Sunday, May 15, 2022

Read a Chapter: Riftsiders: Unlawful Possession by Paul A. Destefano

 

Title: RIFTSIDERS: UNLAWFUL POSSESSION

Author: Paul A. Destefano
Publisher: Wild Rose Press
Pages: 292
Genre: Urban Fantasy / Paranormal Romance

BOOK BLURB:

Enrique Marin wants a quiet life after the death of his wife. Just one problem stands in the way–he’s possessed by the misanthropic English demon, Tzazin. A violent night under demonic influence accidentally leads Enrique to love, and it’s anything but quiet. Shy, autistic yoga instructor Elle thought allowing herself to be possessed by the very-not-shy sex demon Key would help her find love. She finds Enrique, but she didn’t count on coping with the anti-demon bigotry of society. Fate–and AA meetings for the possessed–brings them together, but hostile forces, demonic and human, fight to keep them apart. It might cost them everything to keep their love alive.

“DeStefano weaves a masterful tale of mystery using threads of horror, humor, and heat-filled romance. Teeming with snarky demons and one swoon-worthy hero, this is the perfect story for anyone who loves the supernatural.” – Author BB Swann

“He has always worn his love for SF, Fantasy & Horror on his sleeve. This is Dark Fantasy written with an immense knowledge of the genre, and it shows.” –  Patrick Kennedy, host of The Literate Nerds Podcast

“The writing – it is amazing … it feels as if I was reading a Brandon Sanderson novel or a Patrick Rothfuss book.” –  Battlecast Reviews

“Paul has a wonderful way of bringing a world alive so that you feel you can reach out and touch it.” – Jamie Jolly, Shadowborne Games

Book Information

Release Date: April 18, 2022

Publisher: Wild Rose Press

Soft Cover: ISBN: 978-1509241231; 292 pages; $16.99; E-Book, $4.99

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3HZpkPE

CHAPTER ONE

Enrique approached the church feeling more like a lost tourist from the Dominican Republic than someone on national watchlists. Peering up at the untended vines coating the wall, he ran a hand through his short black hair. He glanced back at the street and then followed Ebbs down the stairs to the basement side entrance.

“I don’t even think he’s a real priest,” came the familiar British tones in the back of Enrique’s mind. “He’s not wearing a collar. This is bollocks. He can’t teach you anything about controlling me you don’t already know, and I’m certainly not going to listen to some pudgy little unshaven monk or whatever he is. Don’t go in.”

Enrique stopped halfway down the cracked steps and bent, turning his back to Ebbs to tie a shoe that wasn’t untied. Ebbs waited by the door, gently humming to himself.

“Shut up, Taz,” Enrique said, barely above a whisper. “If you would behave in the first place, we wouldn’t have to be here.”

“Still bollocks,” Taz said.

Enrique stood and wiped his hands on his jeans before descending. At the base of the stairway, he stomped his work boot into the puddle that reflected a third figure only he could see pacing behind them.

Ebbs fished for keys in the pocket of his beaten brown leather jacket. He unlocked a door barely held together by decades of flaking paint. It swung open smoothly and silently. Stepping aside, he extended a hand and indicated Enrique should enter before him.

Enrique didn’t move.

“It’s a safe place,” Ebbs said, scratching the mottled gray of his unshaven neck.

Enrique had heard that before.

“Sometimes, that first step through the doorway is the hardest.”

Enrique looked to the source of the voice, a silhouette up the hallway that nearly reached the ceiling.

“I’m Dante Serrano,” the deep calming voice continued. “I moderate the group. Father Clancy here told me you would be coming. Enrique, right?”

Dante’s head nearly grazed the hanging fluorescents as he approached, extending a massive hand in greeting. Enrique nodded and stepped in, trying not to stare too obviously at Dante’s dark eyes, nearly a foot above his own.

“Tell you what,” Dante said with a bright grin. “I’ll answer your questions first, make you more comfortable. Come on, follow me. The answer to your first question, seven-foot one. Second question, no, I never played pro, got some bum knees. You know everyone sees a black man a head and shoulders over them, and they think, damn, that guy shoot some hoops. What you don’t hear is how much a damn problem it can be being so tall. Sure—never need a step stool, get to help all the shorter folk reach that top shelf in the grocery store. I’m not saying there are no perks. I’m saying there’s sometimes a hidden price. Considering where you are, I’m guessing you know that all too well.”

“You mean considering what I am?” Enrique said, following the giant man through a doorway.

Dante turned, shaking his shaved head. “No, man, no. Who you are. You got a problem? Okay. But that does not define you. A man is a lot of things—a plumber, a mechanic, a husband, a father. But you are never less a person before that. You are always you. Good man. Bad man. That’s not my job to tell you. But you. No matter what your problem. You are a who. Never a what. Just because a taxi picks up a bad passenger, that does not make that taxi’s a bad taxi. You get me?”

“Actually, you’re a pretty awful taxi,” Taz said.

“I get you,” Enrique said, shrugging and looking around. He stepped into the center of the circle of empty chairs in the small room. Beyond a table of coffee and doughnuts, a young woman with long blonde hair over a tight-fitting outfit standing with her head down and her hands clasped by her waist. She pushed dark glasses farther up the bridge of her nose but didn’t speak. Enrique looked to the ceiling.The lights were no brighter where she stood, and certainly not bright enough to warrant sunglasses.

“Well, hello, hello, what do we have here?” Taz said. “Perhaps this group isn’t complete bollocks after all.”

“That’s Elle,” Dante said softly. “Yoga teacher. She’s one of our members. She’s on the autism spectrum and sometimes needs a little time to adjust to new people in the group. She’ll warm up to you.”

“Hi, Elle,” Enrique said with a small wave. “I’m Enrique.”

“The others will be by in just a few minutes,” Dante said, pouring coffee into a cardboard cup. “Just like Elle needs some time, we’d like to get to learn a bit about you. Me and our very own Father Clancy Ebbs to start. Just to, you know, get comfortable.”

“Ex-Father,” Ebbs interjected. “In Coena Domini.”

“Excommunicated,” Dante translated. “But still good enough for us. And still always Father to me.”

“And there are two of you,” Enrique pointed out. “In case I’m more than one can handle.”

Elle tilted her head in curiosity.

“Can never be too careful at first encounter,” Dante said. “Coffee? It’s actually pretty good. Here, give it a try and grab a chair. Any.”

Enrique pulled off his light jacket and hung it on the back of one of the folding chairs. He took the offered coffee and added a sugar cube from the table. If Dante weren’t in the room with him, he would be considered tall. Enrique sniffed the coffee, blew on it, and sat, one hand rubbing the worn knees of his jeans.

“Want one?” Father Ebbs asked, helping himself to a powdered doughnut.

Enrique shook his head.

“You a talker or a listener?” Dante asked, leaving one empty chair between them when he sat.

“Truthfully,” Enrique said, “I usually don’t shut up. But I’m not, I’m not really…”

“Not comfortable talking about your passenger? I get it,” Dante said with a nod.

“I don’t like it either,” Ebbs said.

“You?” Enrique asked, turning to the ex-priest. “I would have thought—”

“Occupational hazard,” Ebbs said.

“Father Ebbs got his passenger right around when the rift opened, Dante said. “He’s an early adopter.”

“No one had yet come to terms with…you know.” Ebbs brushed powdered sugar from his lips. “The whole ‘demons are coming to our world and are real’ thing. It was before anyone knew what was going on. It was an exorcism of one of the first. A little girl. I invited her in. My passenger, not the girl. She took the offer. Violastine. Viola. And, as a result, I got excommunicated from upstairs.”

“And you damned yourself,” Enrique finished.

