Thursday, January 31, 2008

Late Bloomer in the Water excerpt by Eric Arvin

The following excerpt is available in Slight Details & Random Events, a collection of short stories from one of today's most talented and challenging new writers. Eric Arvin covers everything from college love to mystical river sprites, from deep tragedy to bawdy sex comedy, in this collection that takes the everyday and finds the adventure within. It's a read sure to keep you guessing.

Slight Details & Random Events
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press, November 8, 2007
ISBN-10: 0980101808


He learned to swim at the clever age of twenty-eight. Gail Harm was always a late bloomer. He was kept from the water by fear and doubt, by an anxiety he could never quite name. A false sense of insecurity. He observed others, how they found their pace in the current, how they managed, and he respected them for it. Indeed, he felt something resembling awe toward them. But he never ventured into the water himself. Best to let those who know the water do the swimming.
When he was younger – when all the other boys were learning to tread water at the pool – he stood at the side, shuddering more from embarrassment of being topless, exposed, than from any actual coolness of air on skin. His parents and friends had tried to encourage him. At so young an age, though, encouragement and threats are hard to differentiate through a veil of fear. No one ever got him to take so much as a toe-dip in the pool. Not once. He would watch the other swimmers with envy, he would watch televised swimming events with a sense of shame. Why could he not do it? Why could he never dive in? His adult life had continued to be just like that. Poolside shivers and self-conscious eyes. Stressing over the details and flaws, the exposure, that no one else seemed to notice. Or if they did, they never cared.
But then, at the age of twenty-eight – yes, that late – Gail blossomed forth.
He shot up through the internalized phobias that others had unknowingly planted in him and went swimming in a small pond. Dove in for the very first time. The fact that he knew how to swim was not a surprise. He had watched other boys, now men, in the water all his life. He knew a breaststroke from a backstroke. What did surprise him was how perfect it felt. The moment he hit the water, that glorious splash scattered his inhibitions. Naked, and okay with being naked. Perfectly fine with being a twenty-eight year old, naked, late bloomer in the water.
On the opposite bank, watching him, lovingly encouraging him without a hint of threat, was the springboard to Gail’s awakening. Marsh Gary.
To Gail’s astonishment, Marsh had begun undressing right there on the banks of the pond as they walked around it on that late afternoon. The summer was kind. It hadn’t been too hot, and a breeze caused ripples on the water. Marsh took every piece of clothing off slowly, as if it were nothing, as if he were in his room readying for bed. He kept his eyes locked to Gail’s and he smiled.
“What are you doing?” Gail asked breathlessly. Forbidden things surfaced in his mind. As forbidden to himself as the touch of water.
“I’m going swimming,” Marsh teased. “Meet me on the other side.” Gail wandered if that was a question intent on making him jump in as well. He could just as easily walk around the pong and meet Marsh there.
Marsh ran and jumped into the pond, his body elongated and elegant. Gail was burning up just looking at him. He watched Marsh cross the water with ease. Such beauty and grace. When he climbed onto the opposite bank he waved Gail over, his skin shining. Forbidden, but how sweet the touch must be.
“I don’t know how,” Gail shouted across the pond. “I don’t know how to swim.”
“You never learned?” Had he never told Marsh? But then, why would he have?
“Never.” But something in Gail told him he knew how to do it.
“It’s nothing. You can do it. It’s the most natural thing in the world, Gail. We’re all born in liquid, after all. It’s like swimming through oxygen, just heavier.”
“But what if I sink?”
Frogs and birds listened with anticipation.
“I’m here,” Marsh assured him. “I’m right here and I’ll help you.”
Gail didn’t understand why Marsh’s assurance was all he needed to hear. It made no sense that that alone would ease his fear, his trepidation. But it did. He no longer felt the dread; it dripped away.
Gail quickly disrobed. His was not the easy, graceful disrobing that Marsh had performed. No, his was frenzied and clumsy. But once he was totally nude he stood erect, proud, as if showing off to Marsh. As if saying “Look what I can do!” A phrase he had never proclaimed as a child.
“Come on then! Jump in! I’m right here. Just come to me.”
And so Gail dove in. Marsh was right. The water felt true. It felt natural. Why had he refused it for so long? Sure, it was muddy and murky, but that no longer seemed to bother him. He could get through it the same as everyone else.
He swam and he was good at it. Marsh watched him, smiling, returning the grin that Gail wore even as his face was submerged beneath the pond water. He was doing it; he was swimming. But that realization, and its companion thought that he had missed so much by avoiding the water all these years, made him fumble. He jerked with fear and seemed to forget what it was he was doing.
He began to struggle; he began to panic.
“Calm down!” Marsh shouted from the shore. “You’re doing fine. You’re doing great.”
But Gail could not regain his composure and security. He began to sink. And he thought the water was there to tease him all along, just to get him to dive in so he would drown.
As he struggled, he heard a splash and soon felt the comforting strength of an arm around his neck, pulling him to the pond bank. Marsh looked down upon Gail as he lay on the ground, breathing, rasping. The realization that he had survived excited him.
“You’re okay,” Marsh said. “See? You’re okay. You did it.”
Gail said nothing. He stared into Marsh’s face, into the kindness, the understanding. He cherished each drop of water that fell from Marsh’s nose and eyelashes onto his own flesh. Without embarrassment, he enjoyed the feel of Marsh’s wet, naked form on top of his own, of Marsh’s hand stroking his hair.
Of Marsh’s lips on his. Wet lips, kissing gently but strong.
“Now,” Marsh whispered, not more than an inch from Gail’s face, “aren’t you glad you jumped in?”

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Protector excerpt by NL Gassert

Below is an excerpt from The Protector, the debut romantic suspense novel in a planned series.

