Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Water Is Wide by Laura Vosika


Title: THE WATER IS WIDE
Author: Laura Vosika
Publisher: Gabriel’s Horn Press
Pages: 451
Genre: Time Travel/Historical Fiction

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BOOK BLURB:
After his failure to escape back to his own time, Shawn is sent with Niall on the Bruce’s business. They criss-cross Scotland and northern England, working for the Bruce and James Douglas, as they seek ways to get Shawn home to Amy and his own time.
Returning from the Bruce’s business, to Glenmirril, Shawn finally meets the mysterious Christina. Despite his vow to finally be faithful to Amy, his feelings for Christina grow.
In modern Scotland, having already told Angus she’s pregnant, Amy must now tell him Shawn is alive and well—in medieval Scotland. Together, they seek a way to bring him back across time.
They are pursued by Simon Beaumont, esteemed knight in the service of King Edward, has also passed between times. Having learned that Amy’s son will kill him—he seeks to kill the infant James first.
The book concludes with MacDougall’s attack on Glenmirril, Amy and Angus’s race to be there and Shawn’s attempt to reach the mysterious tower through the battling armies.
CHAPTER ONE
Bannockburn, Present
Angus warmed the car while Amy used the restroom. He tapped gloved fingers on the steering wheel, a tight frown creasing his forehead. After a minute, he pulled out his phone and dialed his partner on Inverness’s police force. “Clive,” he said, moments later. “Here’s a riddle. What’s the link between Shawn Kleiner, twenty-first century missing person, and Niall Campbell, fourteenth century laird?” His mind flitted around Rose, Amy’s mentor, teacher, and friend. Think outside the box, she had told him.
But Kleiner was not living in two centuries, regardless of his cracks at his last concert.
“Two of a kind,” Clive said promptly. “If Kleiner’d lived in Niall’s time, he’d’a’ mooned MacDougall, too.” He laughed. “Seriously, MacLean, Kleiner called himself Niall Campbell—the day she found him, and again at his last concert. You know that.”
“Seriously,” Angus said. “When she told me she was pregnant, I thought that’s what she’d been hiding. But she just found out her student has an identical twin, and it’s got her agitated over Niall Campbell.”
There was a brief silence before Clive’s voice dropped. “What’s he to do with her student’s twin?”
“Aye,” replied Angus. “It’s like when we talked to her at the hotel. She’s not saying something. She knows a great deal about Campbell but evades when I ask for her sources.” He cleared his throat. “Being pregnant doesn’t explain her saying Kleiner’s never coming back. Why do these twins get her upset about a medieval knight?”
“I’ll think on it,” Clive said. “Though how I’d even begin to research such a thing, I’d not know. Ancestor? Family curse? Buried treasure?”
“I’d say don’t be ridiculous,” Angus said, “but I can think of no rational connection.” Watching the door, he lowered his voice. “There’s something else. I didn’t want to say it before. I feel disloyal.”
“If she’s lying, you’ve no reason to,” Clive said
“You’ve met her,” Angus shot back. “Do you believe for a minute she’s a bad sort?”
“No,” Clive said. “But clearly she’s hiding something.”
“Why does a good person hide things?” Angus asked. “Because the timing of her break up with him has been bothering me for a time now.”
“I’ve been thinking on it, too,” Clive said. “And it can’t be as she told you.”
“You see the problem, too.” Angus drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, watching the door. “She said they broke up the night before he disappeared.”
“Witnesses say he spent that evening playing harp at the re-enactment in Bannockburn. His phone was with her, over two hundred kilometers away at the hotel in Inverness.”
“Could he have called her from someone else’s phone?”
“Possible,” Clive said. “But unlikely. Hold on.”
“I’ll have to hang up if she comes out.” Angus listened to the soft shuffle of paper over the line, and muffled tones of Clive speaking to someone. The door of the pub swung open. He took a quick breath, but Sinead’s family emerged. He relaxed against the seat, listening to the girls chatter as they passed. He watched them, identical in their black, bouncing curls, dark eyes, and sprinkle of freckles, and smiled.
“Here,” Clive said. “That Rob fella said she broke up with him in the tower.”
Angus frowned. “I don’t remember that.”
“Pat down the hall overheard him and mentioned it to me but last week.”
“But that can’t be,” Angus objected. “That was two weeks before the re-enactment.”
“He was quite put out that they were back on such good terms. Very good. Kissing-backstage-after-the-concert good.”
Angus frowned, less than pleased with the image himself. For a fleeting moment, he sympathized with Rob. “So ’tis odd she’d break up with him again. Apart from the lack of a phone or any witness to him using one.” He watched the twins argue beside their car, wondering which was Sinead. One girl grinned at him, waved, and hopped into the vehicle.
“Angus?”
“What?” Angus snapped his attention back to Clive.
“I asked, are you sure you want to be involved in this?”
“Don’t think badly of her,” Angus said. “I’ve always had a good sense for character, and I don’t believe she’s done anything wrong.” He watched the second girl stomp around her family’s car.
“She seems a good sort,” Clive agreed. “But you’re on shaky ground already, seeing someone you were assigned to on a case.”
“Aye,” Angus admitted.
“Have you found out why she believes he’s not coming back?”
“I’ve not asked,” Angus said. “I’m not here as an inspector.”
“Come now, Angus, you ought to know what you’re dealing with.”
“She’ll tell me when she’s ready.”
“She’s suggesting he’s dead! You’re losing your professional sense for personal reasons!”
“I am,” Angus sighed. “But I like being with her.”
“You mightn’t have a choice, in the end,” Clive warned.
The pub door swung open again. “Text me if you think of anything.” Feeling guilty, Angus stowed the phone as Amy appeared, her white hat snug over thick, black hair spilling the length of her back. She smiled. He jumped from the car, rounding it to open her door. He desperately wanted her in his life, the Glenmirril Lady who’d brought his feelings gloriously alive after eight dormant years.

Stirling, Present

“Alec, what are these?”
Alec looked up to see his intern holding a medieval helmet, sword, and heavy puddle of iron. “Chain mail?” Alec’s forehead wrinkled. “Where’d you find that, now?”
“The old lockers down at the end,” the boy answered.
“Those haven’t been used in months,” Alec replied. “Did you find paperwork on them?”
The boy shook his head. Alec swiveled his chair to a cabinet and dug through. He pulled a file, read it, frowning, and reached for the helmet atop the pile in the lad’s arms. It tumbled from his hands, its weight surprising him. Dirt fell from it, dusting his desk. He brushed at it, smearing his report, before lifting the helmet and irritably shaking filth to the floor. The boy waited, silent but for the clink of chain as he shifted under the weight of mail and sword.
Alec ran his finger along the swirls of artwork adorning the helmet’s edges. He scratched at a dark fleck, before realization hit him. “It’s blood!” He yanked his hand back. The helmet rattled to his desk. “Whose are these?” He snatched the papers from under the crusty helmet. “The re-enactment,” he murmured. He looked up to the boy. “I’m no expert, but they look real.”
“My Uncle Brian works in the Creagsmalan archives,” the boy volunteered. “Will I call him?”
Alec pondered only a moment, before nodding. “And find out what happened to whoever owns these.



Monday, November 12, 2018

Chapter reveal: ‘Manipulated’ by John Ford Clayton

Manipulated - Cover art
Genre: Political Thriller
Title: Manipulated
Author:  John Ford Clayton
About the Book:
Manipulated is a political thriller set during the 2016 presidential election season from January 2015 through January 2017. During these two years, a fictional account of the election is chronicled. The first half of the book provides a back story illustrating an American political system soiled by political parties, a misguided media, and lots and lots of money, all orchestrated by a clandestine organization known as Mouse Trap.​
The second half of the book provides a glimpse at what the 2016 election might have looked like had a different candidate been introduced into the campaign. A candidate not bound to either political party, deep-pocket investors, or Washington insiders. A candidate who had absolutely no interest in the job but is drafted by those that know him best to fix a broken system. A candidate who personifies integrity, character, and humility. A candidate whose core values are guided by his faith.
About the Author:
John Ford Clayton lives in Harriman, Tennessee with his wife Kara, and canine companions Lucy, Ginger and Clyde. He has two grown sons, Ben and Eli, and a daughter-in-law, Christina. He earned a BS in Finance from Murray State University and an MBA from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He is active in his East Tennessee community having served on the local boards of the Boys and Girls Club and a federal credit union, on church leadership and creative teams, and on a parks and recreation advisory committee. When he’s not writing he works as a project management consultant supporting Federal project teams. John is a huge fan of Disney parks and University of Kentucky basketball.
Connect with John Ford Clayton on the web:
EXCERPT:
Chapter 1 
January 7, 2015
671 Days Until the 2016 U. S. Presidential Election

“No More Hate! No More Hate!”
The chants echoed through the Quad from the two dozen protesters assembled near the campus’s main pedestrian intersection. Situated in the middle of the sidewalk was Dr. Molly Jefferson, the leader of the rabble. Dr. Jefferson’s pride swelled as she admired the growing assembly, who had numbered only six the day before.
“What do we want?!” she shrieked through the bullhorn borrowed from the track coach.
“Justice!” came the reply.
“When do we want it?!”
“Now!”
Dr. Jefferson, dean of the College of Religious Studies at Richfield College, had spearheaded this protest.
“Is hate speech welcomed at Richfield?!” Dr. Jefferson asked the crowd.
“No!” came the compliant response.
Dr. Jefferson felt a great sense of pride that a protest she launched only the day before was beginning to gain traction.
The protestors felt they were part of a larger, important, maybe even historic movement. Little did they know they were all simply being manipulated.