Dante ran a hand over his bold head. “Father Ebbs’ passenger is—”

“Fucking horrible,” Ebbs said. “Mostly controlled. Mostly. But when she breaks free. Trust me, you don’t want to be around.”

Enrique tensed. “Yours is a separate manifest? Like actually separate from you?”

Ebbs nodded. “I swear, she’s controlled. She’s not out. Like every precaution in the book. Meds, prayer, you name it, I got her on tighter lockdown than mother superior’s knees.”

“My passenger is named Brogado,” Dante said and took a sip of coffee. “Bro is a physical manifest through me. When he pilots, I get strong as all hell, literally. But human bodies just aren’t supposed to do that. So, I blackout, and Bro does his thing. I wake up like a train hit me.”

“Your bum knees,” Enrique said, piecing it together.

“Broken by my own muscles,” Dante said.

“Does he talk to you?”

“We communicate but not quite in words. More like hunches and feelings. When he’s mad, I can tell.”

Enrique turned to Ebbs. “Does yours talk?”

“She would love it if I listened,” Ebbs said. “It’s more like a constant distant howling. I’ve learned to box that out. Elle’s passenger is an entwined riftsider. They both exist in the same space. I’m sure you’ll meet her, too.”

“Tell us a little about yours,” Dante said and took a slow sip of his coffee.

Enrique slumped backward in the seat, looking to the ceiling with a chuckle.

“Yes,” taunted the lilting British accent only Enrique heard. “Do tell about me.”

“Tzazin,” Enrique said, staring into his coffee. “My demon is Tzazin Auropolus. I call him Taz. He, well, he’s kind of like me in that sometimes he just doesn’t know when to shut up. When I look at my reflection, I can see him. Always following me just behind my shoulder. Glass reflection doesn’t always work. Sometimes it does, and he insists it’s due to how natural or man-made the material is. The science of the other side doesn’t always make sense to me.”

“Now tell them how startlingly handsome I am,” Taz whispered.

“He looks like a man with gray sandpaper skin. And his eyes are this weird sickly off-yellow.”

“That’s not even slightly flattering,” Taz complained.

“But he’s got some sort of knowledge tap. It’s like having a running connection to an internet search engine.”

“I’m an archivist, you human nimrod. Show some respect.”

“Oh, he’s telling me right now I should tell you he’s an archivist.”

“And when Taz pilots?” Dante asked.

“When Taz pilots, I blackout. And end up in jail. I was told I can be out on probation if I come here to learn to control him.”

“You make that sound so one-sided,” Taz said with a snicker. “Whose fingerprints were there? Certainly not mine.”

Enrique set his jaw and placed his coffee cup on the floor.

“Yo, ain’t no one told me we got a newbie.”

Enrique turned to see a young girl with dreadlocks step into the room biting into an apple and letting the juice flow down her chin.

“Enrique, the rude teen girl is my niece, Yesania,” Dante said with a slight smile and a gesture. “You bring enough for everyone?”

“You got your doughnuts,” Yesania pointed. “Star pitcher on the softball team has to keep in shape. Not poisoning my body with more of that shit than I have to. Oh, sorry for the language, Father. No offense. Hey, Elle.”

Elle looked up and brushed her long hair aside, smiling with a wave.

“None taken,” Ebbs said, reaching for another doughnut. “Especially since that means more for us who know what good food is.”

Yesania pulled out a chair, and it screeched across the floor. She sat directly in front of Enrique, throwing her hoodie to the ground and pushing dreadlocks from her face. She leaned forward and stared into Enrique’s eyes. “Go ahead. Show me who you got.”

“Yesania,” Dante said, putting his hand on her shoulder to ease her away.

“No, Unc,” she snapped, shrugging him off. “Show and tell. You ain’t here for some small-time imp. Show me.”

“You don’t want that.” Enrique slid his chair back.

“She wants it,” Taz said, clearly with a grin Enrique felt in the back of his mind.

“She doesn’t want that,” Enrique said.

“You show me yours; I’ll show you mine,” Yesania said in a teasing schoolgirl voice. “Lookie.”

Yesania held out her palm and blew across it as if blowing flower petals from her hand. The room filled with the smell of lilacs. A sparkling yellow dust scattered from her empty hand and hung in the air in a vaguely feminine shape that bowed politely.

“Meet Cali,” Yesania announced.

Enrique reached his hand out, curious. The sparkling dust extended what would be a hand and settled on his. It felt mildly electric and warm.

“Caliosandra,” the dust shape whispered in introduction, appearing to grow less dense.

Yesania panted and watched the dust form fall, shimmering specks vanishing before touching the floor.

“You okay?” Dante asked.

“Yeah, letting Cali out is tiring sometimes,” Yesania said. “Long day of practice. That’s kind of why I’m here. Can’t get completely rid of her unless I just go to sleep for a long time. She’s not the prize I originally thought.”

“She means die,” Taz said to Enrique.

“I know what she meant,” Enrique said.

“Oh, you got a full-time talker,” Yesania said with a smile. “Come on. I showed you mine. You got some sort of manifest?”

“You don’t want to do that,” Enrique said.

“Too scary? I can handle it.”

“Yesania, stop,” Dante said flatly.

“No, Unc, I don’t think I will. If I gotta be in this room, I want to know who’s in here with me. Show me.”

“If he’s not ready, Yesania,” Ebbs said.

“I am not staying if I don’t know who’s here,” Yesania insisted.

“Reveal me,” Taz said. “It’s only fair if I make myself known.”

Enrique looked to Dante for help.

“Your call,” Dante said. “At your own pace.”

“Taz isn’t a separate manifest like that was. Like Cali,” Enrique said. “It’s more like what Dante said.”

“Brogado,” Dante supplied.

“It’s not pleasant.”

Yesania stared into Enrique’s eyes. “I got this. Show me.”

“She asked for it,” Taz chided.

“You asked.” Enrique reached out and placed two fingers on the back of Yesania’s hand.

“Sweet motherfucker!” Yesania yelled, jumping away. She looked at her steaming hand. “What the hell was that shit?”

“That was Taz,” Enrique said simply.

Elle stepped back with one foot, either a fighting stance or a position to run from. Ebbs doughnut hit the floor where he was standing with a tiny powdered sugar explosion. He ran from the room, covering his face with his hands.

“You bleeding?” Dante asked Yesania, both watching Ebbs’ retreat.

Enrique looked out to the hallway. “What happened to Father Ebbs? Did I do something?”

“Blood is a bad thing around here. It triggers Ebbs’ passenger, Viola.” Dante examined his niece’s hand. “He ran out for everyone’s safety.”

“Sorry,” Enrique said. “I didn’t know. She shouldn’t be bleeding.”

“Yo,” Yesania said, rubbing her hand. “That felt like fire.”

“It’s not heat. It’s abrasion. That was just a buzz. If I held it there, it would take your skin off like a band sander. I try not to let him do that.”

“You sometimes fail,” Taz reminded.

Enrique shifted in his seat and glanced up to a round-faced Asian man in an EMT shirt standing in the doorway.

“We good?” the man called, holding a hand toward Ebbs to keep him in the hallway.

“We good, Corey. Ebbs can come back,” Dante said.

“Corey Oshi,” Dante announced, nodding to Ebbs as he cautiously closed the door behind him. “New guy is Enrique Marin.”

“Don’t shake his hand,” Yesania warned, still rubbing her own.

“It’s not like that,” Enrique said, shaking his head. “That’s only when I let him out to play or something goes wrong. Sorry, but you asked.”

“Oh, you got one that bites, huh?” Corey said, gingerly taking Enrique’s hand. “Mine’s more fun. Check it. You ever play two truths and a lie?”

“Yeah?” Enrique said, not sure where the question was headed.

“Go,” Corey said with a grin, sitting across from him. “Hit me with some facts, guy I never met.”

