Thursday, September 12, 2019

----------WOLVES AT OUR DOOR by Soren Paul Petrek----------


Title: WOLVES AT OUR DOOR
Author: Soren Paul Petrek
Publisher: Editions Encre Rouge/Hachette Livre
Pages: 319
Genre: Historical/Action/Adventure


The Allies and the Nazis are in a deadly race to develop the ultimate weapon while supersonic V-2 rockets rain down on London. Madeleine Toche and Berthold Hartmann, the German super assassin who taught her to kill, search for the secret factory where Werner von Braun and his Gestapos masters use slave labor to build the weapons as the bodies of the innocent pile up. The Allied ground forces push towards Berlin while the German SS fight savagely for each inch of ground.

Finding the factory hidden beneath Mount Kohnstein, Hartmann contacts his old enemy, Winston Churchill and summons Madeleine to his side. While she moves to bring the mountain down on her enemies, Hartmann leads a daring escape from the dreaded Dora concentration camp to continue his revenge against the monsters who ruined his beloved Germany.

Together with the Russian Nachtlexen, the Night Witches, fearsome female pilots the race tightens as the United States and the Germans successfully carry out an atomic bomb test.

Germany installs an atom bomb in a V-2 pointed towards London, while the US delivers one to a forward base in the Pacific. The fate of the Second World War and the future of mankind hangs in the balance.
Read the first chapter at Booksie and don’t forget to give it a like!

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CHAPTER ONE

Mid-August 1943
Peenemunde Research Facility
Northern Germany


In Northern Germany on a remote peninsula, jutting into the Baltic Sea, the Nazi government maintained a covert research station. Hoping to turn the tide of a stalemate war back in Germany’s favor, Adolf Hitler had become fascinated with the development of superweapons. The larger the weapons, the greater his interest and the Peenemunde facility was producing the biggest and most lethal ones ever conceived.
It had required ten thousand workers to build the twenty-five-square-kilometer compound. Schools and living quarters were erected for the families of the two thousand research scientists who had worked to produce weapons to satisfy Adolf Hitler’s desire to crush the enemies of the Third Reich. Liquid oxygen production plants sucked 70 percent of the electricity the on-site power station produced. Peenemunde was the largest military facility in the world. The work being done there had nothing to do with the development of atomic weapons; rockets were built and tested. Missiles that could reach cities and battlefields far away from where they were launched. Once perfected, their range could be increased to reach, potentially, anywhere on earth.

***

Late evening August 17, 1943
Peenemunde

The car that pulled up to the front gate was met by a security detail. As he stepped out of the passenger side, German rocket scientist Werner von Braun flicked his cigarette butt onto the gravel drive; he then reached into his pockets for his identification papers. He had been put in charge of the entire complex, and he was only thirty—an enormous achievement for someone who had been fascinated with rocketry since childhood. His area was liquid-fueled rockets, which he hoped would one day take men to the moon. For now, the research was used to develop a weapon that would flatten London. And he had produced one. A forty-six-foot monster: the V-2 Rocket. Most of the prototypes detonated on the launch pad or quickly skirted into the sea, but some of the missiles achieved altitude before crashing farther out. It was enough to keep his funding and the research moving forward.
Von Braun walked up to the main gate, where he was welcomed by a guard who took his papers. According to his orders, all visitors to Peenemunde were required to produce the necessary documentation. The facility was top secret, and, at least so far, the Allies hadn’t determined its purpose. Von Braun hoped that would continue until he had a reliable working model. With a flick of his flashlight and a smile, the guard checked von Braun’s face against his identification. It was hardly necessary. Tall and fit with a thick head of black hair, von Braun came across as a man of both position, thanks to his bearing, and wealth, thanks to his suits. It would have been difficult to impersonate a man the guards saw every day.
The main gate was one of the few access points to the sprawling compound. It was surrounded by two layers of fence with barbed wire and overlooked by several high guard towers. One hundred kilometers from the nearest town, there was no one around. Vast stretches of beaches along the Baltic Sea were deserted. There were no fishing boats or industry of any kind there except for Peenemunde. 
Von Braun walked along one of the paved roads that crisscrossed the south end of the research and manufacturing campus. Reaching into his pocket for a cigarette, he glanced up at the sky. Even though the night was clear, motion stirred the sky. But what was it? He heard the whine of a large falling object.
He barely had time to react when the first bomb hit. He stood dumbstruck as masses of clustered bombs followed the first. Buildings around him popped open, spilling people from their dormitories and offices. Groups of men and women ran for the nearest fallout shelter. Detonations tossed torn-apart vehicles and bodies into the air. Against the backdrop of crumbling buildings, incendiary bombs set off raging fires that sucked in oxygen from everywhere. A firestorm raged through the compound, torching everything in its path. My research, von Braun thought as he ran toward his own office. Nearby coworkers raced after him to save the documents. The fire had not yet reached the second floor as he and his coworkers sprinted up the stairs to salvage what they could.
They were headed toward the records room when a flash of fire burst through the doorway. Von Braun dashed through the flames, shouting, “Throw it all out the window!” He picked up a file box and tossed it out an open window. Two men shoved an entire file cabinet out another window, and others followed suit, collectively rescuing months of work. Somewhere in the paperwork lay a clue of why the tests weren’t yet successful.
Waves of heat intensified as the men’s clothing started to scorch.
“Get out!” von Braun screamed, pushing his men ahead of him and out of the room. Had he missed anything? Only the fire drove him from the room.
He charged down the stairs and through the blaze on the first floor. Outside, he watched a guard, who’d had the presence of mind to shelter the research, loading the boxes into a truck.
The people who weren’t already dead crawled, bloodied, through fire and burning rubble. Screams of pain and yells for help compounded the chaos, coupling with the smell of burning flesh. The acrid stench of cordite hung in the air, left after the concussive blasts. What little oxygen there was fed the fires.
Von Braun watched silently as his dreams burned.

