Archive for the ‘Excerpts’ Category

After  I published Against All Odds I have started on my next book a detective story.  I’ve titled it Beyond Redemption. Today I finished the third chapter of the novel, and I felt good about that   So, to celebrate I’ll post the first chapter unedited and all for your enjoyment.  To keep me working steadily on the book I’ll post other chapters down the road.  Please enjoy.

Beyond Redemption

Chapter 1: A Murder Victim in the Park

The cellphone on the nightstand had only rung softly for a few moments when Vanessa reached for it.  She listened to the caller briefly and replied, “Give me three seconds.”  She looked over at William glad he was a sound sleeper.  For a moment she watched him sleep peacefully.  His lips had formed a faint smile.  She blew him a kiss and hurried to the living room to take the call.  Forty minutes later she drove her Buick out of the driveway.

She had showered and dressed quickly before she had stopped for a minute at Adrian’s bed.  Slowly she had bent down to kiss his forehead and had whispered, “Love you.”  He’ll be two in three weeks she had thought, as she had hurried from the room. She had left a short note for William telling him she would call him later and had hurried to the garage.

Her thoughts remained with her child and her husband for a few more minutes, and the brother or sister they would give Adrian in six months, as she continued to drive into the city.  It had rained for a short time after midnight before it had cleared, but the streets were still wet.  She cast a glance at the full moon illuminating the night sky.  The sight of it caused her to shift her thinking to the call from headquarters.  “Another murder during this phase of the moon,” she whispered.  “This one makes four in five months.”  She shook her head recalling the three other incidents and thought of the similarities she had noted investigating those three slayings.

Some of these resemblances had become quickly apparent to her. All the three victims were known to the police for drug related offenses.  They were single men in their early twentieth or early thirties.  The cause of death in each case on first inspection was thought to the long, sharp hairpin with a black imitation diamond at its top stuck expertly through the heart.  Later it was discovered that these men had been drugged and asphyxiated.  Each of the victims had taken a call from someone phoning from a public telephone, according to their cellphones.  As for other clues that might identify the killer, to this day they had found nothing substantial.  All the bodies were found late at night or early in the morning in a secluded area away from nearby traffic but had been killed at a different place.  How the full moon fit into the mix was anybody’s guess, although Vanessa felt there was a reason.

The similarities had also convinced her each of the three homicides had been carefully planned.  It appeared to her they all had to be carefully executed as well.  All three cases were open and active, and she was determined to solve each of these cases.  She had continued investigating all three, and became convinced they were the work of one individual.  Her investigations had shown the three victims had died of asphyxiation after being rendered helpless, and the point of the pin into the heart, she was sure, was the perpetrator’s calling card.  Vanessa had also concluded this individual had a degree of expert knowledge about the human body.  In each case the pin had passed through the aortic valve.  Vanessa shuttered thinking a person could commit such heinous acts.

Dawn had not announced the new day when she drove into Central Park and pulled to a stop in the space to which the police officer standing in front of the cordoned off area had pointed.  She noticed two squat cars and an undercover vehicle some distance away. Vanessa did not know the officer and showed him her badge before she ducked under the tape.  Walking quickly toward the four other officers she saw searching the area in an arc around a body, she briefly greeted them as she reached them.

Claire Kinson her assistant detective stepped toward her and said, “Sorry to rob you of your sleep, Vanessa.  I was sure you wanted to see this before the body is taken to the lab.”  She turned to the two policemen who had stopped in their search for clues and introduced Vanessa to them.  “Detective Haldersen will oversee the investigation,” she said to them.

Vanessa had taken in the scene as she had approached. Now she let her eyes slowly sweep over the immediate area around the body draped over the guardrail in front of the small pond beyond it.  When her sight rested on the lifeless form of the young man a feeling of pity mixed with anger at the perpetrator touched her.  In the two years during which she had investigated criminal cases that had involved loss of life she had not gotten used to seeing a murder victim.

“Who found him?” she asked turning to Claire.

Claire cleared her throat briefly then said.  “Front desk got a call at 2:47 this morning from a female saying her boyfriend and she had pulled into the park’s parking lot to say good night, but she had refused to give their names claiming they didn’t want others close to them to know of their meeting.  Roberta called me and wanted to contact you.  I told her I would have a look and then call you, if I thought you needed to be in on this matter from the outset.  Harry and I did a walk-through, after we checked for signs of life.  Without touching anything Brent found the hairpin with a black pearl stuck in his chest.  I told two of the boys to secure a large area for us and pointed out where I wanted them to place markers.  There may well be tire marks on this pavement we might want to photograph.”

“Hm, let’s see if we can trace the call and find some names.  Does this appear to be the primary crime scene in your estimation, Claire?”

“It looks that way to me.  We’ll have a better idea about this once we know the time of death and are sure about what killed him.  It has the marks of the other killings we’re investigating, but we must rule out the possibility of a copycat act.  Those three unsolved cases you’re working on have been in the news day and night, and there are those loose canons out there who would do anything to gain some notoriety.”

For a moment Vanessa surveyed her assistant and thought about Claire’s comments.  She had expected a brief answer to the question about the crime scene.  It appeared to her briefly Claire had tried to belittle her by pointing to standard procedures any detective would know.  She was sure she had heard her stress the words you and unsolved like a challenge to her.  Vanessa was tempted to ask her what her problem was.  She had taken those unsolved cases over from Claire not long ago.  She had headed for the two years back on the force the theft and burglary division and had an excellent track record there.  The Chief had transferred her to homicide to lead that division.  Claire and she now worked on the unsolved cases together, but she decided against pointing these things out to stay focused on the case before them.  “You can continue with your sweep of the area,” was all she said to Claire.

She surveyed the position of the body draped over the two-foot-high guardrail.  It suggested to her the body was dumped out from a car driven parallel and close to the railing.  Since dead men don’t drive, the body had been in the passenger seat, she thought.  For a moment she tried to visualize someone unloading it from the trunk of a vehicle or back of a SUV.  Both those possibilities would mean the crime had been committed elsewhere.

Turning to one of the officers she said, “Tommy, please take photographs of the man where he is from many angles including a couple from above, and keep all vehicles from driving anywhere near this guardrail.  In the first light of the new day she noticed how young the man looked.  It evoked a new feeling of pity in her.

She walked closer to the corpse.  There she made a note of the left arm stuck partly under his body making his hand visible from where she stood.  His right arm hung over the rail and almost touched the grass on the other side.  “Whoever placed him here stood on his right side to do this,” she whispered.

She continued to scrutinize the ground immediately around the body, placed markers from his left side to about twenty feet beyond his right side and about six feet in front of the body.  Before she stepped over the railing at the markers on the far-right side, she told Tommy not to let anyone step into the area she had marked off until they had a chance to examine the entire area carefully in daylight and had taken all the photographs she wanted.  Turning to Tommy again she asked if they had found any identification on the man.  He in turn told her they had not checked for identification yet thinking it more important to secure the area first.

She considered the position of the body again and once more felt pity tugging at her.  Stooping low she examined the ground below the upper part of the body.  Something in the grass below the hand drew her attention.  In the beam of her flashlight she saw a few bunched-up strands of black hair below the hand.  It appeared to her that they had fallen from his hand held slightly open by rigor mortise.  Taking tweezers from her coat pocket she carefully placed them into a plastic bag she had taken out with the tweezers.  When she focused the light beam on the hand, she noticed a hair of the same color stuck between the index and middle fingers.  Something else she saw interested her, a bloodstain on the tip of the thumb and the index finger.