“Um, okay,” Enrique said. “I was born in the Dominican Republic. That’s one. I carve and install wood for millwork. Wait, that one doesn’t count, I’m still wearing my work shirt; you could just read that. Instead, let’s go with I collect vinyl records. And my mom makes the best mac and cheese in the world.”

“Harry, talk to me,” Corey called. He waited briefly, nodding several times. “Last one’s a lie. Boom!”

Enrique laughed. “Yeah, my mom’s mac was crap. That was pretty cool.”

“Hariememnon—Harry for short—extends his greetings and welcomes you to the group,” Corey said after a pause. “My folks were killed in a construction accident. Crane fell. Left me kind of alone and weak, and Harry moved in.”

“Same, but mine was my wife, Sofia,” Enrique said, silencing the room.

“Operative word: was,” Taz said.

“Condolences.” Ebbs placed a firm hand on Enrique’s shoulder.

“Thanks, Father.” Enrique forced a fake smile. “It was years ago.”

“Doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt,” Ebbs said.

“Yeah,” Enrique said. “I’ve been kind of dating, but yeah.”

Elle suddenly stepped to the circle of chairs, looking Enrique up and down. “This a funeral or possession support group? Had we known we had a new guy, we would have baked a cake. Nah, that’s bullshit, neither of us can cook. Believe us, we tried.”

“Enrique, this is Elle and her passenger Key,” Dante said, over-pronouncing the word Elle.

“This rather nice bod might be Elle, but we share the attic,” she said with a wide smile, sliding easily into a seat. She removed her glasses, revealing large expressive eyes with irises of unnatural metallic green. Her long blonde hair landed on bare shoulders over a black, well-shaped tank top and form-fitting dark blue yoga pants, but Enrique didn’t look away from the captivating eyes.

“I’m Key,” she said, slightly tilting her head, scanning Enrique head to toe. “It’s short for Keostapholese. And you’re the new tall, rugged, and yummy that sits next to me in session.”

“Let Elle speak,” Dante said, somewhere between a suggestion and an order.

She closed her eyes and swallowed before looking to the floor. She spoke next in a much softer tone and continued to stare at the ground.

“I’m Elle. Not short for anything.”

“Dude, she’s hot,” Taz said.

“I’m Enrique.” He extended his hand.

“She won’t shake it,” Yesania said. “She’s autistic.”

“Elle may be on the spectrum,” Dante explained further. “Key, not so much.”

Elle turned, not lifting her head, and looked to Dante through locks of blonde hanging over her eyes, raising one hand with a middle finger held high.

“That would be Key,” Dante said with a sigh. “I’ve been trying to get them to identify separately.”

“No, that was from both of us,” Elle said with a grin. “With love. Confused yet, Enrique? See, Elle is fearless, but not with people. People are terrifying. Key, on the other hand, is not so good at keeping quiet and doesn’t get this whole morals thing you humans get caught up on. Life, death, sex, whatever. Together, we share this body. So, when you talk to us, use a plural noun as you would with a transgender friend. Both here, all the time. Sometimes we’re more one than the other. But it’s us. Like twins. Partner, not passenger. Sorry we didn’t say anything earlier. Elle wanted to try stepping up to you alone but needed help. The whole square jawed five o’clock shadow thing intimidates her. Needed a bit of a nudge. Now here we both are.”

“So,” started Enrique. “If you’re Elle and Key in there at once, why don’t you have everyone call you Elkie?”

She leaned back in her chair and looked to each of the others. “Yeah, guys, if this is all about acceptance and adjustment, how come you don’t call me Elkie?”

Dante’s brow furrowed. Yesania and Corey exchanged shrugs.

“Didn’t think of it?” Ebbs said.

After Dante gently moderated a ninety-minute discussion about media bias against the possessed and what they could do to change people’s perceptions, they set about grabbing more coffee and doughnuts from the table.

“You said, or rather, your shirt says you do commercial millwork,” Corey said, reaching in front of Enrique for a doughnut. “I happen to be a carpenter.”

“Carpenter EMT?” Enrique asked.

“Sue me, I have a few hobbies.”

“Which is the hobby—the EMT, or the carpenter?”

“That depends on whether I have a commission or I’m on a call. Whatever I’m doing is the important stuff. Commit to love what you do, right?”

“Well—” Enrique paused for a moment. “What I love is actual sculpture. Form work. Organic flow. I’ve sold three big pieces and a handful of carved masks. But what pays the bills is millwork in government buildings.”

“My thing is furniture,” Corey said and nodded. “Chests. Tables. I like lathing the legs. You know, that trying to make everything even and right. You take a two-by of oak and you give it that nice shape, make them all good and even. We should do some together. Get some ornamental hand carving added to my stuff. We can make decent bread, you know. Guessing you go oak and maple a lot.”

“Wenge and tiger when I can afford it,” Enrique said wistfully.

Elkie sidled between them to reach the coffee pot with a sideways glance and a smirk.

“What?” Corey asked.

“Oh, nothing,” she said, waving him off. “Just kind of interesting a new guy shows up and you immediately have to compare wood.”

Corey rolled his eyes. “That’s Key for you.”

“Tell me how your wife died,” Elkie said, turning her back to Corey.

“Seriously?” Corey asked. “That’s how you start a conversation? A dick joke and ask him how his wife died?”

Her strange metallic eyes sparkled. “Demon, remember?”

“Don’t worry. It’s fine,” Enrique said. “I actually kind of like the candor.”

“I thought someone said you were supposed to let Elle drive,” Corey said, gesturing to Dante across the room.

“Yeah, whatever,” Elkie said. “You eat all those doughnuts and don’t gain weight. You like that, don’t you?”

“Harry takes care of that,” Corey shrugged. “Housing him burns a lot of calories. Never need to take your yoga classes.”

“And Elle is not comfortable talking to strangers,” Elkie said. “So, she thought letting me forward to talk to the cute guy was a good idea. Riftsiders provide certain advantages. Her call, not mine. She wants us to appear polite.”

“Asking about his dead wife on your first unmoderated interaction isn’t usually considered polite,” Corey said. He then stopped and tilted his head, listening. “But Harry says you actually are trying to be nice. Not the smoothest move, though.”

“See,” Elkie said. “Probably not doing anything to fix it but noted.”

“Car crash,” Enrique said. “It’s okay, seriously. No reason to dance around it. She was coming home late. Worked at a nursing home. Never made it to dinner. Seven years ago.”

“Has it been that long?” Taz mumbled in his mind. “Seems so much more recent.”

“Condolences,” Elkie said flatly. “See, we can be nice.”

“Harry says Elle just told you to say that,” Corey said.

“If you would stop separating us like that, maybe the nice Mr. Enrique would simply notice how charming we are. How long were you guys married?”

“You’re seriously going to grill him like this?” Corey protested.

“It’s okay, I promise,” Enrique said, still watching the strange beetle shell reflections of her eyes. “Four years.”

“And that’s how you took on your passenger, Zach?” she said.

“Zach?” Taz shouted loud enough to make Enrique flinch. “Did this mingebag just call me Zach?”

“Taz,” he corrected, “And you just pissed him off.”

Elkie and Corey each took a quick step back.

“No, it’s safe,” Enrique said quickly. “I’m on Abyzone. Keeps him calm. I do it whenever I go out someplace new.”

“You mean keeps me weak,” Taz corrected.

Dante coughed and the room lights flicked off and on. He stood by the door and coughed again, gesturing to the hallway. “My, oh my, would you look at the time. Next week, guys. They need the room. You know how it goes.”

Corey grabbed another doughnut, heading toward the door mumbling, “For Harry.”

“Who’s up for a walk?” Elkie said. “The park across the street?”