***

Dawn came as the broken buildings smoked. Walls crumbled under their weight as workers tried to find bodies in the rubble.
Notified of the bombing, the first of the Nazi officials showed up on the scene to assess the damage. A motorcade came through what was left of the main gate. There were no guards posted. There was little left to protect.
Stepping out of his staff car, SS General Hans Klammer looked over the compound. He held a Ph.D. in civil engineering and could easily see beyond the surface damage. The overall structural impact on the buildings was significant. A few fire trucks continued to spray water in an attempt to keep other fires from spreading, but there were too many of them. Most of them were allowed to burn themselves out as long as they couldn’t spread to the nearby forests and grassy areas. Klammer thought the Allies must have used thousand-pound bombs. And they certainly weren’t concerned with accuracy. The goal was to decimate the facility, and it was easily achieved.
            Large bomb craters left the landscape pockmarked, as though an angry giant had pummeled it with a hammer. All of the buildings were damaged, some reduced nothing but piles of concrete and twisted metal. Even the ones still standing had scorch marks and shrapnel scars from bombs that had narrowly missed them. Crews of prisoners moved bricks and pieces of concrete manually, while bulldozers and tractors lifted the larger sections. It was beyond repair.
            As von Braun walked across the compound, Klammer thought he looked like a stricken man, and he vowed to help sooth his nerves. After all, von Braun was a civilian and a scientist to boot, someone they needed for the project—someone they needed calm, level-headed.
            “I’ve lost my main design engineer and several other key scientists,” von Braun said, lighting a cigarette with a shaky hand. His drawn face appeared to have aged years in a matter of hours. “One hundred and seventy key personnel killed and the extent of the damage hasn’t been calculated. We were able to save most of my most important documents. I almost died pushing files out windows with my staff,” he said, throwing his hands in the air. “This is a scientific facility. And then this.” He gestured. “Most of the men aren’t even in the military.”
            “Herr Doctor, I know you're upset and feel partially to blame.” Klammer placed a gloved hand on von Braun’s shoulder. “You’re not to blame. We are at war and would have done the same to the British if they had been building rockets. Your project is too important to let this dissuade you.” Klammer gesticulated passionately against the ash-colored sky. “Clearly the facility needs to be moved beyond the range of their bombers. We can’t rebuild this, and even if we did, they’d just bomb it again. No, clearing away all of this debris and tearing down the buildings will cause an unacceptable delay. We will find a more suitable location, somewhere in central Germany.”
            “We’ve also lost five hundred prisoners,” Von Braun added. “Some of them were highly skilled at assembly.”
            “The survivors will work when we locate an appropriate site. We’ll have work for many others as well,” Klammer said with a smile. “Don’t worry, Doctor; you’ll be back in business in no time. Just leave it to the SS. We’re very efficient at construction. Down to the last Mark and Pfennig.”
           “I worry about using new unskilled labor to build the rockets,” Von Braun confessed. “Each one is individual to itself. With three thousand independent parts, consistency is vital. Conditions have to be optimal for assembly and testing. Do you know what kind of location you are considering?”
            “Underground,” Klammer told him, “where bombers can’t do any more damage. We have already begun an exhaustive examination of potential sites within Germany, and we’ve narrowed it down to a few. The Fuhrer wants no more delays caused by destruction. He has great expectations for the use of rockets against England. He hopes to fire at least a dozen per day at London with no loss of German lives. When they land, only the British will die. We’ll test their resolve to keep on fighting with London in flames.”
            “But construction of another factory will take months,” von Braun argued.
            “Three or four, if everything goes according to plan.”
            “Three? Isn’t that a bit aggressive?”
            “The Jews will build it. They’ll work day and night. We will find a suitable location that won’t require an enormous construction budget.”
            “When can we relocate?”
            “We will move the equipment that can be salvaged to a temporary location. Your testing and experiments can continue there. Don’t worry,” Klammer assured the scientist, “I’ve built several work camps under budget and ahead of schedule. I know what I’m doing.”
            “We will determine what equipment is viable and catalog it immediately,” von Braun said, nodding his head. “Several rockets survived, and testing can continue as soon as we can relocate.”
            “Fine, the future of your project depends on continued progress. The Fuhrer often grows impatient and loses faith when things don’t go according to plan. As a fellow engineer, I have the utmost faith in you, Dr. von Braun. I’ve rarely seen a man so driven to succeed.”
            “Thank you,” von Braun said. “This research could win the war. My hope is that we can settle this nonsense on our terms. So that we can pursue the real goal, Germany’s conquest of space.”
            “We all want that. Everyone is tired of war, but we must win a decisive victory. Now I must get back to Berlin. Keep me abreast of your progress, Werner.”
            “I will, sir. Thank you for lifting my spirits.”
            “We’ll be up and move forward in no time. You do the science and leave the rocket building to me.” With that, Klammer climbed into the back seat of his car. He waved at von Braun and motioned for his driver to leave.
            Von Braun watched Klammer depart. He felt better, but the design problems with the rockets nagged him still. He walked back to his makeshift office to begin the cataloging project. No doubt with enough cruelty and loss of Jewish life, the SS would accomplish their task. A new factory was one thing, but he had to find out why the rockets weren’t achieving altitude. With the structural design team in tatters, what would von Braun have to do? Stand underneath one of the things as it crashed back down to earth?

