took note of the dance floor, filled to capacity with dancers, most perspiring profusely as a result of their exertions while the empty stools down the length of the bar confirmed that I was among the scant few who weren’t out on the dance floor.

On stage Shauna was also perspiring heavily, the result of her aerobic efforts as she and her band mates rocked vehemently. I watched, entranced, as she worked the dancers, feeding off them and then, almost as if in grateful acknowledgment, gave it back to them. The energy she emitted was then caught by the dancers, where it was held for a moment as they basked in its warmth, before being sent back magnified a hundred-fold.

No doubt about it, I thought. She’s in her element.

Suddenly I knew. And just as suddenly, I knew that Shauna knew.

This was her fantasy, her escape from whatever trials and tribulations that defined her own personal reality. Her sincere congeniality simply mirrored that reality. She was completely at peace with herself, and her contentedness grew from within. Her self-assurance came not from performing, as I’d originally imagined, but instead from the serenity that comes with being totally quiescent with oneself.

I breathed a sigh of relief. I now knew that whatever doubts I’d had concerning Shauna’s integrity were now unwarranted. While she seemed to enjoy teasing me incessantly, I knew she would never knowingly hurt me. She was honest, a rare commodity even in 1947, as well as trustworthy. Perhaps it was seeing mirrored in another my own strong ethics that had attracted me to Shauna.

Shauna.

Suddenly that name didn’t fit her, and I knew it was assumed. I was now more than ever driven to find out more about her.

I regained my composure and confidence. I could only hope she wouldn’t knock me flat on my ass ten seconds after she seated herself on the stool next to me. She had a way of keeping me off-balance, and I couldn’t deny that I enjoyed her playful ridicule. I couldn’t help but find myself amused by it, as well as challenged.

She evidently felt comfortable in my company, despite the ponderous disposition I’d displayed. Maybe she was just trying to get me to loosen up. The idea of her playful affection warmed me.

Well, I concluded, two can play at that game. I’ll just have to even the score.

On stage Shauna was introducing the next song, a ballad to be sung by her backup singer, a knockout blonde named Melody, in whom I wasn’t the least bit interested.

Shauna locked eyes with me as she put the microphone back into its cradle and, with a slight motion of her head, invited me to join her on the dance floor.

A moment later she slipped into my arms and nestled herself comfortably into my embrace, nothing vulgar, just comfortable. I led, marveling at the soft texture of her hand.

Is it really that small?

My heartbeat quickened as she moved her other hand up around my neck, her head now resting on my chest; my own head was aswirl with myriad sensations, all of them pleasant. I contented myself with the moment, knowing it would be over all too soon, finding solace in the hope that there would be many more such moments. If I never found a way back to my own time, I could think of worse places with less desirable people to spend the rest of my life.

I inhaled the sweet fragrance of her hair; somehow, miraculously, it had managed to escape the fate to which Chrissie’s had succumbed. I sighed and tightened my hand around hers.

In response she gazed up into my pale green eyes with her own brown ones, alive with mischief, and accused, “Boring you to pieces, am I?”

I only smiled my pleasure at her and pushed her head back down to its rightful place.

A moment later the song came to an end and with it the moment.

Her eyes alive with mirth, she promised to join me at the bar in just a few minutes, where she would proceed to “drink you under the table.”

“No mean feat,” I countered. “Considering the alcoholic content of cola.”

She left for the stage, while I, feeling ten feet tall, headed for the barstool I’d been keeping warm all night. The envious glances from the other male patrons in the establishment did nothing save to inflate an already-swelling ego.

While I waited for the set to end, I tried to think of a way to arrange a more intimate meeting with Shauna. I didn’t wish to come on too strong, too desperate; yet playing it too insouciant would risk looking like I was simply coming on.

As a result of this new dilemma, I became aware of the delicate nature of what I was contemplating. Never before had the consequences of rejection weighed so heavily. In the past, rejection simply meant moving on to the next most likely candidate; my needs had always been easy enough to accommodate. Never before had I been faced with the perils associated with the failure to attain that which I so desperately aspired.