Corey nodded. “Yeah sure.”

“We kinda meant new guy, but okay,” Elkie said.

“You weren’t specific.”

Elkie’s mouth trembled. She turned her metallic eyes to the floor. “We were being nice. Of course, you’re invited, too.” Her voice was decidedly softer.

Corey gave Enrique a knowing glance and nod. “Thanks, Elle.”

“Why not?” Enrique said. “I’ve got nothing else to go to. I can hang with some new friends. Let’s go for a walk. Just the six of us.”

“Harry thinks you’re funny,” Corey said, stepping with them to the hall. “But I think the jury is still out on that one.”

About the Author

Paul A. DeStefano and his wife live on Long Island, NY, with a strange menagerie that includes a dog, a few cats, sugar gliders, a bearded dragon, and several grown children that have not left.

After graduating from Hofstra University with a split degree in English and Acting, he worked in the board gaming and roleplaying industry for decades, including officially licensed projects for Star Trek and Lord of the Rings. He did not win the Origins Award for Best Miniatures Rules in 2004 and has forgotten that bitter defeat. When not playing and working on games, he is sometimes found touring internationally, giving lectures on worldbuilding and character design.

Being a professional full-time blacksmith for several years made him realize how much less painful it was to go back to writing. He’s been lucky enough to hold the Top Humor Writer badge at Medium multiple times and has had his work narrated by James Cosmo (Lord Mormont from Game of Thrones) on multimillion-dollar Kickstarter projects.

It is also worth noting that having never taken any bassoon lessons, he still cannot play one.

His latest book is the urban fantasy/paranormal romance novel, RIFTSIDERS: UNLAWFUL POSSESSION.

Visit his website at www.PaulADeStefano.com or connect with him on TwitterFacebookGoodreads and Instagram.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Read A Chapter: The Road To Me by Laura Drake


 Release Date: April 19, 2022

Publisher:  The Story Plant

Soft Cover: ISBN: 978-1611883251; 320 pages; $16.95; E-Book, $7.49

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3rLfg82

Barnes & Noblehttps://bit.ly/3oFFvdZ

Apple Bookshttps://apple.co/3BeUEIy

Book Depository: https://bit.ly/3subeQs

Indigo: https://bit.ly/3Js09GJ

IndieBoundhttps://bit.ly/3rGew41

Book Trailer: https://lauradrakebooks.com/2021/11/18/book-trailer-the-road-to-me/

Jacqueline Oliver is an indie perfumer, trying to bury her ravaged childhood by shoveling ground under her own feet. Then she gets a call she dreads―the hippie grandmother she bitterly resents was apprehended when police busted a charlatan shaman’s sweat lodge. Others scattered, but Nellie was slowed by her walker and the fact that she was wearing nothing but a few Mardi-Gras beads. Jacqueline is her only kin, so, like it or not, she’s responsible.

Despite being late-developing next year’s scent, Jacqueline drops everything to travel to Arizona and pick up her free-range grandma. But the Universe conspires to set them on a Route 66 road trip together. What Jacqueline discovers out there could not only heal the scars of her childhood but open her to a brighter future.

FIRST CHAPTER

Saturday~

I should be preparing for the show that could be the rocket fuel to propel my small business to the big time. Instead, I’m picking up my jail-break grandmother in the desert in back-of-beyond, Arizona.

It turns out, to get to this Show Low place in less than two days, I had to fly from Seattle to Phoenix, rent a car, and drive a hundred eighty miles. And the earliest flight I could get arrived here at two.

I spent the last hour driving, worrying about how much all this is costing me. I had to withdraw funds from my safety net for the plane ticket, and none of this was in the budget. No helping it, though. No one can accuse me of not taking care of my grandmother. When she broke her hip, falling out of a chair in geriatric yoga class, I had her seen by the most prominent orthopedist. He didn’t take Medicare, so I paid the bill myself. If Nellie’d been in charge, she’d have had a native shaman. The rehab center is the best in the desert, but they’re not used to patients trying to get away. Especially ones with fresh pins in their hip.

A deputy called last night to tell me they found her. They did a raid on a charlatan doing “sweats” in the desert. They arrested the leader, but most of the followers scattered. Nellie couldn’t make a clean getaway, what with her walker. And the fact that, except for several strands of Mardi Gras beads, she was naked.

I tried to talk him into putting her on a plane, but he said he’d only release her to next-of-kin. She’d told him there was a conspiracy at the facility to sell her into sexual slavery. He didn’t buy it, and he wanted a family member to come take charge.

That’s me. The last of the line. I’m a failed third-generation hippie. I know where the second generation is—under a marble slab at Long Rest Cemetery. It’s the first generation who’s gone AWOL. Again.

I’m pretty good at controlling myself. But my grandmother? Might as well try to herd dinosaurs. My guts roil in a stew of impatience, irritation and the premonition of chaos. And under it all, the fury of a child forced to take care of yet one more adult. My mother couldn’t help it—she had zero control over herself, or the booze. But my grandmother visited our succession of rattier apartments. Saw the squalor, my mother’s helplessness, my desperation. And after a day or two she’d tuck me in, tell me she loved me, and in the morning, was gone.

I don’t know if I resent her more for leaving, or myself, for believing every time, that this time would be different.

Nellie was probably headed for a convention on, “Saving the Universe Through Toe Massage,” or something. She was New- Age long before it was new, trying every religion, every weird philosophy out there. Hampering her enlightenment is the fact that she has the intellectual depth of a kiddie pool, and the attention span of a caffeinated gnat.

Too harsh? No doubt. But my grandmother earned it.

Fifty miles ago, the rocks and saguaro rushing by the car window gave way to dusty evergreens and rocky hillsides with scrub grass. Being an artist, I know Leo would love this landscape. I’d text him a photo, if I hadn’t just told him we are over. He’s a great guy, and I really enjoyed our time together but I learned a long time ago, it’s easier to end it now before he could really matter.

The temperature is better than the blast furnace I remember, but I can feel my skin parching and I miss green already. I drive past tiny towns with boarded-up stores and gas stations that, from the prices on their weathered signs, pumped their last gallon in the fifties. What would cause a person to wash up here, in the middle of nowhere? I shudder, as if my body wants to shake off the possibility of that fate.

The sign for Show Low blows by, announcing a population of a little over ten thousand. Larger than I imagined, not as big as I’d hoped. It doesn’t matter. With luck, I’m in and out in an hour.

The nav system guides me onto Deuce of Clubs Avenue. I turn at a handsome split-level building, pull into a parking spot and turn off the key. I sit, trying to slow my heartbeat.

Why? The question appears out of the murk like one of those old Eight-Ball prophesies. Nellie claimed to love me. Her visits made clear she loved my mother, because Nellie took over porcelain-god duty, holding my drunken mother’s hair, hugging her and wiping her face with a wet cloth while she cried. And, I remember my grandmother’s smile when she’d rock me in her bony lap, reading me a book.

Which made it hurt even more when she abandoned me. My balloon of hope lost a bit of lift each time, until it was a wrinkly little thing I kicked to the back of my closet.

My childhood memories have faded from technicolor to sepia over the years, and I’ve relegated them to a drawer in my mind. But I haven’t had as much success with the why. How could my grandmother profess to love me, yet leave me, a child, as the only adult in the house? I’ve began the trip to the desert several times, determined to finally ask. It would be such a relief to know. And just as many times, I stopped before my car left the parking lot. Because it’s dangerous to ask a question if you don’t know you’ll survive the answer.

I listen to the tick of the cooling engine. I shouldn’t feel bad. I haven’t been to see her, but my not being there made zero difference. But hey, if she wants to throw that in my face, fine. She can learn to live with disappointment. I tighten my stomach muscles to take a blow and head inside for the Show Low Showdown.