***

In the Winchester Library, just off the Richfield College Quad, Jeremy Prince had found a table where he could observe the growing protest. He peered through the leafless branches of the Bradford pear trees that stood guard just outside the tinted window. The sun was giving way to the early January sunset, and he suspected the protestors’ resolve had not yet grown to a level warranting a stay past dark in temperatures expected to dip into the low 20s. As Jeremy watched the marchers, he couldn’t withhold the grin that grew to a smile, ultimately producing an unconscious chuckle.
“Shhh,” objected the students sitting at the tables nearby. “Please be quiet.”
“Oh, sorry, my bad,” Jeremy raised a hand of apology. “Won’t happen again.”
Finding the fortitude to suppress his audible excitement was almost achievable, but losing the grin was asking too much. After all, a plan he had hatched two short weeks ago in a fraternity house 275 miles away was now unfolding right before his eyes. Not just unfolding but thriving. And to imagine he was just getting started. He knew he had to channel his energies to his laptop for the next step in his diabolical plan.

***


Richfield Bible College was founded in 1956 by the Southern Baptist Convention. It was situated in a rustic valley in East Tennessee, just outside the small town of Bard’s Ridge, 30 miles from the city of Knoxville. A local farmer donated 60 acres to get the college started. With the donation came a two-story hay barn, which served as the classroom for Richfield’s initial enrollment of 27.
Growth would come quickly to Richfield, as in four short years the freshman class of 1960 swelled to 80. By 1972, the college had grown to occupy over a dozen buildings, including the newly christened Winchester Library. Richfield enjoyed its peak enrollment throughout the 1980s. By 1988, Richfield Bible College’s enrollment rose to 927.
As much success and growth that Richfield had experienced in the 40 years since its founding, the 90s would usher in a decade of turmoil, challenge, controversy, and ultimately profound change.
Pinpointing the exact catalyst for the transformation is difficult, but many point to a seminal series published in 1992 by Knoxville’s largest newspaper, The Knoxville Chronicle. The series ran four consecutive days, each highlighting a Richfield Bible College transgression.
Day one of the series focused on the lack of quality education the Richfield students received. Comparing a Richfield bachelor’s degree with those of other area colleges, the article noted that in a 120-hour bachelor’s degree program at Richfield, students took 90 hours of Bible classes. That first day’s headline read RICHFIELD OFFERS SUB-STANDARD EDUCATION.
The second day’s article focused on equality and diversity, hot topics in the early 90s. Noting that of Richfield’s 875 enrollees, 780 were men, The Chronicle led with the headline RICHFIELD COLLEGE: WOMEN AND MINORITIES NEED NOT APPLY. The article blasted Richfield’s racial uniformity, remarking that after spending three days on campus The Chronicle staff could find only two non-white students.
The third day’s headline read RICHFIELD LEADERSHIP DISCONNECTED AND UNQUALIFIED. The article blasted Richfield’s leadership, noting that its president had no advanced degree. A similar criticism was levied at Richfield professors with accusations of a chronic lack of experience and qualifications. The article’s most biting criticism was of the Board of Trustees, composed of seven men—most of whom had no educational experience and who had rarely been to Richfield. By the time the third article was printed, national publications were beginning to ask for permission to reprint the series.
The last day focused on Richfield’s foundational belief system. Running on Sunday to guarantee maximum readership, its headline read RICHFIELD: VOW OF PURITY REQUIRED, referencing a “covenant” all students were required to sign as a condition of their college admission. This covenant required that students submit to the authority of college educators and administrators and that they commit to 60 hours of ministry service (with emphasis on UNPAID service). Having to accept the Protestant Bible as the inerrant Word of God, students also had to acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life, and that no one would go to heaven except through Him.
The Chronicle noted other practices it considered Puritanical, such as a prohibition on students engaging in sex and a ban on homosexuals. The Chronicle even included excerpts from an interview with a former Richfield student who claimed he had been dismissed from school after admitting his homosexuality to his college advisor in what he thought was a private conversation.
The series won The Knoxville Chronicle and its author, Delores Jenkins, three Tennessee Press Association Awards, as well as significant national acclaim and attention. It brought Richfield Bible College scorn and ridicule throughout the country as the articles were printed in over 100 U. S. newspapers.
After the series was published, Richfield Bible College was never the same. In just a few months, the president resigned from office. Not long afterward, a mass exodus of faculty followed as enrollment began to plummet from 875 enrollees at the time of The Chronicle series to 550 in just over a year. The snowball continued as the Southern Baptist Convention decided to divest its sponsorship of Richfield, leading to a loss of all seven members of the Board of Trustees. Richfield Bible College was in freefall. Were it not for an anonymous donor, who for three consecutive months made payroll for the remaining staff and faculty, the college might have been forced to close.
In these most difficult times, a handful of remaining faculty members and staff assembled in an emergency session to determine how to pick up the broken pieces of the college they all loved. They knew if Richfield were to survive, a new beginning was required. They decided to hold their initial planning meeting symbolically in the still-standing hay barn, which had been converted to a Richfield museum. Many options were thrown on the table, all involving keeping the college alive. Not a single voice suggested closure as an option.
In times like these, natural leaders tend to emerge; in this case, that leader was the Dean of the fledgling Business College, Joe McArthur. Mac, as everyone called him, listened to the various opinions before writing down a few common concepts he was hearing. After two days of meetings, a consensus emerged of how to move Richfield forward. As frustrated as most were with The Chronicle article, they all admitted some valid concerns needed to be addressed. The first was that the college should broaden its educational offerings and drop the word Bible from its name. Efforts were also made to diversify the college in both the student body as well as in the administration and teaching staff. A new Board of seven trustees consisted of three women, including one African-American, and four men.
Once seated, the trustees selected a new president, a PhD who had over 20 years of educational experience, and who was not affiliated with the Southern Baptists.
Throughout the 2000s, the Richfield College transformation was remarkable. The student body was now 55% female with a growing multi-cultural population. Tattoos and piercings were commonplace at Richfield, which now reflected the diverse culture of most college campuses across the U. S. The curriculum was completely overhauled to be more aligned with that of similar size colleges. Most Bible classes were dropped and were replaced by the Religious Studies Department, which Dr. Jefferson was hired to chair in 2012.

***

With the most recent cheer, Dr. Jefferson sensed the crowd begin to lose energy. Knowing they didn’t have the experience she did with protests, she recognized this moral stand would be a marathon, not a sprint. She decided it was time to send the crowd away but not before a final word of inspiration.
Stepping up on a park bench, she reactivated the bullhorn, drawing all eyes and ears in her direction. “I hope you all have an appreciation for the historic action that you have started today…and I do mean started…because we are just beginning to let our voices be heard.” Cheers sprang up around her as the original two-dozen protestors had been joined by 30 curious onlookers, not all of whom were fully invested in the movement, at least not yet.
“We all know the sordid past of this institution, a past of exclusion, hate, and intolerance. Do we want to return to those days?!”
“No!”
“That’s right; none of us want to go back to those dark days. And we’re not going to let that happen!” Again, enthusiastic applause filled the Quad.
“If it is the last act I do at this college, I will stop the bigoted, close-minded, hatemonger Elijah Mustang from speaking at this institution! We’re going to bring today’s protest to a close, but I’m going to ask—no, I’m going to plead with—those of you on the periphery listening to my voice to join us tomorrow at noon to resume this movement. We don’t want to go back. We only want to move forward! I truly believe that together we are doing God’s work!”
As she stepped down from the bench, she was greeted by hugs and cheers. She could tell she had reached a new constituency. She prayed that tomorrow’s crowd would be even larger than today’s; the same for the next and the next and the next, until justice was served.

***

Among those standing in the periphery was Jeremy Prince thinking to himself, “I can’t believe this is actually working.” Again unable to suppress the smile that consumed his face, he took a step back toward the library thinking, “Now, let’s see if the next bait is swallowed as voraciously as the last.” Would he be so lucky?

***

As Dr. Jefferson unlocked the door to her apartment, she didn’t remember the three-mile drive from campus. She wondered if she had driven or just glided on the winds of change. She had been part of many protests in her career. She joined a movement that kept the ladies’ swim team going at Delaware State, picketed for gender equality pay at the Connecticut State Transportation Department, and was among the throng who successfully got a fraternity shut down for a pattern of abusing its little sisters. However, the Richfield College movement was her maiden voyage as the leader of a protest. She quite liked it and felt she was a natural. In fact, she felt a special calling to this important undertaking. She was a true social justice warrior!
As a single, 30-something college professor with degrees in philosophy and religion, Dr. Jefferson knew the stereotype many would foist upon her: a shrill, angry, unattractive female—a stereotype that many of her colleagues unfortunately reinforced. However, she worked diligently to establish her own persona. She was known as kind, professional, even deferential to her peers. While she had strong opinions, she didn’t eagerly share them. She chose her opportunities wisely for when and with whom to make her thoughts known. At 5’ 2” with a petite figure, she was not an imposing physical presence. She was also a Christian, a fact that brought derision from many of her university contemporaries. Her Christian beliefs were the primary inspiration for her seeking a Richfield faculty position.
She also considered herself significantly out of the mainstream of American conservative evangelical Christian orthodoxy. While she believed that Jesus Christ offered a path to a heaven-like afterlife, she did not consider that the only path. She considered the Protestant Bible a mix of theology, history, and fantasy, much like other holy books such as the Koran and the writings of Confucius and Buddha. In general, she considered herself open to new ideas and teachings; and she read voraciously, always seeking a deeper truth.
Although she normally led with her gentle spirit, Dr. Jefferson held great passion for where she saw injustice and unfairness, especially if a Christian institution was involved. This passion was driving her voice of leadership in the Richfield protest. She knew the history of Richfield’s injustice and how hard those who came before her worked to correct it. Thus, she felt obligated to pick up the baton from the trailblazers who worked for almost a decade to make Richfield the more open, diverse campus it was becoming. The more she learned about Elijah Mustang, the more she was convinced that inviting him to speak at the graduation ceremony was a step backwards from the significant progress already enjoyed. His speaking there could even usher in a return to the college’s dark past. This would be a battle to which she was willing to give everything she had to win.
Receiving her B. S. in religious studies from Vermont State University in 1990, Dr. Jefferson had studied the country’s religious journey from the growth of the Christian Conservative Movement as a political power in the 80s to the backlash and decline during the Clinton years of the 90s. She had even written a paper on Jerry Falwell titled “The Immoral Majority,” making her case for how the Christian Conservative Movement had blurred the lines between church and state, causing major damage to the country in the process. In her doctoral thesis written at the University of North Carolina, she chronicled the Southern Baptist Convention’s rise and decline with a particular focus on Southern Baptist colleges. Now finding herself a professor at Richfield College seemed surreal to her. The notion that she was at the center of such a protest seemed implausible.
Walking through the door of her small, one-bedroom apartment, she instinctively popped a vanilla hazelnut decaf cup in the Keurig and took a seat at the kitchen table. Flipping open the cover to her laptop, she began perusing social media as Anthony, her rescue cat, navigated a figure eight around her outstretched legs. Twitter was her first e-destination, and she was delighted at what she found: “Awesome day on the Richfield Quad.” “Actually doing something to make a difference.” She even found that a hashtag #Richfield Protest had been established. Her movement started a hashtag! Although she knew it wasn’t “her” movement, she felt a sense of profound satisfaction.
Next came Facebook, with similar results: a half-dozen statuses from students with inspired posts, positive comments, and many “likes.” Not a single negative comment or snarky retort was found. As she scrolled through her posts, she found what she was hoping to see: a new post from Dr. Jocelyn Rosenberg, a women’s studies professor, who had befriended her on Facebook a month prior. Although they had only been acquainted a short time, they were obviously kindred spirits. Dr. Rosenberg was the first to bring Elijah Mustang’s transgressions to her attention. This new post was linked to an article in The Chattanooga Observer that included excerpts from an interview Mr. Mustang had given to a reporter in 2011. In this interview, Dr. Jefferson found even more bigotry and hatred. When the reporter asked Mustang about his stance on gay marriage, he stated, “It is my belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. That’s not just my opinion, but I believe the Word of God is clear and consistent on that point.”
“So now he’s deciding what the Word of God is?” she asked her cat, Anthony. Dr. Jefferson had found even more fuel for her passionate protest. She felt her heart race as she quickly typed three e-mails: one to Dr. Rosenberg thanking her for the link to this article and for her inspiration to pursue this issue; another to the president of Richfield College detailing her concerns about Elijah Mustang; and a third to an old acquaintance, Delores Jenkins, now The Knoxville Chronicle’s assistant editor. She sensed what started as a modest protest was about to hit it big. However, she couldn’t begin to predict what the next three days would bring.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Excerpt reveal: ‘The Sicilian Woman’s Daughter’ by Linda Lo Scuro


Sicilian Woman-US-revised.indd
Genre: Mystery/Women’s Fiction
Author: Linda Lo Scuro
Publisher:   Sparkling Books
Purchase link:
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About The Sicilian Woman’s Daughter
When the novel opens, Maria, the novel’s protagonist is living a charmed and comfortable life with her husband, banker Humphrey and children, in London.   The daughter of Sicilian immigrants, Maria turned her back on her origins during her teens to fully embrace the English way of life.
Despite her troubled and humble childhood, Maria, through her intelligence, beauty and sheer determination, triumphantly works her way up to join the upper middle-class of British society.  But when a minor incident awakens feelings of revenge in her, Maria is forced to confront–and examine—her past.
As she delves deeper into her mother’s family history, a murky past unravels—and Maria is swept up in a deadly and dangerous mire of vendetta.  Will Maria’s carefully-constructed, seemingly-idyllic life unravel?  Expect the unexpected in this outstanding new mystery….
The Sicilian Woman’s Daughter is a brilliantly-plotted, exceedingly well-told tale.  Novelist Linda Lo Scuro delivers a confident and captivating tale brimming with tantalizing twists, turns, and surprise, a to-die-for plot, and realistic, multi-dimensional characters.  Thoughtful and thought-provoking, rich and riveting, The Sicilian Woman’s Daughter is destined to stay with readers long after the final page is turned.
PROLOGUE
Rumour had it that Ziuzza, my grandmother’s sister, on my mother’s side, carried a gun in her apron pocket – both at home and when she went out. She wore her apron back-to-front, resulting in the pocket being propped up against her belly. She kept her right hand poised there, between her dress and apron as if she had bellyache. I had noticed this suspicious behaviour when on holiday in Sicily with my family when I was twelve. At that stage, never could I have imagined that she was concealing a gun, while she stood there in my grandmother’s kitchen watching me have breakfast. I never saw her sitting down. She brought us thick fresh milk, containing a cow’s hair or two, in the early mornings and often stayed to chat.
She had a dog, Rocco, white and brown, which she tied to a wooden stake in my grandmother’s stable downstairs. It was a lively animal, snapping at whoever passed it, jumping and yapping. The mules, the rightful inhabitants of the stable, were out in the campagna with my grandfather from the break of dawn each day.
A tight silver bun stood proudly on Ziuzza’s head. Her frowning face always deadly serious. Fierce, even. An overly tanned and wrinkled face. Skin as thick as cows’ hide. Contrastingly, her eyes were of the sharpest blue – squinting as she stared, as if viewing me through thick fog. I was scared of her. Truly scared. And all the other women were frightened, too. You could tell by the way they spoke to her, gently and smiling. Careful not to upset her, always agreeing with her opinions. They toadied up to her well and proper. An inch away from grovelling.
And, I found out the rumours about the gun were true. Ziuzza would come and bake bread and cakes at my grandmother’s house because of the enormous stone oven in the garden. I helped carry wood to keep the flames alive. Did my bit. One day the sisters made some Sicilian cakes called cuddureddi, meaning: ‘little ropes.’ They rolled the dough with their bare hands, into thick round lengths in the semblance of snakes. Using a sharp knife, they then sliced the snake-shape in half, longways, spread the lower half of the butchered snake with home-made fig jam. They put the snake together again, slashed it into chunks. Then the chunks were dealt with one-by-one and manipulated into little ropes by pinching them forcefully into shape with their nimble fingers.
As Ziuzza bent over to wipe her mouth on the corner of her pinafore, I caught a glimpse of her gun. I was sitting at the table sprinkling the first trayful of cuddureddi with sugar. No doubt about it. It was there in Ziuzza’s big inside pocket of her pinafore. While I was looking at the bulge, she caught me out. We exchanged glances, then our eyes locked. She narrowed her hooded eyelids into slits and crunched up her face. I blinked a few times, then looked around for some more wood to replenish the oven, grabbed a few logs and vanished into the garden.
After she received a sickening threat, Rocco’s bloodied paws were posted to her in a box, she, like her dog, came to a violent end. Ziuzza was shot in her back, in broad daylight, by someone riding by on a Vespa. People with line of sight, from their windows to the body, hurried to close their shutters. Nobody saw who it was. Nobody heard the gunshots, though the road was a main artery from one end of The Village to the other. And nobody called a doctor. It would be taking sides. Which you certainly didn’t want to do. Added to that was the fact that Ziuzza at that moment was on the losing side. She was left to bleed to death in the road like an animal. It wasn’t until the dustcart came round that they removed her body because it couldn’t get by. But nobody commented, it was as if they were removing a big piece of rubbish. It was nothing to them. But instead of throwing it away, they took the body to her home. Nobody was in. So they brought it to my grandmother’s house instead.
This was the lowest point in our family’s history. With time, though, Ziuzza managed to triumph through her son, Old Cushi, who began the escalation. And, later, her grandson, Young Cushi, completed it by becoming the undisputed boss of our village, of the region, and beyond. But the transition was not easy. A bloody feud ensued. Lives were lost on both sides. Some might know who Ziuzza’s enemies were. I didn’t get an inkling. Most of the information I came across was from listening to what the grown-ups in our family were saying. And they never mentioned her rivals by name. Some faceless entity fighting for control of the area.
This is just one of the episodes I remember from our holidays in Sicily. There are many more. Every three years, I went to Sicily with my parents. Those I remember were when I was nine, twelve, fifteen and eighteen. The last time we went my mother was ill and we travelled by plane. All the other times we travelled by train because poverty accompanied us wherever we went. I think we had some kind of subsidy from the Italian Consulate in the UK for the train fare. It was a three-day-two-night expedition. I remember setting out from Victoria Station carrying three days’ supply of food and wine with us. Especially stuck in my mind was the food: lasagne, roast chicken, cheese, loaves of bread. We’d have
plates, cutlery, glasses, and an assortment of towels with us. At every transfer all this baggage had to be carried on to the next stage. No wheels on cases in those days. Then we’d get the ferry from Dover to Calais, and so began the first long stretch through France, Switzerland, until we finally pulled into Milan Station. Where our connection to Sicily was after a seven-hour wait.
We used to sleep on the waiting-room benches, though it was daytime, until someone complained about the space we were taking up. The Italian northerners had a great disdain for southern Italians. They saw us as muck, rolled their eyes at us, insulted us openly calling us “terroni”, meaning: “those who haven’t evolved from the soil.” Even though I was young, I noticed it, and felt like a second category being – a child of a minor god. There was the civilised world and then there was us. My parents didn’t answer back. And it was probably the time when I came closest to feeling sorry for them. For us.
            The journey all the way down to the tip of Italy – the toe of the boot – was excruciating. The heat in the train unbearable. When there was water in the stinking toilets, we gave ourselves a cursory wipe with flannels. Sometimes we used water in bottles. Every time we stopped at a station, my father would ask people on the platforms to fill our bottles. Then came the crossing of the Strait of Messina. At Villa San Giovanni, the train was broken into fragments of three coaches and loaded into the dark belly of the ferry. My mother wouldn’t leave the train for fear of thieves taking our miserable belongings, until the ferry left mainland Italy. While my father and I went up on the deck to take in the view. But we had orders to go back down to the train as soon as the ferry left. Then I’d go up again with my mother. She became emotional when Sicily was well in sight. She would become ecstatic. Talk to any passengers who’d listen to her.
Some totally ignored her. She’d wave to people on passing ferries. Laughing and, surprisingly, being nice to me.
Reassembled together again, the train would crawl at a tortoise’s pace along the Sicilian one-track countryside railway, under the sweltering heat. Even peasants who were travelling within Sicily moved compartment when they got a whiff of us. Another event that excited my mother was when the train stopped at a level crossing. A man got out of his van, brought a crate of lemons to our train and started selling them to the passengers hanging out of the windows. My mother bought a big bag full and gave me one to suck saying it would quench my thirst. Another man came along selling white straw handbags with fringes, and she bought me one.
By the time we reached The Village our bags of food stank to high heaven and so did we.

Friday, November 2, 2018

‘Secret Agent Angel’ by Ray Sutherland


front cover final
Name: Ray Sutherland
Book Title: Secret Agent Angel
Find out moreAmazon / B&N / Kobo
An imaginative and intriguing tale, Secret Agent Angel is a story about how sometimes even angels have to act on faith.
About Secret Agent Angel:  Samuel, a secret agent angel on earth, has to improvise when things go badly wrong—and sometimes, Samuel has to prepare people for a purpose unknown even to him.  From the jungles of Vietnam with porters on the Ho Chi Minh trail, to Omaha truck drivers who befriend an abused boy, to wounded veterans who need to learn to let go of the past, to an accountant tempted to steal, Samuel works with fallible people, trying to get them to see their true strength.
But forty years of angelic missions come to a head when a fire at a snowbound truck stop leaves one man’s faith—and his life—hanging in the balance. The only hope for success rests with the spiritual power of the humans Samuel has tried to prepare for the struggle.  But have they gained enough spiritual strength and awareness?  And if not, does God have a Plan B??
An extraordinary story that will stay with readers long after the final page is turned, Secret Agent Angel is irresistible. Tender and touching, thoughtful and thought provoking, heartwarming and filled with heart, Secret Agent Angel is a powerful story about faith, healing, and the redemptive power of love.
EXCERPT
As always the first thing I knew arriving on Earth from Heaven was the terrible dislocation and confusion of re-entering the temporal stream. It doesn’t matter how many times you make the transition, it’s still a terrible wrench to your mind, almost violent in its effect. I spent a few seconds doing the normal head shaking and a shiver to get over the jolt and to get used to being flesh and blood again and then got down to business. At least this time I was undercover and didn’t have to wear a goofy robe and those wings that glow in the dark. They can be fun, but they’re also cumbersome and a real pain to keep clean.
This time, I looked like a reasonably normal human male, dressed in the regulation shirt and tie like that of a junior manager at a big department store chain or insurance agency. I was in the restroom of a convenience store close to the airport, so I hit the toilet handle to make it seem like I was in there for the normal reason and stepped out. I bought a honey bun, a chocolate bar, and the largest cup they had of orange soda because one thing I envy of you humans is eating and drinking. The Boss sure did a good job when he created that and I always take advantage of it when I’m here to earth.
I come here to Earth pretty regularly. My name is Samuel. I’m an angel.
I sat down at one of the small booths in the store and looked out the window as I ate and drank and waited for my subject to show up. I had timed it right and had just finished the honey bun and half the soda when his car went by, headed home after work, with his three year old daughter in the car seat in the back. I dropped the wrappers in the trash and headed to the car which was waiting for me in the furthest parking place. It started right up which is always a bit of a relief when dealing with a car I’ve never seen before. We’ve got good people doing these things, but sometimes the Boss likes to pull surprises even on us. I remember once when I worked in the fifteenth century in Yemen, I got stuck with a donkey with no training, and that caused me to get stranded in a tiny village where I wound up staying with the local Jacobite priest who had been having a faith crisis. The next morning, he had tried to help me teach the donkey manners while his wife supervised. We were having a conversation about his crisis during a break necessitated by the donkey winning a round, and his wife had exasperatedly broken in with, “You won’t get over this unless you get hit with a sign from Heaven!” Just then the donkey let loose with a kick which sent the priest flying, fortunately with no serious damage to anything other than his dignity. That made him laugh and say that very much like the story of Balaam, the Boss had again spoken through a donkey. That didn’t fix his faith but it seemed to give him the boost he needed and he went on to be a faithful leader in the Yemenite church, doubts and all.
I cut off that line of thought and got back to the business of following my subject. We didn’t have far to go, the store I’d picked to start from was only about a mile from his house and I wasn’t sure he wouldn’t stop in for gas or a loaf of bread. Today though, he went straight home, no stops and without any apparent glances in the mirror, even though a look in his mirror would have shown him a rather dark and nasty trail of smoke coming from his exhaust pipe.
As planned, the last stoplight before his final turn into their subdivision caught him and I pulled up next to him and got a good look. He looked exactly like what he was: a junior level management flunky trying to get on the fast track, with ambitions to reach high and talent to match. But today he looked more than harried and rushed at work, he looked troubled and uncertain. His mind was clearly somewhere else because he didn’t notice the light turn green until the driver behind honked. That let me get in ahead of him and slow down so he had to pass me and I got a good look at the girl, too. Amanda was her name and she was a star pupil at Miss Emmy’s Day Care Center and–of course-spoiled rotten by both parents and all four grandparents and two step-grandparents. She had the sweet look that all three year old girls have, even when they’re starving in the middle of a plague. I’ve seen that, too, and I screamed and yelled at the Boss to let me fix some things but got the usual answer.
Everything was just what I expected. That was no surprise since I watched them before I came over, but it was good to confirm it because, as you can imagine–or maybe not-things look very different when you’re on this side and limited to time and space.
Preliminary recon done, I turned off the main road a block before they did and headed to the big department store in the mall where the wife would be finishing her shift as cosmetics saleslady. They had about decided that she should quit that job since his last promotion and she was thinking about going back to college, hoping to study art and either be an artist or at least to teach in a high school. But her pay, little as it was, helped quite a bit and she was nervous about trying to do without it.
I parked in the closest spot, not very close. I wish the Boss would fix that like He fixed the traffic light but that’s one of his inscrutable ways. It’s not like I need the exercise since I’m usually a perfect physical specimen when I come over in human form.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Taking Control: Rick's Story by Morgan Malone