***

            Half of the Jews forced to work at the Peenemunde installation were killed or wounded. Those with superficial wounds were herded among the other men. Those too far gone were shot where they lay.
            The survivors were crammed into cattle cars in which hay and dung littered the floorboards. They were pushed inside until it was standing room only. Many pairs of lungs competed for the thin and stifling oxygen.
As they left the Peenemunde facility, those men near the sides of the car tried to see through the tiny slits serving as windows. Other than briefly glimpsing civilization as the train passed a town, the men saw nothing but trees and open fields; they had no idea where they were going. Hungry and tired, they gratefully took turns sitting when they could no longer stand, though sitting room diminished as the train meandered down through the middle of Germany, picking up other prisoners as it headed south.
            In the late afternoon of the first day, the train stopped. The men were offloaded and given some weak soup and water. They were permitted to sit as the food was distributed. The guards had been given orders to deliver them alive; dead workers were useless. They were allowed to relieve themselves at the side of the tracks, long ago having lost the privilege of privacy. Few of them looked at one another, and none spoke.
            They were jammed back onto the train, and there were no more stops. On the second afternoon, the train reached its destination. With Mount Kohnstein looming above them, their rail cars were opened by SS guards. As they were herded toward the face of the mountain, they were handed pickaxes and shovels. They moved toward a small track railway that led into what looked like a mine entrance protruding back into the dark recesses of the mountain. A guard hit a switch, and a string of dim lights illuminated the tunnel farther than sight could follow. Men were already chipping away at the Gypsum rock that lined the walls. Metal clanging against rock echoed. It was a soft mineral and came out in large chunks that were immediately loaded into metal carts and pushed by hand out of the mine. No indication was given to the workers as to what they were supposed to do, other than keep digging.
            Inside the mine, there were no mechanized engines, only manpower. If a cart tipped over, the prisoners were beaten until the car was set upright and the rock reloaded. The dust choked the workers and made it hard to see. Fumes from blasting perpetually hung in the air.
They worked around the clock, and the shifts changed every twelve hours. Afterward, the prisoners were taken to an area where wooden bunks were stacked four high. The thin mattresses brought no comfort and allowed for little sleep. Stale bread and a thin foul tasting soup gave little nourishment. Over the weeks and months, as many men died from dysentery and Typhus as were executed or worked to death. The lack of proper nutrition gave the prisoners violent diarrhea; a bucket was their sanitary facility. Every straw filled mat they slept on was stained with excrement and vomit. Lice, scabies and other insects, tormented the men constantly.
            The passageways were widened, and the ceilings made higher. The main tunnels needed to accommodate fully assembled rockets as they were put together. Scaffolding was necessary to reach the roof. Men fell on every shift. Some died while others were injured. The men who could no longer work were shot. Their bodies tossed on rail cars laden with rock. Outside, they were transferred to piles of human corpses. Every day and night, the piles of dead grew.
The progress was rapid despite the inhuman conditions. The two main S-shaped tunnels ran parallel and snaked through the mountain. Forty-six connecting passageways had to be dug through rock walls. Storerooms and barracks for the prisoners and guards were hollowed out along one of the main tunnels. A small hospital was constructed and various workshops and laboratories. The pace was brutal. When a prisoner died, there were always replacements coming by train from concentration camps all over Germany, Poland and elsewhere.

About the Author

Soren Petrek is a practicing criminal trial attorney, admitted to the Minnesota Bar in 1991.  Married with two adult children, Soren continues to live and work in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Educated in the U.S., England and France Soren sat his O-level examinations at the Heathland School in Hounslow, London in 1981.  His undergraduate degree in Forestry is from the University of Minnesota, 1986.  His law degree is from William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota 1991.

Soren’s novel, Cold Lonely Courage won Fade In Magazine’s 2009 Award for Fiction.  Fade In was voted the nation’s favorite movie magazine by the Washington Post and the L.A. Times in 2011 and 2012.

The French edition of Cold Lonely Courage, Courage was published January 2019, by Encre Rouge Editions, distributed by Hachette Livre in 60 countries.  Soren’s contemporary novel, Tim will be released along with the rest of the books in the Madeleine Toche series of historical thrillers.

His latest book is the historical action adventure novel, Wolves at Our Door.





Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Chapter Reveal: 'Copper and Goldie, 13 Tails of Mystery and Suspense in Hawai‘i' by Rosemary & Larry Mild





In Copper and Goldie, 13 Tails of Mystery and Suspense in Hawai‘i, homicide detective Sam Nahoe takes a bullet in his spine in the line of duty. Disabled, his career with the Honolulu Police Department shattered—what now? Jobless, lonely, and unwillingly divorced, Sam becomes a Checker Cab driver. Seeking a partner, he adopts a rescue golden retriever—with a dollop of Doberman, and trains her to perform neat tricks like growling at a fare who doesn’t tip. He and Goldie cruise Oahu for fares, encountering thieves, kidnappers, vengeful wives, and even killers, compelling Sam to get his private investigator license. His Sunday visitations with his daughter, Peggy, can turn a magical park day into a hair-raising crime scene, but his shrewd little kid becomes a miniature sleuth in her own right. Sam’s Hawaiian heritage provides him with spunk and street smarts. With the bullet still in his spine, he hobbles around on two canes he’s dubbed Cane and Able as he orders Goldie to chase down the bad guys. His favorite snitch, card-sharp Sophie, asks him: “You still walkin’ with them giant chopsticks?” The book includes thirteen individual detective mysteries with pictures.








First Chapter: Episode One
Locked In: The Beginning

           Today Sam Nahoe caught his third major case since making detective sergeant in the Homicide unit of the Honolulu Police Department. He now wore a gold badge instead of a silver one.
           Sam and his partner, Corporal Mose Kauahi, hurried over to a mid-rise apartment house at 2330 Lanahi Place. The call came in at 9:30 a.m. The caller said she’d been trying to phone her neighbor for several days without a response. As a last resort, she went outside and peeked in his first-floor window. She saw him collapsed over his desk.
          The detectives met the woman inside the apartment lobby. Sam’s keen eyes assessed her. Waist-length kinky blonde hair, dark at the roots. Fortyish trying to look thirty, and less businesslike than he expected in a lacy pink tank top and short shorts.
          She flashed Sam a heavily lipsticked smile. “I’m Doris Haliburton. You can call me Doris.”
          Jeez, the broad is actually flirting with me, thought Sam without missing a step.
          They followed her down the hall to apartment 1A. Sam tried the door and found it locked. “It’s another one of those steel security doors with anti-pick locks,” he announced. “We’ll have to find another way in. Is there a resident manager here?”
        Doris shrugged. “Only part-time. But I s’pose you could try the windows out back.” Without waiting for consent, she started down the hall. Sam couldn’t help but notice the smooth legs, looking decades younger than her sun-creased face. At the rear of the building she held the door open for both men, an exit to a fenced-in backyard. “It’s those two double windows—there and there—the ones on the left.”  Her voice quavered. “He’s in the living room.”
        Sam frowned. “Those windows are pretty high. You look to be about five-two. How could you see in?”
        “I used my kitchen stool,” Doris answered smugly.
        Mose stepped closer. “It would be helpful if we could use it too,” he said. “That is, if you wouldn’t mind, ma’am.”
        She flinched at the word “ma’am.” Sam knew why. It made women feel old.
        “Yeah, sure, I’ll get it. I’m in apartment 1C. Back in two shakes.”
        Mose had no intention of letting Doris out of his sight. He followed her inside, and the two returned with him carrying the stepstool. He placed it below the first set of double windows. The short, stocky detective climbed up only to find that he couldn’t see much past the window sill. He yielded to Sam. Nearly a head taller at six-four, Sam climbed up until he had a clear view into what was obviously the living room. It was furnished with two leather couches, a glass-topped coffee table, and an elaborate entertainment center on the left wall. A rather affluent bachelor pad, he guessed. But in the far right corner against the wall, sure enough, a man’s body lay slumped over a large modern desk.
        Sam examined both double windows leading to the living room for signs of forced entry, but found none. He tried to at least jiggle each section, but each one was immovable, locked in place, with self-locking dowels to the right and left. He climbed down and moved the stepstool to the second set of double windows, hoping for better luck. Climbing back up, he peered into a bedroom and tested that set of windows with the same result. He decided entry there would cause less damage than in the more elegant living room.
        “We’ll have to get a locksmith for the front door,” said Mose.
        “Can’t wait for that. The man may need medical attention,” replied Sam. He removed a pair of sunglasses from his forest-green sport shirt and handed them down to Mose while he mulled over the best way to enter. The Venetian blinds were raised to their full height, so he wouldn’t have to deal with them. Removing his Glock 9mm from its holster, he turned his head away, and ducked to his left as he drove the weapon, handle first, against the lower glass panel, cracking it sharply away from him so that the shards fell inside the room and dropped to the floor. He swept the barrel of his gun back and forth to remove the remaining shards from the frame. Reaching through the cleared opening, he released the pair of locks from their side stops, and slid the tall window all the way up.
        “Hey, Mose, would you get me the floor mats from the front of the cruiser?”
        When his partner returned with the mats, Sam dropped them over the concentration of glass shards inside the window.
        He cautiously planted his size-thirteen shoes on the top step of the stool, then wiggled his backside onto the window ledge. Lifting one leg at a time over the sill, he slid inside. He landed for a split-second on his feet, but his muscular bulk gave way, sending him flopping on his knees. He heard, and felt, the crunching of the shards beneath the floor mats as he landed. Hoisting himself to his feet, he surveyed his surroundings. He had landed next to a queen-size bed with a quilted headboard and plaid comforter. He saw nothing out of order in the room; only an uncluttered bureau and nightstand.
        The moment Sam entered the living room, the stench of decay hit him. He whipped out a handkerchief from his back pocket and covered his nose and mouth.
        The motionless body slumped over the desk was a male of medium build, narrow-shouldered, wearing a muted-print aloha shirt. He appeared to have been working on his laptop. His head of thinning sand-colored hair lay face-down on the keyboard. The monitor reflected the impact with a string of unintelligible letters and numbers. On the desk he saw documents and spreadsheets in neat piles; nothing else but a tape dispenser and vinyl cup holding ballpoint pens. The printer on the left corner of the desk contained no printouts. Sam leaned over, and with his free hand placed two fingers on the victim’s carotid artery, feeling for signs of life. There was no pulse. But he knew there wouldn’t be. In the middle of the man’s back he found two bullet holes, close together, with accompanying patches of dried blood, obscuring the shirt’s flowered pattern. He hastily backed up when he realized he had almost stepped in blood that had dried on the plush beige carpet. They had themselves a crime scene.
      




Monday, July 1, 2019

----------The Desire Card by Lee Matthew Goldberg----------


Title: THE DESIRE CARD
Author: Lee Matthew Goldberg
Publisher: Fahrenheit Press
Pages: TBA
Genre: Crime/Suspense

BOOK BLURB:
Any wish fulfilled for the right price. That's the promise the Desire Card gives to its elite clients. But if the Card doesn’t feel like they’ve been justly compensated, the “price” will be more menacing than the clients could ever imagine.   

Harrison Stockton learns this lesson all too well. Harrison has lived an adult life of privilege and excess: a high-powered job on Wall Street along with a fondness for alcohol and pills, and a family he adores, yet has no time for. All of this comes crashing to a halt when he loses his executive job and discovers he has liver cirrhosis with mere months left to live.

After finding himself far down on the donor list, Harrison takes matters into his own hands. This decision sparks a gritty and gripping quest that takes him to the slums of Mumbai in search of a black market organ and forces him under the Desire Card’s thumb. When his moral descent threatens his wife and children, Harrison must decide whether to save himself at any cost, or do what’s right and put a stop to the Card.

THE DESIRE CARD is a taut international thriller that explores what a man will do to survive when money isn’t always enough to get everything he desires. It’s the first book in a series followed by PREY NO MORE that focuses on other people indebted to this sinister organization, where the actual price is the cost of one’s soul.

PRAISE:

"Careful what you wish for, especially from a nefarious shadow organization, in this gripping start to Lee Matthew Goldberg's fast-paced, highly compelling, buzz worthy new series. If you love characters morally compromised, richly drawn, and constantly surprising, you'll love THE DESIRE CARD. I burned through the first book and can't wait to get my hands on PREY NO MORE to see where this endlessly exciting story takes me next! Loved it!” - Daniel Palmer, critically acclaimed suspense author

ORDER YOUR COPY:

Amazon



Chapter 1

HARRISON SAT OUTSIDE THE OFFICE OF THE MANAGING DIRECTOR AWAITING HIS FATE. The end of the month meant slash and burn time, but he had successfully avoided the axe for twelve months now. Something told him this wasn’t going to be lucky number thirteen. After almost twenty years of dedication, he swore he wouldn’t beg, wouldn’t give that fucker Thom Bartlett any satisfaction in letting him go. Thom, with his faux British accent even though he lived in the U.S. since he was two, his nose up the CEO’s ass at every chance, his chastising of Harrison’s “extracurricular activities,” even though Thom was just as guilty of similar vices. Harrison stared at this fucker’s door, as if by monitoring he could will it to stay closed and ensure that he’d forever remain a part of Sanford & Co.’s Mergers and Acquisitions team.
A sharp pain in his abdomen caused him to pitch forward. His stomach churned as a flood of bile crept up his throat. Thom’s door now appeared so out of focus that for a second Harrison forgot where he was.
            “Bad lunch?” his buddy Whit whispered, from a nearby seat.
Thom’s ancient secretary glanced up at them from her fury of typing and went back to punishing the keys.
Harrison clutched his stomach and let out a stifled belch. The air now smelled like he’d been dining on garbage. His chronic halitosis had only been getting worse. He could barely recall the last time he’d kissed Helene like when they were young with an appetite to devour. At most he received a peck while she held her breath. It’s not like her body hadn’t also changed, and yet he still found her a knockout: whip-smart and sophisticated, alluring whenever she was in deep thought and chewed on the earpiece of her reading glasses. Only once had he participated in a particular “extracurricular activity” outside of their marriage. It was something he instantly regretted—but she had been treating him like a pariah in the bedroom for almost a year, and he found himself in the arms of another. So now he let her give those little digs about his hygiene, one of the small pleasures she seemed to have during the scant few hours a day when he was home.
Whit seemed to inch his chair away from Harrison’s death burp and occupied himself with the new Breitling hanging from his wrist. Here the two were about to be sliced up and gutted and Whit had spent last weekend dropping $10K on a watch. Sure Harrison indulged in more luxuries than most and hated his old Tag enough to go splurging, but unlike Whit, he had two kids in uptown private schools to worry about.
“Drinks at Mobeley’s later tonight?” Whit asked, placing his hand on Harrison’s shoulder. “Whatever the outcome of this summons might be?”
Harrison nodded with tired eyes.
“You’re a VP here, Harry. Higher up on the rung than me. You’ve got a better chance of surviving.”
Whit’s hand still massaged Harrison’s shoulder, but his encouragement was not convincing. He had probably expected a similar consoling reply, except the room was spinning too much for Harrison to care.
“You’re not looking well,” Whit said. Thom’s secretary seemed to glance up from her typing again to nod in agreement. The two of them caught each other’s eye, as if they were conspiring against him. Well, we couldn’t all look like Whit. Just a few years younger but still with a full head of thick black hair only slightly graying at the temples, something that made him appear even more distinguished. Pecs and abs that he never shut up about. A terror on the racquetball courts who slaughtered Harrison every time. The son of a well-known surgeon at N.Y.U Medical with a hot Japanese wife barely out of her twenties whose goal in life was to be at his beck and call. Whit had been made an Associate two years earlier than Harrison and was able to maintain a rapport with the higher ups that Harrison could never manage: calling the CEO Dougie to his face instead of Mr. Sanford and still having a job the next day.
The secretary picked up the phone on her desk while still typing away.
“Certainly, Mr. Bartlett,” she chirped into the receiver, and then turned her disapproving gaze to Harrison. “Mr. Bartlett will see you now, Mr. Stockton.”
Harrison gathered up his briefcase and overcoat. He had to hold onto the seat as he stood, his feet pivoting and almost sending him to the ground.
“Gotta watch those martini lunches,” Whit said, slapping Harrison on the back and pushing him toward his doom.
Harrison put one foot in front of the other slowly, avoiding Thom’s inevitable decision for as long as possible.
Even if he wound up getting let go today, an outsider looking in might assume that his life was still going well: two decades of marriage, healthy kids, and a fantastic New York apartment; but he felt like he’d just been going through the motions for too long. A major chunk had been missing, a spark of excitement, adventure, and meaning. He couldn’t put his finger on what it was, just that he desperately longed for it to exist.
As he put his hand on the doorknob and turned, he tried to think of what would make him happy, something he wanted more than anything that would cause him to shoot out of bed every morning with a smile.
He squeezed his eyes shut, willing this desired vision to appear, but all he saw was darkness.

[]

  Who in their right mind didn’t covet Thom Bartlett’s office? High floor with downtown skyline views, fluffy clouds outside of the windows, a wet bar that Harrison eyed. Some good Scotch had already been opened. Harrison had forced himself to keep sober during a gobbled lunch of an Italian sub without his trusty flask to chase it down. Now his hands trembled at the thought of that Scotch burning his throat.
“Can I offer you something?” Thom asked, indicating the bar with a grand sweep of his arm, as if to say, yes, I have a bar in my office, which you, dear sir, never had here and regrettably never will.
“I might as well,” Harrison coughed, scooting over and pouring two shots worth into a glass. He sat across from Thom and put the comforting drink to his lips.
Thom fiddled with a stack of papers in a folder on his desk. He looked up at Harrison through the thick frames he kept low on his sloping nose, almost touching his top lip.
“So Sanford & Co. has become swollen lately. We’re too big for our own good right now and need to restructure–”
“Just spit it out,” Harrison said, knocking back half the glass of Scotch.
“I’m sorry, Harrison. We’re going to have to let you go, effective today.”
Thom delivered this news while fixing his Windsor knot, which Harrison figured had taken him numerous tries that morning to perfect. Harrison wanted to grab him by that knot and choke his tiny little bird head until it popped off.
“I’ve given practically twenty years to this firm,” he said, running his hands through his thinning hair. “I sleep here, I eat here. I barely exist at home anymore.”
“It’s the same for all of us, mate.”
“I’m not your fucking mate,” Harrison said, finishing the rest of the Scotch and starting to sway.
“Old boy, I am not the villain here. Every firm on the Street has been feeling this strain since the economy collapsed. Now we are offering you a solid severance package, which I think is more than generous. I’ll also save you the spectacle of having security escort you out.”
“What was Sanford’s reason?” Harrison asked quietly, not wanting to hear the answer but knowing that he’d be unable to leave without one.
Thom had already started pushing the folder across the desk, shutting Harrison up, getting this over with. His face looked exhausted from delivering executions.
“We’ve heard from some clients,” he said, taking off his glasses and pinching the bridge of his nose.
“Heard what…?”
“Have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately, huh, Harry?” he asked, his voice rising to the level of an uncomfortable squeal. “Your skin, mate…sorry, but you’re looking rather yellow, and your eyes, well there’s this permanent creaminess to them… I’m just using the client’s words–”
“Which client?”
“Which one hasn’t mentioned this is more like it.”
Harrison went to respond but now Thom was on a roll.
“As a VP, this is a face-to-face business. I go for manicures, mate, you think I like it–it’s a requirement. Maybe if you cut back on the drink….”
“I’ve advised some huge mergers here over the years.” Harrison pointed at Thom with his empty glass. “I didn’t realize this was only a pretty boys game.”
“You’ve let some messy pitchbooks slide through recently, as well.”
“Shouldn’t the analysts be blamed for creating them?”
“Don’t think they haven’t been dealt with, too.”
“So maybe I’ve gotten lax with a couple of pitchbooks for smaller clients, but never any of the big ones.”
“When…was the last time you’ve been to a doctor, Harry?”
“Doctors,” Harrison said, brushing them all away with a flick of his wrist. He had always believed that no matter what, doctors tried to find something wrong with you so you’d give them more business. And yeah, his skin had developed a yellowish hue as of late and sometimes his gut felt like it was rotting. Varicose veins had multiplied along his thighs and there were moments when he’d lose balance and have to go and dry heave in an empty stall once no one else was around, but he was a professional drinker just like his dad had been, and that son-of-a-bitch had put back a liter of gin and a pack of smokes a day up until the ripe old age of eighty-eight. Hell, who needed to live longer than that anyway? Life could be brutal, and if some booze, some smokes and some pills provided a relief from the banality of it all, then screw any doctor who’d tell him otherwise.