I walk in and am smacked by the institutional smell of pine deodorizer, sweat and floor wax. When I tell the bald officer at the front desk why I’m here, his pudgy face lights up. “Ah, Nellie. She’s a kick in the pants.” Then he puts on his official state employee face. “Could I see some I.D.?”

“Please tell me you don’t have her locked up.” I pull my wallet and show him my driver’s license.

“Not hardly. We’ve got a cot in the office behind the day room. She’s been bunking there. And entertaining us with her stories.”

“Nellie’s got stories, all right.” Most of them exaggeration or outright fabrication. “Do you mind retrieving her for me? We’ve got a flight out of Phoenix tonight.”

He cocks his head like a quizzical dog. “You don’t want to be driving back after dark. Lots of critters on the roads.”

I hold my sigh. “I’ll take it under advisement.”

He looks like he wants to say more, but just shakes his head and clomps to the door on the back wall.

I try not to stare at the few ragged people sitting in plastic chairs that line the walls. They have no such compunction. But to be fair, in a skirt, low heels and pantyhose, I’m the one who doesn’t fit in. They tend toward overalls and flannel.

The officer steps back through the door and holds it open. He’s carrying a lumpy pillowcase—Nellie’s clothes, I assume. My grandmother shuffles in. She is a new-age explosion, from her chartreuse and black-striped walker adorned with bells and leather bags of rocks she calls “crystals,” to her oversize tie-dyed T-shirt and black tights, sagging on stick legs. Her wrinkles lift to a sunny grin. “Jack! You came! See, Easy? I told you she’d come.”

Easy is G’ma’s imaginary friend. I remember her talking to him when I was little.

I want to argue that she gave me no choice. I want to tell her to lose my number. I want to bolt for the door.

But I spent fifteen years being a dutiful daughter. I can stand five hours acting the dutiful granddaughter. Even if it makes my teeth grind. “Are you ready to go?”

“I’m in. Where are we going?” The walker wheels squeak their way around the desk.

The cop hovers, as if he can help by making supportive hand gestures. “You take care now, Nellie. And you come back and see us when you’re in our neck of the woods, ya hear?” He hands me the dirty prison-break pillowcase.

She stops to pat his pudgy cheek. “I will, Roscoe. In the meantime, you keep these miscreants in line.”

Red spreads up his neck to suffuse his entire head. “And you stay away from charlatans.”

She wags a bird-claw finger at him. “Now, don’t you go judging by looks. You never know who’s going to give you that last piece to the puzzle.” She pushes her way over to me, her dusty Converse high tops squeaking in time with the walker wheels.

When I step outside, the smell of exhaust and hot tar hit with a vengeance. I hold the door open. “Come on, Nellie, we’ve got a long way to go tonight.” The sun is barely gone, leaving a spectacular golden orange-red horizon. It hits me that the colors would make a beautiful perfume bottle label. I snap a photo on my phone, then get her settled in the passenger seat of the car, stowing her walker and pillowcase behind the seat.

I slide in and crank the engine.

“I’m so very happy to see you, Jack. You look poised, polished, and pretty as ever.” Her sparrow eyes dart over me and she sobers. “But something’s wrong in your life. What is it?” I check the mirror. The same waif as always stares back.

“Why would you think something is wrong?”

The lines between her brows deepen. “Your aura is between lemon and dark yellow, with tiny tinges of brown.”

“I’ll talk to my hairdresser. Maybe a weave?”

“Jack, do not make light of this.” Her halo of white frizz tilts as she leans in. “Your aura tells me that in your pressure to do well, you have forgotten to live. Also, you have a fear of loss.”

Tell me something I don’t know. But this day has been too long to go down that rabbit hole. I reverse out of the parking space and pull to the edge of the road.

“Do you think we could get a bite of dinner?” She puts her hand below her skinny ribcage. “I’m really hungry.”

“We need to get—”

A loud stomach growl comes from the passenger seat. Can she do that at will? “All right. But somewhere quick.”

“Oh good.” She puts her palms on the dash and beams like a kid that just heard the words, “Happy Meal.” “The cops rave about a place just up the road, Wally’s. Good solid food, fast service.”

Maybe they have a drive-through.

Of course, they don’t. I park diagonally in front of an old brick building in the middle of downtown. Interior lights reveal a ’50s style soda bar and red vinyl booths marching down the opposite side. It takes forever to get the walker, extricate Nellie from the car, and set her on her tottering way to the door. How could this woman have moved fast enough to escape the rehab facility?

But that doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is getting her back there. I hold the door.
“Can we take that booth there?” She points to the back of the room, though there are empty ones, closer.

I look up from checking work emails on my phone. “Whatever. Just go.”

“This place reminds me of the time I went to town with Moonbeam. We’d been on the commune for six months and couldn’t do vegetarian one more minute.” She pulls in a deep lungful of the scent of grease. “Best danged cheeseburger I ever ate.”

There’s that Nellie commitment. She picks up and discards beliefs like a toddler in a toy store. She sits, and I move the walker to the corner, brush off the cracked seat, then sit opposite her in the booth.

Nellie pulls two plastic-clad menus from behind the napkin dispenser and slides one in front of me. It’s covered in smeared fingerprints and what looks like ketchup.

A high school-aged girl walks over. She’s wearing tight lowrider jeans and a T-shirt featuring a llama with sunglasses, flashing a peace sign. “What can I get you ladies?”

“Love your T-shirt.” Nellie smiles up at her. “Can you tell me if there’s anywhere in this town I can score some hash?”

“Nellie!” My head swivels, making sure no one heard that.

“Sorry, Ma’am. My mother’d switch me if I admitted . . .” She flicks a glance around. “But I’ve heard—”

“Nellie.” My tone is a radiation level warning. “Either you order—food—or we’re leaving.” I sneak one more peek around. “Now.”

Nellie smiles at the little delinquent. “Don’t mind her, her underwear’s always been too tight. I’ll have a bacon burger with cheese, fries, and a chocolate milkshake.”

My grandmother’s skin sags off her bones. She can’t weigh ninety pounds. No way she’ll eat all that, but she sure can use the calories.

“Are any of your salads romaine?” I asked.

The waitress drops a hand on her hip. “We’re not total hicksters out here, you know. Our Cobb has some dandelion greens in it. Locally grown.”

The smell of grilling meat is heavenly, but my pants are tight already, and clothes sure don’t rate a safety fund raid. “Um, thanks. I’ll just have coffee.”

She huffs off, and I’m left with Nellie’s worried-sparrow stare. “It’s the business, isn’t it? I worried it would come to this when you took what you loved and made it a capitalist venture.”

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous.” But her words hit my skin, burn through to my core and explode in a shower of sparks, singeing everything they touch. Could she be right? Just because it’s Nellie, it doesn’t mean she’s always wrong.

I check my phone. It won’t do to let Nellie know she can hurt me.

After working my way through my chemistry degree on three jobs, small scholarships and Top Ramen Noodles, Heart’s Note was born in my kitchen in stolen hours after the grind of a day job. I rushed home every evening, anxious to discover a new, unique scent.

Perfumes nowadays are exotic, designer-vogue. I was looking for a scent for the girl next door, the soccer mom, the hip forty-something. Something to make them feel special, yet still themselves. I knew if I could capture that, the women would come. It took a year and a half of late nights and take-out weekends before I had them—Adam and Eve, my signature scents. I rented a storefront in downtown Seattle two years ago. Heart’s Note is doing okay, but I won’t be able to relax until we hit the big time—the retail chains.

“Please don’t take me back there,” she whispers.

The lightning quick subject change takes me a breath to catch up. “Where, Paradise? Of course I’m taking you back. You need therapy. You need—”

“I need to live free.”

