Thursday, April 25, 2019

Chapter Reveal: Jordan, by Victoria Landis

Genre: Thriller
Author: Victoria Landis
Publisher: BookPainter Press, LLC
About the book:
When Petra Simmons and her brother, Andy, help a seemingly homeless young woman, their intended good deed immediately changes their lives forever. Within days, it’s clear that the woman, Jordan Crissman, is so much more than meets the eye. Jordan possesses an amazing ability – perhaps the most miraculous ability of all. Petra and Andy realize that, in the current world of viral social media, they must proceed with extreme caution. But how can they best employ the miracle without causing havoc? They plot a careful strategy. Despite their plans, word gets out too fast, and the world comes running – invading and overwhelming South Florida and bringing danger.
Television talking heads pontificate. Pundits opine. Some claim Jordan’s a messiah. Others insist she’s the devil. Massive crowds gather, demanding to see Jordan. Everyone wants her.
But there’s nowhere left to hide. Damaging and horrible rumors swirl. Protest groups march and riot. Mass hysteria reigns.
And people are dying.
About the Author:
Victoria Landis is a professional writer, editor, and artist. A 16-year member, and former board member, of Mystery Writers of America, she Co-Chaired the SleuthFest Writers Conference from 2015-2018.
She’s taught at SleuthFest, the Authors Academy at Murder on the Beach, and the Alvin Sherman Library at Nova Southeastern University.
Social Media Links:
Twitter: @VictoriaLandis1
Instagram: VLandisArtist
First Chapter
Sunday 6PM
Petra Simmons plucked the last truffle from the day’s sample tray and added it to the other chocolates in the white paper bag.  She handed it to Lettie Hillier, an old friend of Petra’s deceased parents.
     Lettie accepted it with a grin.  “Are you sure you kids are doing okay?”
     “I miss them.”  Andy, Petra’s younger brother, stepped toward them.
     “Losing them still hurts,” Petra said.  “But, yes.  We’re fine.”  She gestured to the bag.  “Open it.”
     It crinkled when Lettie unfolded the top and looked inside.  Laugh lines scrunched outward from her mouth when she smiled.  She winked at Petra.  “Chili-pepper-shaped?  That’s new.  Thanks, Punkin.”
     “You’re most welcome,” Petra said.  “They’re infused with cayenne.  Hope your husband enjoys them.”
     “If they escape being eaten on the drive home.  You kids take care, okay?”
     “Will do.”  Andy held the shop’s glass door open for Lettie, grinned at her as she exited, then locked it.
     Pushing her palms against her temples, Petra sighed.
     The building shuddered slightly for a half-second.
     Petra grabbed the counter.  “Did you feel that?”
     “Yeah.”  He pointed skyward.  “Weird.  Military jet going by?  A sonic boom, maybe?”
     “I didn’t hear any boom.”
     “Me, either.  Maybe it was too far away.  Wasn’t very strong.”  He ambled toward her.  “We don’t get earthquakes.”  With a dramatic flourish, he took a wide stance and stretched his arms outward, as if waiting for the building to shake.  After a few seconds, he went back to a normal stand.  “I think we’re good here.  Why do you give Mrs. Hillier free chocolates?”
     “Because she’s been so kind to us since Mom and Dad died, and she sends all her friends to me for their special occasions.  At first, she argued with me about the freebies.  I’m far more stubborn than she knew, and I won.  So now she calls herself my taste tester.”    She wiped her brow and surveyed the mess around the seating area of three small round tables by the front windows.  “Wow.  That was one hell of a last minute rush, huh?”  Grabbing the cleaning spray and sponge, she realized he hadn’t responded and turned.  “Andy?”
     He’d returned to the door, his back to her.  “There’s a strange chick on the plaza freaking everybody out.  See?  They’re all moving away.”
     Petra came from behind the counter and stood beside him.
     A disheveled woman, her brown hair a rodent’s nest, sat staring at the sky, on the bench ledge of the hexagonal fountain twenty feet from Petra’s Kingdom of Chocolate shop.  She wore a red T-shirt and blue jeans−both ripped and stained.  Her entire body shook for several seconds, then she lowered her head.
     The people nearest her shuffled further down the bench.  A man with two toddlers in tow hustled them off the plaza.
     “Really, I can’t work up much interest,” Petra said.  “Another homeless person.  It’s sad, but too bad.”
     “No,” Andy said.  “There’s something different about her.”
     Andy often misjudged situations and people.  Petra sighed.  “I don’t think so.  She’s only another hard luck story.”