Desperately?

I was beginning to sound like a man smitten. And the implication that I affiliated with that malady left me with a feeling of mounting inadequacy.

Needs: I needed to find out who I was and why, for the first time in my life, I was being harassed by moments of anxious apprehension. Furthermore, I needed to explore the uncertainty of the reality of my existence.

I should catch a flight to Michigan, if that’s what it took, and try to locate this Robert Porter character. I was convinced more than ever that he could better provide answers to the list of questions that seemed to lengthen of its own volition than Shauna could. But I seemed paralyzed by fear, a never-before faced debility because until now I’d never encountered it. And it was safe to say that the basis for that fear was the revelation of that which my endeavors might unearth.

Wants: I wanted to explore my uncharacteristic fascination with the mystery girl on stage. I’d initially thought that she might possess answers to questions and I still thought that, but to which questions?

I began to reassess the nature of those questions. I wanted her but for more than just her body.

Through her, I felt certain I could learn something of myself; yet what that lesson might be, I had no clue.

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A taste of a work-in-progress

Since Betrayal was published, many people have asked me if I’m working on another novel. Each time, my response was the same: ‘I’m always working on another novel’. Nine times out of ten, they reacted with surprise, as if once was enough. But, for those of us who write, once is never enough.

Many of these same people asked if I’m writing a sequel, or if it’s the same style of story as ‘Betrayal’. My answer was always no.

So, in order to prove that I am writing another novel, and it’s not a sequel, I decided to provide a small excerpt from what is very definitely a work-in-progress. It’s the first draft of a half-written manuscript, and it will have to endure a multitude of editings before I’m satisfied with it. But, here it is…just a taste of ‘Letters from Nowhere’. (Actually, this is Chapter 3)

             I remembered the mysterious letter only after the kids were in bed, my chores were done, and I was getting ready to crawl under the covers for the night. With all the usual evening drama it had completely slipped my mind. I rushed downstairs to root through my bag and pull out the forgotten mail. I hastily shoved the regular bills and papers into a drawer, and I grabbed the mysterious envelope to take upstairs with me to read in bed. Something this special deserved a comfortable environment to give it full honors.

            On my way past Ethan’s bedroom I was summoned for a last-minute attempt at prolonging bedtime. Much to his disappointment, I didn’t fall for it. A few minutes later I was happily ensconced in my bed covered with a plump duvet.

            I was eager to see the contents, but hesitant to rip open the authentic-looking envelope. I wanted to preserve the look of the yellowed paper and the faded cursive writing. But I knew to discover who had sent it to me it had to be opened.

            Gently, I slid my finger under the seal and pried it open with minimal damage to the envelope. When I looked inside I was delighted to see the letter was also written on paper that had been made to look very old. Whoever was behind this knew how to peak my curiosity.

            As I unfolded the letter I could have sworn there were several particles of dust that fell onto my duvet. I was tempted to look at the bottom of the page to discover who had sent it to me, but decided I would delay the pleasure and see if I could guess by the contents of the letter.

My dearest,

            I imagine you are surprised to hear from me. I am almost as surprised to find myself writing this letter to you. In my thoughts I have written it a thousand times, each time wondering if it would be good enough for you; if you would be able to understand the way I feel. Would the words be clear enough? Would my feelings show through?

            I have never fancied myself as a writer of love letters, but I know I can always learn. If it is the only way I can communicate with you, then so be it. Hopefully, in the future, you will come to appreciate me in different ways, and you will see I am someone worth getting to know and perhaps love.

            I could probably fill many pages with words about your beauty, both inside and out, but I know your head won’t be turned by such behaviour. You have heard it too many times before from too many men.

            Instead, I will try to help you, in any way that I can. You will come to appreciate me more that way. You don’t think you need help. You’re a very strong, independent woman, but everyone needs a friend. And, for now at least, that is what I will be to you, a friend.