“Oh nonsense. You make it sound like I’m putting you in a zoo. Village Breeze is the premier retirement community. It has exercise classes and crafts, and—”

“Spare me the lecture. I live there, remember?” Her eye roll would make our waitress proud.

“Well, I saw the brochure, and I think it’s lovely. They even have a bridge club.”

“Great. You live there.” She folds her arms across her bony chest.

“Now you sound like a petulant child.”

“Look at me, Jack.” She spreads her spindly arms, and the beads on her wrists rattle. But her eyes . . . they’re haunted.

“Do I look like I belong in one of those places?”

“You’re safe there. That is, when you’re not running away and putting yourself in crazy situations.”

“Oh please. I’m not addled yet.”

“They found you in a tipi in the desert, naked, inhaling smoke and God knows what else. You could have gotten dehydrated. You could have had a stroke. You could have died.” She shrugs. “We’re all bound to die, Jack. When it comes, I’m ready. But I’m planning on living right up to that moment.” She lifts a skeletal, knobby-jointed finger. “And I might add, I broke my hip in your old fart warehouse.”
I sigh. “We’ve been over this before. The judge put me in charge of your care—”

“Sanctimonious asshole.”

“You have to admit, he had reason to question your judgment with that ‘Wisdom Gathering’ at your house. Four hundred people in a nine hundred square foot house on a postage stamp lot? Even Woodstock had more than one bathroom.”

Her smile is smug. And a bit proud. “I had no way of knowing that the word would spread. It just proves that people are seeking answers.”

“In a housing development outside Palm Springs?”

“Why not? Your Jesus was born in a manger.”

“Not my Jesus. I stopped believing in him and Santa about the same time.” I learned early and well no savior would be coming.

Her wrinkles deepen. “Jack, your mother—”

“Don’t.” I hold up a hand. My stomach shrivels to a dried lemon, and I’m suddenly positive I do not want the answer to the why. I’ll give up a precious day of my life. I’ll be civil to the woman who stands for everything I distain. But I refuse to dig through my childhood with the one person who could have rescued me from the shitpile and didn’t.

But still, there’s the three-letter word that I can’t get past. Why?

Thankfully, our waitress arrives with a gloppy cheeseburger to distract Nellie.

****

More than an hour later, we’re only two miles out of town, on a road that is blacker than the inside of a bear. I’m used to strip mall lights, headlights, streetlights—in a word, civilization. The road curves as if trying to squirm away from the headlights. Seconds tick by in my head, disappearing as fast as the odds of my making the red-eye to Seattle. I depress the accelerator another micron, my fingers shining like white claws in the dashboard’s glow.

Nellie’s eyes are closed, but she’s chanting under her breath and shaking a little rattle covered in some kind of hide. The monotonous drone is circling the inside of my skull like a manic earworm, but if I ask her to stop, she’ll want to chat. I flick a glance to the console to find the radio. Can I even get a signal in this God forsaken—

A massive deer flashes in the headlights, vaulting the hood of the car. I cut the wheel to the right, and there’s a click of the hooves against the windshield. Then it’s gone.

My seat belt snaps tight as we bump off the road. The headlights spotlight the trunk of a tree, getting bigger. I slam the brakes, and the car fishtails in the grass.

Nellie’s chant gets louder, bouncing off the windows.

The car slows.

Just as I’m sure we’re going to stop in time, the sedan’s back end passes us and slams into the tree with a jerk and a screech of metal.

The seat belt knocks my breath out in a whoosh.

Silence. For five seconds. Then Nellie starts chanting again.

“Are you all right?” It comes out a pant.

She just nods and, eyes closed, keeps chanting.

The engine is still running. Maybe I can get us out of here. I press the gas. The wheels spin, but we’re not moving. I try again, slower this time. When the smell of hot rubber laces the air, I jam the car into park and reach to Nellie’s fragile wrist. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yes, my chant averted sure disaster.” Her eyes are still closed, her face calm in the dash lights.

Oh, for fuck’s sake. I release the seat belt and scramble out. My heels sink in the grass. Holding onto the car, I flounder my way around to assess the damage.

The car is up to the chassis in wet sandy mud, and on the impact side, the metal is crumpled into the smoking tire. I look up the slope to the dark void where the road must be. “I so do not have time for this.” Except I do, because there’s now a zero percent chance of making our flight. My heels make a sucking sound as I make my way back to call a tow truck, and I add a pair of shoes to the list of things this day has cost me.

****
Two hours later, we’re back in Show Low. The wrecker dropped us off at a cinderblock hotel with paint faded to Pepto Bismol pink. Nellie’s soft snores drift in through the door between our rooms. I should be exhausted, but the restlessness buried by my busy day surfaces. I pace the threadbare shag carpet. I know from experience it won’t go away.

Dammit, I hate these nights—like when you lie in bed knowing you’re going to be sick and putting it off as long as possible by telling yourself it won’t happen. But it always does. I need to move. I can outrun the antsiness, given enough miles. Glad I thought to pack them, I change to sweats and tennis shoes. Making sure the plastic key fob is in my pocket, I step into the night.

The slight breeze is cool on my hot face. It carries the hint of many dinners: curry, grilling meat, and is that pumpkin bread? I follow my nose to the dark hulks of houses rising from a subdivision across the street.

The hollow cavern opens in my chest. Hello darkness, my old friend.

I take off at a good pace, my heels hitting the sidewalk to the cadence of my heart. I wonder if anyone ever looks out their window to wonder why a young woman is haunting their neighborhood at night.

Haunting. A good term. I’m like a lonely ghost, on the outside of the life these houses contain.

I pass the picture window of a brick home, faces revealed in the blue-white television light: a mother, father and two little ones. A few houses later, a woman washes dishes. The light over the sink spills onto her hair, chunks of curls falling from a workday updo. A man steps behind her to wrap his arms around her waist. She leans her head against his, her smile pure contentment.

The cavern in my chest fills with an ancient longing. I don’t envy her the man. This is much deeper and Neanderthal than that. It’s knowing you’re not alone when the wind howls and the dark presses in the windows. It’s that someone chooses to stand beside you to face the night. It’s the safety of fellowship. Chosen kinship.

I walk on. In the next house, an overhead light reveals a bedroom—a child’s from the comic border around the top. I can’t see the bed, but a woman with storybook in hand, sinks out of sight.

I fall to a walk, breathing hard. This is what I do. I don’t want to—it hurts to do it, and I know it’s not normal. Every time, I say it won’t happen again. But then I find myself in places like this, haunting neighborhoods like a wistful ghost, taking in the dioramas of everyday family life.

I learned long ago, the distance from the sidewalk to the front door is the closest I’ll ever get to this. It’s not surprising, I guess. How do you know a good relationship if you’ve never seen one? I can’t count the “boyfriends” Mom brought home. Some wanted to save her, some wanted to party with her. Some wanted to party with me. None stayed. I never got close enough to classmates to see their parents’ marriages. Once they met my mother, their invitations to visit dried up like weeds in Vegas.

There was a time I still believed forever love possible. The kind of love I observe in these nighttime dioramas. But I’m a dismal “picker,” and that college disaster almost took me down.

Like they say, know better, do better.

I know better.

Yet here I am, at the mercy of a need that won’t be suppressed. It’s a sharp, uncomfortable place, but it’s strong.

I hate the crack in me that won’t heal.

About The Author

Laura Drake’s first novel, The Sweet Spot, was a double-finalist and then won the 2014 Romance Writers of America® RITA® award. She’s since published 11 more novels. She is a founding member of Women’s Fiction Writers Assn, Writers in the Storm blog, as well as a member of Western Writers of America and Women Writing the West.