     “She’s pretty.”
     “No.  She’s not,” Petra said.
     “Look beyond the mess.  Come on, let’s see if we can help her.”
     “Please don’t.  I’m so tired.  I want to finish and go upstairs to relax.”
     Ignoring her, Andy unlocked the door and headed outside toward the woman.  He gestured for Petra to join him.
She shot a glance heavenward.  “God grant me patience.”  She ventured out.
     Reaching the homeless lady, Andy knelt to peer under the cascading hair.  “Are you okay?”
     The woman shook her head.
     Nearing her, Petra found her younger than she’d assumed.  Maybe thirty.  And she did have attractive features under the unkempt locks.
     “Do you need help?” Andy said.
     His angelic expression of compassion tugged at Petra’s heart.
     “Apparently.”  The woman chuckled and swept the hair from her face.
     Her voice also took Petra by surprise.  The one-word reply was enunciated in a clear, sophisticated tone.
     “What happened?” Andy asked.  “You look like you fell out of a tree.”
     She hesitated, then leveled her gaze at Petra.  “I really don’t know.  I can’t remember anything.  It’s all blank.”
     Her eyes were a golden brown, almost amber.  Unusual and striking.
     In her peripheral vision, Petra saw the three remaining people on the plaza, now sitting on an iron bench eating ice cream cones.
One of them pointed behind Andy and Petra, and the others’ eyes widened.
     Petra twisted to see a small red fox sniffing and making its way, inch by inch, toward them.  “Andy, very slowly, look behind us.  It’s an actual fox.  Where did that come from?”
     He turned.  “That’s strange.  Don’t make any sudden moves.  Maybe it’s rabid.”
     “No,” the disheveled woman said.  “He’s not.  He’s being friendly.”
     Petra glared at her.  But, in fact, the fox was sniffing its way closer to them as a curious dog would.  She didn’t like the oddity of it.  “I think we ought to go back inside.”
     “All right,” Andy said.  “Come with us, um . . . What’s your name?”
     “Wait a minute.”  Petra grabbed Andy’s arm and pulled him about ten feet away.
     The fox froze, then retreated a few yards.
     Its posture reminded Petra of a spooked cat with its fur standing on end.  Whispering, she said to Andy, “Are you nuts?  We’re not bringing this woman into my store.  It’s closing time.  I’m tired, and who the hell knows what kind of drug addict she could be?”
     “We can’t leave her out here.”
     “Sure we can.  We’ll call security, and they’ll take care of getting her to someone who will help.”
     “No.”  Andy gestured toward the woman.  “We should help.”  He went back.
     “You can be so infuriating sometimes, you know that?”  Unwilling to leave him alone with a possible lunatic, Petra joined him.
     The woman was touching a purplish mark on her left palm.  “I don’t blame you.  Look at me.”  She grinned and displayed her bruised arms.  “I’m a mess.”  Her eyes locked onto Petra’s.
     A strange comforting feeling about this woman enveloped Petra—as though she were with a long-lost friend.
     “Help me up?”  She kept her right arm in the air.
     Petra offered her a hand before Andy could.  “Come on.  Can you stand?”
     “We’ll find out.”  The woman gripped Petra’s hand and pulled herself up.  She twisted her torso.  “Okay.  Much better.  I was so dizzy when I woke up.”
     “Woke up?  Where?”  Petra’s fingers spasmed and felt suddenly warm.  The recurring fear that she’d inherited her father’s arthritis raced through her.
     “Right here.  On the edge of the fountain.  All I know is waking while sitting on it.”
     “Were you tired when you sat down?” Andy asked.  “Tired enough to fall asleep sitting upright on a concrete bench?”
     She gave him a blank stare, while seeming to ponder his question.
     “This is beyond strange,” Petra said.
     “I agree,” the woman said.  “I don’t like feeling this disoriented.”  She blinked.  “I’m sorry, I don’t know how I got here.”
     Petra’s resistance to her lessened.  To her amazement, she felt a growing urge to do as Andy suggested—help her.  “My name is Petra Simmons, and this is my brother, Andy.”
     “Hello.”  She pushed on and patted her legs, then her ribs.  “No broken bones, it seems.  I’m relatively unscathed.”
     “What’s your name?” Andy said.
     The woman’s mouth screwed up to one side.  “I haven’t a clue.”
     The feeling the stranger wasn’t a threat, and was, in fact, someone innocent, grew stronger.  “Tell you what.  I live on the second floor over the shops.”  Petra pointed behind her.  “See?  That bay window is in my living room.  Let us take you there.  You can get cleaned up, and I’ll lend you some clothes.”