Title: TAKING CONTROL: RICK’S STORY
Author: Morgan Malone
Publisher: Independent
Pages: 170
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Summer on the Jersey Shore and all Rick Sheridan wants is some solitude at his beach house. Then he spots a lean, leggy blonde coming out of the surf and his plans are shot to hell. And the dangerous looking knife strapped to her arm tells him this is no damsel in distress. As a not-so retired Marine, at 51, Rick’s learned that nothing is for certain, plans can spin out of control and shit happens.

Wounded and weary from one too many wars, Britt Capshaw thought a summer at the Shore, hanging out in her family’s beach cottage, would help her heal. And figure out what to do with the rest of her life. Out of the military, disillusioned and distrustful of any two-legged male, Britt’s one love is Alex, the yellow Labrador retriever she rescued from Afghanistan.

Rick and Britt are immediately attracted to one another, but after years in combat, they are wary of letting down their guard, of giving up control. The summer heats up and fireworks are flying between them even after the Fourth of July. But, ghosts from their pasts haunt them and finally bring them face to face with some dark secrets that may destroy the fragile trust they’ve built.

Can Britt trust Rick with her dangerous past? Will Rick be able to let go of the rigid control he needs to keep Britt and himself safe from more heartbreak? These two brave souls fight against surrendering their hearts and finally finding love. Who will win?

ORDER YOUR COPY:

Amazon



Chapter One
The tang of the salt air hit Rick before he saw or even heard the Atlantic Ocean. He rolled down the window of his battered green Jeep and took a deep, cleansing breath. A calm he hadn’t felt in months began to spread through him—almost, but not quite, reaching his troubled soul. Nine months since he had been down the Shore. Nine months of running away, nine months of searching.
Springsteen was singing about glory days on the radio. Rick sang along for a few bars then abruptly switched off the radio. His glory days were long behind him. Not that any of my days were glory days. Hard to glorify any of the campaigns, missions and damn stupid forays the government had sent him on over the last twenty-five years. Mud, dust, dirt and blood comprised most of his memories. The silence in the Jeep was filled by the crashing of waves and the ocean breeze. Cool air flowed through the window, blowing away the heat and humidity of the July evening, washing some of the bitter regret from Rick’s face. He glanced in the rearview mirror before he put on his turn signal to leave the highway and cut toward the shore. The man who stared back at him looked weary and old. The highlights in his strawberry blond hair appeared golden in the light but he guessed it was probably just more gray hair. His dark tan seemed to emphasize the wrinkles that creased his forehead and fanned out from the corners of his eyes. Years of facing bright sun and fierce winds were embedded in those lines.
Zipping down Long Beach Boulevard, Rick caught a few glimpses of the water between the houses. The moon hung low in the summer sky, casting a glittering path across the waves and brightening the road ahead of him. With a great sigh of relief, Rick turned down First Street, then pulled the dusty Jeep into the sand-covered drive of a three-story house facing the Atlantic. Built into the dune, the garage faced the street; access to the front of the house was up a flight of wooden stairs. Rick swung his long, jean-clad legs out of the Jeep. With dusty cowboy boots planted in the drifting beach sand, he paused for a moment. Home. Reaching into the back seat, he pulled a worn green canvas bag out and slung a leather computer case over his shoulder. Traveling light meant only one trip up the long flight of stairs to the ocean-facing deck. He paused by a loose brick to feel around under it for his spare key. Hmmm, not precisely where I left it the last time. What’s up?
Easing his gun from the small of his back, he climbed the deck stairs swiftly and silently. Rick left the duffel and briefcase on the edge of the deck, glanced briefly out at the beach before moving quickly to the French doors to his right. He tried the handle, but the door was locked. Shifting the gun to his left hand, he quietly unlocked the door. Nothing in the open-plan living and dining area, or in the kitchen appeared to be out of place. The space was neat and dust-free because he had called ahead so his cleaning service would prepare the cottage for him—including stocking the fridge and pantry. And wine rack, he noted, as he slipped silently through the room and up the stairs to the second floor. A quick search of the two bedrooms and bathrooms on the upper level revealed nothing and no one.
Still puzzled, with the pistol still in his hand, Rick went back down to the main floor. As he stepped into the living room, he saw a small mahogany box on the couch, weighing down a sheet of folded grey paper. He recognized the box. He had sent enough of them to grieving parents and spouses. Purple Heart. Kat.
A wave of regret swept through him, tugging at a heart he frequently maintained had lost any ability to feel. But, he had come close almost a year ago and his brush with the beautiful and brilliant redhead had sent him running away from the inevitable pain and disappointment he knew he would cause her.
I guess she took me up on my offer. His last gift to her had been flowers and a note telling her to use the cottage while he was away, advising he probably would not return until the Fourth of July. The Fourth was hours away, but for a moment he was transported back to the autumn when he had almost fallen in love with the gutsy widow of a JAG soldier who had died in Iraq ten years earlier. A lawyer who had been blown apart by an IED—like so many men Rick had known in the past decade. A fate Rick had narrowly escaped on too many occasions. I’ve dodged the bullet so many times. My luck must be damn close to running out. Or it should be.
He stared at the medal receptacle and message for several minutes. Then, sighing and squaring his shoulders, he sat down on the sofa and eased the short letter out from under the gift Kat had left him. His hands were shaking as he unfolded the heavy grey stationery. The unshed tears in his eyes blurred the bold handwriting.

To Rick. For gallant service above and beyond the call of duty, in honor of all your scars—seen and unseen—this medal is yours. You are an officer and a gentleman—and I will never forget you. Kat

Rick opened the box. Damn it, Kat. You still know how to get to me. Inside, resting on velvet, as he knew it would be, was a Purple Heart. Awarded to Kat’s late husband posthumously, delivered to Kat by some unremembered officer, accepted with tears and a tremulous smile. And a vacant, sad face that said without words, “What good is this? How will I live without him? I don’t want a medal, I want my husband back. But I will take this in his honor and I will hate it and the war that did this to us. And you for being the bearer of this final reminder of how much I have lost.” Rick knew. He had delivered such medals to grieving widows, sorrow-stricken mothers, and bereft fathers. Until the day, long ago, when he had gone silent, had disappeared into the secret society of warriors who went unmentioned, unnoticed and with nothing but a helmet sitting on a pile of stones to mark their passing.
For the first time in many years, Rick hung his head and wept.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Scene of the Crime by Jennifer Chase

Title: SCENE OF THE CRIME (Book 2 of Chip Palmer Forensic Mystery Series)
Author: Jennifer Chase
Publisher: JEC Press
Pages: 300
Genre: Mystery Suspense

BOOK BLURB:
A calculating cold-blooded predator closes in…

When a community has barely recovered from a ruthless serial killer six months earlier; now two more horrifying murders hit the radar again. It leaves police burdened with two of the most shockingly contaminated crime scenes ever documented in California’s law enforcement history. The Slayer works behind the scenes as a sinister puppet master, precisely pulling the strings, taunting the police without leaving any viable evidence, and orchestrating his killer hit squads.

The sheriff and district attorney bring in the best investigators. Reunited again, Dr. Chip Palmer, a reclusive forensic expert, joins DA Inspector Kate Rawlins to sort through the crime scene aftermath in search of the truth—all without a probable suspect or a solid motive. Complicating the investigation—sparks reignite between the two.

Ratcheting up the suspense, Chip suffers a nasty fall hitting his head, impairing his perception and giving him a mind-blowing ability for specific detailed recall. Palmer and Rawlins assemble an unusual team including a rookie detective, a forensic supervisor, and an ex-military operative turned bodyguard. After one of their own is kidnapped and the investigation is taken over by the FBI, the now rogue team must pull together their own resources—alone—with a killer waiting to take each one of them out. Scene of the Crime takes no prisoners and leaves everyone fighting to stay alive.

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Amazon



Chapter 1

NOTHING CAPTURED HIS ATTENTION. IT wasn’t as if he wasn’t looking for anything specific or that he didn’t care about anything, but everything became like white noise. Looking down, he spotted a couple squashed beer cans, which had resulted from the constant compression of car tires repeatedly running over them. Now they lay in the gutter unnoticed—as discarded litter. Out of boredom, he kicked the aluminum pancakes with his worn out running shoes. The compressed disks clattered a ways before landing back in a different part of the same gutter, just as his life.
Roger Case was in one of those moods where everything seemed futile. It was a time when his temperament plummeted; he entertained the spirit of defeat, which was becoming more common these days. His concentration slipped farther into the dwindling mindset of drugs and crime to the point of mania. Rationalizing his motives, he preferred to enact self-medication.
He needed something strong to take away his thoughts of negativity. The repetitive movements of his hands and arms worsened. He wanted anything that would take away his fears, his depression, and his unrelenting obsession for the next quick fix. Roger knew that even when he felt the most empowering high that there was a high price to pay—and it was predictable and inevitable—the hard, downward crash.
Roger hadn’t always been teetering on that slippery slope, dangling over the life of crime; in fact, he still remembered when things were normal and even mundane. He grew up in a typical middle class family with his mom and dad, along with his older brother and sister. Reflecting on those memories now, he would trade just about anything to have those times back.
Now he waited with anticipation for his contact. It was going to make everything better—at least for a while. He convinced himself that just a little bit of crystal meth would help him get back on track—to see things clearly again. It wasn’t as if he was a full-blown addict, he just needed something to help motivate and push him in the right direction.
He heard a hollow scraping noise and stopped to listen. Standing quietly, still straining to hear, but that sound never repeated. He looked around. Curious. The sound seemed to resonate in his head instead of around the street. Upon further inspection, he realized it came from inside the cement structure.
The old water treatment plant had been decommissioned by the county some time ago, now outdated, and was nothing more than an eyesore gathering the grime and deteriorating aspects of time gone by. Something loomed in Roger’s vision and waited in darkness—he strained his eyes looking into the long structure that seemed to lead to nowhere.
Maybe his connection made a change of plans and the meeting place was at the cement sinew, and out of sight from any onlookers, or cops happening by on their route. It was possible. At this point in Roger’s life, anything was possible.
Roger contemplated his options for a moment and then decided to check it out. He turned toward the water treatment plant and headed inside. The first thing he noticed was the temperature difference—cold and damp compared to the warmer street areas.
He slowed his pace, unsure if he should call out or announce his presence. Fidgeting nonstop with his hands, pressing his fingers tighter and then releasing them, Roger moved farther into the tunnel.
A shuffling sound came from the other end.
“Hello?” he finally said, his voice weak and tinny which made him unconsciously twitch.
A muffled dragging sound was the responded answer. It resonated from the back-left area.
“Hey, I don’t have time for this… you either want the money or not.” He tried to sound tough but his nerves were frayed. It wasn’t something he was used to feeling. In fact, Roger couldn’t remember the last time he felt scared, frustrated, angry or anxious.
The damp cement tunnel seemed to pull him closer to the heart of it—into the bowels of no return. Instead of turning around and leaving, Roger slowly moved deeper into the cavern. It was as if someone or something else had control over his body. His insatiable curiosity had put him in troubling situations throughout his life. It contributed to him getting into deep trouble with a growing rap sheet to prove it.
Most memories had a calming effect on Roger, which had initiated his fidgeting to cease and his hesitation to subside. He didn’t understand many people’s fears and phobias, most things were just benign and didn’t amount to anything remotely scary or debilitating.
There it was again—a dragging sound followed by what he thought were hushed whispers.
Kids.
He would smack a kid if they jumped out at him or gave him any crap. Most likely, they were tagging gang symbols and looking to get into trouble.
There was the distinct sound of two people whispering to each other.
Roger tried to sharpen his vision but the darkness played tricks on him with weird shadow figure apparitions. He blinked his eyes quickly trying to concentrate on the area and where the kids were hiding; his eyes began to water from the extreme effort. Wiping away the aggravated tears, Roger felt his surroundings close in tightly around him as his perception changed. The darkness seemed to give a strange rippled effect.
The voices became louder. There was nothing sinister about the voices, but they were speaking faster with more of an urgent tone.
“Hey, you little maggots, I know you’re here,” stated Roger.
He stopped and stood still.                                                         
The darkness still loomed around him, but there was a quietness that overcame him.
A brief hundredth of a second, a peculiar whizzing noise filled Roger’s ears and then a brutal blow struck his head and knocked him off his feet. With a ringing in his head and a groggy consciousness, he tried to sit up but more savage blows pummeled his body. It sounded as if a tree splintered just before it fell in the forest. His breath caught in his lungs. Everything went dark.
The anonymous whispers stopped.
All buzzing in his ears stopped.
Roger Case’s heart stopped too.


Monday, October 8, 2018

Honululu Heat, by Rosemary and Larry Mild


9780990547235-Cover FINAL.indd
Honolulu Heat, Between the Mountains and the Great Sea
By Rosemary and Larry Mild
(ISBN 978-0-9905472-3-5, Trade Paper and e-Book, 298 pages, $14.95)
Find out more on Amazon
Honolulu Heat, Between the Mountains and the Great Sea—the long-awaited sequel to Cry Ohana—brings back the same Hawaii families that readers so warmly embraced. They confront fierce torments, take on exotic challenges, and find new loves.
Leilani and Alex Wong anguish over son Noah, an idealistic teenager who teeters on both sides of the law. He meets Nina Portfia, his dream girl, and they unwittingly share horrific secrets. Facing a murder charge, Noah flees and finds himself immersed in a bloody feud between a Chinatown protection racketeer and a crimeland don who, ironically, is Nina’s father.
Violence targets innocent real estate agents, a Porsche Boxster Spyder, a stolen locket, a petty thief, and an odd pair on a freighter to Southeast Asia. Two mob leaders and the police are pursuing Noah. Torn between loyalty and betrayal, only the boy can unlock his own freedom and bring peace to his family—and Honolulu’s Chinatown.
Chapter 1
Wind and Water
MAN AND NATURE coexist in a not-so-delicate balance, each pushing, and more often punishing, the other. Beautiful, brilliant, respectful in one moment. Violent, vengeful, destructive in the next. The forces engage and recede. A victor emerges in the ongoing skirmish and then relinquishes the laurels——so true on the tiny Garden Isle of Kauai in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The moment is 11:34 a.m. on the eleventh of September 1992, a Friday.
Alex Wong, an accountant in his early thirties, entered a few more numbers on the keyboard in his home office. But he couldn’t focus on his client’s quarterly fiscal report. His usual pragmatic head just wasn’t in it today. The radio lulled him with Hawaiian slack-key guitar melodies. He leaned back in his swivel chair. Ah, the joy of working in T-shirt and shorts. Gazing out the picture window opposite his desk, he drank in nature at her most seductive. The ocean lay peaceful with nary a whitecap in sight. The sun glared brazenly. Malia, in her baby bikini, sat under a striped umbrella next to Noah, a neighbor’s son. With shovels and pails, the two-year-olds wallowed joyously in the glistening sand. Leilani, in a broad sun hat, sat in a beach chair, dividing her watchful eye between the toddlers and the half-finished seascape on her canvas. The oils were drying quickly in the late-morning heat.
Alex breathed deeply. It doesn’t get any better than this.
At 11:40 a.m., the guitar music stopped in mid-chord. A female voice announced: ‘‘This is a hurricane alert from the National Weather Service. Hurricane Iniki is currently 160 miles south and
80 miles east of Honolulu with winds up to 135 miles per hour. On its present northwesterly track, it is now likely that the main force of the storm will miss the island of Oahu and the islands of Kauai and Niihau. However, the storm’s path is unpredictable. You are advised to secure whatever you can outdoors, then stay indoors, away from outside walls, and particularly, away from windows and glass doors. The storm center is moving at 100 miles per hour. Its track is constantly shifting and could swing north at any time—–onto a collision course with Kauai. Be aware, this Category Four storm is still gathering strength. Stay tuned for further updates.’’
Alex stopped listening. He shut down the computer and placed the monitor face-down on the floor. Sliding bare feet into his size-thirteen sneakers, he hurried out of the house, striding fast to the beach.
Halting squarely in front of his wife, he announced: ‘‘Lani! We need to get the children inside. Now! I just heard on the radio that Hurricane Iniki may be headed our way. We need to get everything inside or else tied down.’’
Leilani, a tawny-skinned Hawaiian with lush dark hair, didn’t even look up. ‘‘Not to worry, Alex.’’ She applied a brush stroke of cobalt green. ‘‘Right after breakfast the TV said the storm was going to pass between Molokai and Oahu and we might just see a little rain.’’
‘‘All that’s changed now,’’ Alex said. ‘‘The hurricane’s eye is moving fast. It could be only a matter of hours before it hits here.’’ ‘‘Alex, the sky is clear blue. Look! Oh, maybe a few more
clouds over that way. So what? I have to finish this. I’m entering it in a juried show next week.’’
‘‘Lani, why are you being so stubborn? Can’t we at least take Noah home?’’
‘‘There’s nobody home. I told Ilima I’d watch him for the day. They went to a house-warming party up in Princeville.’’ She dabbed a bit of silver-gray over a whitecap.
A rare wave of anger crossed Alex’s unshaven face. ‘‘Damn it, Lani, your painting can wait.’’
Scooping up the toddlers, one in each arm, he carried them squirming into the house. He set them down on Malia’s throw rug on the mauka, mountain, side of her bedroom and drew the Hello Kitty drapes shut. Dragging her twin-size mattress onto the floor, he hefted the two children onto it. They gave him a puzzled look, then decided they must be playing a game, and bounced up and down on the soft mattress.
Leilani was about to mix fresh colors, but paused to reflect. It’s not like Alex to be so short-tempered. As if in response, the incoming clouds began to smother the beach with darkness, night descending in midday. She felt a sudden chill. Sharp gusts whipped up the sand, stinging her ample bare thighs. She gathered up her painting paraphernalia and hurried into the house.
When she appeared in the bedroom doorway, Alex looked up, his face grim. ‘‘It’s about time. Give me a hand with the dresser.’’ He stuck a large folded soji screen in front of the window, and the two of them pushed the dresser in front to hold the screen tight against the drapes. Lani gently laid Malia’s matching Hello Kitty comforter over the children; they had already tired of the jumping game and fallen asleep.
During the next hour, Leilani and Alex silently set to work. They crisscrossed masking tape on all the windows; filled empty milk jugs with water; stacked towels and blankets; brought out flashlights plus candles; and laid everything on the floor along one wall of Malia’s room. It was the safest room in the house, with only one window on an outside wall and that was now covered.
Out on the lanai, the steel sofa glider was too heavy to move. They flopped down on it to rest, both of them breathing hard, as much from tension as the physical effort of rushing around to secure things.
Leilani grabbed her husband’s upper arm. ‘‘Look how fast the clouds are moving. They’re coming straight at us.’’
They left the sliding door behind them open to hear the radio——just in time for a new report. ‘‘We interrupt this program… Attention! This is the latest update on Hurricane Iniki. The hurricane’s eye is headed directly toward the south shore of the island of Kauai at 120 miles per hour. Winds have increased to 145 miles per hour with pulsing gusts to 175.’’
The time was 12:42 p.m. Leilani shuddered. ‘‘The humidity is so heavy you could choke on it.’’
Alex eyed the two coconut palms out back and the Cook Island pine at the side of the house. ‘‘There isn’t a leaf or frond stirring out there, and it’s so darn quiet. Not good, eerie even. The calm before the storm.’’
The words barely out of his mouth, a furious gust bowed the two palms inland in deep deference to Laamaomao, the Hawaiian god of the winds. At 12:55 the humidity yielded to a brief drizzle, then a drenching downpour, sending the couple indoors. First checking on the children, who were still asleep, they watched the storm from the center of the living room. Alex drew a protective arm around his wife’s waist. The rain angled at their home from the south. Sand particles peppered the sliding glass doors with a plinking, piling up at floor level as though demanding to tunnel into the Wongs’ domain.
Alex dared not utter his one optimistic thought, as though saying it aloud might jinx them. They had chosen this sturdy little house soon after their wedding four years ago. The outer walls were cement block covered in stucco; the roof was solidly covered in blue ceramic tiles. Yeah, we just might weather this storm, he thought. Or not.
The wind roared and screeched and bellowed. They heard unfamiliar objects strike the house in a clatter of thuds, clinks, and clanks. Although sunset wasn’t due for almost six hours, darkness followed the storm’s intensity, enveloping them. They retreated to Malia’s bedroom. The toddlers slept on, indifferent. Holding hands, the parents leaned against each other as they sat on the box spring of Malia’s bed. Leilani had spread two blankets across the box springs to make the bed more comfortable.
The picture window in the office gave up first. They heard it implode. Flying shards resounded against the common wall between Malia’s room and the office. Plasterboard was no match for
the angry wind. The wall bowed ever so slightly, then a small crack appeared. Like a malicious living thing, the crack spread vertically a few inches, threatening, but somehow containing itself.
The bay window in the living room surrendered next, unleashing the cyclonic forces, toppling lamps and ripping Leilani’s framed paintings from their picture hooks. Shelves displaying her hand-built ceramics trembled. Glazed pots in glowing colors, comical dogs, cats, and geckos turned into missiles, hurtled against the remaining walls and windows——until there were no windows and no art works left to be destroyed.
Alex and Leilani knew from the clatter in the kitchen, beyond the opposite wall, that the winds had attacked from yet another direction——sounds of cabinet doors slamming open against their frames. Thumps and thuds as the wind became a giant sweeping hand across the countertops, littering the floor.
They heard an elongated groan ending in a loud thump outside. Leilani screamed as she sensed it was the massive ironwood tree next to their driveway crashing down——hoping it wasn’t crunching her new Toyota Corolla. It was 2:05 p.m. The blunt force of the storm was upon them.
Another ten minutes passed and the electricity failed. Alex lit one of the candles and heated its opposite end with the match, so it would stick to the bottom of a water glass. This he set atop the dresser and sank back down on the bed next to his wife. He took her hand in his and squeezed it whenever he sensed her quivering responses to what they were hearing. An ear-splitting crash resounded at the opposite end of the house, followed by the clatter of loosened roof tiles falling onto the cement driveway for several seconds afterward. She began to shake. Even the candlelight shivered, creating eerie dancing shadows in the room.
‘‘The avocado tree must have fallen on the master bedroom side of the house,’’ he calmly offered, so as not to upset Leilani.
‘‘Mommy, mommy!’’ The wailing, frantic cry jolted them. Noah thrashed about on the mattress in the middle of the floor. ‘‘I want my mommy!’’ he screamed.
‘‘Maybe the crashing tree woke him,’’ said Leilani.