Laura is a city girl who never grew out of her tomboy ways or serious cowboy crush. She gave up a corporate CFO gig to write full-time. She realized a lifelong dream of becoming a Texan and is currently working on her accent. She’s a wife, grandmother, and motorcycle chick in the remaining waking hours.

Her latest book is the literary fiction, The Road to Me.

Visit her website at: https://lauradrakebooks.com/ or connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Read A Chapter: Ticket To Ride by Winona Kent

 

Title: TICKET TO RIDE
Author: Winona Kent
Publisher: Blue Devil Books
Pages: 230
Genre: Mystery / Amateur Sleuth

In Lost Time, the third book in Winona’s Jason Davey Mystery series, professional musician / amateur sleuth Jason Davey was rehearsing for Figgis Green's 50th Anniversary Tour of England. Now they're on the road in Ms. Kent’s fourth book in the series, Ticket To Ride.

But when a fortune-teller in Sheffield warns them of impending danger, the band is suddenly plagued by a series of seemingly-unrelated mishaps.

After Jason is attacked and nearly killed in Cambridge, and a fire alarm results in a very personal theft from Mandy's hotel room, it becomes clear they're being targeted by someone with a serious grudge.

And when Figgis Green plays a gig at a private estate in Tunbridge Wells, that person finally makes their deadly intentions known.

Jason must rely on his instincts, his Instagram "guardian angel," and a wartime ghost who might possibly share his DNA, in order to survive.

Book Information

Release Date: March 26, 2022

Publisher:  Blue Devil Books

Soft Cover: 978-1777329433; 230 pages; $15.70; E-Book, $3.93

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3i0xRqY  

 

CHAPTER ONE 

 

My parents were the founding members of Figgis Green.

I’ll forgive you if you don’t remember them. But an amazing number of people do—and still refer to them, fondly, as the Figs.

The Figs were a folky pop group that was huge in the 1960s and ‘70s and less huge—but still touring regularly and putting out albums—in the ‘80s and early ‘90s.

Mandy Green—my mum—was the main singer and my dad, Tony Figgis, shared vocals and played lead guitar.

Their best-known song was “Roving Minstrel,” a catchy thing about a faithless suitor and his careworn lady, tormented hearts, lessons learned and a really fortunate ending. It was their anthem, and they always closed their shows with it.

It was Mitch Green—mum’s brother and the Figs’ bass guitarist—who’d first floated the idea of a 50th Anniversary Tour.

“There’s something wrong with your maths,” said my mother. “We first got together in 1965.”

“The 50th Anniversary Three Years Late Tour,” Mitch said, cleverly.

“The Lost Time Tour,” I said.

And the name stuck.

The only trouble was, my dad, Tony, had died in 1995.

“You can take his place,” said Mitch. “If Mandy doesn’t mind.”

I am actually a musician and I do actually play the guitar. Quite well, in fact. I have a regular gig at a jazz club in Soho—the Blue Devil—with three mates who join me on tenor sax, organ and drums. My professional name is Jason Davey.

Plus, I had the added bonus of being completely familiar with the Figgis Green catalogue—I grew up with it.

“I don’t mind,” said my mother. “As long as no one else does.”

There were no objections.

And so, in September 2018, we started rehearsals for our thirty-four-day, eighteen-stop Lost Time Tour of England.

 

#

 

My uncle Mitch was younger than my mother by two years, with a shock of untidy white hair that always made me think of Albert Einstein. He’d taken to wearing spectacles to help him read, and his waistline was somewhat more portly than when he was with the original Figs. But, like everyone in the group, he’d never allowed himself to appear unremarkable. And he’d never really stopped performing. After the Figs broke up, he and my Auntie Jo took over a well-appointed pub in Hampshire, and Mitch played in a band that offered once-a-week live entertainment to its customers—much of it featuring Figgis Green standards. Once a showman, always a showman.

In the twenty years since the Figs had last performed, Rolly Black—my dad’s cousin and the group’s drummer—had moved to the States and built his own studio and filled it with instruments and had made a second career for himself scoring music for films and TV. He’d always had exceptionally long hair—which was now salt-and-pepper grey—and to mark his return, he’d braided it down his back and tied it up with a green velvet ribbon. He’d also arranged for his original silver Ludwig touring kit to be flown over, complete with its customized bass drum featuring the Figs’ leafy logo.

The original Figs had two rhythm guitarists. The first was Rick Redding, who was hired after mum and dad put an ad in NME. Rick was easily the buccaneer of the group, a romantic hero, rough in both reputation and demeanour. He’d been thrown out of the band in 1968 after he’d assaulted my dad.

After Rick left, Ben Quigley came on board. Ben’s life was similar to Gerry Rafferty’s, but without the six haunting minutes of “Baker Street.” He was a sensitive soul who always shied away from the attention Figgis Green brought him. Ben wasn’t interested in joining our Lost Time tour. So Mitch recruited Bob Chaplin, a “friend of the band.”

I found Bob to be rather ordinary and no-nonsense, though he was an excellent player. He favoured white short-sleeved shirts and jeans, and his hair was short and on the curly side. He reminded me a lot of Bruce Springsteen in his “Dancing in the Dark” days.

A week-and-a-half into rehearsals, our fiddle player, Keith Reader, walked out, claiming “philosophical differences.” He’d done it before, in 1989, for the same reason, so I’m not really sure why anyone was surprised.

In any case, the day was saved by Bob, who suggested his girlfriend, Beth Homewood, as a replacement. Beth had done folk, rock, country, classical… Weddings. Commercial functions. Studio sessions. And she was available. I was a bit sceptical, worrying about her formal training—not that it was compulsory, or even recommended. Keith was the only one of the reconstituted Figs who’d had any kind of lessons.

“Royal College of Music,” Bob said.

And Beth was in.

She turned out to be brilliant, learning the two set lists and two encores in less than a day.

Beth was a good twenty years younger than Bob. She’d begun rehearsals with long, light brown, wavy hair, which she’d plaited loosely behind her head. By the time we opened the tour, she’d morphed into Eileen from the Dexy’s Midnight Runners video that Julien Temple directed, with her hair tucked messily into a scrunched-around kerchief. She wouldn’t have looked amiss in the chopped-off blue-jean coveralls they all wore in the film, but onstage she went for a Judy Geeson To Sir With Love look—a crocheted white mini-dress with a flesh-coloured lining and matching flat white shoes.

My mother was seventy-seven and her hair was silver-white. She had essentially the same cut that she did when she was fronting the Figs all those years ago. Except, of course, that her hair was thinner now, and her face was fuller. She was a bit heavier than she’d been back in the day, too, but that was to be expected as well. She’d happily embraced a cushiony comfy grandmotherly look, and it suited her.

 It turned out some of our songs had to be transposed to fit mum’s vocal range, which had diminished a bit over the five decades since she’d started singing them. But other than that, she was still in fine form.

As for me, I hadn’t toured in nearly ten years. The last time I’d gigged around England was 2009, the year my wife, Em, died. I’d been on the road with my own band, desperate to “make it,” playing concerts in pubs and clubs and converted churches and renovated city halls and repurposed Corn Exchanges. And staging late night turns at so many music festivals I’d lost count.

Between then, and now, I’d run away to sea and worked as an entertainer on board a cruise ship. After that, I’d gone travelling and then I’d come home to England and made a brief living as a busker while I tried to find a more permanent gig.

And then I’d landed the residency at the Blue Devil.

I arranged for a leave of absence from the club and found a temporary stand-in to keep my band employed and my post-tour career in safe hands.

My prep was pretty basic. I packed up my guitars and got a haircut. I’d just tiptoed over fifty, and I have to admit, I was very nearly talked into colouring the silver filaments that had begun to infiltrate my very untidy, dark brown hair. I resisted.