Daylight had replaced dawn when the coroner arrived.  Vanessa spoke to him briefly before he began his investigation.  As the medical examiner he would try to determine the cause and time of death, information Vanessa was hoping to receive quickly.  She turned back to examining a faint tire impression she had discovered to run parallel to the guardrail.  Only three and a quarter of an inch of the tire’s width she saw clearly imprinted on a patch of dry soil that she guessed might have fallen off the vehicle before the tire ran over it.  If that’s the case it had to be the rear tire, she thought, and given its nearness to the rail most likely on the passenger side.  She called Tommy Powers and instructed him to take photographs and measurements of the imprint.  “And Tommy, please bag some of that dry soil.  I want the lab to analyze it.  I didn’t find any soil elsewhere in this parking lot.  This might be useful to us. It might have fallen off a vehicle that had driven in here with the body sometimes during the night.”

She had searched for evidence for nearly three hours before she had felt satisfied she had not overlooked any clue.  Claire, Harry, Tommy and Brent Hooper had arrived at the scene before she had come.  They would also soon wrap up their work she knew.  She made careful notes of everything she had found that she had thought might be important to the investigation.  When she had completed that task, the coroner stopped by.  He informed her he had decided to do an autopsy and likely would order an inquest.  He told her he would call her later in the morning to let her know the approximate time of death as he turned to go to his vehicle.  She thanked him and returned to finish making notes of her findings.

“I’ll get Claire to wrap up here,” she said to Tommy who had come to ask if there was something else she wanted him to do.  “You can finish what you were doing and give Claire a hand, if she needs you.”

She walked to where Claire and Brent stood talking.  “Please wrap up here,” she told Claire.  “Make sure we have plenty pictures of the body and its position here.  “I’ll arrange for the body to be picked up and then head to the office.”  Her thoughts were still on the young man whose body lay draped across the railing like a discarded and forgotten doll.

“Can we talk about our findings?” Claire asked hoping to find out what evidence Vanessa might have gathered.

“Did you find anything that points to a killer?” Vanessa questioned.  She felt a deep urge to find that killer who seemed to enjoy destroying a life.  Claire’s question remained unanswered, lost in the turmoil in Vanessa’s mind.  Instead she said, “We have to catch this monster quickly.  My guess is this won’t be his last victim.

Claire surveyed Vanessa for a moment before she replied, “Nothing substantial.”

“Sometimes nothing substantial solves the case.  Come to my office once we’re all back at the office, right after lunch at the latest, and we’ll put our findings together,” Vanessa said, turned and excused herself.

Claire stared after her until Vanessa had almost reached her car.  Then she called Tommy and Brent to meet with her.  “She was rather curt,” she grumbled.  “I wonder what’s got to her?  Thinking of Vanessa for a moment longer a vision of William’s smiling face entered her thoughts.  “I’ll have to get her to ask me over to their place again,” she murmured under her breath.  “That man of hers is something special.  I wonder how she was able to snare him.”

Brent had observed her as he approached, “A cappuccino for your thoughts,” he said grinning at her.  “You look pleased about something.  I hope your thoughts were of me.”

“I was just thinking about stopping for coffee latte.  You can buy me one, Brent.  “I can use a few minutes to forget this and think about more pleasant things.”

Vanessa decided to stop for a bite of breakfast at a diner she passed on the way to the office.  After seating herself she dialed William’s cell phone.  “Good morning, sweetheart,” she said when he answered.  “Did you miss me this morning?”

“I miss you every second of the day when you’re not with me.  Did you know that every time I look at you I say to myself, “Will, what did you do to deserve to have the most beautiful woman in the world agree to be your wife?  I missed you when I found you gone this morning when I woke up.  Hopefully you weren’t called out to deal with something unpleasant, and that you’re having a good morning.  I had a fantastic breakfast with our boy and reluctantly dropped him off at Marvelous’ house.  You should have seen his face when he had finished his waffle.  His whole face had enjoyed the syrup and whipping cream from ear to ear.”

Vanessa giggled imagining how Adrian had enjoyed eating breakfast.  “Why did you drop him off reluctantly, William?” she asked.  “Your sister loves him.  And her two girls dote on him.  Adrian loves them all too.”

“Oh, I know all that, but I would have liked to have taken him to Jimmy’s place and taught him to play pool on my way to Harmony One,” he teased.

She laughed.  “I love how you can take my cloudy and dark days and turn them to clear skies and sunshine.  I love you.  What’s on your agenda today?”

“I have to deal with something that has come up unexpectedly this morning.  We will have to discuss it tonight.”  But Vanessa’s curiosity had peaked, and she pleaded with him to give her at least an idea what had come up unexpectedly.  There were not many things he could deny his wife.  “I had a visit from a corporation’s vice-president who came to tell me his company is interested in purchasing our five Harmony stores, both businesses and properties.  He told me his company would be willing to offer us twenty-two million.  He left us a document detailing that offer.  You’ll see it tonight.”

“Are you teasing me again, or is this on the level?”

“I’m not joking, sweetheart.  I have started to do some research into this corporation and have called Parker Rundle in Seattle.  He sold his wholesale company to them a year ago.”

Vanessa had no idea what the stores were worth and was about to ask William, if the offer was tempting to him, when the waitress arrived with her breakfast. They said goodbye shortly after this and soon her thoughts turned again to the murder she wanted desperately to solve.

The morning’s vision of the young man draped over that guardrail had touched a cord in her heart.  He looked so young and innocent, she thought.  What bad decisions did he make to be the victim of this targeted hit.  She guessed it likely had something to do with drug trafficking, but he didn’t fit the stereotype.  His dress was modest.  He had no weapons on him.  They had no mugshot of him down at the station, but it was mostly a gut feeling that caused her to think he was not connected to a gang or was involved in a criminal activity.

She shook her head and sighed.  I’m not going to leave a stone unturned until I find that killer, she thought.  First, we’ll determine if this murder was committed by the same person who is responsible for the other three in our jurisdiction.  She sat up strait finishing that thought.  Two things struck her.  She and her team had exclusively concentrated their search on males.  So far they had also not checked on other jurisdictions countrywide.  “We have to broaden our search,” she whispered, “and I’ll have that hair and bloodstain analyzed.  It didn’t look like there was a cut on his hand.  I want to find out from where that blood came.  With any luck we’ll find it’ll belong to the killer.  That kind of clue won’t help us a great deal in the early stages of our investigation, but every bit of evidence will help us proof our findings.”

She drove slowly to the station.  Her mind remained focused on all she had observed and found at the murder scene, as she steered her unmarked car through the increasing traffic.  She parked quickly when she had arrived at the station and walked briskly up the stairs.  She greeted her friend Kimberly at the front desk and asked her to let Claire know she hoped to be in her office now for a few hours.

Kimberly told her that Claire had not come in yet and said, “There was a call for you from the East Coast from a detective.  He said he was investigating a homicide in Boston.  The fellow said he had several questions he wanted to ask you about a case he had heard you are working on, and asked that you call him back.  Not knowing when you would be in I told him I would give you his request as soon as you were in your office.  I placed a note with his name and phone number on your desk.”

Vanessa thanked her and asked if Lee, her son’s earache had improved.  She entered her office and closed the door a moment later.  Reading the note Kimberly had left on her desk she decided to call Boston after she had contacted the lab and left instructions there.  Her call to Glenda at the lab had taken longer than she had anticipated, and she had barely hung up when Kimberly put through another call.  She drummed her fingers on her desk wanting to make that call to Boston, but this caller made her stand up strait.

“I know,” she heard the caller whisper and laugh low in a forced way.  The voice had Vanessa’s attention as much as its words and the laugh.  It appeared disguised as if spoken through cupped hands or with something stuffed in the mouth.  Before she could reply she heard the two words and laugh repeated and the phone go dead.

Vanessa hurried to Kimberly, “Did that caller say who it was?” she asked.

“No, he or she only asked for you.  For a second I had thought I recognized that voice, but suddenly it sounded different and kind of demanding.  When I asked who it was the caller said to hurry, and then I heard nothing else.  It was as if the phone had been left in an empty room.  The whole thing gave me the creeps.”

With her brow furrowed Vanessa asked Kimberly to see if the call can be traced and returned to her office.  She wondered what kept Claire, but she recalled telling her to meet with her after lunch.  She scolded herself for thinking her partner had taken her time to come and meet with her.  Once more she thought about the call from the detective who had left his name and number and wondered what he wanted to know.

Claire Kinson had been assigned to her four months earlier.  She had not been new to the force, but had worked in homicide in this jurisdiction for over a year after coming from a unit in the east of the country.  Despite trying to make friends with her Vanessa had realised they had not grown closer.  Vanessa had invited Claire to her home for dinner twice hoping to start to get to know her better and feel more comfortable around her. but if anything, those dinners had created more distance between them.  Claire’s eyes looked at the world with a coldness that Vanessa found unnatural.  Claire’s demeanor around Vanessa at times also appeared guarded and defensive, occasionally even offensive to her.

She sighed.  I must make more of an effort to befriend her and get to know her better, Vanessa thought.  I really know very little about her.  Who knows what demons have tormented her in her life.  She has never mentions anyone she is close to.  My impressions of her maybe totally wrong, and I must not judge her.  I certainly have no reason to be critical of the job she has done since she had become my assistant.  Her ability to think through and analyze complex problems is excellent.  She seems to get along with most of the people at the station.  I hope she doesn’t resent that I was given the lead in the section over her.

For a few moments Vanessa remained seated in her chair quietly trying to clear her mind in preparation for her call to Boston.  She had to wait for several minutes for the detective to take her call, after the receptionist had told her she would connect her to his office.  Subconsciously, she drummer the fingers of her right hand on her desk’s top trying to keep her mind from straying back to the scene in the park.

“Darren Whitestone here,” she heard a man’s voice finally say.  He briefly referred to his official identification then told her why he had called.  “I had opened a cold case a few months ago and had been investigation it without making much headway, when I learned of a case in your area that sounded like a carbon copy of what I have here,” he said.

He went on to speak of a young man who had been on their radar as a dealer who was murdered and found dumped in a wooded area away from traffic.  “He had a needle with a black imitation diamond stuck in his heart,” he went on to say.

Vanessa told him of the cases she was investigating and asked, “Did his time of death by any chance coincide with the full moon?”

After a moment of silence, the detective replied that this was the case.  “I had not placed any significance on that fact.  Is that significant in the cases you are investigating?” he asked and wanted to know more specifically what she made of it.  He thanked her for pointing this out to him.  “This might indeed help us narrow our search,” he added.

“It is a fact in all three of our cases.  As of this morning we have a new case to solve, a case identical to the other three,” Vanessa told him.  She asked him about witnesses, the cause of death and several other questions of interest to her.

They agreed it appeared they were looking for the same individual who had committed these crimes.  They spoke for another fifteen minutes and agreed to stay in touch with each other before they hung up.

It had only occurred to Vanessa this day that there might be cases in other parts of the country that were committed by the same individual she tried to find.  “It’s another item I must check out,” she said.  “It is possible there are other cases in this country and maybe abroad that were committed by this monster.”

She looked at her watch to find that much of the morning had slipped away.  The few leads and clues they had gathered trying to solve these recent cases brought to her mind her last assignment with her mentor in police work.  I wonder what Casey is up to these days, she thought.  She had worked with Casey before she had met William, and on his suggestion gone undercover to catch a jewel thief.  Casey had suspected that thief to be William, the man with whom she would fall in love while helping Casey solve those high-profile cases of the jewel thief who had left no clues only a calling card.

Casey had taught her much.  He had worked as a policeman for many years, had a sharp mind and had keen insight into human and criminal behavior.  She was tempted to call him just to run things by him and see what his thoughts were.  “He may need a little excitement.  Retirement must have some dull moments,” she giggled.

She had quit the force after that undercover operation, married William, completed her last year of coursework in law and had gone to work as a lawyer with a large law firm.  But she had found the work she had been often given to do boring and had soon begun to miss police work.  With William’s blessing she had returned to the force a year later with the theft and burglary division, the division Casey had led before his retirement.

She still knew Casey’s family home telephone number by heart and quickly dialed the number.  A smile formed on her face when, after she had greeted him, she heard his familiar voice say, “Hello princess.  How is my girl today?”


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I’m in the process of formatting my novel, “Secrets of Hawking Manor” for publishing as an eBook and hope to have it on Kindle, Kobo, Sony and many other outlets for downloading.  Formatting it for an eBook is an interesting task.  I’m learning how to do this as I go, and I hope I’ll be able to do the other five novels faster.

For your enjoyment a scene from the novel

“We will settle the accounts right here and now!” Eugene screamed.  “You will feel my sword generously in your belly.  Draw, you upstart!”  Eugene drew his sword and more swiftly than anyone suspected, he was in front of Benjamin who deftly jumped aside drawing his own sword while backing away from the angry former Dragoon.  “I should have plunged a dagger into your heart the night I threw you on board that ship,” Eugene heckled.  He charged several times, but was rebuffed by Benjamin’s skilled counters.

Still hoping to settle the account with Eugene peaceably, Benjamin kept reminding the charging man that he could have a good deal of money and be on his way to Liverpool where he preferred to be.  But Eugene’s anger did not abate.

“What kept me from throwing you overboard the Fortune Four I cannot tell, but I will right my mistake presently.”  Eugene lunged at Benjamin again.

“You did me a great favor that night, Eugene.  I found great riches in the new world.  My fortunes improved still more when my path crossed Charles Chambers there, who installed you here as a manager, to the estate’s detriment I might add.  He sold his inheritance to me.”  Lay down your weapon, Eugene.  You shall leave here with a tidy sum.  I shall not make you this offer again.  You may soon be taken by the crown for killing Christopher, a good man and my friend.  You will need some wherewithal for your defense.”  Benjamin made a quick charge at the man before backing up again hoping to see signs that his foe’s fierce anger lessened in intensity.

“You’ll rue having laid eyes on me this day, you young pup!”  Eugene laughed a wicked laugh and made tricky maneuvers to try to overpower Benjamin.  For a man who had been injured with life threatening wounds inflicted by Christopher and Henry’s shots, Eugene attacked the younger man with surprising strength, speed and imagination.

But the younger man was naturally athletic, quick and skilled.  He expertly avoided all of Eugene’s charges while staying on the defensive most of the time attacking only now and then to try to contain his opponent.  In time Benjamin became convinced that the older man was not going to be satisfied until he had wounded him.  He suddenly thrust forward with a quick maneuver, stepped deftly to the side making Eugene miss him with his counter strike.  Benjamin saw sweat form on his opponent’s forehead.  He attacked again quickly, fell back and somersaulted over the railing to the terrace.

Smiling he took a position at the top of the stairway to the terrace waiting for Eugene who lumbered up to engage him again.  “You could have been on your way to Liverpool Eugene with a satchel full of money,” he scorned him.  For a few more minutes Benjamin was satisfied to defend against Eugene’s charges and tease him with short attacks.  Suddenly he began to press the former Dragoon with swift, crafty and powerful strikes.  He danced and jumped and turned with such speed that Eugene anxiously retreated again and again.  Several times Benjamin had him at his mercy only to back off and let the older man recoup.

Beats of sweat rolled from Fairham’s brow.  He cursed and swore at Benjamin. His breathing had become more labored.  A false reaction by him to Benjamin’s faked thrust provided a new momentary opening for the younger man.  This time Benjamin’s sword drew blood from the horseman’s limp arm.  Increasing the pace and charging with creative and swift maneuvers to which Eugene reacted slowly followed.  The former Dragoon grimaced with pain.  The point of Benjamin’s sword had slashed deep into his thigh and had followed it up with cutting his ear grievously.

With an effortless spring Benjamin jumped to the railing of the stairway and smiled down at his opponent.  “I have so far only tickled you gently, Eugene.  Lay down your weapon.  I will not ask you again,” he said.

Eugene cursed.  He came at Benjamin limping and bleeding but swinging wildly.  “You shall feel my steel in your belly,” he shouted.  But so quickly did Benjamin feign a sideways spring that the horseman’s turn caused him to slip with one knee to the ground while Benjamin somersaulted to the terrace’s floor again and springing forwards to stand before his opponent.  Eugene realized too late what Benjamin’s intent had been.  He could only watch the young man’s sword come to touch his throat, remaining there while hearing him call out, “Guarde!”

In a rage, but fearing to have his throat sliced, Eugene dropped his sword.  “Have it your way, Carstairs!” he hissed and pretended to give himself up.  “I shall take your offer after all and be gone, only put up your sword,” he cried.

Henry saw Benjamin and Eugene dueling as he approached the entrance to Willowdowne Park.  His heart beat faster.  His horse’s mouth frothed, but he pressed the animal on harder still.  He marveled at Benjamin’s skill with the sword and his agile maneuvers.  He saw how he danced around his foe and made him miss time after time.  Henry was within earshot when Eugene dropped to his knees.  Fear ripping through him, he shouted to his brother to beware of a pistol in Eugene’s boot, but Benjamin did not hear him calling out.  In horror Henry watched his brother put up his own sword and turn away from Eugene.

The sound of a shot that followed drove icy panic into Henry’s heart.  Like in a horrid nightmare he saw Benjamin slowly sink to the ground.  Henry cried out with a great shout of rage. Mercilessly he kicked the heels of his boots into the flank of his animal.  His eyes spewed fiery darts at his former comrade.

Awkwardly Eugene rose and scoffed at his fallen foe on whose coat a crimson spot began to grow larger.  With a hateful laugh Eugene walked slowly to the fallen Benjamin.  He raised his pistol, coldly aiming it at the fallen Benjamin’s head.  “I will have great pleasure at snuffing out the light of a Carstairs this day,” he laughed wickedly and cocked his pistol.

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A Novel in the Making

Instead of adding a second excerpt of “Beyond the Law” at this time I decided to post the first excerpt of a novel I’m in the process of writing.

Many people who read my novel “Secrets of Hawking Manor” implored me to write a sequel to the story of the Carstairs family.  I was not inclined to do so for some time, but individuals kept asking.  So several months ago I began that work. The first chapters I wrote in a relatively short time, about four months.  Subsequent chapters have been slower in developing.  I’m about half way to completing the sequel and plan to have it done in the late months of winter.  Here are the first two pages of “Storms over Hawking Manor”.

Storms over Hawking Manor

The Trial

The momentary silence in the courtroom hung like a swollen cloud over the men seated opposite the prisoner’s box.  A battle raged within Henry Carstairs’ heart.  He sat near the front of the room next to his brother, Benjamin, and Simon Lawson, Christopher’s father.  Henry stared across at the man, his former friend, seated in the prisoner’s box.  This man had poached for months in the woods of Eagleridge, part of Hawking Manor’s estate, and he had shot Christopher, Eagleridge’s manager’s son.  The youth had been Benjamin and Henry’s dear friend.  He had come upon this poacher suddenly.  Henry, along with Christopher and Simon his father, had set out on a cold, wet day a year earlier to catch the unknown man who had come regularly into the Eagleridge woods to poach.  It was Christopher who had sighted the poacher first.  He had wounded the man who was in the act of gutting a deer.  The thief refused to heed the youth’s warning.  Not knowing the poacher was Eugene, a former Dragoon, an expert with various weapons; Christopher did not realize how dangerous this thief was.  Although the poacher had bled profusely from Christopher’s bullet, he had shot and mortally wounded Christopher in return, before Henry and Simon had been able to come to assist the youth.

Now, seated in the courtroom all the grief that day, now months past, had brought into his life crowded back into Henry’s heart.  As he had done many times he wondered again, if he had not planned the capture of the thief carefully enough back then and was in part to blame for Christopher’s demise.  He recalled again the hours he had sat with Simon and Christopher and mapped out strategies to catch the poacher.  “What could I have done differently?” he silently lamented again.

Although Henry and Benjamin had expected the judge to pronounce Eugene Fairham guilty as charged, hearing the judge’s words, “An eye for an eye, a life for a life, Eugene Fairham this day of our Lord, the fifth day of November 1854 I condemn you three days hence to hang by the neck until you are dead,” chilled both young men to the core.  Henry glanced at his former friend.  He saw none of the man’s former spirited energy, his distain for problems other men deemed insurmountable, his unbridled, sometimes callous humor, nor his unveiled love for life.  Now he sat in the prisoner’s box and appeared to be a man drained of self and bare of the will to live.  He sat motionless with his eyes cast to the floor.  For a moment Henry wondered if Eugene was cunning enough in that fashion to try to gain the court’s mercy. “He’s play acted persuasively many times,” Henry murmured silently, but he soon banished the thought.

Finally, a few muffled coughs in the back of the room and the suppressed sobs of a woman seated behind the prisoner’s box broke the silence.  It was then that Simon turned to Henry and Benjamin and whispered, “It will not bring my son back, men.  Your former friend, Henry, also is the son of a mother.  I ask you to plead for your former comrade in arms.”

Simon’s words touched Henry.  He and Benjamin had testified against Eugene during the trial, but after hearing the sentence pronounced, he wanted to shout out, “No, Your Honor, not that!”  But the remembrance of holding the mortally wounded Christopher in his arms and hearing his last words to him again, ‘I saw his face,’ as the youth had dreamed the night before losing his life had sealed Henry’s mouth.  Now pity for his former friend welled up deep inside of him.

Henry saw Eugene turn to glance at the sobbing woman seated behind him.  He stared at her for a long moment.  Then in the stillness of the room the people heard him whisper painfully, “Mother.”

When Henry saw him turn again to face the judge.  He saw the pitiful face of a defeated man, a man without hope, a man Henry had once known to be full of life and energy, a man who had been willing to lay down his life in the service of Her Majesty and his country.

Slowly Henry rose from his seat, “Your Honor,” he stammered.  “On behalf of the father of the youth who lost his young life by the hand Eugene Fairham, the condemned man, I plead for mercy for him.  My former friend and comrade in arms in our monarch’s service once served this nation with valor and distinction.  The horsemen had none more fearless than he was.”  Henry’s eyes fixed on the judge were filled with sadness.  He repeated once more almost in a whisper, “I plead for mercy for him.”

The judge, who was a friend of Samuel Carstairs, Benjamin and Henry’s father, and who was also a distant relative of Rebecca’s mother, Lady Lydia, stared at Henry for a long moment.  He muttered words Henry could not understand.  Turning quickly and casting a stern glance at Eugene the judge accidently dislodged his wig.  Righting it he turned his eyes to Benjamin.  His Lordship held Benjamin in high esteem.  He had met him at the christening of Henry’s son at Hawking Manor.  At that meeting with Benjamin he had learned of the young Carstair’s years in North America, and how he had come to be on that faraway continent.  The story had intrigued him at once.  He, therefore, had sought Benjamin out during the christening festivities to learn all he could about the New World.  Now he commanded, “Stand, Benjamin Carstairs.”  Benjamin stood up quickly.  With his blue eyes, blonde hair, tall and trim youthful figure he looked handsome and strong.  “How say you?” his lordship demanded.

“Thank you for hearing my brother, Your Honor,” Benjamin began.  “The father of my friend, forever young, wishes that the blood of the one who took his son’s life will not be laid at the feet of his departed son.  Like my brother, I too plead for mercy for Eugene Fairham.”

“What would you have the sentence to be then,” the judge called out leaning forward toward Benjamin from the bench above.

“Banish him, Your Honor,” Benjamin replied respectfully.

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Beyond the Law

Over the past months I have posted excerpts from  from three of my novels, “Secrets of Hawking Manor”, “In Joy and in Sorrow”, and “Beyond the Breaking Point”.  I have finished an edit lately of “Beyond the Law”, another one of my novels and will post the first excerpt for your enjoyment below.

Chapter 1

Beyond the Law

Dawn had spread the first rays of light on the street where Marianne stood at the bus stop.  A light breeze gently massaged her blonde hair.  Her black eyes sparkled.  Her thoughts turned to William.  Her smile told of her feelings for him.  They had shared a late dinner the previous night.  She giggled thinking of how he had proposed to her, after the waiter had left them with her favorite dessert that William had ordered that morning to be sure the restaurant had it on hand.  “I just wish he would not work so hard,” she whispered.  “He is so driven to give me all the material blessings he thinks I desire, when all I care to have is him.”  Startled to hear nearby puffing she turned her head to see who approached.

A young man of slight built almost ran into the shelter of the bus stop.  His dress looked disheveled but expensive.  He nodded to her while sighing, as if glad to have reached the bus stop.  His eyes briefly searched her from head to foot .  He seemed unable to stand still for more than a second.  Soon Marianne wondered why he turned from side to side continually looking up and down the street and shuffling his feet, as if ready to sprint away any moment.Cadillac SUV

She touched the can of pepper spray she carried in her coat pocket.  William had given it to her and asked her to carry it with her.  Glad it lay concealed in her coat pocket she gripped it.  Maybe I should have taken William up on his offer last night to pick me up, she thought.  Watching the man out of the corner of her eye she didn’t see the Cadillac approaching from her left side.  It had pulled into the right lane a few dozen meters ahead of the shelter.  She heard the man beside her swear under his breath before she heard the shots and felt a searing sting at her temple.  She whispered, “William,” before thick darkness embraced her.  She did not see the man beside her dropping lifeless to the ground, nor did she hear the car speeding away.

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For this week I thought it would be the right time to post the final excerpt from my novel, “Beyond the Breaking Point”.  In the few paragraphs of the excerpt we see Monty, the main character, attempting to confront the gangster boss who had ordered his men to eliminate Monty.

Walking up the steps of the cathedral toward the large front door, Monty nervously touched the starting gun in his pocket as if to reassure himself.  “If Barney’s account is right, Tony will be in the entry way,” he murmured.  “To get to his boss I have to eliminate him quickly.  I better start my act right now.”  He stopped for a second, let a bit of spittle roll down his chin, began to walk unsteadily and started to mumble over and over, “Father Anton I got to confess.”

Monty had found the priest’s name among others on the sign in front of the church.  He hoped the Father or any of the other priests were not inside the sanctuary.  Pretending he had trouble opening the door he made himself stumble inside.  Out of the corner of his eye he saw Tony standing to the side of the entryway a few feet away from the right side of the door leading into the sanctuary.  Seeing Monty enter he began to move toward him.

Monty stopped, made himself sway a little and acted as if he needed to find his bearings.  He burped before he pretended to finally see Tony who had stepped in front of the door into the sanctuary.  “Father Anton I got to confess,” Monty slurred the words and saw Tony smirk and relax the grip by which he held his handgun.

Monty stepped toward the door that Tony blocked.  “Do yourself a favor and come back in an hour,” Tony said and laid his hands on Monty’s shoulder trying to turn him around.  But Monty sidestepped him and a second later pointed the starter pistol at Tony’s temple clicking the hammer back.  “Make one sound or a tiny little move with your hands and you’re dead Tony,” Monty hissed trying to sound desperate.  He clearly saw the shock in Tony’s face at the sudden change in the man in front of him and his reaction to the cold barrel of the gun at his temple.  For a moment he seemed frozen to the spot.

Unblinking, he watched Tony trying to collect himself and gain time by asking, “What do you want, man?  If you want money, let me reach into my pocket.  I’ll give you my wallet.”

“Do you think I’m stupid, man?” Monty asked imitating a sneer.  “I’ll get my money from the collection box in there.  He pointed to the door by tipping his head toward it.  “You just turn around nice and slowly.  We’ll go in there in a second, and you can reach for the money in the collection box for me.  See, you can be my partner.”

Monty didn’t want Tony to know that it was Carlos he wanted. Tony turned around slowly.   For a moment he took           his eyes off Monty, who seeing it hit the man’s temple hard with the pistol he had still held to Tony’s head.

A groan escaped Tony, and he slowly sank to the floor.  Monty caught him by wrapping his arms around his chest.  He eased him to the floor and dragged the prone man to the far side of the entry way.  Pulling the handcuffs from his pocket that he had taken from Harry’s house he clamped one cuff on Tony’s right wrist.  He wound the chain around one of the metal bars that had been fastened by thick metal rings in front of the large stainless glass windows that reached from the ceiling to the floor and snapped it on the man’s left wrist.  Next he took a small tablecloth from the table nearby, tore off a large strip and stuffed it into Tony’s mouth. Searching through Tony’s pockets Monty found a handgun and a switchblade knife.  Working quickly he placed the pistol into his own pocket, slid the knife down the slot of a collection box fastened to the wall at the left side of the entryway and quietly stepped to the door leading into the sanctuary.  DSCF0346

For a moment Monty stopped to listen.  Not hearing any sounds coming from the sanctuary he opened the door slowly and quietly walked in.  He took several careful steps inside before he stopped.  It took him a moment to adjust to the candlelight inside.  Looking around the sanctuary he let his eyes sweep from pew to pew.  All stood empty.  For a moment he wondered if Carlos had been warned and had managed to escape through one of the side doors.

Monty took several quick steps forward.  He saw Carlos kneeling on the bottom of the red carpeted step to the left and below the altar.  He saw that the man’s hands had gripped the carpet of a step above him.  His head lay bowed between his outstretched arms.  He did not move.  Monty could not detect any rise and fall of the man’s shoulders.  He wondered if the gangster had stopped breathing.  But listening carefully he heard him mumble softly.  Deep disgust for the man lying at the foot of the altar praying swept over Monty.  I’m going to have to shoot him to get my freedom back, he thought.

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It has been quite a while since I posted the first excerpt from my novel, Beyond the Breaking Point.  The two pages from the manuscript that follow will introduce those of you thinking of reading it to two of the gangsters who had orders to silence Monty.  I introduced Monty in the first excerpt.  He had witnessed and taken pictures of a murder the two gangster had committed.  Once Carlos, the gang’s headman, found out that Monty had witnessed the murder and taken pictures of it, he gave the order to eliminate that threat to the gang.  For several days Monty had managed to elude the two ordered to kill him. Carlos blamed them for this development. To get swifter results he did what he did best.  He threatened them.

Harry Kratzinsky sat in his living room.  He had not turned on the lights even though it was dark outside.  Switching the television on to a news channel for the eleven o’clock news he reached for the glass and bottle on the side table to pour himself another drink of whiskey.  With the bottle and glass in his hand he heard a series of dull explosions.  Three holes suddenly marked the living room window.  The television screen shattered and darkness suddenly covered the room.

Harry had been drinking for some time.  His reactions to what had happened were slow. After several seconds had passed, he recognized that someone had fired bullets into the room and hit the television.  He dropped to the floor, crawled to the chair where he had left his coat and removed his revolver from the holster hanging behind the jacket.  He snapped the safety off.  Keeping his body close to the floor he crawled slowly to the window through which another round of shots rang shattering the whiskey bottle and a glass bowl near it.  He swore.  Keeping his head low he waited.  No other shots came, but he heard car tires squeal out.  Carefully he lifted his head. He looked outside for a second before pulling his head down again.  While no other shots entered through the window, Harry remained lying on the floor for a few seconds longer, waiting to see if other shots would be fired.

Finally, he thought it safe to take another look out of the window.  He noticed the taillights of a car speeding away and turning out of sight far down the street.  He swore again and stood up.  His thinking was clouded.  He wondered what to do next.  Finally he walked to the door to look outside to see if any of the neighbors had heard the shots.  Surveying the neighborhood he saw no one out of their house.  As he looked up and down the street all appeared quiet.  Turning to go back inside he saw the note pinned to the door.  He ripped it off, swore once more and walked inside.  Not wanting to turn on the lights in the room he made his way to the bathroom.  He closed the door and turned on the light to read the note.

“This is only a friendly reminder to get it done.  The next reminder won’t be this friendly.”  The note was not signed, as he knew it would not be, but he had no doubt who had written it and who had pinned it to the door.

Harry cursed.  He crumpled the note up and threw it into the waste basket.  His anger flared up.  “Darn you, Carlos,” he hissed.  It was the second time that day that he had cursed the man whose orders he took

Daryl Nalun had fallen asleep in his easy chair while his wife sat near him watching television.  She sat up suddenly thinking she had heard something that sounded like shots.  She turned the sound of the television down to listen more carefully.  She heard another three shots and turned white with fear.  “Daryl, someone’s shooting on our property,” she shouted.  Daryl groaned, rolled over and turned to his other side.  “Daryl!” she shouted louder.

He sat up not sure where he was.  Once fully awake he saw his wife pointing outside, but what she said made no sense to him still trying to clear his head.  “What’s the matter with you?” he finally demanded.  “Have you lost your marbles?”

“Someone’s shooting out there, and I’m sure it’s on our property.  Go have a look.”  grazing-sheep

Harry took in the information, but it took him a moment to digest it and recognize its meaning and the danger it presented.

“Are you crazy, woman?  Turn out the light and get down on the floor.  If I go out and there’s someone shooting what’s stopping them from drilling me?”  He rolled on the floor to the wall at the front of the room.  He listened for other shots, but there were no more.  When he heard the sound of a car speeding away he lifted his head.  Several minutes passed in silence.  “How many shots did you hear?” he demanded staring at his wife who lay motionless below the light switch.  He saw little by the small amount of light that came through the windows.  Not seeing her move he asked, “Did you catch a bullet or what’s the matter with you?”

“I heard five shots, but there might have been more,” she finally said.  “The television was on.  At first I thought the shooting came from the program I was watching.  It was a movie of detectives hunting down a couple killers.  They were hot on their trail, and I first thought they shot the crooks.”

Daryl spat out a curse that she could not hear.  “I’m going out the back door and check out what’s going on out there.  But I think whoever was shooting took off.”

“Why don’t we call the police and let them handle it?” his wife asked.

“I can handle it.  The cops will only wag their finger at whoever was shooting and tell them not to do it again.  If I catch them, they’re going to get a belly full of lead.”  He made his way outside ducking behind cover wherever he found it.  It took him several minutes to reach the front of the property where the shooting seemed to have occurred.  Within a few minutes it became clear to him that the shooter was no longer on the property.  He looked around to see if he could see anything amiss.  Nothing appeared to be out of place.  He let his eyes roam into the pasture where several of his sheep had grazed during the afternoon.  He saw that they had bunched up in the near corner of the two acre pasture.  Suddenly he stopped short.  It seemed to him that two sheep lay in the grass on the opposite side, the side nearest the road.

“That’s strange,” he mumbled.  “Why are they not with the flock?  I better go have a look. Arriving at the first sheep he saw that the animal was bleeding.  It had been shot.  He quickly walked to the second sheep and found it shot through the head.  “Darn it,” he said and let out a string of foul expletives.  Looking up toward the road he noticed what looked like a piece of paper stuck on one of the posts above which his property sign, Cottonwood Pastures, hung.  He walked to the post and tore it off.  It was too dark to read the note.  He looked up at the sign to make sure it had not been damaged and then walked back toward the house. Under the outside light he read the note on the paper.

The words were like stabs from a knife to him.  “This is a friendly warning to get the job done.  The next time it may not be sheep that get sheared.  Hope you like lamb chops.”

Daryl turned red with anger.  He had always disliked Carlos even though he had been paid well by him.  Standing under the light outside his house he hated him nearly as much as he hated the young fellow he had been ordered to eliminate.

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A couple of weeks ago I said I would post the first of a few excerpts from my novel “Beyond the Breaking Point”.  It’s time I kept my promise.  Here is excerpt one.

“I’ll look forward to seeing you at Mountain View Lisa Mc Cleary,” he smiled.   Monty chatted with her for a minute longer before making his way to his car.  He decided to take the stairway rather than the elevator to the lower level.  Taking two steps at a time he reached the door to the parking area and pushed it open.  Running to his car he was eager to get to the golf course where he hoped he could drive a few balls before the first lesson he was to give was scheduled.

He lowered the car’s window and was about to start the engine when he noticed one of the three men who had interviewed him, Jackson Stadler, the vice-president of electronic development and operations, exiting from the elevator.  At the same time he heard car tires squeal, and out of the corner of his eyes he saw a black Cadillac bursting from around the parking level’s corner toward the elevator.  Before he fully closed the car’s door and could start the engine four popping sounds rang out.  That sounds like shots fired through a silencer, Monty thought. Ford Mustang

He froze.  He pulled the car’s door that he had left slightly open slowly and careful closed not to make a sound and slid lower into his seat, but not so far that he could not see what took place in front of him.  Instinctively, he reached for his camera lying on the floor on the passenger side.  Monty saw the vice-president clutching at his chest briefly before dropping to the cement floor.  Two men silently left their car.  One was a heavy-set man with short cut graying hair.  He looked like a wrestler to Monty. He walked with a slight limp Monty noted.   The other one was tall and skinny and about fifty-five years old.  He wore a short, groomed beard.  They had stepped quickly from the vehicle.  Both were dressed in dark overcoats and walked to the fallen man.  Monty saw that they held handguns with silencers in their hand.

He heard the taller man say, “Looks like he’s not going to make any more trouble for Carlos or anybody else for that matter, Daryl.”  Blood had begun to pool around the slain man’s body.

“Let’s make sure of it, Harry,” the shorter man replied with a snarl on his face.  Another shot rang out from the gun held in the left hand of the heavy-set man.

Monty’s camera clicked away.  He saw the tall fellow push one shiny black shoe under Jackson Stadler’s shoulder raising it a few inches off the ground.  Then he heard him speak to the other man before the two turned quickly making their way to the idling car blocking the approach to the rest of the parking areas for incoming vehicles.  They climbed into the car’s backseat unhurriedly.  A moment later the car passed Monty’s vehicle on its way toward the exit as if nothing had happened.  Through the open front side window of the Cadillac Monty saw a younger man with shoulder length blond hair seated behind the steering wheel.  A long scar dominated his cheek, and he wore an earring with a Cadillac SUVblack pendant of a hawk.

“Man, oh man,” Monty whispered trying to keep control of his nerves.  His heart pounding he focused the camera on the leaving vehicle’s license plate and zoomed in on it.  Without hurrying the driver of the black Cadillac passed out of view around a corner on the way out of the underground parking area.  Monty waited for several more seconds.  “I hope they didn’t see me,” he murmured. “I don’t think they’ll be back unless one of them did.  But what do I do now?”

Dazed by what he had witnessed in the previous minutes he slowly left his Mustang.  He walked to the executive lying unmoving on the ground in front of the elevator.  A pool of blood had formed around the upper part of the man’s body and a trickle of blood still ran from the back of his head.  A wound in the middle of Stadler’s forehead stared at Monty.  He noticed an empty shell near where he stood.  “This looks really bad,” Monty mumbled and thought he had heard his words echo back to him.  He stooped to take the man’s pulse, but found none.  Mechanically he dialed 911.  “A man’s just been shot,” he answered the questioning voice and supplied the address where he was and all other details the female on the other end wanted to know.

Seated in his car again he waited for the police to arrive.  He rested his head on the steering wheel trying to make sense of what had occurred in front of him.  Soon he heard sirens rushing closer.  Suddenly he remembered that he had to be at the golf course at noon.  Looking at the car’s clock he said under his breath, “I’ve got less than ninety minutes.”

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Douglas looked up for the first time.  Tears had gathered in his eyes, but he felt a sense of warmth in his heart.  The others were still silent in the living room.  Only Daniel and Mark could be heard playing in their room.  I better feed the boys, he thought.  But he slowly walked to his office.  He had a strong sense of needing to be alone.  Once he had closed the door and seated himself, he read Danielle’s letter slowly once more stopping several times to try to visualize her writing what he read.

When he had finished reading it again, he dropped to his knees in an effort to pray.  He now asked without the anger he had felt until recently, “God, Lord of heaven and earth, why?”  For a moment he remained silent.  He neither spoke nor did his mind turn to consider any other thought.  It was as if he was in a void.  There was no sound except the precise ticking of the wall clock above his desk.  He remained silent and still for a moment longer, then a word began to nudge into his mind.  More subdued he asked once more, “Why God?”

A week ago I finished proof reading and editing a third novel, “Beyond the Breaking Point”.   Please check back again.  In a few days I’ll post the first of several excerpt from it.

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Now he saw Deborah walking from the school building.  She was one of the first to come through the front door.  Hurriedly he left his vehicle.  It only took him a few seconds to reach her.  “Hi, Deborah,” he said smiling at her.  “Your Auntie Lois sent me to pick you up.  She wanted to be here herself, but got held up by her work.  She couldn’t make it on time.  So she asked me to fetch you and take you to her.  Wanna come along?  My car is right over there, see?”

Deborah hesitated for a moment.  Then she said, “I thought I was to take the school bus today?” funny school bus

“Your Auntie Lois sent me.  That’s all I know.  She wanted me to bring you to her, because she wanted to do a bit of shopping with you.”  He suddenly became frightened.  What do I do now, if she doesn’t believe me and won’t come, he thought.  I can’t very well grab her and run to the car.  It’ll draw a crowd.  My plan and I’ll be history.  “But suit yourself,” he continued.  “I have to hurry back to work.  I’ll tell her you had wanted to take the bus.”  He felt as if he had already drawn enough attention to himself and began to slowly walk away, even though he felt like running to his car.

Deborah suddenly ran after him.  His words had sounded genuine to her.  “All right,” she said catching up to him, “take me to Auntie Lois.  I love going shopping with her.  What’s your name, anyway?  Auntie Lois has never mentioned you.”

“I’ve only started to work there a couple weeks ago.  You can call me Jack.”  He breathed a silent sigh of relief.  Quickly, he opened the back door of his car and closed it again for her as soon as she had seated herself.  Then he got into the car and forced himself to pull away slowly.  He hoped not to draw more attention to his departure.

Once the car started to move Deborah asked, “Where are the seat belts?”

He chuckled looking into the rearview mirror.  “There aren’t any.  This car is older than seatbelts.  I guess you’re  old carnot used to riding in old cars.”

“My dad has an old truck with no seatbelts,” she replied.  Deborah thought it was strange that her aunt would be working with a fellow with such an old car who dressed not at all in the way she had observed people who worked in offices dressed, but she remained silent for the moment.  She saw him take a small item and spray something in his mouth that smelled of mint.  “Have you been drinking?’ she asked innocently.

He turned around for a second and laughed at her.  “Now, aren’t you being nosy?  So what if I had a couple?”

“You could crash up and hurt us and somebody else.  My dad said it’s sad that some people hurt so much that they have to drink to forget their troubles, and when they drive after drinking they just heap more troubles on themselves and on others.  My dad and I and the boys and everybody in our family are hurting right now too, but we’re not going to start drinking.”

Jack was taken back for a moment by what she had said.  “How old are you anyway, seeing you know so much?”

“I’m a big girl now.  Now that my mommy has gone to heaven, I have to help look after my little brothers.  I’m seven.”

Jack was shocked.  He slowed the car down.  “Your mom went to heaven?” he asked softly.  “When did she do that?”

“She died just a little while ago.  I miss her a lot.  I’m just glad I have my dad, my Auntie Lois and my grandma and grandpa at home.  My little brothers help too.”

Jack choked back feelings of empathy that started to come over him.  “I’m sorry,” he said, drove on and thought, I can’t let this bother meI’ve come too far.

Deborah continued to talk to Jack as if he was a friend.  It was not until she noticed that they were driving away from where her aunt worked that she became alarmed.  “Hey, where are you going?” she asked loudly.  “This isn’t the way to where my auntie works.  You let me out right now, or I’ll jump out.”

He grinned.  Go ahead.  You’ll be able to do magic if you can open those back doors from the inside.”  He emphasized magic and began to whistle a tune.

Deborah argued and pleaded with him without stopping until they reached the cabin.  Jack had laughed and sometimes had come close to tears listening to her.  He was glad to reach the cabin where he hoped he would get some rest from her barrage of words.  He led her to the back room.  “Why are you putting me in here?” she asked with surprise.

“That’s so you won’t get any funny ideas and try to run away?”

“How can I run away?”  We’re in a place I don’t know and far away from where I live.  How can I run away?  You’re funny.  Besides, this place is a mess.  I can clean it up for you, if I can stay out here.”

He thought about what she said and knew she had figured it out right.  “All right, if you behave yourself and don’t drive me crazy with all your talk, I’ll let you come out and do some cleaning tomorrow morning.  It’ll be dark soon and you won’t see enough by the little oil lamp to clean up.”

But I have to change into my play clothes in the morning, and I don’t have them with me?  How can I wear this outfit all the time?”

Jack scratched his head.  He hadn’t thought far enough ahead to worry about her clothes.  “We’ll figure something out,” he said.  The kid’s bright; he thought and realized that he had already grown to like her.  As much as her continual chatter had annoyed him at first he knew he had missed talking and listening to others.  “I’ll bring you something to eat in a little while, and don’t be scared.  I won’t bite you.”

Deborah had noticed the decks of cards on the table.  “What are those?” she asked pointing to them.

“They’re playing cards.  I play with them to keep me company when I’m here alone.” ??????????????????????????????????????

“I feel sorry for you.  Everybody should have a mother and father and brothers and aunties and grandparents and friends like Brenda and Brittany and Carmen.  Carmen takes me horseback riding and my friends all play with me.  Want me to play a game or two with you?”

“What do you know about playing cards?”

“My grandpa taught me to play a card game called Dutch Blitz and Twenty-one.  We could play twenty-one.  I’m real good at Twenty-one.”

“How do you play that?”

“You know!  You get two cards and if they don’t add up to twenty-one you can ask for another one.  The person who gets twenty-one or is closest to it wins the game, but you lose if you go over twenty-one.  I’ll teach you, if you like.”

Her grandfather taught her a type of poker game, he thought grinning.  What else are grandfathers for?  He looked at Deborah and said silently, “What do I do with her?  I’ll have to get more food into the house, and I never thought about her clothes.  She’s a neat kid.  I hope I haven’t frightened her too much.”  Out loud he said, “All right we’ll play a few games, but don’t you feel bad if I win every game. I hate to lose, and I’ve played cards for a long time. Sometimes I’ve won a lot of money at playing cards.  And remember not to be scared.  I won’t hurt you.”

They played for half an hour and except for two hands she had beaten him every time.  He laughed.  “I should have you with me when I go on tour.  You’re a card shark.  But away you go.  Get ready to go to sleep.  I’ll make something to eat for us.”

The panic Douglas, Ruth and Henry felt was great when the school bus did not stop in front of their driveway to let Deborah get off the bus.  “I’ll call the school.  Henry you or Ruth please telephone Lois on your cell to see if she’s picked Debbie up,” he said anxiously.  His hand shook.

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Lynn Bambridge, Joshua’s mother, looked at the man on the bed of their cheap motel room.  He had gambled well into the night and had lost again.  She had arrived from work only twenty minutes earlier and had not seen him come in during that time.  “He must have been back for some time,” she murmured.  She had not become aware that he was in the motel room until a few minutes earlier when she checked the bedroom.  She knew right away that he had lost a large amount of money.

Looking at him she could see that he had come back drunk, something he had done after each night of big losses.  There had been enough of those in the past month that the money from his winning streaks was nearly gone.  In every town that had a casino they had stayed until his luck had run out.  They had left Las Vegas, their first stop many weeks earlier.

She had always been lucky to pick up work as a waitress.  It had kept her occupied since she didn’t enjoy hanging around the gambling tables.  Jack had also wanted it that way.  Her income paid for their rooms and for their food.  The feelings she had had for the man when they had first met had slowly vanished with each of his losses.

Jack was not a bad sort when he wasn’t drunk.  In fact he had a soft heart, but he had become irritable and aggressive whenever his losses had carried on for more than a night or two.  Two weeks into his gambling spree she had told him that she wanted to go home to her boy.  He had forbidden her to call him from the outset.  “There’re some nasty people looking for me,” he had said.  They won’t be nice to me or to you, if they find us.  We can’t afford to leave a trail so don’t you dare call anyone.  I wouldn’t want to hurt you or your kid.”

Now, as she glanced at him, she despised him.  Shortly after she had left with him she had become terrified of him.  “I’ll kill you myself if you try to run out on me,” he had threatened several times. “I might even do it, if I find out you’ve called your kid.  We can’t leave a trail.”  She wanted to believe that he was only bluffing to keep her in line, but lately she had no longer been sure of this.

“I hate you,” she whispered watching him sprawled out across the bed.  He had managed only to get himself half undressed before he had passed out.  She was glad that he had come back before her shift at the diner had ended.  It had been a good shift.  She had received lots of tips and her paycheck too.  She had cashed it at the diner, and with that much money in her purse she had made a decision to take the first opportunity to get away from Jack.  Little had she realized at the time that the opportunity would come so quickly.  Now that it had suddenly arrived she felt bus on the road nervous.

Even though he had always made her give him the money she earned, she had managed to hide a little from each job.  She slowly reached over to him poking him lightly on the arm that dangled from the bed to see if he would wake up.  He only grunted and continued his snoring.  For another long moment she stood deep in thought.  Then she tiptoed to the desk, picked the telephone up and quietly called the bus depot.  She inquired what buses would take her to Regent City.

The ticket agent told her of a bus that would take her in the direction of Regent City, and that she would have to transfer only once were she to take it.  “Coach 467 will be leaving in less than an hour, Ma’am,” he said and told her the price of the ticket.

She hung up and whispered, “I’ll have to hurry.”  She changed quickly trying not to make any noise.  Silently she packed her suitcase, retrieved the money she had hidden under the bathroom sink, tiptoed across the room and carefully and slowly opened the door.  Casting a quick glance back she saw that Jack hadn’t moved.

The bus depot was only three blocks away, but she felt like it took an eternity to get there.  It wasn’t the most pleasant part of town to be walking along in the middle of the night with a suitcase, and she imagined any moment that Jack or some mugger would grab her from behind.  She had stashed most of her money into her undergarments.  “If anybody’s going to rob me, they’ll have to undress me, and I can holler with the best of them,” she said to herself trying to keep her courage up.

Only when clutching her bus ticket in one hand and standing in front of the driver did she breathe a sigh of relief.  She took one quick look back toward the motel she had left only minutes earlier.  Jack had not followed her.  “I hope he was only bluffing about coming after me,” she whispered.  “He won’t have any money for a few days to go far.”  She took a seat quickly and closed her eyes to try to get a little sleep.

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