The Protector
Seventh Window Publications, January 18, 2008
ISBN-10: 0971708967


The air over the marina was thick with September humidity. Moored to the dock, boats gently swayed as moonlit waves slapped up against their hulls. The scent of the Pacific Ocean saturated the night. Mason Ward smiled to himself. But while the scene was idyllic, the situation was far from it. For one thing, the redhead walking down the dock beside him wasn't a date, and he wasn't walking as much as he was dragging his feet. Mason didn't date much, had in fact not been on a date in months, but men weren't usually this reluctant to share his company.
Of course, he had a lousy track record where redheads were concerned. Right out of High School and still very much in denial about his attraction to men, he'd married a lovely and fire-headed girl. Today, Angela, his ex-wife of ten years, was as disinterested in him as theyoung man walking down the dock next to him. Mason couldn't help but wonder what he'd gotten himself into.
Not two hours before, past a time when polite people decided it was too late to call anyone in the same time zone, Mason's phone had rung. Although determined not to answer it, he'd still checked the display. His friend Kaoru called him infrequently enough that this late night call had aroused Mason's curiosity. He'd answered, and in typical fashion, Kaoru—only the second FBI agent to be born and raised on Guam—had skipped the small talk to come right to the point. "Listen, Mason, old buddy, I've got this kid who's in trouble. I need a safe place to stash him for a week or two."
Mason groaned, seeing his weekend plans grinding to a halt. "Are you looking for a babysitter or a bodyguard?""Both. The kid's knee-deep in some serious shit. But I'm having issues with his story. I need him somewhere safe and out of reach.""How out of reach?""Extended cruise out of reach. I need him sober and away from his father.""This father, is he a problem?""Yes," Kaoru said. "I'm going out on a limb here for the kid. I need someone I can trust to take him off my hands for a while, someone who can handle him and, if worse comes to worst, the father."Really, the call itself told Mason all he needed to know. His friend wasn't in the habit of looking for help outside the department."You won't regret it," Kaoru promised before he hung up.Oh yes, I will, Mason thought. He had a feeling that bringing Soren Buchanan, James "The Smile" Buchanan's son, home with him had trouble written all over it.
Mason and Soren reached their destination at the end of the long dock and Mason shot the sullen shadow to his right a very deliberate, very slow look, letting his eyes travel down Soren's lean frame. A few months shy of twenty-three. Just under six feet. Rangy. Hair like burnished copper. Eyes like jade. Cheekbone and jaw discolored with bruises. T-shirt stained with his own blood.
The kid shoved his hands into the front pockets of his faded Levis and stared at the dark yacht before them. "What's this?""A boat.""I can see that."Mason arched a dark brow and shrugged. The FBI's notes on Soren suggested that challenging authority came as naturally to him as breathing. And drinking. "Your home for the next two weeks.""You've got to be kidding.""I've been hired to keep you sober and out of your father's long reach. This will be it for the next two weeks."The boat—a 58-foot Alaskan-style trawler—was a good idea. Not exactly Mason's first choice, because it was his home, but a good idea nonetheless. Still, the kid didn't seem inclined to board the yacht voluntarily. Mason gave him a firm nudge onboard when glaring at him didn't do the trick.
"Let me show you something." Mason maneuvered his guest into the pilothouse. He pointed to a navigational chart unrolled on the table."We'll be here." He tapped the vastness of the paper Pacific ocean with a manicured finger. "This is us right now." He swept his finger to the eastern edge of the chart where Guam's coastline was visible, making his point. He let that sink in.
"Now," he fixed the redhead with a measuring look, "let's get some things straight. There is no alcohol on board. None. And I'm a very thorough guy."Soren shoved his hands back into the pockets of his jeans and tore his attention off the chart. "What does that mean?""That means," Mason explained, "I even threw out the mouthwash and the rubbing alcohol under the sink. You get into any scrapes, we've got peroxide.""Screw you."Mason grunted. On an island populated with tawny-skinned, dark-haired beauties, Soren was an exotic exception that drew the eyes of men and women alike. Mason's weakness for redheads aside, he wondered just how Soren would react to a come-on. Did Soren follow through or was he just a tease?
Mason grabbed him by the sleeve of his T-shirt, determined not to fall into the kid's trap. He led the redhead down two sets of stairs and a narrow passageway, into a large stateroom where Soren shook off his hand and turned to face him with narrowed green eyes that radiateddisdain.
Mason straightened and crossed muscular arms in front of his chest."Take your clothes off.""What?"Mason enjoyed the moment. Ruffling the kid's feathers wasn't easy, but it was certainly satisfying. "Your clothes," he repeated. "Take them off. I want to look at"—he gestured, not sure what to call the result of abuse—"you."Soren ignored him, turning his back. He chose to inspect the spacious stateroom instead. His curious glance swept over gleaming teak and the dark sheets and blankets on the large, neatly made bed that dominated the room. He looked at books organized on shelves. Touched fingers toframed photographs grouped together between two open ports that let in the humid night air. Eyed the alphabetized CD collection. "This is nice.""Yes, it is. Thank you. Don't get used to it. It's my bedroom. Yours is down there. Less nice." Mason pointed absently, sat on his bed and spread out the contents of his first-aid kit before him. There was the usual: adhesive bandages of all sizes, gauzes and such, and a few things he'd added over the years. Like Ben's homemade and pungent cure for rashes of all kinds. And his grandmother's ointment that soothed most aches and pains.
"Strip. Sit," he said, pointing at the edge of the bed.Soren wrinkled his nose. "What's that smell?""Menthol."He didn't move. Mason waited, stared. It was a short standoff. The kid caved in first. Mason heard Soren's muffled wince that accompanied the shirt sliding past red hair and saw the color drain from already pale skin.
Soren tossed the shirt to the side. It slid over the edge of the bed and onto the floor. He obviously didn't give it a second's thought, but Mason's fingers itched to pick it up. Instead, he waited until his guest sat gingerly on the bed, then moved behind him.
Someone had indeed been very pissed off, and from the looks of it Soren's back had suffered the brunt of the aggression, probably having been slammed up against a few hard surfaces. Mason suspected the kid was either still drunk or high on painkillers. Probably both. All the same, Soren hissed, cringed and flinched away from Mason's gentle touch and the cool salve he spread across the bruises and scrapes."So, who did this to you?"Soren closed his eyes. He hung his head and his tousled hair—a tad too long for Mason's taste—fell to hide his face. "What do you care?"His father, James "The Smile" Buchanan, was an active player on the political court. Despite four marriages, their failures and his appetite for vastly younger women, Buchanan could have been governor twice over. His whirlwind marriage to Soren's mother, a Swedish supermodel—a relationship whispered to have been a publicity stunt—had catapulted him out of the realm of politics and into full-fledged celebrity status. His list of wealthy and influential friends andacquaintances read like the Who's Who? of Guam.
But there was more to James Buchanan than his public persona. He wasn't a man to cross. He was too influential, too well connected, and, if rumors were true, too ruthless. Mason had the feeling that talk of a short fuse and a bad temper wasn't just idle gossip, not with the man's battered and bruised son sitting before him. He watched the kid's shoulders tense as he ran a salved and slippery hand down his bruised flank. Soren had the porcelain complexion of anatural redhead. The touch of bronze the constant and unrelenting Guamanian sun had added was barely enough to produce a tan line. It was quite a shame that the freckled skin was marred with bruises."So, Kaoru said your father did this to you. That true?""Do you always ask so many questions?""I get paid to ask questions.""Ah.""So, is it true?""Yes.""Why?"Soren sighed, shrugged, and winced. "I wasn't a model son. I embarrassed him in front of his business associates."
Mason made a low noise in the back of his throat. James "The Smile" Buchanan had a temper. Even Kaoru suspected violent opposition or he wouldn't have suggested taking the kid off the island. "Did you embarrass him?""I was drunk.""You're drunk a lot." It was in the notes he'd read. Soren's eyes snapped open and his head came up. He held Mason's even stare with a fierce look of his own. "No, I'm not.""Uh huh.""I am not." He jerked back when Mason examined a large bruise covering his ribs. "I'm not," he said again. "I don't drink all the time. Matter of fact, I don't drink all that often." He glared and sucked ina startled breath when Mason touched the bruise. "But when I do, I'm serious about it. I drink to get drunk. Shit. That hurts." He clamped his mouth shut and grimaced.
"I see." Mason's unsympathetic hand prodded the bruise again. "I don't think it's cracked. Take a deep breath.""Why?""Just do it."Soren pursed his lips and took a breath. Mason sat back and fixed him with a look that would have had another man sucking more air into his lungs. "The idea is for you to move thatrib when you breathe."Soren did and grimaced again. "He waited until the next day. My father. Waited till I was sober. Even gave me an aspirin for the hangover. Then he beat the shit out of me.""Considerate.""Yeah. You were kidding about the boat and the two weeks, right?""No.""Shit. What if I get sea sick?""Do you?""I just might. You know, apparently being a recovering alcoholic and all.""Wiseass." Oh yeah, he'd invited trouble onboard for sure. Trouble that had nothing to do with Soren being The Smile's son and everything to do with him sitting on Mason's bed, half naked, vulnerable, red hair tousled. He was a temptation, and Mason's dormant hormones—jarredawake by hands sliding over warm flesh—were begging for a taste. There was such a thing as professionalism, though. Hormones notwithstanding, Mason knew he'd reached the line that separated medicinal touch from caress. Reluctantly he took his hands off the kid.
"I don't have any clothes."Mason nodded toward his dresser. "You can borrow some of mine."Mason felt Soren's appraising glance slide over his body like a warm touch. He groaned and got to his feet, bringing distance between the tease and his willpower."I'll doubt they fit."Mason took his own lingering look. "Feel free to strut around naked."Soren pulled his split lips into a grin. "You wish."