Thom tapped on the folder to indicate that it was time to wrap this up.
“I have to make sure that you understand what’s in the package,” he said, pushing it closer to Harrison until it practically fell off the desk.
Harrison opened it up and flipped through: six months pay, benefits as well, blah, blah, blah. He closed it shut and went to throw it in his briefcase.
“Tut tut,” Thom said, wagging his finger. “There’s something you missed that Mr. Sanford wanted to make sure you saw.”
Harrison re-opened the folder and spied a card clipped to the first page.
 []
 “What the hell is a Desire Card?”
Thom reached over and un-clipped the card.
“You have been a valued employee here. Mr. Sanford wanted to make sure you understood that we’re not parting on bad terms. This is what’s best for everyone.”
Thom handed him the card. Harrison turned it over and over with his stubby fingers.
“It’s like…a phone or something too?”
“Of sorts, just to keep their network as secure and exclusive as possible. We didn’t include this in everyone’s package, so you know. This is an organization that Mr. Sanford has a long history with, very hush-hush obviously, very elite. If you want something…anything…they have the power to make it happen.”
“Can they get me my job back?”
“Cute, Harrison, don’t ever lose that charm.”
Thom reached over to take the empty glass away.
“So tonight, Harry, instead of drowning your sorrows in a bottle, give the Card a try and have them ring you up a girl I guarantee you’ll enjoy. Or whatever else you wish. We promise we’ll give a glowing report to any future job prospects so consider this the start of a paid vacation.”
Thom stuck out his hand to shake, the nails manicured, no rogue cuticles to speak of; but the hand was delicate and unassuming, not someone with the power to hold Harrison’s life in his palm, just a meager messenger. Harrison slipped the Desire Card in his pocket and shook Thom’s hand, squeezing hard as Thom grimaced.
“And see a doctor,” Thom replied, giddy now that this ordeal was over.
“Watch out, you’ll be gutted next,” Harrison said, rising and feeling his legs give out. He collapsed back into the chair as Thom let out a spurt of a laugh.
“You all right there, mate?”
“Piss on England.”
Harrison gave standing up another try. He gripped Thom’s desk for support. Thom looked worried that Harrison might take the whole desk down with him, but Harrison was doing his best to maintain even though it felt like he was viewing Thom through the wrong end of a telescope.
“You can go ahead and send Mr. Carmichael in,” Thom said, fixing his Windsor knot again that had become slightly askew. “Best to Helene and the children.”
Harrison slung his coat over his arm and gripped his briefcase as he headed for the door. After a few steps, his vision became cloudier and he could feel the creamy tears falling from his eyes. They stung his cheeks as he grappled with the doorknob and lurched into the hallway.
In the front office, Whit was leaning over the secretary’s desk; the two engaged in hushed words that stopped once Harrison emerged. Harrison ran his finger from one side of his neck to the other. Whit gave him a solemn nod back, but Harrison couldn’t hold it in any longer and puked up the barely digested Scotch.
“Oh my!” he heard the secretary say.
He stared at his sickness bubbling on the floor, a mix of half-chewed capicola and salami in an amber soup with specks of dark red blood throughout, the clots of blood so dark they looked like tar. He wiped his mouth and trudged past all the onlookers toward the elevators outside, glad that a part of him would remain embedded in Sanford & Co.’s carpet.
As the elevator arrived and he stepped inside, he wished for the undoing of everyone involved in his termination, knowing that only their collective downfall could get him to shoot out of bed with a smile.