            So, my dearest friend, I wish you a good night and sweet dreams.

 

            I stared at the letter in disbelief for several minutes. It was unsigned and I had no clue who had written it to me. It was also kind of creepy. Some strange man was writing me love letters. It sounded like we may have already met. I looked around the room, at the darkened corners, and the door of the closet that stood ajar.

             Actually, this was beyond creepy.

            I reread the letter, and told myself I had to calm down. The second time around, I decided it was actually very generic. No names were mentioned at any point; not mine, not his, not the names of these imaginary men who were constantly telling me how beautiful I am.

            Therefore, it was obviously a prank. This guy was sending out letters to many women, trying to freak us all out. He had succeeded with me, but only temporarily, and it would surely end there. I would be extra cautious in my movements to and from the house, but I refused to let myself be driven crazy by this lunatic.

            I finally drifted off to sleep after two tours of the house to make sure everything was locked up tight, and several hours of tossing and turning.

 

***

A.J. McCarthy is the author of ‘Betrayal’ a romantic suspense thriller published by Indigo Sea Press.

 

 

 

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January’s Paradigm—by J. Conrad Guest

Robert Porter is enjoying the fruits of success: a best-selling detective novel featuring a hard-nosed detective circa 1947 named Joe January, and a lucrative contract for the sequel. But his world comes crashing down around him when he witnesses his wife’s infidelity. 

As Porter sinks into a morass of grief over her abandonment, only one person can help him regain his self-esteem and dignity. One man alone can help Porter set things right … and that person’s name is Joe January. But he doesn’t even exist … or does he?

Photo courtesy of Craig David Butler

Photo courtesy of Craig David Butler

 

January’s Paradigm is the novel that started it all.

It’s been nearly fifteen years since the second edition of January’s Paradigm went to print, and nearly twenty-five years since I sat down to write the first words: I stepped out of the dark, smoky habitat of Earl’s Place.

Two more January novels followed, and I’ve since seen six more of my children published. I’ve learned much over the years, about myself and also about the craft of writing. Should the learning ever cease, I will lay down my pen.

I was pleased when Indigo Sea agreed to publish this fourth edition so that the entire trilogy would bear their imprint. However, I was resistant to even read January’s Paradigm these many years later. I cringed at the prospect for fear that I would wish to rewrite large portions of it. Certainly there were many sections of narrative I would write differently were I writing it today.

In preparing this edition, I wished to maintain the integrity of as much of the original text as possible, not only to show where I was in my life twenty-five years ago, but also to show the progress I’ve made as a writer and a stylist.

The changes are minor, mostly to do with formatting and structure. I resisted the urge to add or revise narrative, with a very few exceptions – what can I say? I’m a perfectionist and never could refrain from tink­ering, which is why I rarely revisit my novels once they go to print. I can always find ways to improve a text; never perfect, I can only achieve “closer to perfection.”

January’s Paradigm holds its rightful place in my body of work, and I remain proud of this endeavor.

Below appears an excerpt.

“Come any closer and I’ll cut her, I swear,” the punk with the knife said. The fear in his voice was obvious, making him all the more dan­gerous.

While I’d been busy disposing of the first two goons, this one had managed to take Susan hostage. He stood behind her, his left arm wrapped tightly around her waist; Susan’s heavy breasts rested on the forearm that held her in check, while the punk’s right hand held the knife to the soft pale flesh of her throat. The corner streetlight glinted intermittently off the shiny blade, evidence of the kid’s nervousness.

I saw the stark panic reflected in Susan’s dark eyes, and the unspent portion of my rage ascended to a new apogee. That Porter would subject his supposed ideal to the rigors of this assault was beyond my capacity to reason, and I hated him for it. I hated him for being respon­sible for the terror that now resided where before I’d seen only laughter and love, brief respites of concern for me, and hurt (that I’d been the cause of); the sum of which had managed to endear her to me. But even they paled beside the intensity of what was now being reflected in her eyes.

Suddenly, I was uncertain of how to proceed, as I was equally un­certain of Porter’s intent for orchestrating this sequence of events. Did he intend to eliminate Susan from the story? If he did, would her ab­sence from this fantasy cause him to stir from his torpidity, or merely serve to drive him deeper into an already nearly fatal state of denial?

I was no longer certain, as I’d been moments before while dis­patching Porter’s other two lackeys, that Porter knew what would tran­spire in the next few minutes. To me, it felt as yet unscripted. The choice, it appeared, was mine to make. Just as it had been my choice the other night to deal with Kate in the manner I had.

Yet never before had the consequences of my options weighed so heavily.

To act might spell Susan’s demise, for by taking action there was al­ways the chance of success. But to turn around and walk away from this situation would certainly spell doom for her.

Some dim part of my consciousness knew that, in Porter’s reality, this is precisely how situations such as this ended. The assailant’s sexual climax was predicated on violence, and so the pinnacle of that act of passion was really in the aftermath, when the ultimate climax ended with the victim’s death.

“Walk away, man. I just want the girl. Walk away now and I just might let her live. Make any more trouble, I’ll cut her for sure.” I could hear the tension in the voice rising, while Susan’s eyes implored that I pay no heed to the voice coming from just behind her right ear.

In the past, I had always reacted on the pretense of right and wrong; those reactions usually benefitted the underdog.

To walk away now would serve Porter right; let him deal with his own tortured reality.

Yet to walk away would also be wrong, for by doing so I relegated Susan, the aforementioned aggrieved underdog, to certain doom. 

What should that matter to me? She’s just a product of Porter’s imagination, same as the kid threatening to spill her blood, same as everyone I’ve ever met, pre­sent, past and future. Hell, the same as me.

That’s not true, that other part of me rebuked. You are real. You must be.

“Come on, man. Don’t make me ask again.”

I noted the look of fear in the kid’s eyes and something else as well, something behind the eyes. Another presence. The same presence that was responsible for all that had, and would, transpire in this fantasy. It wrote the words the kid recited with such uncertainty; yet unsure how I might react, itself terrified that I might abandon it, that other presence betrayed its own uncertainty in the eyes of Susan’s captor. A look that was totally out of character for the character, it pleaded with me. It begged me not to abandon it.

That same presence existed in Susan’s eyes as well.

I closed my eyes as I became painfully aware that there was more at stake here than mere right or wrong.

Walking away to spite Porter would surely sign Susan’s death war­rant, and Porter’s shame at being the instrument of her degradation would be too much to bear. He would cut short her suffering because never again would he be able to look into her eyes through mine and bear the pain of having been the author of her fate. 

Yes, I reasoned, it would be wrong to punish you at Susan’s expense. She is but an innocent bystander. 

But why? I argued back. She’s not real. 

But what she represents is. The voice of the gargoyle.

“Porter’s paradigm is mine also,” I muttered.

“What was that?” the kid said.

I ignored him.

I saw the truth in my rationale; but it was a truth that remained blurred, just out of focus. That I should desire what Porter desired was only natural; it was no secret I desired Susan, as did Porter. We were, after all, one and the same. A derivative of Porter’s more abject nature, I allowed Porter the avenue of escape to investigate a lifestyle more glamorous than his own mundane existence permitted.

But I had discovered an unnatural attachment to Susan these past several days. Not only had I grown protective of her, but fond as well. In a way that my own equally mundane existence between the covers of One Hot January had not permitted.

In a sense, Susan was more real than anyone I’d ever encountered, because of Porter’s attachment to her. He’d modeled her after an ideal. She wasn’t just a fictional creation for one of his novels, but instead someone he wished with all his heart he might find in his own an­guished reality.

I recalled the way Susan relished teasing me, but instead of embar­rassment, I now felt the warmth of affection at the image of her making sport of me, playfully mocking my odd dialect. Coming to my rescue when my inhibitions allowed me to only blush. Her eyes, full of life and love and laughter, and the way she looked at me with those eyes; not with selfish lust as others had, but with selfless kindness, understanding and genuine affection, as well as concern, just as genuine, as she had when I’d arrived unexpectedly at The Oasis just an hour ago. Her laughter, warm and resonant, a wonderfully melodic sound to my ears. I recalled the way she touched me when I least expected it, and all of the other special gifts that made her uniquely her.

All the attributes that Porter coveted, and believed himself worthy of, were the same traits that I now discovered equally desirable yet un­obtainable, because I saw myself, in view of my checkered past, as un­worthy.

In short, I was in love with Susan Anders. The realization brought my eyes open.

“Don’t even think it, man,” the punk said, but the look in his eyes said otherwise. “I’ll cut her, I swear I will.” The statement lacked con­viction. Not a declaration of certitude, it seemed to invite a reply. I obliged.

“You do and I’ll kill you.” I spoke the words softly, yet the weight they carried was obvious.

The kid’s eyes went wide with fear; a moment later a puddle of water appeared on the sidewalk between his feet.

“You’re freakin’ nuts.”

“No,” I said. “Just pissed.”

If this had been a book, I might’ve found the moment humorous; but this wasn’t a book. Although the setting was fictitious and teeming with fictional characters, the outcome of events held life and death ramifications for Robert Porter and all he held near and dear. Susan Anders, for one, or more importantly the ideal she represented. The hope that she, or someone like her, existed in his reality.

And me, too, I suddenly discerned for the first time. Hadn’t I been a paradigm of sorts to Porter, albeit flawed as I was?

I now understood what the voice inside my head meant about be­ing stronger together as one. I also understood why Susan wanted him – Porter – to soften January’s character and make him more real.

In One Hot January, Porter would’ve found some way for me to come to Susan’s rescue in some fancifully violent way that would’ve left her assailant bloodied and broken, and somehow glorify the ferocity of my wrath by having the damsel in distress repay her debt to my hero­ism with sexual favors.

But this was not One Hot January.

I merely dismissed the kid with a nonchalant wave of my hand.

“Go on,” I said. All of the controlled anger of a few moments ago was gone.

“Get out of here before you get hurt.”

The kid didn’t wait around to be told a second time. Dropping the knife, he released Susan and, with a look of relief mingled with thanks, made good his pardon from my rage. The thanks, I was certain, be­longed to that other person I’d briefly glimpsed, the person who had pleaded that I not walk away. The rapidity of the kid’s departure left me momentarily amused.

The next moment found Susan in my arms, her body wracked by sobs, the release of her previous anguish.

In the past, I would’ve had some humorous anecdote ready, a segue into what would’ve brought the chapter to a sort of anti-climax.

But this wasn’t the past, so I kept silent, offering comfort in a strangely different way.

There was nothing I could say to assuage her distress, so I simply returned her embrace, stroking her soft hair, inhaling its fragrance, amazed that the adrenaline high of a moment ago, coupled with the firm reality of Susan’s close proximity, hadn’t resulted in the usual sex­ual arousal.

A minute later, the violence of her sobs ebbed, and she managed to say between hiccoughs, “I thought … for a minute I thought … I thought you’d leave me.”

“Never,” I whispered, and felt her grip tighten.

The word was meant to reassure her; but even as I spoke it, I knew it was a lie, for I now knew I would be leaving her. And soon.

Inside, I grieved over her loss from me.

J. Conrad Guest, author of: 500 Miles To GoA Retrospect In Death, A World Without Music, Backstop: A Baseball Love Story In Nine InningsJanuary’s Thaw, and One Hot January

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Excerpt from ‘Betrayal’

My novel, Betrayal, published by Second Wind Publishing, will be launched on June 1st. To give you a bit of a preview, I have chosen an excerpt from the book to post to my blog. I hope you enjoy it.