A extended four chapter excerpt is available:

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Snowball in Hell excerpt by Josh Lanyon

The following excerpt is from Snowball in Hell (available in Partners in Crime II: I’ll Be Dead for Christmas by Sarah Black & Josh Lanyon).

It's 1943 and the world is at war. Journalist Nathan Doyle has just returned home from North Africa--still recovering from wounds received in the Western Desert Campaign--when he's asked to cover the murder of a society blackmailer.
Lt. Matthew Spain of the LAPD homicide squad hates the holidays since the death of his beloved wife a few months earlier, and this year isn’t looking much cheerier what with the threat of attack by the Japanese and a high-profile homicide investigation. Matt likes Nathan; maybe too much.
If only he didn’t suspect that Nathan had every reason to commit murder.

Partners in Crime II - I'll Be Dead for Christmas
MLR Press, December 4, 2007
ISBN: 1934531022
Available through Amazon, B&N, and fine indie booksellers everywhere.


Pearl scrambled out of her cab before it stopped. She darted across the shining wet sidewalk, past the fish sculptured fountains, spumes of white shooting into the dusk, and disappeared through the side entrance of Union Station. Nathan swore, finally found a parking slot, and turned the engine off. He was out of the car, and loping across the wet and oily lot, following Pearl as he’d been following her since the moment she sneaked out of Sid Szabo’s apartment building and into a waiting taxi.
Inside Union Station was a madhouse. Porters hustled, families greeted and friends good-byed, the sheer volume of sound rising from the marble floors and Spanish tiles, soaring up and disappearing into the cathedral-high ceiling and the gigantic iron chandeliers. Nathan scanned the milling crowd for Pearl’s hat -- a silly little fur doughnut balancing on Pearl’s silly little platinum head. But there was no sign of either the hat or Pearl as he avoided small children, animal carriers, and stacks of luggage, pushing his way through the mob of holiday travelers and GIs.
In answer to his urgent question, the gateman jerked his thumb towards the wide entrance leading to the tracks.
There was only one train at the platform, and it was starting to move.
Nathan ran, swinging himself up the steps as the train began to pick up speed. It took him a moment to catch his breath. He mopped his face on his rain-damp coat, and then set out to find Pearl in the crowded coaches.
He strode through four coaches filled with merry travelers -- but no Pearl. He pushed open the door to the dining car. That was packed too, and he almost missed her, wedged in between a steamy window and a fat lady in a bright blue coat. Pearl was mostly hidden behind an open menu, but he spied the fur doughnut dipping drunkenly over the menu.
A steward came forward and Nathan let himself be led to a table, politely insisting on one with a good view of his quarry.
If he’d suspected Pearl knew she was being followed, he was soon reassured. She scanned the menu leisurely, put it down and smiled discouragingly at the friendly overtures of the fat lady.
All at once Nathan was very tired. His side was hurting from his sprint to catch the train. He picked up a menu, glanced it over. He wasn’t hungry; he was rarely hungry these days, but he had to keep his energy level up. He watched Pearl over the top of his menu.
She stared determinedly out the window at the sky turning indigo, and the fat lady eventually gave up and devoted her earnest attention to a fashion magazine no doubt full of clothes she would never be able to wear.
The steward came and Nathan ordered a sandwich and a glass of milk. He ate with half an eye on Pearl, and half an eye on the rest of the passengers. The sky changed from indigo to purple, Pearl finished her meal and squeezed -- with great difficulty -- around the cooperative but ungainly lady in blue.
Doyle drained his milk glass, waited a few moments, and followed her out to the last car. It was a smoker car, about half-full with passengers. He took the seat across from her, lit up and stared out the window. In the reflection he watched Pearl take out a little jeweled cigarette case, select a cigarette, and tap it on the case. Her gaze fell on Doyle.
He glanced over as though only noticing her. “May I?” he said, pulling his lighter out.
She nodded, leaning towards him, watching him from beneath the foolish fur doughnut.
He nodded politely, snapped his lighter closed, and returned to watching her in the darkened window. She studied him appraisingly.
“Say,” she said. “Have we met?”
Doyle turned back to her. Cocked his head. “I’m not sure,” he said slowly, and he offered her his best smile. She smiled back. They always did. He looked unthreatening, like -- he had been told by a slightly inebriated starlet -- a gentleman.
He watched the conductor working his way slowly down the aisle, asking for tickets. A gabby old guy stopping to shoot the breeze with just about every passenger.
“I’m sure I’ve seen you around. You live in Los Angeles?” She pronounced it “Los Angle-less.”
“That’s right.” He expelled a stream of smoke, watching her working it out.
“You ever come around to the Las Palmas club?”
He widened his eyes. “Hey,” he said. “You’re her! The songbird.”
She laughed, delighted. Preened a little.
“Nice job you do on that ‘I’m Getting Sentimental Over You’ number.” Nathan told her, and listened to her warble on about the rest of her repertoire -- and then who she was going to be auditioning for next summer. He let her run ‘til she was out of steam, and then he said, “I was at the club on Saturday night. The night the Arlen kid was nabbed.”
Her smile slipped. She stared down at her cigarette. “Oh.”
“Shame about that.”
“So where are you headed?”
She relaxed. “Little Fawn Lodge. Not far from Indian Falls.”
He had a vague idea Indian Falls was located somewhere in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. He mimed surprise, and it wasn’t hard. “There’s a coincidence. That’s where I’m headed.”
“You’re kidding!” There was something funny in her face. “But…the ski resorts are all pretty much closed since the war.”
“Well, you see,” Nathan confided, “I’m not a skier, I’m a writer.”
“A writer,” Pearl repeated slowly. She was watching him with narrow eyes. “What kind of writer?”
“Screenwriter. For the pictures.” He figured that would impress her, but she remained wary. He’d misstepped, miscalculated either her paranoia or his own recognisibilty.
“You’re kidding.”
He shook his head. “I needed to get out of town. Needed some peace and quiet so I could work. Thought of the lodge.”
“You’ll get plenty of that.” She gave him that same discouraging smile she’d given the fat lady. “Well, it’s been swell shootin’ the breeze.” She jabbed her cigarette out, nodded to Nathan, rose and started down the aisle.
“See you around,” Doyle said to her back. She didn’t respond.
“Tickets please,” said the conductor, reaching Nathan at last.
“I’ll need to buy one from you,” Nathan said, pulling out his wallet. “I’m going to Little Fawn Lake.”
The conductor drew the ticket pad from his pocket. “Didn’t think it was open. Most of the resorts are closed now. Hope you made reservations. It’s not weather to be sleeping out in.” He disconnected a strip from the ticket pad, punched it, and handed it to Nathan. “Train stops at Indian Falls. You’ll have to hire a car.”
“That’s all right,” Nathan said, hoping it was. He didn’t kid himself he was up to spending the night in freezing temperatures. He paid for the ticket, considering his finances. He hadn’t started the day planning on a ski resort holiday.
The train continued on its way through the deepening darkness. He stared out the window. The black-plum sky had a luminous quality that made the trees and mountains stand out in stark relief.
The wheels of the train clackety-clacked along the rails in soothing monotony. Every so often the whistle blew sounding through the night, echoing through the pines and slopes.
Now what? He’d found Pearl Jarvis -- and the fact that she was trying so hard to avoid being found surely meant she knew something worth knowing -- something that might help his own position.
He wondered if Lt. Spain would think he was trying to skip town.
The train wheels rumbled along the track. He closed his eyes, putting his head back for a moment. He had learned to snatch sleep where he could find it, and this seemed to be a safe enough place for a catnap….
A German flare arched high into the night. Machine-guns and forty-millimeter guns opened up, firing from across the dunes, slicing the night with yellow, green, blue, and red tracers -- pretty, like fireworks. Tongues of colored flame licking out, licking hungrily for the transports high overhead, knocking them out of the sky. He watched them go down, burning. He turned his head and Matt was standing next to him, watching him. Matt’s face was shadowed by the fire, little pinpoints of flame in his pupils.
“Where there’s smoke,” he said, and he smiled that smile that made him look younger and almost affectionate.
Nathan started awake to a surge of new passengers coming down the aisle, taking the seats around him. He sat up, automatically reaching to straighten his tie, and realized the train had stopped. Turning to the window, he peered out, trying to see which station it was. Old-fashioned Christmas lights hung from the station pavilion. Several lights were dead, like missing teeth in a wide grin. A peeling sign read ..di.. .all.
Hoping it wasn’t an omen, Nathan rose, steadying himself on the back of a seat, and made his way hastily down the aisle towards the platform. He found his path blocked by two nuns struggling with a mountain of parcels, and, instinctively, he stopped to help them shove their packages out of the way. It only took a minute, but as he reached the platform, he saw a Ford station wagon sedan pull up at the far end of the pavilion. A familiar tan coat and fur hat slipped inside, and the Woody glided away.
Nathan swore under his breath, crossing the platform and walking out onto the street. He looked around himself.
Indian Falls was a resort town, but if it hadn’t been for the tatty fake pine garland strung across Main Street, it could have passed for a ghost town. A steady wall of closed shops stood across from the railroad station: a beauty parlor, a pawn shop, a cigar store, a lending library, a Chinese laundry. Nathan peered at his watch. It was eight-thirty.
He went back to the now deserted station and read the sign on the ticket window. BACK IN ONE HOUR. Swell. He stared at the final twinkling lights of the departing train now vanishing into the pine-thick mountains.
Now what?
One thing for sure, it felt cold enough for snow. He shivered and looked up at the starry sky. Not a cloud anywhere. That was the good news. The bad news…
He walked back out to the street. Far down the block he spotted lights. A corner all-night drugstore. He started walking.
It was warm and bright inside the drug store. It was also mostly deserted. An elderly woman with a Swedish accent pointed him to a public phone, and Nathan dug for change, wondering if the woman took much heat from idiots mistaking her for a Kraut.
It took time and persistence, but at last he reached LAPD Headquarters, and, to his surprise, with a little more persistence he actually got through to Lt. Matthew Spain.
“Spain here,” he answered, still crisp and efficient at eight-thirty -- no, nine o’clock -- at night. Spain worked late for a married man, but that was homicide.
“It’s Nathan Doyle,” Nathan said.
There was a funny pause, and then Spain said, “What can I do for you, Mr. Doyle?”
“I’ve located Pearl Jarvis. She’s staying at Little Fawn Ski lodge up near Indian Falls. It’s in the Sierra Nevadas.”
“I know where Indian Falls is. I used to camp there,” Spain said, sounding almost human. “How’d you find her?”
“I followed her from Los Angeles.”
“By car or train?”
Doyle couldn’t see why it mattered, but that was a cop for you. They liked all the Is dotted and the Ts crossed. No loose ends. Not so different from a good reporter, really.
“By train. I’m in Indian Falls right now, trying to get a ride up to the lodge.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Spain asked, and his voice was back to its normal brisk and impersonal tone. “You’re unusually cooperative for a newsman.”
“Because --” Nathan changed his mind, and took a chance on the truth. “I want you to hurry up and solve this thing.”
Spain asked smoothly, “Any particular reason? Or are you just a concerned citizen, Mr. Doyle?”
“I…think you know my reason,” Nathan said very quietly, although there was no one to overhear him, no one at all in the drugstore now except for him and the little old lady with apple-red cheeks and hair as white as powdered sugar.
There was another surprised silence on the other end of the phone.
Then Spain said, “You’re heading up to the lodge, you said?”
“If I can hire a car.”
“Try not to spook her.”
Nathan snorted. “Tell it to your granny,” he advised, and Spain chuckled.
“I’ll be seeing you,” he said, and rang off.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Captain's Surrender excerpt by Alex Beecroft

Below is an excerpt from my new novel, Captain’s Surrender.