So that was the band: mum, me, Mitch, Rolly, Bob and Beth. Our venues were booked. Our faces were on the tea towels.

We rehearsed. We perfected our show.

On Friday, September 7, 2018, we went out on the road.

And two weeks later, on Friday, September 21, as mum and I were on our way in to the Duke of York Theatre in Leeds for our sound check, we were very nearly killed by a gargoyle.

 

#

 

The Duke of York, if you don’t know it, was built roundabout 1880 and is Grade II listed. Outside, it’s high Victorian red brick and stone and inside it’s red velvet and Gothic plasterwork and gold leaf, all lovingly restored to bring the old music hall up to modern-day standards.

The renovations were largely focused on the interior, which was probably why nobody’d bothered to double-check the stability of the three stone figureheads perched outside on the lintel over the stage door.

It was 4:30 in the afternoon when the middle one broke free and crashed to the pavement, narrowly missing me—I’d stopped to tie up a shoelace—and my mother, who was hunting in her bag for her security pass. The dislodged head sent out a spray of jagged stone shrapnel as it smashed into pieces at our feet.

Mum and I looked at one another.

“Bloody hell,” she said.

I knew what she was thinking, and she knew what I was thinking.

We made a point, after each show, of going out into the foyer to say hello to people from the audience and signing their programmes and whatever else they might have brought with them. It’s something the Figs always did, back in the day, and my mother wanted to continue doing it for our tour. The venues weren’t huge, and the fans—some of whom had travelled quite a long distance—loved us for it.

Two days earlier, in Sheffield, as the last of the autograph-seekers and well-wishers straggled out, I’d spotted a woman who seemed to be hanging back. She was tall, with long dark brown hair, and she was wearing a loose black top and a spectacular flowing ankle-length brown and black skirt. She had a gold chain hanging around her neck, at the end of which were a couple of gold medallions. It looked like she was waiting for a moment to talk to us alone.

“Hello,” she said, to me, and then to mum, who was on the point of going back to her dressing room. “Please—I wish you to stay for a moment. I would like a quiet word.”

I’m always a little bit leery of fans who want to have a “quiet word.” You never know what they might consider to be earth-shatteringly important—the fact that you played three wrong notes in the middle of one of their favourite songs or, God forbid, you decided to use a different guitar from the one that was on that recording in 1985. Or your input was required to settle a long-standing argument about why there were two versions of one particular tune—the one on the 1968 album and the one on the flip side of the Top Ten single that came out the following year. Because they sounded decidedly different and the general consensus was that the album version was far superior. And they wanted to know what you thought.

I waited. My mother waited.

“My name is Kezia Heron,” the woman said. “I have been following you for many, many years.”

There was something delightfully old-fashioned about her. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. The Figs attracted all kinds of followers, and I suppose because of the sheer nature of most of their songs, those followers were bound to have one foot firmly planted in the distant past. This woman looked and sounded as if she’d embraced that particular concept hook, line and sinker.

 “I have the gift,” she said, confidentially. “I am able to see into the future.”

“Are you,” said my mother, wholly unimpressed.

I knew her opinion of seaside amusements and end-of-pier fortune-tellers. I knew that opinion included, with very few exceptions, anything remotely to do with the word ‘psychic’.

“I am compelled to speak with you,” said Kezia, looking at me. “I bring a warning.”

My mother was exercising supreme patience. She would never say anything horrible to a fan, but she wanted very badly to leave. Our shows ended late and by the time we got back to our hotel, it was usually well past midnight.

I’m more open-minded about the occult and the paranormal than my mother. “What sort of warning?” I asked.

“There will be troubles. I am certain of the word ‘dropping’.”

“Dropping,” said my mother.

“Yes, dropping.”

“As in, falling down?” I asked.

“I hear the word,” said Kezia. “Over and over again. And I feel it as it happens. A dropping.”

“Is this dropping going to kill us?” mum inquired. “Because if it is, perhaps we’d better cancel the rest of the tour and arrange for a refund on the hotel deposits and the transport.”

Kezia smiled. “I understand. Many people are unwilling to accept the words I offer. I am in your presence only to convey the message, which is extended with graciousness and humility and great caring.”

“Thank you,” I said. “We do appreciate the warning.”

“We are all wanderers on this earth,” Kezia replied. “Our hearts are full of wonder, and our souls are deep with dreams. I wish you a peaceful night.”

 

#

 

My mother maintained an amused silence as we went backstage to change out of our gigging clothes. We had two dressing rooms at our venues—one for mum and Beth, and the other for Mitch, Bob, Rolly and me.

“You don’t have to say it,” I said.

“And I shan’t,” she confirmed.

“I’ll keep an eye out for possible hazards.”

“I should think you would be doing that anyway,” my mother replied, deadpan, opening her door, “as the only reason I brought you along on this tour was to look after me.”

 

#

 

Beth, Bob and Rolly had repaired to our hotel’s bar—which stayed open late—for a nightcap with the crew. Mitch, mum and I went up to our rooms.

I made myself a mug of hot chocolate. A bonus when you’re touring is accommodations that come with electric kettles and packets of expensive tea and an equally-impressive array of coffee pods and packages of sugar and whitener and, if you’re lucky, hot cocoa mix.

I finished off the last of a G&B Dark Chocolate and Ginger I’d bought that morning and had a bedtime ciggie, blowing the smoke down the sink drain in the bathroom. I switched on the telly and read over the comments that my followers had contributed to my latest Instagram post. I “liked” them all, answered a couple of them, and then fell asleep watching Cliff Richard and the Shadows drive across continental Europe in a refurbished double-decker bus.

 

#

 

How do you conduct your life when someone’s told you to watch out for something that may or may not have anything to do with a vague premonition of “dropping”? Do you walk around staring at the sky, wondering if a large chunk of blue ice is going to detach itself from a passing jet, plummet to earth and impale itself in your skull? Conversely, do you keep your eyes permanently fixed to the ground in case a sink hole suddenly opens up and you end up tripping into a cavern created by a leaky water pipe dating from the Roman occupation?

If you’re my mother, you discard the entire thing as nonsense and carry on without a second thought.

If you’re me, you remember the guardian angel who saved your life six years earlier and you very definitely believe what you’ve been told.

 

 

About the Author

 

Winona Kent is an award-winning author who was born in London, England and grew up in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, where she completed her BA in English at the University of Regina. After moving to Vancouver, she graduated from UBC with an MFA in Creative Writing. More recently, she received her diploma in Writing for Screen and TV from Vancouver Film School.

Winona's writing breakthrough came many years ago when she won First Prize in the Flare Magazine Fiction Contest with her short story about an all-night radio newsman, Tower of Power.

Her spy novel Skywatcher was a finalist in the Seal Books First Novel Competition and was published in 1989. This was followed by a sequel, The Cilla Rose Affair, and her first mystery, Cold Play, set aboard a cruise ship in Alaska.

After three time-travel romances (Persistence of Memory, In Loving Memory and Marianne's Memory), Winona returned to mysteries with Disturbing the Peace, a novella, in 2017 and the novel Notes on a Missing G-String in 2019, both featuring the character she first introduced in Cold Play, professional jazz musician / amateur sleuth Jason Davey.

The third book in Winona's Jason Davey Mystery series, Lost Time, was published in 2020.

Ticket to Ride is the fourth book in Winona’s Jason Davey Mysteries.

Winona has been a temporary secretary, a travel agent, a screenwriter and the Managing Editor of a literary magazine. She’s currently the BC/YK/NWT rep for the Crime Writers of Canada and is also an active member of Sisters n Crime – Canada West. She recently retired from her full-time admin job at UBC’s School of Population and Public Health, and is now happily embracing life as a full-time author.

You can visit her website at http://www.winonakent.com and connect with her on Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads.