Thawing The Ice

The following story is an excerpt from my Christmas anthology: STOCKING FULL OF STORIES.  If you’re interested in more stories, you can find the book on Amazon in paperback or digital.


 

ABSTRACT WHITE CHRISTMAS POND-B & WTHAWING THE ICE

Misty laced up her skates and glided smoothly across the ice. It had been more than a year since she’d come to her favorite pond. The trees were stark silhouettes against the deep snow, barren and seemingly useless in this white wilderness. She felt that way herself. The gray world around her matched her gray and barren heart. Words came back to her now from the whispering past.

“You can’t just give up, Misty. Marcus wouldn’t want you to quit skating. He wouldn’t want you to give up the life you’ve always loved.”

She continued to circle the pond, listening to conversations in her head – all from last year. After the accident. “I can’t skate alone. I’m no good by myself. It’s always been Marcus and me together – from the time we were seventeen.”

“But you’re so gifted, dear,” Mother had insisted. “You were skating beautifully long before you even met Marcus. Why, from the time you put on your first pair of skates – remember? – the pink pair you got for Christmas when you were six? – from that very first day, you’ve been a star in the making. All your fans want to see you back out there on the ice.”

Misty had merely hung her head and wept. She new her mother meant well, but she’d never be able to understand. And Misty was glad her mother had never known that kind of loss.

But her family didn’t understand about the fans either. Yes, her own family were her personal fans, but the fans in all the ice rinks around the world hadn’t been hers. They were fans who loved Misty and Marcus – together – “the darling duo” as they’d been dubbed in more than one news story. The fans wanted to see both of them on the ice, not just one lonely girl –  lost now in a world that had been her own kingdom little more than a year ago.

The cold wind bit at her, but she welcomed the pain. It matched the pain in her heart. And she welcomed the gray world she skated in now. It matched the world she lived the rest of her life in with Marcus dead.

So she skated – round and round the pond – one hour – then another. And with each trip around that pond of her childhood came the memories – like warm flashes of sunlight:  the first time she’d skated in her pink skates; the first day she’d invited Marcus to skate with her there; the first competition they’d entered – and won; the grueling hours of practice that both of them had loved.

Gradually, as the happy memories flooded back and thawed the ice that had held her soul in its lonely, gray world for the past year, Misty began to feel alive again. A smile spread across her face and she flung out her arms as if to embrace this precious pond with its stark trees and white emptiness. She found herself skating into routines she’d used before she and Marcus had become a team. And gradually, she found herself adding moves to those routines. They weren’t done consciously. They just flowed from her as naturally as water flows down a hill when a barrier has been removed.

Her heart began to sing. Her body followed suit. And although the pond and all it’s surroundings were still as gray and barren as they’d been when she’d arrived, Misty discovered that she was now skating in sunshine – in the warmth of her love for Marcus and in the fire of the passion she felt for skating. Perhaps her family and friends had been right after all. Perhaps she did still have a life to live and a gift to give to the world from her kingdom on the ice.

 

 

~~~

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Once Upon A Time: A Story In Any Language

More than three years ago, I did a post discussing how so many of our stories have characteristics and qualities that are both generic and universal. That fact is so true that we’ve even cultivated phrasing and syntax patterns that fit specific themes and plots.  The whole concept is fascinating to me. (Naturally it would be, considering that I’m not only a writer, but also a creative writing teacher.) 

So I decided to experiment a little with writing a story using nonsense terms instead of normal nouns and verbs. — to demonstrate the fact that any avid reader would be able to understand the story with very little trouble. The reason readers will understand is that the pattern, plot, and emotional tone all fit a specific type of fiction. The experiment was fun, and I often use it in my writing classes as an example to my students that many times it isn’t just choosing the right word that matters. It’s also how we put those words together that makes the whole piece a good story.

I decided to share the experiment again on this site. Hope you enjoy it.


DRAGON - PUB DOM TOTALLY -- Friedrich-Johann-Justin-Bertuch_Mythical-Creature-Dragon - TALL
Public Domain — Artist: Friedrich-Johann-Justin-Bertuch 

`
THE BONDO DELAFOR

The young delafor wandered through the cogem, wishing he could find a delafora to be his rhuba. He’d heard the fonders tell of bondo delafors who had won the hands of delaforas by zonering the terrible goganbulls. He knew the goganbulls were threatening the cogem, and many delafors were terrizon of them. He didn’t know if he were bondo enough to zoner a goganbull or not, but he hoped he’d have a chance.

One day the great kinba of the cogem announced that a goganbull had been spotted just outside the cogem. The great kinba porsayed that he would give the most beautiful delafora to the delafor who zonered that goganbull.

So the young delafor raced to his stetsa, hopped on, and took off to find the goganbull and zoner it. When he found the goganbull, it was maxma!  It was so maxma that the young delafor’s stetsa reared up, threw the delafor off, and ran away. Now the only thing the delafor had was his pontier. So he looked the goganbull in the eye, stood up straight and tall and shumed toward him. Keeping eye contact, he shumed all the way to within two feet of him. The goganbull gloamed and hot smeltz came from his buzzle.

But the young delafor rememberd the beautiful delafora who was porsayed by the great kinba. The delafor wanted that delafora for his rhuba very badly. So he aimed his pontier and shumed the last two feet toward the goganbull; then he flumed his pontier right into the goganbulls corva. With one horrible gloam, the goganbull fell over, and black smoke roold from his buzzle. Then all was quiet.

The young delafor took his pontier and whapped off the goganbull’s henda and carried it back to the great kinba. That day the young delafor won the most beautiful delafora in the cogem to be his very own rhuba. And they both lived schnookumy ever after.

TE  FUND

 

~~~

 


 

The Beast

I dragged this story out of my archives this morning. I had totally forgotten about writing it more than two years ago, and I enjoyed it so much myself I decided to give it another exposure on this site.


 

BULL SILLHOUETTE EDITED -NEGATIVEThe sun was low in the sky and to my back. I lay on the ground, looking up at the clouds and turning them into all sorts of things. One looked very much like a turtle. One like a smiley face, since it had two holes where the blue peaked through, giving it eyes, and another opening that really did look surprisingly like a grin on a child’s face. One of the clouds looked a little like an old school teacher I’d had who wore her hair piled high on her head in a beehive style. Boy, did that thought give way to pondering where time has gone.

Suddenly, I heard a branch crack behind me. Now, I’m not normally skittish, but this cracking sound was loud enough that I knew it must have been more than just the normal activity of birds or squirrels in the bushes. And, since I was in my own back yard, with a fence around the perimeter, there shouldn’t have been any other creatures – human or otherwise – setting foot beyond that fence uninvited. I didn’t welcome that sound.

I didn’t sit up immediately, but sort of rolled my head to look toward my left first – and saw nothing out of the ordinary. Then I rolled my head toward the right side, and on the ground beside me I saw the shadow of a huge head – not human – but obviously belonging to a beast of a different sort. My heartbeat went into double time, but I just lay there sort of frozen. As I watched, fighting down panic as well as I could, the shadow moved, coming forward and revealing the shoulder area, two legs, and an enormous frame.

I thought about praying, but the words stuck in my throat. I suppose I did manage a silent cry for help, but my primary thought was how to manage rising from my vulnerable position without seeming a threat to said beast and prompting a vicious attack on my person. I contemplated what I had available as a weapon. Well, there was a broken branch or two close by that had blown from a few surrounding trees during a recent windstorm. I glanced again to my left to see if I might be able to reach out for one without actually moving the rest of my body.

As I did so, I felt rather than saw the beast move closer to me. Frantically, I scanned the area to my left, but found no branches big enough to provide weaponry. Just small twigs and several old leaves. Not even a big rock. Finally, I decided that I couldn’t just lie there any longer. If I did so, I was obviously going to be dead meat, and just maybe my jumping up quickly would be enough to throw off the beast’s attention and give me time to start running.

Okay. I squeezed my eyes shut and psyched myself to do it, but just as I opened my eyes, the huge shadow suddenly loomed right over my head, and I knew it was hopeless to try to escape. I could hear it breathing in my ear. Then I really did decide to pray, because if this were to be my home-going, I wanted to be ready. I squeezed my eyes shut again, bracing myself for the impact of the attack, when to my greater shock, something sloppy wet took hold of my right ear. The next thing I knew something else cold and wet nudged me in the side of my neck. And then my face was being slathered with slobber from my chin to my temple. What was it doing? Tasting me to see if I merited being eaten?