     Andy gave her a shocked expression, then smiled.  “That’s a great idea.”  To the woman he said, “Don’t worry.  We’re good people.”
     She nodded.  “I know.”
     “And . . . how do you know?” Petra said.
     She shrugged.  “I don’t know.”
     It seemed the woman was thinking the same way as Petra.  Producing a key from the back pocket of her jeans, Petra handed it to Andy.  “Will you lock up, then come upstairs?  We can do the tally and cleaning later.  And bring my phone and purse, too?”
     Grinning, he took the key, pivoted, and strode to the shop.
     That startled the fox, but didn’t stop him from edging closer.
     A huge black blur swooped in, nipped the fox on the head, then settled on a nearby tree branch.
     The fox yelped and scrambled into the thicket of cocoa-plum shrubs at the edge of the plaza’s parking lot, now backlit by the transitioning oranges, reds, pinks, and lavenders of sunset.
     “Did you see that?” Petra glanced around.
     The three people finishing their ice cream cones nodded, looking dumbstruck.
     “I have never seen a fox out in the open like that.  Or a buzzard attacking a live animal.”  Petra spoke to the ice cream folks.  “That was a turkey vulture, wasn’t it?”
     One of them responded with a weak shrug.
     “Wow.  Freaky animal day.”  Petra gestured toward the alley between the two three-story buildings of the retail complex.  “The apartment entry is in that causeway.”
     They walked in silence to the entrance.  Petra used a passkey to unlock the residence lobby door, held it open for her, then pressed the elevator button.
     Petra studied her as they rode up one flight.  Long hair, in tangled waves, fell to her waist.  Her T-shirt had grass stains along with mud, as did her jeans.  She wore a ripped and frayed pair of canvas sneakers that Petra assumed were once white.
     The doors opened, and the women turned right, going to the end of the hall.
     “I was lucky enough to get an end unit,” Petra said while inserting her key.  “Lots of windows.”  They went inside.
     “It’s beautiful.”  The woman wandered around the combined living and dining space, stopping at the wide bay window facing the plaza and its fountain.  She gestured to the open kitchen and the granite island that separated it from the living area.  “There are four barstools.  Do other people live here with you?”
     “No.  I live alone.  My boyfriend is here a lot, though, and my brother stays fairly often.”  Petra walked to the short hall off the kitchen leading to the two bedrooms and a guest bathroom.  “I imagine you’re anxious to get that dirt off you.  You look like you’re around my size.  A six?”  She opened her bedroom door and went in.
     Another shrug.  “Guess we’ll find out.”  The woman leaned against the doorframe while Petra gathered some clothing for her.
     A stab of doubt hit Petra.  What was she doing inviting this complete stranger into her home?
     “You’re being so kind.  Thank you.”  The woman touched Petra’s hand before taking the neat pile, then entered the bathroom.
     In an instant, the negative thoughts disappeared—replaced by that comforting feeling again.  Petra shook her head to clear it.  “You’ll find everything you need either in the tall cabinet or in the drawers next to the sink.”
Petra was in the kitchen perusing the freezer when Andy came in.
     “How is the mystery girl?”  He tossed the shop key into the raku pottery bowl on the entry table and placed Petra’s purse on the counter.  “We left the store a mess, and I should have stayed to clean it, but I’m too curious about her.”
     “Still can’t remember her name.  She’s in the shower.”  Petra shut the freezer.  “I’ll order pizza.”  She grabbed her cell from her purse.  “But first, I’m calling Ben.”
     “Is he on duty tonight?”
     “Yes.”  When Ben picked up, she filled him in on the woman in her bathroom.
     “What’d he say?” Andy asked after she put the phone down.
     “It’s a slow Sunday night, so he’ll come over himself.”
     The bathroom door opened.  Her guest emerged, smelling of fresh flowers.  Clean, her skin was flawless.
     Andy let out a small gasp, and Petra knew he was smitten.  That was probably not good.
     The woman smiled and pulled at the black tank top.  “A little tight, but thank you so much.”  She held up a hairbrush.  “I couldn’t get all the knots out.  Would you mind trying?  It might be easier because you can see them.”  She came to stand in front of Petra, handed her the brush, and turned around.
     With an inward shrug, Petra accepted the brush and worked through the first of the tangles.  “My boyfriend is a Sheriff’s Deputy.  I’ve asked him to come over.  Maybe he’ll be able to help you.”