Alex picked Noah up, cradling him. ‘‘You’ll see Mommy soon,’’ he said in a soothing voice. But the little boy refused to be comforted. His chubby body heaved and struggled as he sobbed. Alex steadfastly kept rocking, until Noah, exhausted from his own protests, nuzzled silently against Alex’s chest.
Leilani’s watch said 3:50 when Malia awoke with a whine and toddled over to her mother, arms raised, to be picked up. Leilani pulled her in and held her close, not able to speak for fear her own anxiety would be contagious and frighten her baby girl.
Minutes later the ruckus and howling winds outside the house ceased, and all they could hear was the persistent beat of the rain. Then, surprisingly, even that disappeared. It was as though nature had flipped a switch and turned the storm off.
Is the storm over or are we merely stalled in the hurricane’s eye? Alex wondered. He had to venture a peek outside and see what was going on. He set Noah down on the mattress and handed him a stuffed teddy bear; the boy seemed content enough, at least for the moment. Selecting the one Maglite from the group of flashlights, he looked across at his wife.
‘‘All quiet. It must be the eye of the storm.’’ He cautiously opened the bedroom door and peeked out into the living room, strewn with sand and debris. He stepped out, closing the door behind him.
‘‘Be careful and don’t go too far from us,’’ Leilani called out to him.
Switching on the Maglite, Alex stepped into what had been their lovingly arranged and organized living room. The irony of it. Weak sunshine illuminated what now looked like a city dump, covered with wet sand and puddles of water. Pieces of Leilani’s artwork amassed and embedded against the inland wall; the two upholstered wing chairs on their sides; the TV set smashed on its belly; end tables overturned with legs broken. Huge shards of bay window glass stuck or lay everywhere.
Glancing through the void where the sliding doors should have been, Alex saw sunlight overhead, but black clouds still blanketed the sky elsewhere. The lanai no longer had its wood-slatted roof. The air was soundless with the exception of water dripping everywhere. They had certainly entered the eye of the storm. Feeling his way to the kitchen, his sneakers immediately met up with the storm’s clutter. He pushed all the cabinet doors shut, but not before noting that boxes and cans of food inside somehow had stayed in place; and luckily, their wooden table had remained upright. From the kitchen he crossed the living room to inspect the master bedroom. Their tall, full avocado tree had indeed fallen onto the roof of that room, denting and slightly caving the roof in, but not destroying it.
The hesitant patch of sunlight now surrendered to a shroud of blackness like a moonless nightfall. A distant whine pierced the heavy air once more and grew louder. Palm trees hunched in defeat, their fronds pointing stiffly in unison. Smaller objects were flying again.
Leilani, making sure the toddlers were still asleep, anxiously opened the bedroom door and stepped out. Her brain stubbornly refused to accept the destruction in the living room. A returning Alex wrapped his arm around her shoulders in empty reassurance. He shuffled Leilani back into Malia’s room, shutting the door behind them. Just as they slumped down beside each other on the box spring, her dark eyes filled with tears. He gave her an extra squeeze.
Alex somehow knew this terrible storm wasn’t finished.
Just then, Noah rolled onto his side and moaned. Husband and wife looked at each other, sharing the same feeling of alarm. Where are Noah’s parents? Are they safe? Did the hurricane hit Princeville?
Alex knew it might be days before the electricity was restored. He stood and walked to check if the door was securely closed. When he turned around Leilani was standing and crying.
‘‘Why now?’’ she sobbed, her hands in motion. ‘‘Why, when everything was going our way? Must we always live in fear?
What have we done to anger the gods so much?’’
Alex acknowledged that there were no rational replies to such questions——and he certainly didn’t have to answer to the Hawaiian gods. His wife’s repeated reference to these gods was a cultural, traditional obsession stemming from her grandmother, Tutu Eme, and not religious in nature. But he felt obligated to give comfort anyway. He wrapped his arms around her and drew her close once more. Alex Wong, the son of a Japanese mother and Chinese father, was neither superstitious nor religious.
The storm howled and battered away, but there was yet another noise, a repeated and distinctive one.
‘‘Listen, Alex! Someone’s pounding on our front door,’’ said Leilani, slipping out of his embrace and putting her ear to the wall.
‘‘I’ll take a look. Push the door shut after me.’’ He pulled the door ajar and bent almost backward to stay upright against the whirling wind. He labored through the living room, kicking away obstacles that had once made their house a home. He was able to hear an urgent voice through the missing stained-glass window that Leilani had created near the top of their door.
‘‘Please, Alex. Let us in, for God’s sake. We’ve lost our whole roof and need shelter. We’re soaking wet.’’
Alex recognized his neighbor from across the road. ‘‘Just a minute, Jesse, while I get this open.’’ It took all his strength pulling and Jesse pushing to get the front door open. Ellie Duran slipped through first, carrying their swaddled four-month-old infant. As soon as Jesse followed her inside, they allowed the door to slam shut again.
‘‘Wait! Be careful! The power’s out,’’ Alex warned. He switched on his Maglite, concentrating the beam on the debriscovered floor toward Malia’s room. Hunching forward into the wind, he followed them and called to Leilani, ‘‘It’s me and the Durans. They’re going to stay with us.’’
Once everyone was inside, Leilani handed them towels and took the baby from Ellie so the family could dry off. Frightened by the darkness, too confused to babble, Malia and Noah sat wideeyed on the mattress and watched the grownups.
‘‘You folks have one of the only houses in sight with a roof overhead,’’ Jesse said. His voice trembled. ‘‘What a disaster outside.’’ He described the impassable roads strewn with downed trees, abandoned cars, and beach sand piled up in little dunes. ‘‘The Kaleos’ house next door was hit bad, but looks like it survived——sort of.’’
‘‘What about our cars?’’ asked Leilani. ‘‘Did you see what happened?’’
‘‘Sorry Lani, your Corolla is a total loss, but the Cherokee appears to be intact.’’
Alex braved a foray across the living room to the master bedroom to bring back dry clothes——pants, T-shirts, and underwear——for the Durans, with hand towels to turn into diapers.
The howling slowly dissipated. The drenching, driving rains eased, then ceased altogether. It was 7:30 p.m. The storm had finally passed over them. Ellie stayed with the children while the others ventured out to inspect the rest of the house. In the kitchen, Alex worked in the beam of his Maglite.
He found a broom and dustpan and swept up the smashed glass coffeepot and other debris. Next, he lifted the dented toaster-oven and small microwave oven back up to the counter.
The master bedroom had a hole in that corner of the roof where the tree had fallen, but the tree still covered much of the opening. In fact, their king-sized mattress had stayed dry, and much of the bedroom furniture was still intact. But there was no guarantee that the roof wouldn’t cave in entirely from the tree’s sheer weight. Nothing in the living room or dining room appeared salvageable.
‘‘I’ve got a small portable gasoline generator,’’ said Jesse, ‘‘and some heavy-duty tarps in what’s left of my tool shed. Maybe we can at least salvage the food in both our fridges and have a little electricity left over for some light. The tarps can cover some of the holes here. Problem is, they’re probably under a mess of debris right now. Are you willing to tackle this with me?’’
‘‘Let’s go!’’ said Alex.’’ He actually felt buoyed up with the relief of having something useful to do.
The two men had to slog through muddy ponds and climb over tree limbs and house parts just to get to Jesse’s property. There was no sign of the Durans’ roof. The men skirted the three remaining house walls still standing. They found the roof of the tool shed wedged between two trees, with the shed’s corrugated steel walls collapsed inward. Using a pole as a lever, they managed to slide the steel walls out of the way. They found the tarps first and searched for the portable generator next. At last they exposed its red metal exterior.
The generator was too heavy to lift. Even in its carriage it couldn’t be moved; the carriage wheels were too small to be of any use without bogging down in the mud. Jesse made a sled out of a flat piece of steel and some heavy cord. With huge effort and a lot of muscle, they slid the generator onto the makeshift sled and got the rig moving. Jesse was able to retrieve an axe and a saw from the tool shed he’d uncovered earlier. They made quick work of a tree branch that barred their way. The two men dragged the sled across the road to the window outside the Wong kitchen.
Jesse removed the gas cap and discovered the tank empty. No surprise. Alex came to the rescue. He kept a siphon in the trunk of his Jeep Cherokee, along with a gas can. When they were ready to start the generator, Leilani tossed the end of an extension cord out the kitchen window. Alex turned the key. The engine choked. He tried the starter cord. After a dozen hopeless pulls, he surrendered the job to stronger Jesse. Five pulls later, the generator engine took hold. Jesse adjusted the choke and throttle until it ran smoothly. Alex plugged in the extension chord and immediately Leilani yelled out, ‘‘The fridge is running. We’ve got lights! Let’s see if we can rustle up some food.’’
The men did a high five, and Jesse said, ‘‘Let’s cover the hole in your master bedroom roof next, pal, then I’ll be ready to call it quits for the night.’’ Hacking away at two large roots, the avocado tree soon slipped away from the roof and fell to the ground.
Using a tree branch, they poled up and draped one of the tarps over a corner of the bedroom roof. Standing on the front window sill, Alex stapled the tarp to a sloping beam and repeated the stapling from the window on the side of the house.
The families huddled up to the kitchen table, children on laps, Ellie nursing the baby. At 9 p.m. they devoured left-over chicken with rice and wilted, warmish salad.
But Leilani was merely keeping up a brave front. She’d already made up her mind. No matter how much repairing and rebuilding they could do to their dear little house, it would never be enough. She wasn’t going to live each day in anguished suspense, fearing another hurricane. She knew that every time high winds or heavy rain assaulted their vulnerable island, she would feel a sense of doom——that maybe next time they wouldn’t be so lucky. She hadn’t graduated with honors from the University of California at Berkeley to spend her life under a cloud of anxiety——from weather they couldn’t control or vengeful gods they couldn’t appease.
She’d wait a few days to break that news to Alex. For sure, they would go back to Oahu. Of course, they’d wait for little Noah’s parents. Leilani’s eyes welled up with fresh tears. He was still whimpering for his mommy.