I put my hand up to try to cover my face, and when I did, this little furry body just sort of threw itself at my hand and started whining and wriggling, trying to get my hand away. Well, the body attacking mine was so much smaller than I had anticipated that I decided I could open my eyes and chance a look. So I opened one eye and squinted between my fingers, which I still had pressed against my face, and what I saw brought me into a sitting position roaring with laughter.

The little yellow lab puppy who was pouncing me and trying to give me a bath in his saliva couldn’t have been more than three or four months old. So this was the beast I’d seen in shadow form? Surely I wasn’t foolish enough to have made a mistake like that. But upon making the effort to sit upright fully and look around me in all directions, I realized that, sure enough, this little pup and I were the sole occupants of my huge back yard. He was little enough he could have squeezed under the fence if he’d had a mind to. And on further reflection, I realized that considering how low in the sky the sun had been, if it had been shining just right on that little fellow’s body, he would have thrown a shadow many times larger than his real size.

I grabbed the little guy and took him onto my lap, giving him a few good scratches behind the ears and a thorough belly rub. While doing so, I thought about how so many of the problems in my life had looked bigger than life and had threatened to destroy me. But, in truth, when I had finally decided to stand up to them and look them square in the eye and recognize them for exactly what they were and nothing more, I had forced them to show their true identity. And when all was said and done, they were always smaller than I was, and I had eventually defeated every one of them.

I determined to make a lasting mental note of my experience that day and to remember the lesson I’d learned from that little fellow with the monster shadow: Never judge a problem – or a puppy – by its fearsome shadow.

~

 

 

~~~

During the Lecture

WINE BOTTLE AND GLASS - WolfBlur -- PX

The lecture finally came to an end about 9:20 p.m.  That was almost an hour longer than it should have lasted. I hadn’t realized that there would be so much time in which to carry out my plan, or I would have gone about things much more leisurely.

Professor Thomas Crenshaw was known for being windy, of course, but I didn’t want to count on that fact, so after I’d slipped unobtrusively from my seat on the last row and exited the lecture hall, I literally ran to my car and changed into my disguise.

Black is so non-committal, isn’t it? Especially at night. One can sneak between parked cars and through alleys and even private yards without being noticed.

I didn’t have to drive, since Farnesley lived just a block off campus. I slipped into the alley that ran behind his house, making my way silently. I guess I wasn’t completely silent — or else my human scent caused an alarm — because a dog sent up some noisy yapping as I passed one residence, but as soon as I was twenty feet way, he want back to his normal nightly business.

I was feeling pretty proud of myself for executing this little maneuver so well. I’d even played the good neighbor and offered to bring over my WD40 and oil his back gate that squeaked. When I’d been there for the staff barbecue last week and realized how it squeaked, I knew I’d have to take care of that little problem before I could carry out my plan successfully. But a few little squirts, and problem solved. I have to laugh now when I think how profusely Smith thanked me for being so thoughtful.

And, of course, he thanked me profusely again when I presented him with that expensive bottle of burgundy today as a birthday gift. That’s the thing about old Farnesley. He did everything rather profusely — even his drinking. And that’s what I was counting on. The old sot! How anyone could believe he was fit to be made the Chair of our department was beyond me. The choices had come down to him and me, and I was positive I’d be their pick. But when the university President told me that the board was swinging heavily toward Farnesley instead, it was all I could do not to unload a torrent of curses right there in the hallway of the administration building.

No matter. My little maneuver tonight took care of everything. As I approached the back door, I was fully confident that the bottle of burgundy was empty and Smith snoring like the pig that he is — well — that he was. I’d been right, of course. I’m surprised his own snoring didn’t wake him up. The man was a disgrace to our university, and it was past time someone did something about it. One little jab of a needle, and the quick-acting poison I’d chosen took care of old Smith for good. And I quietly and sedately slipped back into my seat in the lecture hall in plenty of time to hear the last thirty minutes of Thomas’ mind-numbing lecture.

Now, as I sit here at my own desk, listening to the digital recorder I had left in my lecture seat — along with the reserved sign so no one else would sit there — I’m diligently making notes on the lecture. When the authorities question me — as they undoubtedly will — I’ll have my name on the sign-in sheet and the sign-out sheet for the lecture. And I’ll have the notes I’ve taken, proving that I heard every single word Professor Crenshaw spoke from 7:30 to 9:20 p.m.

THE END

 


Daily Post Prompt: Lecture

 

 

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A Chapter a Day — 1

In the past, I’ve enjoyed sharing new works as they are in progress — by sharing a chapter a day with my readers and getting feedback. Some of the stories I’ve finished right here on this site — all the way to the words “The End.” But some of them have served to tease the imagination and gather interest for something new that will be in the marketplace soon. So what about this new work?

Well, the truth is that I’m not sure. I’ll be posting at least 4 chapters on here, but whether I’ll go ahead and finish it as a free read or not, I’m not sure. But since this process is a good way to keep myself working on the task at hand, I’m taking advantage of it, and any feedback that readers want to give will be welcome. I’m also using this post to respond to today’s Daily Post Prompt: Inkling.

TEACHER AT GREEN BOARDPosted below is Chapter One of the first book in the Campus Crimes Series, featuring Darcy Knight, Coed Detective. Book 1 may get an altogether different title by the time it’s ready to go to market, but for now, the series title will have to do.  So let’s get this new project started.

CHAPTER ONE

“Just stay where you are until the police officers arrive,” the 911 operator said, her voice strong, her tone devoid of emotion. “Normally we’d tell you to exit the building, but since you saw the perpetrator going out through the window, you’re probably just as safe staying right there in the room as you would be outside. The officers should be with you in moments now.”

I had my cell phone on speaker so the building’s janitor, who was standing beside me, could hear the other end of the conversation. I looked at him as if to ask what he thought about those instructions. He shrugged his shoulders and looked toward the window, fear clearly evident in his face. But he didn’t have any better suggestion, and neither did I.

So I answered the 911 operator. “Okay.” My voice was shaking. Well, I was shaking all over. “Okay, and good bye, I guess.”

“No!” she yelled. Well so much for lack of emotion. “Don’t hang up!” she continued. “Stay with me. I’ll stay on the line with you until they get there.”

“Oh … okay … that’s good,” I answered, breathing just a little easier knowing I still had a bit of support, although it would have been useless if that killer had decided to come back.

If I had just accepted the ‘C’ on my research paper and gone on with my life – the way ninety percent of the other students here at Langston Point Junior College do – none of this would have happened. I’d have gone on my merry way, cruising through my college classes, probably still with a ‘B’ average, and enjoying my friends as we journeyed the path into our responsible, adult lives.

Well, that’s what we’ve been told we’re doing. Basically, we’re just sort of hanging out, waiting for inspiration to hit us and point us in the right directions for successful futures. We are attending a junior college close to home because it’s a lot cheaper – and because we’d have to have two years of general studies no matter where we went – and also because a lot of us still aren’t sure what we want to do with our lives.

There are a few exceptions, of course. Carl Miller is a computer nerd who has already developed his own brand of software, and he knows – well, we all know – he is on the rise to fame and fortune. Eddie Wistkowski, better known as ‘Math Brain,’ has such a high grade in calculus and trig that the teacher can’t even figure his average like normal people’s. Eddie is destined for a high level job with the space program and has actually been interviewed by the big guys in that arena who do the scouting for future recruits.

People don’t hear about that kind of recruiting much. It’s mostly the sports stuff the public knows about. But scouting does go on behind closed doors for other occupations too. And Eddie – he’s the real deal when it comes to figuring out anything connected with math components – and he’ll go a long way.

There are a couple girls in my class who know where they’re going in life – other than into some good-looking man’s arms, of course. One of them is Deidre Vernon. Now that girl is bent on law in a big way, and she’s already had her application accepted at Harvard. She intends to work for the U.S. Department of Justice. I hope she makes it. Frankly it makes me tired just seeing her work so hard even now.

The other serious-minded girl is a friend of mine, Keesha Bradley She’s a strong Christian and the leader of our campus Bible club. Keesha sings like an angel and plays three different instruments. She’s a natural with all kinds of music, and she’s determined to use her talents to spread the Gospel.

But except for those four people, the sophomore class at Langston Point Junior College is just sort of winging it right now. And speaking of ‘now,’ I’ve got to keep my mind focused. Here I am, Darcy Knight, college sophomore, tied to a chair in a storage room in the basement of the campus fitness center. Waiting. For what, you might ask.

Well, if I believe what my friend Keesha always tells us – that God hears our prayers and will come to our rescue — then I’m waiting to be rescued. But if Keesha’s not right, I may be waiting to have my life snuffed out just like ─ No, I’m not even going there in my thoughts. My blasted stars! I can’t believe I’ve been so stupid. Why couldn’t I have just been satisfied with that dratted ‘C’!

I guess since I’m going to be here a while anyway, I may as well explain the situation. Here’s how it all started: I was walking across campus with Nadia Falkner, my best friend. We were on our way to the parking lot when we passed the administration building, and I remembered that Professor Sommers had an evening class, so I thought he might have stopped by his office afterwards. The ‘C’ he’d given me on my research paper had been causing me indigestion ever since he’d handed it to me in class that morning, and I decided I’d try to talk him into changing it.

“Why don’t you wait until tomorrow?” Nadia asked. “You’re tired, and he’s tired tonight. You’ll have a better chance to talk him into something when you’re both fresher, and you’ve had a night to think about things.”

I shook my head. “No. I have to do it now. If I don’t, I’ll not be able to get any sleep.”

“It’s just a ‘C’! It’s not the end of the world,” she said.

“But I’ve started this year with a good strong ‘B’ average. This could really mess it up if I happen to get another ‘C’ later on.”

“Well, then don’t get another one. Come on. Let’s go home.”

“No, you go on. I’ll head home as soon as I talk to Professor Sommers.”

“All right, but I think you’re silly for doing it tonight. I’ll probably be asleep by the time you get in, so don’t call me to tell me about it, okay?”

“Promise,” I said and veered off to the sidewalk leading to the Admin building. To be honest, it’s sort of a creepy building at night. There are lights on, of course, but since the college is into saving money, they keep the lights to a minimum, and when faculty are using a hallway, they turn on the lights, as well as the lights in their own offices. But any hallways not in use are left dark. I saw the janitor’s big rolling service cart outside one of the rooms on the ground floor, and I could hear him cleaning that room.

Professor Sommers’ office was on the second floor, and I took the steps – hoping the exercise would help settle my nerves. I didn’t have an inkling of how seriously my nerves were going to be disturbed within the next few minutes.

My blasted stars! How I wish, now, I’d listened to Nadia! I know that’s the stupidest phrase ever – my blasted stars. I have no idea what it means. But my grandmother always said it when she was shocked or angry, and she taught me to use that phrase when I really wanted to say – well, you can probably guess a couple of the things I’d rather have said. Anyway, out of deference to her, I adopted her pet cuss phrase, and now, here I am at nineteen – four months from turning twenty – still using it.

I’m rambling again. Okay, back to the important stuff. When I got to the second floor, the front half of the hall was dark, but the back half – where Sommers’ office was – had lights on. I could also see light coming from his office. When I got to the door, it was standing open about three-fourths of the way. I paused long enough to take a deep breath and clear my throat; then I stepped in and lifted my hand to knock on the opened door – just to be polite.

But before I could knock, I realized there was a dark-clad figure climbing out of the window, straight across from the door, onto the fire escape. My eyes locked onto him (or her – I couldn’t tell), and for the briefest moment, our eyes met. It was just a split second, and I couldn’t have told you what the face looked like at all. Because in the next instant the figure was outside and rushing down the fire escape stairs.

That’s when I finally came to my senses enough to realize I hadn’t said anything, and Professor Sommers hadn’t said anything to me. So I turned my head slightly to the left to look right at his desk, and I suddenly lost all my breath – and almost all my dinner.


To be continued …

~~~

Belated Goodbye

Copyright Sandra Crook

 

“This was your family’s restaurant?” Erica asked.

I nodded, silent, reliving that horrible night: My fiance Haydn’s pushing me into the cellar and commanding me to keep silent, no matter what.”

Erica understood. “You never saw him again?”

I shook my head. “Two survivors said he’d been captured. But I never could find out.”

“Look!” Erica grabbed my arm. “Someone’s in the upstairs window — looking at us.”

“Some scavenger,” I said, brushing away tears. But then I looked more closely, catching my breath.  “It can’t be,” I whispered.

“What?”

“It’s him!”  I waved frantically: “Haydn!”

He waved, smiled, and in the same moment, vanished. I looked at Erica. Her shocked face assured me I hadn’t imagined  him.

“Finally … after all these painful years … we’ve said goodbye.”

 


Friday Fictioneers writing challenge

 

 

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Don’t Blink

KENT - RED SHIRT - EYES ONLY

 

“Remember, Ronnie. Don’t blink. If you blink, it’s all over.”

Those words pounded through my brain right before I took a seat in front of the webcam, preparing to look into the eyes of the most evil scientific mind on the planet. But I knew I had to cleanse those words from my brain. My expertise in the field of mind control and the organic manipulation that can emanate from it kept me from allowing those words to have power in my psyche. What I had to do instead was forget about the suggestion of blinking all together and focus on my opponent instead.

Liam Sigurdsson was well-known for his advanced studies and experimentation in mind control. But he hadn’t been heard from for three years. News media speculated about him, but the only thing anyone knew for sure was that he was holed up in a home he’d built for himself and his staff in Iceland.

Four days ago, all of that secrecy came to an end — a dramatic and terrorizing end. Sigurdsson suddenly came out of hibernation with the news that he had managed to plant powerful bombs in the capitals of six major western nations. He further stated that they were set to go off at exactly the same time unless he got complete cooperation from the UN, and each of those individual nations in making him supreme dictator over their entire geographic areas.

The President of the United States, as well as the leaders of the other five nations — Canada, England, France, Germany, and Italy —  had all tried to reason with him. But to no avail. That’s when the President called me in.

I’m Ronald Bridgeport, American scientist and mind control expert. I’ve made some amazing discoveries concerning mind control and using the mind to manipulate the body.  Those subjects used to be considered part of the paranormal fringes of science, but my work has proven that they may have some very genuine, solid scientific foundations. I’ve won my share of awards for my research and for being able to prove a good many of my theories over the years. I’m well known internationally, of course, but not held in the kind of scientific esteem that Sigurdsson has acquired over the past couple decades.

Two days after Sigurdsson’s brutal announcement, I found myself sitting at a conference table across from several leading congressmen and two of the most celebrated scientists of our day, with the President just to my right at the end of the table. The heaviness in the atmosphere of the room when I’d entered had caused me to take a seat without saying a word. There was a bottle of water in front of me, and I reached for it because my nerves were so stressed that my  mouth was already dry. As I swallowed a couple mouthfuls of water, the President cleared his throat and spoke.

“Ronnie, I’ve known you for years now, and I can say without reservation that you’re one of the coolest men in a crisis that I’ve ever met. We need that cool head today.”

I looked at him as he spoke, and I could see the tension in every fiber of his body. “What can I do for you, Mr. President,” I asked.

“You’re aware of the world-wide threat coming from Liam Sigurdsson,” he said in a half question.

“Yes, sir. I’ve been following the news coverage of the whole thing. Is there more to it?”

“Well, for the most part, the news media have let it all out of the bag, but the one thing we know that the news boys don’t seem to is that you and Liam Sigurdsson have a long history.”

I nodded. I wasn’t sure how much the President knew, but I was willing to bet he had all the data at his fingertips. Such was the nature of our government surveillance and investigative forces.

He continued: “I understand that the two of you competed in a number of scientific projects during graduate school and then competed for two prestigious international awards in later years.” He looked at me with a question in his eyes.

“That’s correct. He won exactly half of those competitions in our school years, and he won one of the awards after we were both in our professional careers.”

“But you won the other award, which he coveted very badly, and you went on to be selected for the position as head of the Bon Homme Mind Manipulation Project that got world-wide acclaim.”

“Yes, sir, but I don’t see what that has to do with this situation,” I said, honestly confused.

“We know from dealing with the man that Sigurdsson — although a genius in his field — is also mentally deranged. And he has the largest ego the world has ever known. He doesn’t believe he can be defeated — well — let’s say he’s evidently convinced himself that he cannot be defeated — ever again. The only competition he’s ever had that brought him defeat has been with you.”

The President looked me in the eye, and I did the same to him, but I didn’t speak. He continued:  “So, playing on that theme, we’ve managed to infiltrate Sigurdsson’s privacy enough to suggest to him that if he wants the whole word to believe that he’s worthy to rule the six major nations in the world that have been the bastions of freedom and democracy until now, he needs to be able to defeat his greatest peer once and for all.”

My mouth fell open slightly, and I’m sure my eyes must have bugged out, because the congressmen and scientists across from me — who had remained totally silent up to that point — began to shift in their seats. I could literally feel them holding their breaths.

Finally, I found my voice. “I still don’t understand. You want me to do some kind of combat with Sigurdsson? Something physical or scientific or what?”

“We’ve offered him a challenge in his field of expertise,” the President answered. “We’ve challenged him to pit his mind-control and biokinetic abilities that he’s so proud of against yours. And whoever wins that battle will determine what happens with the bombs.”

I just looked at him. Looked him in the eye. I couldn’t look away. Inside my head, I could hear myself screaming “What! Are you crazy!” But I couldn’t speak a word out loud. I just looked at him. And the other people in the room held themselves so rigid waiting for my answer that I could feel the tension from the other side of the table.

I finally spoke — in a surprisingly quiet voice: “And what did he say to your challenge?”

“He agreed.”

Again, I could hear shocked questions pounding through my head, but I didn’t speak them out. As I sat there silent for a few moments, I realized that I wasn’t really surprised at all. Liam Sigurdsson was deranged. It’s true he was a genius. So was I for that matter. In fact, we had exactly the same IQ. But the man could not live with a challenge to his ego. He felt compelled to rise to such a challenge, and he wouldn’t even think beyond that feat to what the possible repercussions might me. Of course, he was not even entertaining the idea of failure on his part.

“And you think you can actually believe a man who is so deranged, Mr. President?”

He nodded his head. “We’ve secured a mediator that is acceptable to both Sigurdsson and to us. Sigurdsson will give him the details concerning the bombs, and the mediator will be locked away in a secure place until the contest is over. When he’s notified of the winner, he’ll either turn the information over to us … or … in the event … ”  He stopped and took a deep breath. “In the event that Sigurdsson wins, the mediator will simply hand the information back to him.”

I took a deep breath as well. And the men and women on the other side of the table finally took one too. A few of them leaned back in their chairs, obviously glad the worst of the story had been related. I glanced at them and then back to the President.

“And when is this challenge supposed to take place?”

“Tomorrow at noon.”

“And how long does it last?”

“Until one of you blinks.”

“What?” I shook my head to clear it, certain I’d heard wrong. I glanced at the people across the table, saw shock on their faces as well, and realized they hadn’t been told the details yet either. So I looked back at the President. “What did you say?”

“The contest will last until one of you blinks. That’s the challenge. Both you and Sigurdsson have developed a large following for your research and proven theories in the areas of mind control and organic manipulation. That’s the arena he wants to defeat you in. To prove that he has developed in those areas to a much higher degree than you have. So that’s the challenge he has chosen to accept. You’ll sit and stare at each other via webcam, and whoever blinks first … loses.”

As wild and off-the-wall as the whole strategy sounded, I couldn’t refuse my commander-in-chief. Besides, what other option did we have? We could send in military power and annihilate Sigurdsson, but we couldn’t shut off the bombs.  So I went home to “get some rest” — the President’s words — not mine. That was about 7:00 last night.

As I prepared for bed, I found myself going over in my mind the Bible story I’d known from childhood about David and Goliath. I picked up my Bible and began reading the story again. It was inspiring, to say the least: a young, apparently defenseless, youth standing up to the biggest bully of his day — and winning. To be sure, there had to have been some supernatural help involved.

So as I lay my head on my pillow, I whispered, with all the vulnerability of a child, “Lord, it seems the fate of the whole free world is resting on my shoulders — or rather on my eyelids — tomorrow. Sir … I’d just like to say … I could sure use some of the same kind of help that You gave that shepherd boy.”

That brings us to this morning, 11:50 eastern time, when I took a seat in front of the webcam set up at the White House. I had requested that I be left in the room alone once the camera came on. So everyone else began filing out, and that’s when the President leaned over to me, gripped me by the shoulder and whispered, “Remember, Ronnie. Don’t blink. If you blink, it’s all over.”

 


Daily Post Prompt: Blink

~~~

How About a Glass of Wine?

photo copyright: Sarah Ann Hall

 

“What the heck are they?”
“They look like candle holders to me.”
“Hmmm, I don’t see any candles. Hey this one is open down to the bottom … and so is this one. Maybe they’re fancy vases.”
“Well, they sure wouldn’t hold many flowers. Wonder why Aunt Enid left them to us.”
“Honey, you know Aunt Enid. When she’d had her daily wine quota, she was liable to do almost anything.”
“That’s it!  That’s what we’ll use them for.”
“Huh?”
“At our next dinner party, we’ll use them as wine glasses.”
“Well, that’s one way to start conversation. Let’s get ’em washed.”

 


Friday Fictioneers Fun.

 

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Simon Stone Mystery – Daily Post Prompt

CHAPTER ONE

Deanna Forbes sat straight in the uncomfortable wooden chair. She kept her shoulders back and her right leg crossed over her left knee, making sure to hold her foot perfectly still. That effort, along with the pleasant expression on her face, cost her considerable energy, but she was a strong-willed woman and had had a lot of practice at maintaining proper demeanor.

Her ash blond hair, blunt cut to just below her jawline, was shiny smooth and added to her cool, collected composure. Only her gray eyes darted from place to place, taking in all the details of her surroundings and keeping up with her rapidly shifting thoughts.

“Now, Ms Forbes,” Detective Simon Stone addressed her from the opposite side of the table where they sat in the interrogation room. Her eyes focused totally on him as he continued. “I have here your earlier statement that you were with friends at a private party the evening Peter Crandell was shot, but so far, our office hasn’t been able to make contact with any of these – uh – friends.” As he said the last word, his left eyebrow lifted in a question, and his blue eyes pinned her.

The implication that real friendship was somewhat lacking here wasn’t lost on Deanna, but she couldn’t seem to keep herself from focusing on those eyes – well – on his whole appearance, which was commandingly attractive: dark complexion, black, wavy hair, and strong brows – all accented by the most brilliantly blue eyes she’d ever seen on a man. This meeting was the second time she’d sat with Simon Stone for questioning, and both times his extravagant good looks and his virile, no-nonsense manner, coupled with a surprisingly melodious voice, had interfered with her efforts to concentrate. That wasn’t good — not good at all. She needed all her wits about her for this one.

“Well, Detective Stone, as I explained in my original statement, it was a bon voyage party, and two of the couples were sailing that night. The other two couples live in Montrose, some 100 miles from here, so God only knows where they may be by this week. Besides – as I also said previously – you won’t find anyone who honestly thinks I had a motive for killing Peter Crandell. Why on earth would I want poor Peter dead?”

“I don’t know that you did want him dead, Ms Forbes. But right now we can’t rule out anyone who knew him, and an alibi for your whereabouts at the time of death is crucial.” There was a knock at the door of the interrogation room, and Stone got up to answer it. After the briefest whispered conversation, he turned to Deanna. “Excuse me a moment, Ms Forbes. I’ll be right back with you.” He then stepped out into the hall to continue the conversation.

After a good five minutes, he returned with a smile on his face. “Well, good news: “ he said, closing the door and returning to his seat at the table, “our men have finally made contact with one of the couples from the bon voyage party. They have corroborated your alibi completely, so it looks as though you’re free to go. I’m sorry we had to detain you so long.”

Deanna smiled widely. “That is good news, Detective. And I’m glad to know you think so too. I’d hate to have you believe I was guilty of such a terrible act as shooting someone.”

“Just because we question a person doesn’t necessarily mean we believe they committed the crime, Ms Forbes. But in cases like this, there are usually a number of people who are possible suspects until we can find good reason to eliminate them from the list.”

“I understand, Detective Stone. But I want to make sure I have the facts right: You are saying that your department no longer consider me a suspect in the shooting of Peter Crandell. Is that correct?”

Stone smiled. “You are correct, Ms Forbes,” he said and rose from his chair.

Deanna rose as well, and on a sudden impulse, she said, “Well … now that we’ve got all that matter cleared up, I wonder if you might consider having dinner with me tomorrow evening, Detective Stone. I feel I’d like to get to know you better.”

Stone’s first response was one of surprise, but it registered only momentarily. His easy smile replaced it, a smile that reached his eyes, and Deanna suddenly realized that it was that smile that came from deep inside of him that made him particularly attractive.

“I should be free tomorrow evening ─ barring some unexpected homicide, that is,” he said with a grin. “Do you have a particular place in mind?”

“I like dining at The Captain’s Table in the restored lighthouse a little south of the city. Do you know it?”

“Yes, I’m familiar with it. I enjoy it myself. Shall I pick you up?”

“It’s probably better if I meet you there. Say 7:00?”

“Fine. I’ll look forward to it, Ms Forbes.”

Deanna smiled widely again. “Why don’t you just call me Dee? All my friends do, and I think we could become friends now that this nasty murder business is behind us.”

“Well, then, Dee,” he said moving to the door and holding it open for her, “I’ll see you at The Captain’s Table at 7:00 tomorrow evening.”

“Good bye Detective Stone.” She smiled again and gave him a questioning look. “Perhaps you’ll give me permission to call you Simon when we meet for dinner.”

“Perhaps I shall,” he answered with a teasing grin. Deanna turned and walked out of the office and exited the police station without looking back. Keeping her back straight and her head up was second nature to her; smiling at everyone she passed didn’t come quite so naturally. However, she was determined not to let that smile slip until she was well out of sight of any law enforcement officers.

Simon Stone returned to his own desk and filled out his report on the interrogation – but he didn’t sign off on it. Instead, he entered Deanna Forbes’ name into a data base he used only when the normal sites failed to give him satisfactory information. He waited, holding his breath.

In the meantime, Deanna Forbes sat behind the wheel of her Lexus. Driving back to her home, she questioned her own sanity. Why on earth had she invited Simon Stone to dinner? Well, she knew the answer on the surface, of course: he was stunning, sexy, and captivating. He was also dangerous, but she had lived with danger most of her life.

Having been raised by a drunken father who came home to beat up on his wife and two kids on a regular basis ─ and then living with a grandmother who ran a gambling casino, with all the attending crime element casinos attracted ─ she was no stranger to dealing with danger and its threats to her own peace and security. In fact, sometimes she wondered if she had become too comfortable with danger. Maybe that’s why she’d never stuck with any relationships in the past that didn’t carry with them any kind of threat.

She shrugged her shoulders now. Oh well, her die was cast. She was having dinner with a man who, up until an hour ago, had considered her a possible murderer. Come to think of it, he hadn’t told her which couple had corroborated her alibi for that night. Of course, all six of the other guests had been so drunk that they couldn’t have been sure about who was there and who wasn’t.

One thing about most of her friends: they were so irresponsible in their own lives that they didn’t think twice about checking up on anyone else to make sure they weren’t doing something they shouldn’t be doing. It would never occur to them that one of their guests might have slipped away from the group long enough to put old Peter away and slipped right back into the crowd as if nothing had transpired except a trip to the bathroom.


INNOCENT FRONT COVER = AMAZONThe mystery continues in book #1 of the Simon Stone Detective Series.
Read all of INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY. Available in paperback and digital at Amazon.

 

Daily Post Prompt: Mystery

 

 

~~~

Friday Fictioneers: 7/14/17

To participate in this week’s Friday Fictioneers, visit Rochelle’s site. The picture prompt below is the property of  Janet Webb.

 

BETRAYED BY TECHNOLOGY

He’d done it. He smiled at the perfect job. He’d left her lying across the bed with the pill bottle in her hand. And she hadn’t even suspected that he’d doctored her drink.

She did love to drink, and that had made it so easy. He smiled again as he leaned back in his easy chair savoring his success. Leaving the lone candle burning was an artistic touch. And his fake alibi was so tight, he’d never be suspected.

Now, to call Bernard and report his success. Reaching into his pocket, he froze. Where the hell was his cell phone?

 

~~~

Sail Away With This Mystery Romance

SIM. ST. INNOCENT FRONT AM. COVER2Well, naturally, I can’t pass up an opportunity like this. Today’s Daily Post Prompt is the word “sail.”  And it just so happens that the main character in my mystery novella Innocent Until Proven Guilty — Homicide Detective Simon Stone — loves to sail. And even though he suspects Deanna Forbes of murder, he can’t deny his deep attraction to her, so he invites her to go sailing with him on his boat, the Blue Swan.

As their relationship grows, Simon finds himself torn. One part of him wants to love and trust this woman who is the first to ever capture his heart. But another part of him fears that somewhere deep inside Deanna beats the heart of a possible killer. Can he solve the crime before he falls too deeply into the ocean of love? That’s the question that keeps readers turning the page.

Innocent Until Proven Guilty is Book 1 in the Simon Stone Detective Series: On target, quick-read novellas for the busy reader who still wants to enjoy stories of mystery and romance. Available on Amazon in Paperback right now, but coming in digital this week!

 

 

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Lost Without A Trace: Daily Post Prompt

 

SLATE AMAZON PAPERBACK FINAL COVER - frontToday’s Daily Post Prompt –Trace — gives me the perfect opportunity to plug one of my newest inspirational novels: SLATE.  The story of Slate and Vanessa plays out over a second story concerning Vanessa’s brother Ken. A private investigator, Ken traces a young girl from her home in Missouri to the Gulf coast of Florida, but then Ken himself suddenly disappears without a trace. That event causes Vanessa to head to Florida to look for him, and from the day she arrives and meets Slate, her life is changed forever. So is Slate’s.

Inspirational Fiction: Digital or Paperback at Amazon.

HERE’S 2 EXCERPTS:

From Chapter 1:

He hopped out of the metallic-blue corvette convertible, tossing his cigarette down and extinguishing it with his boot, then set off down the sidewalk toward Katy’s Koffee Korner. He walked with a definite swagger, and it was hard to tell if it was because of or in spite of the almost skin-tight blue jeans that covered his long legs. His light blue sleeveless, knit shirt exposed brown, sinewy arms and hugged a tight stomach before being swallowed up by the leather belted waistline that sported a gold buckle shaped like a pirate ship.

His hair was such a dark brown it looked black in certain light, and although he didn’t wear it long, any activity on his part, or the slightest of breezes, kept throwing one thick lock across his forehead. In spite of the fact that he brushed his hand through it periodically, that one lock just seemed to have a mind of its own.

As he passed a bench on the sidewalk where two older men sat chatting over Styrofoam cups of coffee, one of the men called to him, chuckling.

“Hear you spent the night in the clink again last Friday, Slate.”

The man he’d addressed stopped long enough to grin at him and then wink. “Trying to save on my electric bills, Chet.” Both of the old boys laughed, enjoying the little joke, as they did almost any little bit of conversation throughout the day as they sat on their favorite bench, trying to ease the tedium of their otherwise empty lives.

“Coffee’s especially good this morning,” Chet replied now, holding up his half-empty cup and motioning toward the café behind where he and his friend sat.

“I’m just on my way in to try it,” Slate answered and, giving them a thumbs-up sign, turned in to the doorway and opened the door to the Koffee Korner. …

This morning, though, Hally was on duty, and she always kept an eye out for Slate. She liked to wait on him … and flirt with him. Actually, she liked to flirt with him … and she tolerated having to work as a waitress in order to get the chance to do some serious flirting. Of course she didn’t save all of her attention for Slate. She shared it with several of the other men in town, but Slate was one of her favorites. He had taken her out two different times several months ago, and both times had proved to be the kind of night she liked … the kind that didn’t end until the following morning. …

While he ate, stopping every now and then to say something to one of the other patrons who passed his booth on the way to the restroom or back, Slate glanced over at the woman across from him. She had raised her head now and was sipping her coffee, her eyes closed. Her hair was a warm light brown shade, with just a tinge of highlights from the sun here and there. It barely skimmed her shoulders in soft waves. Her features weren’t classically beautiful, but she was really pleasant to look at. Her complexion was unblemished, and her eyes and eyebrows seemed to be etched in at exactly the right angles to highlight her whole face. Her mouth was rather wide, and her lips looked as if an artist had sculptured them. Yes, all in all, the sight was something he took pleasure in this morning.

He’d evidently taken just a little too much pleasure, because he’d been staring. Suddenly, she looked up and right at him, a question in her large, brown eyes. Almost exactly the color of a copper penny, Slate thought to himself as his attention focused on those eyes. He was caught off guard by the vulnerable look on her face, and instinctively he smiled his most genuine smile at her and then went back to concentrating on his food. A minute later, he heard her conversation with the waitress who had come back to bring her a fresh carafe of coffee.

“Can you give me exact directions from here to the Sandstone Motel?” she asked.

“Sure, Hon. It isn’t hard. I’ll write it down for you and be right back.”

“Thank you,” she answered, smiling and lighting up her face for just a moment, but when the waitress left, she went back to rubbing her temples and then her eyes. She finally leaned her head back against the high divider of her booth and closed her eyes, but Slate, glancing sideways at her, noticed a couple of tears trickling down her cheeks. After a minute more, she took a deep breath and opened her eyes, wiping the tears from her face with her hands, and by that time the waitress was back with her directions.

“Thank you so much,” she said and handed the waitress some bills. “This is for you.”

“Thanks, and you come and see us again, Okay?”

“If I have time,” she said smiling slightly at the retreating waitress, and then she slid out of her seat and stood up. Before she could take a step, she swayed and reached for the back of the booth to regain her balance. She was sitting in the last booth across from him, and no one else had noticed the unusual action. She sat back down on the edge of the booth, holding her head. Slate had learned better than to interfere in someone else’s business, but something about her just seemed so vulnerable that he couldn’t keep from getting up and walking over to her booth.

“Are you all right, Miss?” he asked, resting one hand on the table and leaning towards her. She looked up at him then, her eyes registering her pain.

“Yes,” she answered in almost a whisper. Then she cleared her throat and tried to speak louder. “It’s just this stupid migraine headache. They often make me woozy. Eating should help, but I guess the food just hasn’t had time to get into my system yet. I’ll just sit here another minute. Thanks,” she added, smiling wanly.

Slate sat down in the other side of the booth. “How about another cup of coffee?”

She turned back into the normal sitting position in the booth and nodded her head as he picked up the carafe and poured some into her cup. She began drinking it immediately, and Slate stepped over to his own booth and retrieved his cup, bringing it back with him. He poured fresh coffee for himself and topped hers off again. She smiled at him, her eyes seeming to show a little relief now.

“My sister often has migraine headaches,” he said. “They make her sick for days.”

She nodded her head. “They do some people. Usually, I’m not ill, but I have to be careful when they make me dizzy.” She took a deep breath. “I’m feeling better now. Thank you for your concern, Mr… .?”

“Slate’s fine,” he answered. “I heard you ask the waitress about the Sandstone. Is this your first visit in this area?”

“Yes, and it really isn’t a visit exactly.”

“Oh …?”

“Well … I guess there’s no reason to be secretive about it, so I might as well tell you. Anybody I meet around here just might be able to tell me something that will give me a lead.”

His eyebrows rose. “Are you a private detective?”

She chuckled a little. “No … I’m not, but my brother is. And he was on a case that led him to this area. His last call to his wife a week ago was from the Sandstone, and then he just disappeared.”

“Disappeared?”

She nodded. “None of us has heard from him again, not even the family whose daughter he was trailing. She was a runaway, and only seventeen. They had hired him to find her and bring her home, and he had caught up with her in Lakeland. Then she took a bus to Tampa, then hitched a ride out to this little town and on to the Sandstone Motel. He followed her that far, but we don’t have any idea what happened after that.”

“Have you contacted the police?”

“Oh yes. He’d been calling his wife every day, so after the third day without a call from him, we contacted our own sheriff’s department at home. He’s been in touch with the one here, but they don’t seem to have any leads.” She shrugged. “Not that I have any either, but I just couldn’t sit at home and do nothing when Kendall could be in some kind of serious danger or …” She stopped and swallowed hard. “Or worse,” she finished.

He leaned back in his seat. “Well, the sheriff’s department here is usually pretty thorough. I’ll say that for them at least.”

“I need to go talk to them personally, but I’ve been driving all night, and I want to get a room and shower and rest first. Hopefully I can get rid of the last of this headache.” She looked at him more intently then, taking in his manner of dress and his almost lazy way of leaning back in the booth.

“Please don’t let me keep you,” she said then in a tone he’d have attributed to some socialite addressing a lower-class citizen. “Thanks for your concern, but I can take care of myself from here,” she added, lifting her chin a little higher than normal, her voice edged with a bit of frost. Slate felt that he’d been dismissed. Well, so much for trying to help. How many times did he need to learn to mind his own business before he’d pay attention?

He rose from his seat and gave a sketchy salute. “Yes, M’am,” he said, a little frosty himself. He walked to the front and paid his bill. …

On his way down the highway twenty minutes later, headed back to the dock, he was in a foul mood. Most of the supplies he needed were back-ordered, and he was going to be in a bind. He was trying to force himself to stop worrying about it when he spotted what looked like Vanessa’s car up ahead sitting on the side of the road. He slowed as he passed, and recognizing her, he pulled over just in front of her. Part of his mind was telling him to stay out of her business and save himself another snubbing. But the other part was responding to the code he’d lived by all his life about helping anybody that was down. He got out now and walked back to her driver’s side, leaning down to see in the window. “Problems?”

“Yes … I don’t have any idea what’s wrong. A few minutes ago it just sputtered and then died. I barely got it off the road.”

“Are you out of gas?”

She looked daggers at him. “I’m not an idiot! I know a car has to have gas to run. There’s plenty of gas!”

Whew, he thought. I wish I didn’t have enough conscience to bother me if I just left her here. “Well … pull your hood release, and I’ll take a look.”

“Do you know anything about cars?”

He chuckled as he walked toward the front of the car. “No … I just get my kicks stopping by stranded motorists and asking to play under the hood of their cars.”

Vanessa got out and walked closer to him. “You don’t have to be sarcastic. A lot of men don’t know how to repair cars. I was just asking.”

“Well, I don’t know everything about ‘em; that’s for sure. But since I have to keep my boat engines in good running order, I can usually do a thing or two about car engines as well.”

“You have boats?”

He glanced up momentarily. “A few.” Vanessa recognized by his tone of voice that the conversation was at an end for the time being, so she remained quiet.

He checked a couple possible causes of the problem, but came up short of a solution. He was pretty sure he knew what was wrong, but didn’t have the equipment to fix it. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have the equipment necessary to fix it out here. We’ll have to get you towed in.” He stepped back and looked at her license plate again. “I’m guessing your name is Vanessa. Am I right?” he asked, grinning.

She seemed a little affronted that he’d asked, but she did answer him. “Yes … Vanessa Hayes.”

“Well, Vanessa Hayes, I can give you a lift to the Sandstone.”

He saw the briefest flash of fear in her eyes before she answered. “Oh … oh well … I don’t want to trouble you Mr. uh …”

“Slate’s good enough.”

“But don’t you have a last name?”

He looked straight at her, his blue eyes piercing hers, but he stood silent for another moment before he spoke again. “I’ll call for a tow truck.”

“I have a cell phone,” she said and started to turn back to the car.

“Never mind, I’ve got it,” he answered, already punching in some numbers. “I’ve given these guys a lot of business, so I think I can talk them into getting to you today.”

“I really don’t want to put you to this trouble, Mr. uh …”

He was talking to the man on the other end of the phone now, but he gave her an exasperated look. When he had finished the call, he snapped his phone shut and clipped it back onto his belt. “They said they’ll try to get here in a couple of hours.”

“Oh … well … I’ll just wait then.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” He slammed down the hood. “There’s no point in you’re waiting out here two hours. By then it will be the hottest part of the day. Let’s get your luggage, and I’ll take you to your motel.”

Vanessa stepped back. “No … no, thank you, Mr. uh …”

“Slate!”

“Mr. Slate, thank you for your offer of a ride, but I’m going to stay here with my car.”

“That isn’t necessary. I told them I’d be by their place to check on it this evening, so you can be sure they’ll take good care of it.”

“Do you have that much influence?” she asked, her eyes widening with her obvious surprise. “I would have thought that someone like you wouldn’t …” She stopped in mid-sentence, realizing that what she had started to say would sound pretty rude.

He raised one eyebrow. “You mean you thought that someone like me wouldn’t have any good influence anywhere, right?”

“Well, it was a logical mistake,” she excused herself, in reality hating herself for such a stupid and unkind blunder. Who was she to judge this man by his outward appearance and manner? She could tell she’d made him angry.

“Just get in my car. I’ll get your bags.”

She pulled herself up to her full five and a half feet and stepped in front of her car door. Then she held out her hand to him as if to shake hands. He just looked at her for moment and then extended his hand too, not sure what a handshake right now meant. Vanessa spoke again. “Thank you for stopping, Mr. Slate, but you can be on your way now. I prefer not to ride with you.”

He could feel that she had tried to withdraw her hand after the briefest of contacts, but he had deliberately held on for several more seconds. He realized it discomfited her, but he felt she deserved it for the way she was acting. As soon as he released her hand, she wiped it down the side of her slacks as if to clean something off.

Slate stepped back a step and folded his arms across his chest, staring at her and squinting a little against the sun. “The uppity Miss Priss. Too good to ride with the likes of me. Well … suit yourself, Miss Priss. Sit out here and bake in this sun if you want to, but don’t be surprised if that tow truck doesn’t show up for four or five hours.”

“But you said they told you two!”

He laughed. “They did, and I knew that meant that they’d at least get to it before nightfall. That’s a lot around here, Miss Priss, and you’d best be thankful for that much.”

“Don’t call me that!”

“What?”

“Miss Priss!”

He chuckled. “You’re the prissiest little fox I’ve seen around here in a lifetime, Honey. The name suites you to a ‘T.’” He turned and started back to his car then. Let the prudish snob sit out here by herself, he thought as he reached to open his car door. But then he looked up at her. She was rubbing her temples again, and he remembered that she was suffering with a migraine. He remembered again how his sister wasn’t fit to live with when she had one because they affected her so badly.

He let out a heavy sigh and started back toward Vanessa. “Look,” he said as he got within a couple feet, “I’ll call the sheriff’s office. They know me. I give them a lot of business too. You can talk to the officer on duty, and I’ll tell them that I’m taking you to the Sandstone. That way, you know I’ll not abduct you into some isolated field and rape and kill you. How’s that?”

“Thank you,” she said in what was almost a whisper now. Then she turned and opened her door. “I’ll get the keys and open the trunk.”

From Chapter 4:

About twelve miles down the highway from the Sandstone Motel, a poorly paved road turned West and wound several miles out into the countryside. A half dozen old houses dotted the area, each one at least two or three miles away from its neighbor in any direction. But a little over five miles out on the paved road, there was a gravel turnoff, almost hidden by overgrown bushes, that led another four miles out to a house that sat on an inlet with its own worn out boat dock.

Inside that house, in an empty back bedroom, two people sat on the floor, their backs propped against the wall, their hands and feet tied securely enough to make sure they couldn’t leave their accommodations at will. The man was tall and muscular, with golden brown hair that matched that of his younger sister so much that people often thought they were twins. He wore thin, gold-rimmed glasses, and ordinarily made a handsome picture to most observers. Right now, though, his face was marred by an ugly scratch and a couple of bruises, and his clothes were wrinkled and stained.

His companion was a young girl with stringy, blond hair … which at one time had probably been thick and shiny enough to attract a second and third look from most men. Right now, she was sitting beside him, sick with fear and wishing she’d never seen most of the men she’d ever known in her seventeen years. The one exception to that wish was her companion in this make-shift prison.

The only reason he was here at all was because he had tried to come to her rescue when she had tried to get away from what had turned out to be a group of drug dealers, and had been losing the battle for her freedom. He hadn’t succeeded in his attempt to help her. And now they were both facing whatever unknown horrors were being planned for them by the thugs that had tied them up while they carried out their own ugly business.

Kendall Hayes leaned his head back against the wall, his eyes closed, and prayed for the umpteenth time that day … as he had done for the last six days sitting in this room. The one drug dealer of the bunch who interacted with him and Sarah, his cell-mate, was Gary – Sarah’s boyfriend until his true identity and occupation had come to light. Gary came in twice a day with food and water, and led them away, one at a time, to the bathroom, standing guard just outside the door. That was the only precaution necessary, since the bathroom didn’t have even one window, and there was certainly no chance of escape from that cubbyhole. If they made enough fuss, he came and escorted one of them to the bathroom at other times, but it was a chore to convince him he needed to heed their urgency.

After the first four days of incarceration, Sarah had talked Gary into allowing her and Kendall a change of clothes from the suitcases they’d had with them. But other than those concessions, the plight of the inhabitants of this back bedroom seemed to be of no interest to anybody else on the premises.

“You prayin’ again?” Sarah asked her companion now as she saw he had his eyes closed and his lips moving.

He opened his eyes and smiled at her slightly. “Yeah … gotta stay at it.”

“You really believe your God’s gonna get us outta here?”

He sighed. “You ask me that every day, Sarah. And the answer is still the same. Yes … I really believe that.”

Tears welled up in the girl’s eyes, as they had several times during the last several days. “I sure wish I could believe.”

She had said that at least a dozen times in the days they’d shared this room, and Kendall had always given her the same answer. “You can, Sarah. Just ask Jesus to make Himself real to you, and you’ll be able to believe.” She hadn’t been able to bring herself to do that yet, but Kendall could tell she was closer than she had been the first couple of days. He closed his eyes again now.

“Please, Lord Jesus,” he whispered just loud enough for the girl to hear him too, “please make Yourself real to Sarah. She can’t ask You for herself, Lord, so I’m asking for her. Just help her a little more, Lord to recognize that You’re here and that You love her and want to help her. And please, Lord … send your angels to open up this prison and lead both of us out of here. I’m trusting you, Lord. I’m trusting you with all the faith I have.”

He’d prayed those same words, or some very similar, so many times his rational mind told him that it was no use to pray them again. But he had belonged to Jesus Christ for most of his life, and he’d always found Jesus faithful in times of trouble. Kendall was determined even now that he would not give up his faith in God’s love and delivering power.

An ‘Innocent’ Crime & Romance Story

SIM. ST. INNOCENT FRONT AM. COVER2My newest release is a Crime & Romance Novella — Book 1 of the Simon Stone Detective Series. The series is  composed of ‘On Target, Quick-Read’ Novellas that should appeal to busy readers.

Book 1 is a story that I originally wrote right here on this blog: INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY

Here’s a peek at what it’s about:

Deanna Forbes is a suspect in a murder investigation, but that fact doesn’t interfere with her desires. And, as a woman, she finds herself attracted to Detective Simon Stone, who conducts the two interviews with her before she is taken off the suspect list. She surprises Stone, and herself, when she invites him to have dinner with her so she can get to know him better.

Simon is a detective with a heart, and, so far, that heart has never been broken. So falling in love with a woman he suspects of murder doesn’t seem like a smart thing to do. But sometimes the heart has a mind of its own. He may be the sharpest detective on the force, but love is not a subject covered in the standard law enforcement manuals.

Paperback – $4.99 – from Amazon.


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Daily Post Prompt: Abstract Art According to Hillbillies

`ART WITH BLACK

Two Hillbillies in an Art Museum:

“What is it?”

“It’s an abstract.”

“A what?”

“An abstract. You know – that’s where somebody who thinks he’s an artist takes a canvas and slops a bunch of paint onto it in weird patterns. Then somebody else who thinks he’s an art expert comes along and says it represents that artist’s feelin’s when he was rejected by his lover or it represents man’s inhumanity to man, or somethin’ like that.

“Where’d you learn that?”

“We got Internet up on our mountain now. I been readin’ about all kinds a stuff. I come to this one place on there with all these god-awful weird pictures, so I stopped to find out what they was all about.”

“And it told all about these here abstracts?”

“Right. And purty dern boring stuff if you ask me.”

“Hmmmm. Ain’t there any abstracts that say somethin’ positive?”

“Oh, yeah, there’s a few that are supposed to represent man’s great intelligence or his overpowerin’ love for the world or that kind of thing. But, according to this here report I read, the real value of an abstract is supposed to be that each separate person who sees it will give it his own — a — interpretation I think they called it — based on his own personality and life experiences.”

“Hmmmmmmm. So what do you think this one represents?”

“I have to go to the outhouse, and I’d better get there quick.”

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Daily Post Prompt: Witness

MAGNIFYING GLASS CLUESToday’s one-word prompt fits right in with the theme of the new novelette I’m currently working on. It is book number 2 in The Simon Stone Detective Trilogy. Some of you will remember Simon because I actually wrote the first book in the series (Innocent Until Proven Guilty) right here on this blog. That book will be available as an e-book on Amazon in September, and book # 2 will be out before Christmas. So I thought I’d offer Chapter One of the second book as a teaser — and as my response to the prompt: witness.

(One small note: If you have not read book # 1, what you read here will include information that may spoil the ending of the first book for you. So just be forewarned.)


CHAPTER ONE

Stanford Brooks sat at a table in a private study carrel on the second floor of the municipal library, submerged in his favorite historical era. Suddenly he felt a stabbing pain in the back of his neck. Letting out a small grunt, he started to lift his right arm, intending to place his hand on the source of pain to discover the cause. But before he could complete the act, a gloved hand covered his nose and mouth.

Ordinarily, being a big man, he would have used his size to struggle against such an action, but his mind had grown fuzzy and his throat was beginning to constrict. He tried to turn his head and groaned beneath the heavy hand, but it was a weak sound, due to the weakening condition of his whole body. In the next second, everything went gray, then black, and without another conscious thought, he fell forward across his book.

A faint snap sounded behind him, followed within seconds by the merest whisper of wood touching wood at the closing of the carrel door. Silence then reigned in the halls of the library’s second floor, and business as usual continued at the circulation desk downstairs.
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On the other side of the city, Detective Simon Stone, deep in thought about the events of his day, walked to his apartment door and slipped his key into the lock as usual. But, suddenly, nothing was “usual” at all, because when he turned the key, there was no resistance. Every nerve came to attention, and he reached inside his jacket for his Glock. He had no doubt he’d locked the door when he’d left for work at 6:00 a.m.

His mind rapidly clicked off the possibilities: petty burglar, ex-con bent on revenge, a hit man under orders from any number of drug lords he’d ticked off over the past several years. As one part of his mind sorted through the options, another part tried to make the best guess as to where inside the apartment he’d most likely find the intruder.

When he’d settled on his plan of action, he eased the door open silently, crouching, and sweeping his gun arm left to right as he panned the entire living room. No one in sight, but immediately, he heard sounds in the kitchen. He tilted his head, listening: the clatter of dishes rang out against the background of running water. He shook his head, confused. He’d never known a burglar or a hit man who cleaned up the kitchen before committing his crime.

Simon took a deep breath and let it out slowly. That sixth sense that made him one of the sharpest detectives on the force told him all was well, but the fact that someone was in his apartment who had not been invited kept him vigilant. He moved on cat feet to the kitchen door, and just before giving the connecting swing door a shove with his foot, he heard the humming. His visitor was humming “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

Well, that cleared away all questions. He knew only one person who hummed that stalwart Lutheran hymn as she worked: Aunt Prissy – not a dangerous criminal, but a force to be reckoned with all the same. A hearty sigh of relief rushed through him, only to be shut off by the irritation he felt at his aunt’s irresponsible behavior. He mulled over the possibilities of dealing with the situation.

At seventy-one, Aunt Prissy had lived long enough to think she knew best about most things and to feel brave enough to take on the world. A self-appointed amateur detective in her hometown, she didn’t shy away from practicing her gift for picking locks. However, she did make sure she practiced only on family and friends. He’d lectured and lectured, to no affect, so maybe now was an excellent time for an object lesson. He’d go ahead and kick open the door and yell, “Freeze!”

He didn’t want to point his gun at her, of course, and he quietly eased it back into his shoulder holster. As he did so, he started questioning the plan because he certainly didn’t want to frighten her enough to give her a heart attack or something. But she was in excellent health, so maybe ─

“Simon, for heaven’s sake stop standing outside the kitchen door!” He sucked in a quick breath, noticing at just that moment that the humming had stopped. She spoke again, still from inside the kitchen. “You’re probably thinking you’d like to kick open the door and frighten me half to death to teach me not to break into your apartment, but you’ll be wasting your breath, dear.” On the other side of the door, Simon just threw up his hands and looked straight up, as if to ask a higher power what on earth he could do about such a ridiculous situation. “Get on in here,” his aunt said, now. “I’ve got all your favorites ready to go onto the table.”

Simon gave up. He gently pushed through the swing door and looked at his aunt. She was busy placing bowls and platters of food onto the table, but she looked up and smiled at him. Her still-bright blue eyes – the mirror image of his own – nailed him instantly, and the mischief in them was his undoing. He laughed out loud and crossed the kitchen in two long strides to take her into his arms in a bear hug.

She finally leaned back and looked into his eyes. “Hello, Nephew,” she said, her own eyes twinkling again. Simon stepped away a little, still grinning at her, “Hello, Aunt Prissy. To what do I owe this most unexpected pleasure? You didn’t even hint in your last card or e-mail that you were considering a visit.”

“I know, dear,” she said, at the same time setting the salt and pepper shakers on the table and motioning to one of the chairs. “Sit down, and I’ll say grace, and then we can talk while we eat.”

They both sat, and once Priscilla had blessed the food with prayer, she started passing him bowls and platters. “I just felt I wanted to see how you’re doing,” she said now.

“You’ve e-mailed me and asked that question at least three times in the past several months – and I’ve e-mailed you back that I was fine.”

“E-mail? Phooey! I can’t see your eyes and your expressions on an e-mail. So I decided I’d like to make another visit, and that would tell me a lot more than any computer letter.”

Simon chuckled. “There just isn’t much of anything to tell, Aunt Prissy.”

“Simon, how are you really doing?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “About as well as normal, I guess.”

“Now, what kind of answer is that, for heaven’s sake? What’s normal? There’s absolutely nothing normal about a detective falling in love with a murder suspect who’s under his investigation!”

He looked sideways at her but kept cutting his meat. “Thanks for rubbing it in.”

“You know better than that. I’m not rubbing anything in. I’m merely pointing out that you have nothing to gauge what’s’ normal in this situation. And that being the case, you should be free to allow yourself to feel any number of things that might seem weird to an average person.”

“So you’re saying I’m not average either, huh?” he asked, but there was a hint of a smile on his lips.

“Well, in my humble opinion, you’ve always been above average – ever since you were a child – but that’s beside the point. Have you heard from her since she went to prison?”

Simon shook his head, and stopped chewing long enough to answer. “No. I can’t imagine anything to be gained by continuing to communicate with her.”

“Do you still have strong feelings for her?’

Simon sat back in his chair, thinking, weighing his words. “It may sound surprising, after only eight months, but I don’t seem to have any feelings for her one way or the other.” He shrugged. “I’m at least smart enough to know that the person I thought I was in love with didn’t really exist. She was a figment of my own imagination, based on pretense and deception, both of which Deanna was a master at.”

“No question there.”

He got up to refill his coffee cup and came back to the table with the pot, adding a little to his aunt’s cup as well. As he sat back down, he said, “And I have to admit that it’s something of a relief to feel nothing for a while. All that emotion is wearing on a person, you know.” He managed a grin as he spoke the last words, and his aunt grinned back.

“Yes, having been very much in love with your uncle I can testify to the energy required to love and be loved in return. And, of course, my feelings for Mitch are not at that level just yet, but even in that relationship, there’s a huge investment of the inner man necessary to make and keep it healthy and happy.”

“How is your favorite police chief?”

“Oh, pretty much the way you remember him: calm, collected, and easy-going – well, except when I’m working on a case that is.” She shook her head a little. “He does get a little steamed up and un-relaxed when he starts worrying about me. But I keep telling him that I’m a grown woman who had to take care of herself for ten years before meeting him, and he’s just going to have to face the fact that I’m not going to become a meek little garden club member who stays at home pampering plants when life’s going on outside in the real world. And he might as well give up worrying because it won’t do him or me either one any good.”

Simon laughed. “I bet you give him that speech about once a month.”

She smiled. “Well I do try to change the words around a little from time to time, but, yes, I do manage to say it often. Bless his heart; eventually, it will sink in, and he’ll get used to letting me live my life my own way.”

As she spoke, she got up from the table, taking her plate and Simon’s to the sink, and as she returned with two servings of German chocolate cake, the phone rang.

Simon got up and walked over to the wall phone. “Hello.”

“Simon, I’m probably interrupting your dinner,” the voice said on the other end of the line.

“Oh hi, Mac. No matter about dinner. What’s up?”

“We’ve just taken a call from the city library director. She found a man dead, slumped over a table in one of the study carrels on the second floor. No obvious reason for death, but natural causes seem questionable since the man’s known for running in local marathons and seemed to be in great health. There’s an ugly red swelling and some bruising on one side of his neck. Sounded suspicious enough that I sent Peterson over. I know you’re off duty for twenty-four hours, and I wouldn’t have bothered you tonight except for the fact that the librarian identified the man as Stanford Brooks.”

“What!”

“That’s right, and since he’s the primary witness in the case you’ve worked so hard on, I thought you’d want to stick your nose in on this investigation.”

“You thought right, Mac. And I’m grateful. Will Peterson have any objections?”

“I told him I felt you needed to be kept in the loop on this one. The fact that the trial starts next week makes this more suspicious than usual. We need to put some extra effort into making sure we don’t have some loose ends out there we didn’t know about. Peterson agreed.”

“Thanks, Mac. I’ll get right over there.” …………..


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