Ambitious and handsome, Joshua Andrews had always valued his life too much to take unnecessary risks. Then he laid eyes on the elegant picture of perfection that is Peter Kenyon. Soon to be promoted to captain, Peter Kenyon is the darling of the Bermuda garrison. With a string of successes behind him and a suitable bride lined up to share his future, Peter seems completely out of reach to Joshua.But when the two men are thrown together to serve during a long voyage under a sadistic commander with a mutinous crew, they discover unexpected friendship. As the tension on board their vessel heats up, the closeness they feel for one another intensifies and both officers find themselves unable to reign in their passion. Let yourself be transported back to a time when love between two men in the British Navy was punishable by death, and to a story about love, about honor, but most of all, about a Captain’s Surrender.

"Captain’s Surrender" by Alex Beecroft
Linden Bay Romance LLC
ISBN 978-1-60202-088-7


"I think I can brush the stains from the inside of my coat. But the shirt is ruined." Kenyon twisted the linen as though he was wringing a neck. The pressure squeezed out a trickle of blood that dripped onto the clean floor of their cabin. "My best shirt only fit for handkerchiefs, God damn him!"
Josh drew his gaze back to the dark mirror of his wine with a sense of pressing danger. The Nimrod had never been a happy ship, but it seemed to him that some special malevolence lay on this voyage. He could feel himself surrendering to it, growing listless, reckless, and this last blow had left him reeling. He had not thought it was possible to hate Walker more, but this... it was unspeakable.
He risked glancing up, meaning to say so, and caught Kenyon’s eyes. They were full of fire and fury, hotter by far than his words, and the look of implacable anger made Josh’s heart stall in delight. Such beautiful eyes! So fluid, so expressive, so very green in the gold of the lantern.
Control yourself! He should certainly not be leaning forward, gape-mouthed and entranced. Kenyon might notice. He might notice and understand. Then...then it could be Josh, hanging by his neck from the yard arm, slowly choking to death.
"The shirt is not the only thing in ruins." Josh’s voice sounded unnaturally loud to himself. Walker had stepped over the line, and now he was just a little too angry to keep his mouth shut. "By God, sir, you might be his latest victim, but you are not his first—you’ve seen how he treats the men.
"They cannot appease him," Kenyon agreed and tried to lean down to mop the bloodstain away. His hiss of pain was soft and lay unacknowledged between them, for it was a mark of how far their friendship had come that he let himself flinch at all—a human weakness he would not have shown to another soul on board. "They run about furiously to look active but achieve nothing. I believe he’s afraid of them. But the more he tries to grind them down, the more just cause he has to be afraid."
He’s afraid? Josh had never thought of it like that. He had imagined Walker merely loved the power. But if he was only a small, terrified man trying to protect himself from those he believed were stronger than him, did he then deserve pity? No, I think not.
Kenyon shuffled gingerly forward to the edge of his cot and braced himself to slip off, so that he could kneel and clean the floor without bending. The movement took him from deep shadow into lamplight, baring his shirtless skin to Josh’s rapt gaze. Mother of God! Such arms he had, pale and strong, the yellow light pooling in their curves. His long neck and flanks and chest were sleek as cream and scarcely scarred. And his back, the elegant curve of spine brutally cut from waist to shoulders, swollen, bruised, and oozing blood.
Josh made a noise, clapped his hands over his mouth to stifle it, and cursed his vivid imagination. It had chosen that moment to replay to him the scene of punishment on deck; the beautiful young man tied to the grating, the lash, Kenyon’s frown of pained concentration, the grunts of impact and the small, involuntary gasps of his breathing.
I was appalled, I was! Oh Mary and Joseph! Why must I be such a monster?
"Are you quite well?" Kenyon looked up with terrible innocence. Oblivious.
"Just feel...a little sick." Josh drained his wineglass, filled it up again and drank half down before he felt collected enough to go on. "It looks painful. For all love, sir, lie down. I’ll swab the floor."
The lieutenant retreated, easing himself down to lie on his stomach with his head propped on one arm. That was better, for now only his amused expression met the light, and even that was half-hidden behind the veil of his long, dark hair. "I made the mess; I should clean it," he said. Josh’s mother had had a similar saying, and the familiarity of it was a balm after that rush of paralyzing lust. Affection was safer.
"I know my place," he said, smiling and had begun to relax over scouring the stain away, when the treacherous voice in his head added, On my knees for you. He choked again and scrambled back to his bottle. It was a difficult game he played with the wine—he needed it to knock himself out so that he neither lay awake listening to Kenyon breathing nor ran the risk of speaking out of his extraordinarily vivid dreams. But he paid in evenings of lowered inhibitions, the mortal dread of exposure, and lately a growing suicidal wish to confess all, to let the older man know what he really felt. Only the knowledge that it would be playing into Walker’s hands held him back, barely.
"I wonder if you do."
"Beg pardon?"
"Is it the drink?" Kenyon watched him with a measuring, alert gaze that —to Josh’s muzzy thoughts at least—seemed gentler than any he had used before. "You seem seaman-like and efficient to me, bright enough, able to charm or daunt the men at will, and well able to command. What keeps you from passing for lieutenant? You cannot want to be a midshipman all your life."
"On this ship? You, if anyone, should know what it’s like by now. I only wish I’d never been made acting lieutenant at all. It was that that made him notice me, and God knows how it’ll end." He found the words pouring from him in a kind of ecstasy of relief. Years, it seemed, he had yearned for someone to say these things to, and to find that confidant in Kenyon was almost too good to be true. "I’m not totally without ambition. Were I out of his reach I’d qualify tomorrow, but that isn’t going to happen now, is it? So I wish I had damn well kept my head down and stayed unobserved and unimportant ’til I died."
Their shared anger and the honesty felt more intoxicating than the wine.
"It is a far worse pain than the stripes to me," said Kenyon softly into the private, swaying gloom, "to see so many excellent things go to waste. This is a beautiful ship, yet he makes her feel like a prison transport. In the right hands, this crew could be the equal of any in the fleet—and he treats them like dumb brutes, officers and men alike. And you... There are times I see a fine spirit in you, a fighting spirit. Then, of a sudden, it fails. Has he broken you, too? Is there nothing left that can be salvaged?"
"Are you calling me excellent?" Anger Josh understood and could navigate, but praise made him stop short, disbelieving and a little anguished. In drink, the thought of being called "excellent" made him want to weep, though sober he might have appreciated its irony. You would not think so, sir, if you knew what I wanted to do to you; what I wanted you to do to me.
"I am." Kenyon looked at him with an open expression, almost nervously. There was a silence, and Josh’s heart beat against his throat like the wings of a bird. No one—starting with his mother—had ever thought him worth such praise. Even to God, whose loving kindness was supposedly infinite, Josh was nothing but an abomination to be wiped from the face of the earth with brimstone and fire. He was used to disdain, but he didn’t know what to do when faced with kindness. Taking in a harsh breath, he turned his face to the screen to conceal the threat of tears.
Conscious that he had strayed too far on delicate territory, Kenyon hitched himself up to take another long drink of the several pints of rum which had been pressed on him in sympathy by the men and changed the subject. "I have been hoping to uphold the present regime at least long enough for us to reach our destination, but now I wonder. Could I call him out?" His face hardened again. "Summersgill practically suggested it. He’d back me if I chose to, I think."
"Challenge Captain Walker to a duel on his own quarterdeck?" Josh repeated, his spirit thrilling at this audacity.
"On land it would wear well enough. The world understands that a gentleman cannot be expected to bear such an insult."
Did Josh really need to point out the hopelessness of this plan? The absolute authority of a naval captain that superseded any moral law? "But we’re not on land."
"No... No." Kenyon tried to turn over onto his side, but clearly his injuries had begun to stiffen, the bruises to bloom and the cuts to tighten, because he gave a startled hiss and lay back down, frowning wearily at the floor. "Some other reason would have to be concocted, and then I should need to be convinced that every man on board would be prepared to swear to the lie."
This time the silence was one of enormity. Josh’s glass rang twice as he put it down, betraying the tremble in his hand. Swinging his legs over the edge of his cot, he let himself be seen, partly dressed and frightened as he was. "Isn’t that... mutiny?"
Kenyon smiled. It was, perhaps, the sweetest expression Josh had ever seen on a man’s face, with its perfect mixture of vulnerability and amusement, resignation and entreaty. "If I place my life in your hands," he said softly, "it is because I know it’s safe there."
If Josh had been fragile before, these words shattered him. For a moment he forgot how to breathe, how to think, as the storm overtook him, and he ran helpless before the swell of agony and denial. The words were out of his mouth before he had time to consider or regret. "You would not be so quick to trust me if you knew what I was."
"What you are?" The gaze became quizzical, still light-hearted on the surface, but colored with shades of compassion and concern beneath. "I don’t...I don’t know what you mean."
"If I place my life in your hands, will it be safe there?"
"To the utmost of my strength."
Josh took a breath and tried to say it; "I...I.." His heart stuttered as wildly as his words, choking him. He looked at the wall, the floor, the lantern—they glared back, implacable, refusing to help. I will hang for mutiny or die at the hands of the crew. It made it easier to force himself out of the cot to crawl on hands and knees across the tiny space, the gulf which was all that separated him from that smile. If I’m going to be killed anyway...
Reaching out, he pushed his fingers into the thick darkness of Kenyon’s hair, the sensation pounding over him, drowning him. Stroking the errant locks out of the lieutenant’s face, he leaned down and touched his lips to the corner of a mouth that had opened a little in surprise. Flushed skin and sweat, and Kenyon licked his lips—perhaps nervously—but at the tiny flickering touch Josh couldn’t help himself. Both hands twisted wrist deep into that glorious hair—soft, so soft—and he lifted the older man’s face to his own, claimed the mouth full on, plunging deep, luxuriating in the taste and the firmness and Peter, oh, Peter. Oh, God, Peter!
Something breaking in his chest—his heart, probably—forced him away, forced him to huddle miserably in the middle of the deck with tears spilling onto his cheeks, waiting for the recoil, waiting to be punched and shunned. He didn’t fear death, for the lieutenant was a man of his word, but Josh was basely, burningly ashamed. And if he hates me... He wiped his eyes on his sleeves, looked up—best to know the worst at once—and was met by a look of plain astonishment, almost wonder.
"Ah," said Kenyon uncertainly.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Butcher's Son excerpt by Dorien Grey

The following excerpt is from the first chapter of "The Butcher's Son," technically the first book in the now-eleven-book Dick Hardesty Mystery series. A tale of twins, drag queens, a homophobic police department, and unimaginable tragedy, it is the story of how Dick became a private investigator. It's quite a ride. Why don't you come along?

GLB Publishers, 2001
ISBN: 1-879194-86-4

Did you ever have one of those years? You know: you start New Years' day with a hangover and everything just goes downhill from there? Well, it was one of those years.

I was stuck in a job I hated and Chris, my lover of five years, was getting the seven year itch two years early. We'd been together ever since shortly after we got out of college, and each of us was the other's first real relationship, so I guess you couldn't really blame him. That, plus the fact that we lived in a gay ghetto, so the candy store syndrome made it easy enough to stray for anyone so inclined, and Chris became increasingly inclined.

But we were hanging in there, putting on the good old "perfect couple" routine whenever anyone else was around and working on matching ulcers when they weren't. I was up to two-and-a-half packs of cigarettes a day and rising; Chris was devoting considerable time to adding to his swizzle-stick collection. All in all, a real fun time.

Chris was always a lot more into bars than I was, so it wasn't unusual for him to go out by himself, though I noted that lately he'd been going out a lot more than normal. We did hold to our Saturday-night-out-to-dinner tradition though, after which we'd stop in at the Ebony Room, a nice little neighborhood bar close to home, for a nightcap. This particular night, however, Chris suggested we go to a new bar he'd found, "Bacchus' Lair," which he said had a great drag show. I should have put "great" in quotes, since I was never much for drag, but Chris got a kick out of it, so we went.

I should also point out that this was after Stonewall, but not all that much, and the community hadn't completely gotten its act together in most cities. Blatant homophobia was the attitude of choice for most police forces, and ours was particularly noted for its
less-than-tolerant methods. It was also a solid source of income for the city—bust a gay bar, haul in 30 or 40 gays too scared or too poor to fight it, charge them with "lewd and lascivious conduct," drop the charges down to "disturbing the peace" and slap a $350 fine for a "no contest" plea. The city was happy; the police were happy; the lawyers were happy. The gays weren't happy, but who cared?

"Bacchus' Lair" was located in a former loft upstairs over a discount furniture store on the edge of skid row. A lot of gay bars were in this area, probably partly because of the lower rents, and the smaller likelihood that neighbors would complain about the clientele.

Bacchus' Lair was decorated in Early Flamboyant—tables the size of dinner plates, purple tablecloths, purple carpet, purple stage curtains, wall fixtures with dangly globs of plastic that I suppose the management thought looked like grapes. Wall niches with little
gold cherubs shouldering platters of plastic grapes. Oh, and a cover charge. And a two-watered-down-drink minimum. But you got to keep the little purple umbrellas that came with them.

There were a few people there we knew - I should say a few people I knew - Chris seemed to know a lot more. We were shown to a table - I asked for one by an exit - by lesbian in full male drag - a nice touch of equality, I thought. We ordered our drinks just as the canned music announcing the start of the show blared out across the room, making conversation impossible. The room lights dimmed, the curtains opened (revealing a stage about three feet deep), and the show began.

If you've seen one drag show, you saw this one. Not too bad, really; the usual standard numbers by the usual standard drag queens. Only one—a huge black drag named, if you could believe the M.C., Tondelaya O'Tool—did her own material and was really talented.

Intermission arrived with the inevitable, and inevitably "cute", announcement by the M.C. that "We'll be right back after a wee-wee break." The curtains closed, the lights came back up, and the waiters rushed throughout the room restocking the what-passed-for-liquor. Also as usual, some of the entertainers came down to mix with the customers.

"Well," Chris said, "what did you think? Great, huh?"
I nodded. "Great."
"Yeah," Chris said, "but wait until the second half—that's when Judy comes on. She's fantastic."
I was willing to take his word for it. "I'm surprised how crowded it is," I said.
"Do I detect a note of the famous Dick Hardesty paranoia?" Chris asked. "I notice you insisted on sitting near an exit again."
"You didn't think it was paranoia when I yanked your ass out of the Bull Pen the night the cops raided it," I said. "If we hadn't been near an exit, we'd have been hauled in like everybody else."
"Well, you don't have to worry here," Chris said, leaning back in his chair. "They've never had a raid."
"And how long have they been open?" I asked.
Chris shrugged. "I dunno. Two months, maybe."
"That long, huh? Maybe they should hang up a sign: 'A fine tradition of excellence since June.'"
Chris grinned and shook his head. "You're crazy, Hardesty."

Tondelaya O'Tool had come down from the stage and moved through the room like a fully laden oil tanker in heavy seas, bestowing forehead kisses, Queen of England waves, and assorted quips to the customers. Spotting Chris, she plowed her way to our table.

"How ya doin', Chris darlin'?" she asked Chris, her eyes deliberately moving back and forth between Chris and me, one eyebrow raised.
"Great, Teddy," Chris said. "Great show tonight."
Tondelaya-nee-Teddy put one hand on her more than ample hip and made a "get away with you, now" gesture with the other, a la Pearl Bailey.
"Why thank you, darlin'," she said. Then, looking at me, she gave a slow, exaggerated tongue-extended lip-lick and said "And who's this good-lookin' hunk o'man?"
Chris grinned. "This is my other half, Dick Hardesty."
Tondelaya/Teddy extended a hand. "I'll just bet he is," she said as I took it—and was surprised by an unexpectedly strong grip. "My, you two make a handsome couple, don't you now?"
"We try," I said.
"Can we buy you a drink?" Chris asked.
"I really shouldn't," she said while in one continuous movement sweeping a chair from a nearby table and motioning the waiter. "But I am parched and I do have a minute or two before I have to get back. Scotch rocks, double," she said to the waiter who disappeared as quickly as he'd come.

"So how do you like working here?" I asked for want of anything better to say.
"Oh, I love it, honey. Love it. It's a lot better than the Galaxy, that's for sure."
"Didn't that burn down a month or so ago?" I asked.
Tondelaya/Teddy reached out and tapped my arm. "That it did, chile, that it did. That's when I came over here. I was lucky, really. There's gettin' to be fewer an' fewer drag clubs around what with the raids an' the fires an' all. A lot of my friends are just plain out of work."
"So what time is Judy coming on?" Chris asked, demonstrating his usual short attention span.
Tondelaya/Teddy took the drink the waiter brought, downed it in one gulp, and shrugged. "Same as every night. You know she's always the last act. Save the best for last, that's her motto." Suddenly she put her hand to her mouth and lowered her voice. "I didn't say that," she said between her fingers. "You never heard me say that, okay?"
"Okay," Chris and I said in unison, exchanging a puzzled glance.
"Good." Tondelaya/Teddy pushed herself back from the table, nearly knocking our drinks on the floor in the process, and got up. "I gotta go get changed. You liked the first act, honeys, just wait 'til you see the second." With a broad stage grin, she moved off toward the dressing room.

"What was that last part all about?" I asked Chris.
He shrugged. "I have no idea," he said.

The waiter arrived unbidden, bringing two more drinks (unordered) just as the house lights dimmed and the second act began. It was more of the same, except for Tondelaya/Teddy, who did a really good down-and-dirty blues number I'd always associated with one of my favorite old army cadences:
"I'm not the butcher, I'm the butcher's son;
But I'll give you meat until the butcher comes."

She was followed by a marginally passable Diana Ross imitator, a slightly better Barbara Streisand imitator, and somebody who apparently thought—wrongly—he/she was Sophie Tucker.
"Judy's next," Chris leaned over to me and whispered.

The curtains closed, and the room went completely dark until a small spotlight came on, the music started, and a voice said: "Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Judy Garland!" The curtains opened to...Judy Garland. Quite a bit taller and not as frail, but Judy Garland nonetheless. I realized it wasn't even the face; it was the posture, the movements, the little gestures. Perfect. Even before she opened her mouth, I was impressed. This guy was good.

The song was "The Man That Got Away" and instead of just lip-synching, she sang with the record, and it was as if Judy Garland were singing a duet with herself. Chris nudged me and gave me his "I told you so" nod, and I just nodded back.

The end of the record was greeted by tremendous applause, in which I joined wholeheartedly. Judy took a bow, then went immediately into "The Trolley Song," followed by "You Made Me Love You" When she finished, the crowd was on its feet — Chris and I included. The curtains started to close, but the crowd wouldn't have it and she waved them back open, sat on the edge of the stage, and sang, of course, "Over the Rainbow." Even I had a lump in my throat.

When she finished the song, the room went black again and when the lights came back on, she was gone. The other entertainers came out for their curtain calls but, despite chants of "Ju-dy; Ju-dy" she did not come out, and at last the applause died away and the show was over.
We finished our drinks, paid the bill, and got up to leave.

"I've got to hand it to you, Chris," I said. "That really was great."
Chris put his arm around my shoulder. "After five years you
doubted me?" he asked.

The entire first chapter is available on:

Monday, January 14, 2008

Deadly Vision excerpt by Rick R Reed

Below is an excerpt from my new novel, Deadly Vision (published by Regal Crest Enterprises, LLC under their Quest Books imprint; ISBN 1932300961). This is the prologue and it’s relatively short, but tells you a lot about my main character, Cass, a single mother with some extraordinary, and not altogether welcome, talents. Her character was inspired by the mythical seer Cassandra, who was cursed with the gift of prophecy and then having no one believe her.

Click here to buy your copy of Deadly Vision from Amazon.


“FIRST OF ALL, there are rules.” She sits back in her chair, green eyes regarding the young couple. “Before we go any further, you have to agree to them.”
The pair is desperate. The woman nods, eyes rimmed in red, moist. The man says, in a husky whisper, “Yes. Yes. If you can help us find him, we’ll agree to anything.” He rubs his hands on his khaki pants and she notices they are already stained dark with sweat. She feels a glimmer of sympathy, but then checks it; she’s learned that it’s best not to get too involved. There are things she might discover that will make their pain hers, and she’s had enough of that.
“The rules.” She falls silent, waiting for them to look at her. The man’s gaze darts, the woman seems fascinated by the nap of the carpet, but she will not speak again until she receives this tacit agreement in the meeting of their eyes. “The rules are simple. First, I will not get involved with the police. No matter what. You’re free to consult them after you speak with me. You’re free to work with them, but I will not. Use what I tell you, but don’t ask me to tell them. Second, I can make you no promises. If we’re lucky, I’ll get some impressions. But that’s all they are. Impressions. Do you understand?”
The couple nods. The man whispers, “Sure.”
“I don’t get anything definitive. I may be able to help, and then again, I may not. I just want you to understand that going in.”
“But you’ve been able to help...”
She holds up her hand.
“I know what I’ve done. And for every success, there are two failures. At least. You hear more about the successes than the failures. I get impressions. I don’t know where they come from. I don’t know why they come. But understand, sometimes they don’t come at all. And other times, they lead nowhere.
“The third condition is that I take no money for what I do. So please, no matter what the result, do not offer me money.” She’s had problems with credibility in the past because of this.
The couple nods again and she can see they’re getting impatient. She wants to help them, but fears so much what she might discover that she feels something very much like a rat gnawing at the inside of her stomach.
“Have you brought me something? Something of your son’s?”
The woman digs in her purse, sniffling. A tear drops from her eye and falls to the black leather of her purse. She brings out a mitten, bright red, knitted, and a little dirty; her hand shakes, holding it, and when she speaks, her voice wavers. Still, she speaks as clearly as she can, holding back the sobs that are lurking just beneath her quavering voice. “They found this in the back yard when he disappeared.”
The seer nods and takes the mitten. She doesn’t really need it, having already seen what they have come to her for. But she hopes holding something from the missing five-year-old will add more detail to the portrait she saw in a dream just last night. She turns the mitten over in her hands and closes her eyes.
The room is silent, the ticking of the wall clock the only sound as its minute hand counts off the seconds.
Behind her eyelids, there is a swirl of colors, red predominant among them. Her throat is dry and she tries to work up some saliva.
She sees a house with a stone chimney. A thin plume of smoke emerges from the chimney. The house is old, two stories, a dingy white with the paint peeling back to reveal rotting wood. The windows downstairs are covered with plastic, the kind of stuff you’d get from the dry cleaners. Upstairs, one of the windows is boarded over, the other cracked.
“I see an old house,” she whispers, knowing that this clue is useless unless she can provide some real geographic markers.
“The house is on a hill, about halfway up.” She sees the tree line above and below the house, the way the backyard rises steeply into the woods. This is a house that’s not far away. She gets something, then: a detail that may help them.
“The house sits back from a cinder road, black cinders, like coal.”
She breathes deep, turning the mitten over, forgetting, for the moment, where she is, and the people in the room with her.
“The yard’s messy. The grass wasn’t cut in the summer and it grows high and yellow. There’s all sorts of stuff in the grass, an old lawn chair, rusty, with dirty green and white webbing that’s ripped and shredding.” Damn, she thinks, why all the detail about a lawn chair instead of something meaningful?
She tries to relax, putting herself in this cold place, standing on the road in front of the house. And she gets something she thinks might be useful.
“The house looks down on Summitville,” she says, naming the place where all of them live, a little Ohio River town that’s as far west in Pennsylvania as one can go before crossing the border into Ohio. “I can see the curve of the river and the bridge to New Hope.”
In her mind’s eye, she turns, swears she can feel the cold snap of the wind on her cheeks, smell the snow that’s in the gray, low-hanging clouds, pressing in, ready to break open.
Is the boy in the house? Somehow, she doesn’t think so. Somehow, she knows the house is nothing more than a marker. These facts come to her minus logic, but she trusts them, knowing implicitly that they’re right.
They always have been.
She closes her eyes more tightly and looks down the road. It ends in a copse of woods not more than a hundred yards or so from the house. There’s a stand of pines, maybe some maples, and beyond them, a grassy field.
The grass is trampled down in one spot. She moves closer, and sees the boy, face down in the snow.
She snaps her eyes open, the bile rising so strong she grips her desk for a moment, trying to center herself, wishing she hadn’t seen what she had. She lets the reality of the room filter back in.
“You’ll find your boy near that house. A house on a hill just up from where the bridge crosses from Summitville into New Hope. There’s a cinder road that leads up to this house.”
She feels her skin going pale and clammy. She can’t tell them. She can’t mete out that cruelty. Or would it be kind? She can’t call it, but she doesn’t want to be the one to tell them their little boy is dead.
“Is he okay?”
She shrugs. “I can’t tell you that.”
“But…” the father says.
She holds up her hand. “One more rule: when I’m finished, I’m finished.” She looks at them, biting her lip, ignoring the ball in her throat. “Now go see if you can find your boy.” She wishes she could give them more; wishes she had the strength to tell them all her vision has revealed. But that vision is heartless and she is not.