Ben stood for a moment, staring blankly at the closed door. He was trying to assimilate everything that had happened today. The arrival of the girl had been a surprise, and he had suspected all along she was hiding something, but now it was confirmed. Now he knew that not only was she hiding something, but it was something dangerous. Tori had had a very good reason not to follow the road back into town. She was running from someone and that someone had just come knocking at his door.

The two strangers had obviously followed her footprints through the snow. Ben had no doubt Tori had made no effort to cover her tracks. It had taken a lot of explaining on his part to convince them it was his footprints leading to the cabin, and he wasn’t so sure they were entirely convinced.

There had been no question in his mind of handing her over to them. True, he valued his private time alone in his cabin and he would have preferred Tori had chosen someone else’s lake to fall into, but he was not cold-blooded enough to turn her over to a couple of goons. She was in trouble and he wasn’t going to make it worse for her. Ben pivoted and looked speculatively towards the bedroom where she was hiding.

He knew she had heard everything that had been said, but hadn’t been able to understand. He also knew she had probably recognized the voices at the door and remembered them as belonging to the people who had inflicted those bruises on her neck and face. He was sure they were responsible for her injuries. Several pieces of the puzzle fit together now. There were still some gaping spaces, but, if he handled this carefully, he might be able to fill them in. The question was whether he really wanted to. After all, this cabin was meant to be his refuge, not a hotbed of intrigue.

A.J. McCarthy is the author of Betrayal, soon to be published by Second Wind Publishing.

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Thinking in Pictures, by Sheila Deeth

I joined Pinterest. H-E-L-P. I have a page at https://www.pinterest.com/sheiladeeth/ and I’m “pinning” pictures to it. Sometimes I “repin” and wonder what it means. Then I join groups and find their folders added to my page, which is a good thing, right? I think… Maybe…

To be honest, Pinterest really shouldn’t scare me so much. I’ve always loved drawing. I might even be the last person around who can claim to love Microsoft Draw. But words are my first love, and how will posting pictures get people to read them?

I joined Google+ where I have another e-page at https://plus.google.com/u/0/+SheilaDeeth/posts. That link is filled with glorious images too. Then I joined a picture group and played with… words. So what do you think?

I tried so hard, but the text still disappear into petals and leaves. The background’s too full of things to see, I guess. But what about this? (And yeah, I really do like coffee!)

I took this photo with empty space left for words, so perhaps I’ve got it sussed. And in fiction, maybe the trick’s to make sure I don’t let the background get cluttered. I’ll try to take my own advice as I work on Subtraction today, but here’s the beginning of Part 2, where I introduce Andrew’s childhood friendship with Evie. I hope it might whet your appetite, and I hope it doesn’t clutter up the tale of his future too much.

Ten-year-old Evelyn, neat, tiny, and wreathed in long dark curls, was playing with eleven-year-old Andrew on the ground behind their houses. A neighbor’s cat had climbed the old oak tree that rose from summer’s unwatered dust and debris. Evie pranced among twisted roots as if the ground burned her feet. “You’ll have to rescue it, Andrew!” Hands flew to her hips while her skirt swung wide. Meanwhile Andrew thought of an unrescued red rubber ball lost somewhere in undergrowth. Finding that would be much more interesting. But Evelyn shouted again. “Andrew, you’ll have to climb up there and carry it down.”

Scents of green dripped around him with drifting leaves. Scents of brown kicked up from the dry earth around Evie’s feet. And emerald eyes stared out among the shadows of a black cat’s fur.

Ever-practical, Andrew measured the lack of earth-bound branches and the width of the old oak’s trunk. He angled his fingers out from his thumb, stared past them, then answered solemnly, “No way.”

“But you’ll have to, Andrew!” Evelyn’s stamping feet threw puffs of dirt around her legs.

So Andrew asked, “How?”

Sheila Deeth is the author of Divide by Zero, published by Second Wind Publishing. Her second novel, Infinite Sum, will be released soon, and Subtraction is the third novel in the series.

 

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