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Chapter reveal: Blood on the Chesapeake, by Randy Overbeck

Title: Blood on the Chesapeake
Author:  Randy Overbeck
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre:  ghost story/mystery
About the Book:
Blood on the Chesapeake—Wilshire, Maryland seems like the perfect shore town on the Chesapeake Bay—quiet, scenic, charming—and promises Darrell Henshaw a new start in life and a second chance at love. That is, until he learns the town hides an ugly secret. A thirty-year-old murder in the high school. And a frightening ghost stalking his new office. Burned by an earlier encounter with the spirit world—with the OCD scars to prove it—he does NOT want to get involved. But when the desperate ghost hounds him, Darrell concedes. Assisted by his new love, he follows a trail that leads to the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and even the Klu Klux Klan. Then, when two locals who try to help are murdered, Darrell is forced to decide if he’s willing to risk his life—and the life of the woman he loves—to expose the killers of a young man he never knew.
About the Author:  
Dr. Randy Overbeck is a writer, educator, researcher and speaker in much demand. During his three plus decades of educational experience, he has performed many of the roles depicted in his writing with responsibilities ranging from coach and yearbook advisor to principal and superintendent. His new ghost story/mystery, Blood on the Chesapeake, will be released on April 10, 2019 by The Wild Rose Press. As the title suggests, the novel is set on the famous Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, home to endless shorelines, incredible sunsets and some of the best sailing in the world. Blood is first in a new series of paranormal mysteries, The Haunted Shores Mysteries. Dr. Overbeck’s first novel, Leave No Child Behind, a thriller about the terrorist takeover of a Midwest high school and one teacher’s stand against the intruders, won the 2011 Silver Award for Thrillers from Dr. Overbeck is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and an active member of the literary community. You can follow him on Twitter @OverbeckRandy, friend him on Facebook at Author Randy Overbeck or check out his webpage,
Connect with Randy Overbeck on the Web:
Facebook: Author Randy Overbeck

Blood on the Chesapeake
August, 1998
The Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay
         “You see that widow’s walk up there, with the white railing and the cupola in the center? That’s where they say he died.”
The high school secretary, one Mrs. Harriet Sinclair, stood beside Darrell Henshaw on the cracked asphalt parking lot, her small, blue-veined hand pointing up to the third floor.
Darrell’s gaze crawled up the two floors of traditional red brick and landed on the white fencing of the widow’s walk. He’d noticed the unusual feature of the building when he arrived for the job interview two hours earlier.
Harriett’s high voice continued, “Years ago, a student, some poor young black kid took his life up there. Some history, huh?”
Surprised, Darrell looked at the secretary, who kept her gaze focused on the top floor. She was serious.
Darrell returned his glance to the widow’s walk. The brass-topped cupola shone green in the morning sun and below it, a bare-chested, young black man leaned against the fence, his hands dark smudges on the white railing. The youth stared down and met Darrell’s gaze. Even though Darrell couldn’t read the features on the face three floors up, he was mesmerized. Somehow, an overwhelming sense of sorrow and regret seemed to emanate from the young man and, for an instant, Darrell felt it pierce him. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on edge. He shivered and stared, unable to look away. As he peered up, the figure at the fence shimmered and then disappeared.
Oh, God, no, he thought, shaking his head, and turned to ask Harriet, but she changed the subject, rattling on about some of the less morbid history of the school. “That walk is famous, all right. There was the great piglet race up there and the famous protest streamers on the walk…”
But Darrell stopped listening. He shook his head. He hadn’t felt that…that sensation for years. Ten years. A decade earlier, he’d had a confrontation with another ghost and it had not gone well. It still haunted him and he was not anxious for another visit from the spirit world.
Then, something Harriet was saying registered. “That window up there to the right, that’ll be your office.”
He struggled to find his voice. “My office?”
“At least, if Mr. Douglass likes what he hears when he calls your references.” She winked at him, one gray eyebrow curling like an albino caterpillar. “Our athletic office isn’t much, just a tiny space and away from the gym and locker rooms, but it’s got the best view in the building. I thought you might appreciate the vantage point better from down here.”
He got the job? He couldn’t believe it. After thirty-seven resumes, eighteen phone calls, four failed interviews, he’d done it. And just in time, too.
He stared open-mouthed at the building, trying to keep his exhilaration under wraps, and then remembered the young black man and realized the job may come with some extras. He definitely didn’t want to deal with any extras, but he really needed the job. Before he had time to think about it, Harriet was off.
For the next forty minutes, she took Darrell on a non-stop, guided tour of the empty high school, leading him past dueling trophy cases—one for sports, one for band—through run down classrooms and into a dilapidated gym with collapsing bleachers. Twice he paused, seeing an award or painting hanging crooked, and reached out to straighten it. He stopped himself and then had to hurry to catch up.
Oblivious, Harriet charged ahead, short legs pumping like pistons, all the while regaling him with more stories about the old high school. Darrell was hardly able to catch his breath. At her pace, he felt like he’d done a 5K, zigzagging through hallways and up and down creaking stairs. They finished by climbing two flights of stairs to arrive at the Athletic Office.
Just as they reached the top step, a door in the hall slammed shut. Darrell jerked. He glanced over to his escort, who hadn’t even flinched. Instead, the school secretary asked, as if reminded of something, “Mr. Henshaw, uh, do you believe in…uh, ghosts?”
Darrell’s mouth went dry. She didn’t just ask that.
“What?” he managed.
Harriet shrugged, the collar of her gray dress almost touching the lowest locks of silver hair. “I just asked if you were superstitious. You know, if you believe in ghosts?” She strolled over, turned the handle and pulled open the door.
Darrell fought not to go pale. Could she possibly know about the ghost back home or maybe she picked up on his reaction to the widow’s walk? He fumbled for an answer. “Uh, no more than most, I think. Why?”
Standing at the door, she lowered her glance, as if studying her black flats. “Well, uh, some folks say the school is haunted. Ghost of that student who committed suicide I was telling you about. They say his spirit likes to prowl the hallways at night, ‘specially up here on the third floor.”
Darrell remembered the figure staring down at him from the railing and the prickling hairs on his neck. He studied Harriet. She was serious.
But, when her gaze lifted, the secretary smile was back in place. “What do you expect? It’s an old school. Bound to hold a few skeletons, right?”
Harriet stepped inside the office, burying the subject as abruptly as she raised it. She led him in and Darrell watched as dust mites rose and danced on a wave. The cramped space was small, eight by twelve maybe, with a worn, blue couch under the broad window and a standard gray metal desk and file cabinet on the wall opposite. A lone, wooden bookcase stood facing the door, barren and sad-looking, its shelves sagging.
She moved to the window, pointing, “Great view of the widow’s walk from here, too.”
Several questions pummeled his brain—about what happened on the walk, about the kid who died—but he needed this job, so he didn’t ask.
She plowed on. “I got to leave you here and get back. Give Mr. Douglass a few more minutes and see what he has to say.” Two brisk steps took her to the door.
Darrell thought of one question he figured it’d be safe to ask. “Harriet, you mentioned I was the last name on Principal Douglass’ list of candidates. How come?”
She turned and grinned. “Maybe I shouldn’t have told you that. The answer’s simple, though. None of the rest of the candidates were Yankees.” She waved a hand. “Anyway, you must’ve made quite an impression, ‘specially for a Yankee. Not many get the fifty-cent tour. Enjoyed showing ya around. I’m a good judge of character and I think you’ll do fine.”
“Thanks, Harriet, for the tour and all the background. And the vote of confidence.”
“I’ll see you downstairs in a bit.” Her leg pistons chugged and she disappeared through the open doorway.
Darrell listened to her footsteps echo in the stairwell and, when the sound died away, he said aloud to the empty room, “O-kay, then.” Exactly what he needed. Move half way across the country and run into another damn ghost. His gaze swept the small office and took in the widow’s walk, remembering the figure at the railing and the tingle on his neck. He inspected the entire office for paranormal evidence. He saw nothing, of course.
Ambling over to the picture window, he took in the expansive scene, white posts and railing of the widow’s walk up close—with no young black man standing there—and the water of the Chesapeake shining emerald beyond. He could get used to this view.
He’d take the job and…deal with the rest, if it came.
He strolled over to the door. Something drew his attention and twisting around, he glanced back into the office. A draft of cold air struck him. He shivered again.
         He turned to go, but couldn’t. Standing in the doorway, it felt like his shoes had been glued to the floor. No, it felt like two huge hands were holding his ankles and wouldn’t let him leave. He pulled on both legs. Staring down at his legs, he saw only the smooth cuffs of his dress pants and his black Oxfords.
Ugly memories resurfaced, as if it were yesterday. His uncle’s ghost using him as a conduit. The death of two friends. The crippling of his brother. Oh, hell, not again.
         Sweat dripped down the side of Darrell’s face and he blurted out the only thing he could think of. “I haven’t even been hired yet,” he said in a harsh whisper. “And won’t be, unless I get back down there to see the principal.”
The grip on his ankles released. He opened the door, stepped through and slammed it. In seconds, he hit the stairs, taking them two at a time.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Blessed: The Prodigal Daughter by A.L. Bryant

Author: A.L. Bryant
Publisher: HSW Publications LLC
Pages: 279
Genre: Supernatural Christian Thriller/Horror

On New Year’s Eve 2021 the staff at St. Ann’s Hospital witness a medical miracle when a semi-conscious woman walks into the emergency room. The Jane Doe has been stabbed multiple times and as the staff struggle to keep the woman alive in the end all they can do is stand back and watch as their mysterious patient revives herself.

Glory wakes up in St. Ann’s Hospital gravely injured from an attack she cannot remember. However, her memory loss is no ordinary amnesia and she is no ordinary patient. Much to the shock of the hospital staff Glory heals at three times the rate of an average person. Soon the administration hears of her unique case and waste no time convincing the recovering Glory to be a part of an experiment to discover the origins of her power.

Once outside the comforting walls of the hospital it becomes apparent that healing is just a small portion of Glory’s capabilities. Abilities that to Glory’s distress are becoming increasingly unstable. Deciding that the hospital’s experiments are in vain, Glory embarks on her own Journey to discover the source of her power, unaware that she is a major pawn in a war between two secret organizations.

The two syndicates continue to clash in their fight for control and their battles result in several casualties. The crimes of their warfare surface and draw the attention of Dennis Wilson, a NYPD Detective known for solving his cases in the first forty-eight hours. Dennis follows the trail of bodies out of curiosity. But when his curiosity causes the deaths of his loved ones Detective Dennis becomes obsessed with the case.

In his overzealous attempts to find the murderer Dennis becomes the syndicates’ next target. Now the Detective must run for his life and the only person capable of saving him is the very person he suspects.

Blessed: The Prodigal Daughter is a hybrid of government espionage and supernatural Thriller. This novel is intended for audiences 18+ that seek an edgier outlook on Christian fiction. Blessed: The Prodigal Daughter is the first installment of the Blessed trilogy.

Chapter 1

New Year’s Day, 2022
Manhattan, NY

            Nonskid clogs shuffled swiftly across the white and green checkered linoleum floor. Somewhere a phone rang incessantly; several people succumbed to coughing fits; a child cried. A vibrant current of white coats and green scrubs barely avoided crashing into one another as charts passed smoothly from hand to hand. Despite the beeps and sighs of machines and the increasing buzz of frantic conversations, a single loud voice carried to every corner of the ER.
“What is it this time, Silvia?” Cathy slammed a patient’s file on the cluttered desk next to the computer, not caring if she hit the device. “It better not be another one of your ridiculous premonitions.” A stray strand of steel-gray hair poked out from her right temple, more wiry than the brown ones around it, having escaped the strict French braid she wrestled her locks into before each shift.
Silvia shot an uncomfortable look at the charge nurse. Cathy had worked her way up to her current position at St. Ann’s Hospital over the course of more than twenty years, and the stress of ER nursing had taken its toll. The bright-eyed CNA she had been at twenty-one had long since been tarnished by long hours and harsh realities.
Silvia, a small Latina beauty with dark brown hair that reached just below her shoulder blades in a thick curly mass, found herself in the unfortunate position of being Cathy’s newest punching bag. Silvia was a ‘believer,’ and Cathy detested religious people. She considered them unintelligent and intolerant.
However, it didn’t matter how much pressure Cathy piled onto Silvia; the younger woman remained undaunted. Cathy knew with absolute certainty that Silvia would not last in this business. Her dream world would shatter, broken by the heavy mallet of reality. Or—and Cathy predicted this would happen first—she would be fired for all the trouble her “premonitions” caused.
“Other nurses have told me you’ve reserved a bed for a patient that isn’t even here. We’ve had one hell of a busy night, patients stacked up outside trying to get in and an ambulance every twenty minutes, and you’re trying to reserve a bed?” Cathy scoffed. “I’m about ten seconds away from sending you home for good. Should I tell Dr. Clark or Dr. Karin what you’ve been up to?”
Silvia understood that on a night like this, with tensions high due to the constant stream of sick and injured people, her actions could be considered career suicide. She felt more embarrassed than grateful for her gift of foresight. Most people treated her much like Cathy did—as though she belonged in an insane asylum. Her “premonitions,” as Cathy called them, were unpredictable: sometimes they were fulfilled right away; sometimes it took days or weeks or even months.
Already caught laying out a gown, some extra blankets, and even epinephrine, Silvia did not attempt to deny Cathy’s accusations. Even now, standing in front of the thunderous charge nurse, she inexplicably held extra syringes, bandages, and gloves.
“I just felt I needed to prepare…” Silvia let the excuse fade into silence, aware she had no defense for her actions.
Cathy snatched the supplies and tossed them carelessly onto the counter.
“I better not see you even look in the direction of the ER. Understood? You either do the workup on new admissions, or you go home.” Having said her piece, Cathy turned on her heel and took one step.
“Something big is going to happen tonight.” Silvia couldn’t help herself. “Trust me, if we prepare now—” She stopped short as Cathy swung around with surprising speed, and cringed at the charge nurse’s blazing eyes. Before Cathy could speak, another voice interjected.
“I don’t see any harm. If somethin’ doesn’t happen in the next two hours, we can always use the area for another patient, and at the rate she’s been stockin’ that room, it’ll be ready for anything.” The voice belonged to Cheryl, who—despite having less seniority than Cathy in both years of employment and position—had considerably more pull in hospital politics than the charge nurse.
Silvia shot Cheryl a relieved smile and received a wink in response. The exchange did not go unnoticed by the fuming Cathy, but it didn’t take her long to see how she could later use this against her two foes.
With a smile that did not reach her eyes, Cathy inclined her head. “Fine,” she said through gritted teeth. Her glare turned to Cheryl. “You take responsibility for this.” With that, she marched away, her head tilted at a self-righteous angle.
“So…” Cheryl looked at Silvia over her reading glasses, her dark eyes dancing within her deep bronze skin. Strands of silver interwove with her soft black hair, worn in a twist-out. “Somethin’ big, huh?”
Silvia nodded; her eyes lit with excitement. Her heart pounding, Silvia rubbed her hands over her arms, trying in desperation to stave off an internal chill that left her shivering. Whatever happened tonight, Silvia believed it would affect not only the people in this hospital, but the whole city—maybe even the nation.
At 4:23 in the morning, exactly two hours after her conversation with Cathy, Silvia paced back and forth outside the ER. She waited in the ambulance entrance, ready. So far there was no sign of anything big. Right now, she could imagine Cathy laughing scornfully as she gave away the bed Silvia had prepared to some other deserving patient.
She pulled her jacket closed over her yellow scrubs and blew heavily on her hands.
“How you feelin’?” Startled, Silvia whirled around just as Cheryl held a small cup of coffee in her direction. Accepting the cup, she opened her mouth to reply, and then abruptly closed it.
Tapping Cheryl on the shoulder, Silvia pointed toward the ER entrance.
“Cheryl, what’s that?”
Cheryl squinted for a moment and then looked at the younger woman as though Silvia had lost her mind. “It’s a person…” Again she squinted. “I think.”
Both nurses turned and quickly went through the double doors, tossing the cups of coffee into the trash bin at the entrance. By the time the two made their way through the emergency room to the front desk, the figure they had seen inching toward the door stood immobile in front of a flustered front desk nurse.



Friday, February 1, 2019

Chapter reveal: 'Shirtless Men Drink Free' by Dwaine Rieves

Title: Shirtless Men Drink Free
Genre: Literary Fiction
Author: Dwaine Rieves
Publisher:  Leapfolio/Tupelo Press

 In Shirtless Men Drink Free, Doctor Jane Beekman has seen her dying mother’s soul, a vision above the bed—a soul struggling with a decision, some undone task, something in this world too noble to leave.  The question that lingers—why?—prompts a shift in the doctor’s priorities.  In this election year, Jane must do what her mother, an aspiring social activist, would have done. Soon, Jane is embroiled in the world of Georgia politics, working to make sure her dynamic younger brother-in-law Jackson Beekman is selected the next governor, regardless of what the soul of the candidate’s dead father or that of his living brother—Jane’s husband—might want done. 

Indeed, it is a mother’s persistence and a father’s legacy that will ultimately turn one Beekman brother against the other, launching a struggle with moral consequences that may extend far beyond Georgia. Set amidst 2004’s polarizing election fears—immigrants and job take-overs, terrorists in waiting, homosexuals and outsider agendas—Shirtless Men Drink Free makes vivid the human soul’s struggle in a world bedeviled by desire and the fears that leave us all asking—Why?

Engaging, beautifully written and resplendent with realism, Shirtless Men Drink Free is a standout debut destined to stay with readers long after the final page is turned.  A meticulously crafted tale that showcases an outstanding new voice in Southern fiction, Shirtless Men Drink Free has garnered high advance praise:

“This is brilliant and rare work, as attentive to an absorbing plot as it is to a poetic, chiseled cadence."—Paul Lisicky, award-winning author of The Narrow Door: A Memoir of Friendship

“These characters are all too real. Rieves, as Faulkner, McMurtry and Larry Brown, writes people and story that will worm, burrow into you.  Change you even.” —Adam Van Winkle, Founder and Editor, Cowboy Jamboree

“Vividly sensuous, this novel is full of textures, sounds and smells.  Rieves tells a terrific story with the sensitivity of a poet.” —Margaret Meyers, author of Swimming in the Congo

About the Author

 Dwaine Rieves was born and raised in Monroe County, Mississippi.  During a career as a research pharmaceutical scientist and critical care physician, he began writing poetry and creative prose.  His poetry has won the Tupelo Press Prize for Poetry and the River Styx International Poetry Prize.  His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Georgia Review and other publications. 



A Fact

If pressed, she just might someday describe the experience as a vision, but that word alone would be insufficient, if not false, for what she had seen above the bed was more than apparition, more than a visual thing. There, sitting beside her dying mother, she’d sensed another presence, a new being, energy membrane-bound, translucent and hovering, alive in the air. The sense was volatility, the struggling with a decision, a choice—most definitely a choice—more why than when, more God than science. There, fibrillating above the bed was a soul. It was her mother’s soul, the very soul of her mother deliberating its only options: whether to stay or depart, this world or another. And in the instant before it abandoned its literal form, whatever her mother’s soul accepted or denied had to have been better than the body below, the face still puffy from chemotherapy, that halo of resurrected hair.
Something else must have mattered in this world, some undone task or rethought decision, something noble in the making, for her soul clearly wanted to stay. But it couldn't. It simply couldn't.
Perhaps revelation would eventually prove a more credible label. Or insight. Regardless of what she might ultimately call it, she wanted to believe the whole episode was a lesson for the scientist within her, a gift for the daughter who had to make sense of the inexplicable she’d seen. No. No one would ever believe she had witnessed such agony above the bed, the struggle between what the body demands and the soul needs.
Such thoughts she knew she must keep to herself, that vision or revelation or insight from a few months back, the soul of her mother wrestling with the air.
Tonight, Doctor Jane Beekman is alone. She sits on the back porch at home, a rocking chair helping to hold her there. The sky is closing in yellow, the world that was almost gone. She is motherless now, the backyard calm in disbelief. In the wake of her mother’s final breath, in the air that struggle―why? The question will never disappear and the more she stares, the more the world before her eyes darkens any possible answer.
The air is unsteady, too uncertain. It trembles as if still above the bed, as Jane saw it and forever will. That odorless instant when decision turned gunmetal thin, she will smell it always. The distance between struggle and release, its clamor breathed clean. That morning her husband held her mother’s hand, but never did Price waver, never did his eyes leave the body. Her mother’s soul had battled the air and Jane, she alone was the witness.
Her body demands a reason. Her soul needs more gin.

Chapter One


Never had she given much thought to politics, never had she pictured what a brief speech might come to. But to understand that trajectory as she ultimately came to follow it, you must first step back a few months, take a determined breath and stand with Jane before a plateau of silvery eyes. The titans have gathered, gawkers shoulder to shoulder, a certificate framed on a tripod far stage right. The words have power, authority—2004 Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year. Lights are low, God and the crowd focused. The podium is all Jane’s, the first slide at her back. On the canvas, a ladder of DNA coils ten-foot-high in Christmas colors. Five-carbon sugars twinkle for emphasis. Base pairs stiffen then jitter like ill-tempered brothers. Finger the laser pointer’s bump and the hot red dot jumps. Control goes with accomplishment. Smile. 
Jane is on the stage because she and her husband Price accomplish great things. She is proud of this. Atlanta is proud, no doubt all Georgia. But this award is not about her or Price, she tells the crowd. It’s about their baby, CellSure. It’s about the company’s birth and maturation, teamwork in translational science. She uses that word translational and thinks transcendent. They know what she means. “People, CellSure is a company that can take less than a nanogram of genetic material and in a matter of hours match the specimen to a criminal, a fraud, a father.”
More than once Jane says “genetic material” and each time she sharpens the syllables. “Yes,” she proclaims, “with less than a snippet of tissue CellSure can even diagnose—” She pauses for air, for the air to settle. “Yes, we can even diagnose cancer.” Applause comes. The great polynucleotide pulses. People stand. They point. Jane has become one with her company. She can even diagnose cancer.
“And with more CellSure innovation, I have little doubt that the same tissue indicating a cancer will also identify a treatment. Yes, my friends. The CellSure technology that pairs a precise diagnosis with a precise therapy will make most cancers curable and the few incurable ones truly treatable conditions.” She thrusts a decisive finger into the air. She is transcendent. “Mark my words—as CellSure pairs ingenuity with our city’s fine medical research institutions, Atlanta will become the nation’s go-to hub for hope, a city where the word impossible never crosses a lip.”
People whoop and stomp their feet. They slap shoulders. Strangers hug. The air vibrates, every face catching the glow of the great iridescent molecule, the image secured by the clicker Jane controls with a single finger.