Sunday, January 29, 2012

Stairway to the Bottom - Michael Haskins

Chapter One

If I hadn’t gone to watch the comedy showcase at the Key West Fringe Theater, I wouldn’t have silenced my cell phone. If I hadn’t silenced my cell, I would have answered Dick Walsh’s first call at 1:10 A.M., and then things might not have gone so badly. If is a damn big word for only having two letters.
I unplugged the cell from its charger in the morning and the lighted screen reminded me it was on silent mode and that I had five messages.
Each of Dick’s messages was more frantic and pleading than the last. He needed help, but didn’t say for what. By the third message, he was cussing but still wanted me to call and that was at 3:15. He didn’t sound drunk, like most three in the morning callers do, he sounded scared.
The fifth and final message came at 5:36. He had calmed down, asked me to come by his house as soon as possible and gave me the address. His composed voice assured me I would understand the problem after I arrived and he would be in touch later.
Mick, I need you to believe me, it isn’t what it looks like. Please help me,” his message ended with a quiet plea.
I dressed quickly in last night’s clothing and swallowed cold water from a bottle out of the cooler. Before I got into my Jeep and drove to Dick’s house on Von Phister Street, I called his cell but it went to voice mail and I left a message. We were playing phone tag.
Von Phister is a narrow, tree-lined street in a quiet neighborhood of old and new houses. Dick’s was an old two-story house with a large gumbo-limbo tree in front and two more in back. He actually had a decent-size backyard, something that is at a premium in Key West.
The house was dark. It was almost six-thirty, about an hour since his last call. The sky was a light gray with a reddish-purple sunrise pushing the dawn westward. Only a large yellow tomcat crossed my path on the empty street.
I parked in front and noticed Dick’s scooter was gone. I went up the steps to the wraparound porch, rang the bell, and then knocked. Nothing. I looked into the living room window. Nothing. I knocked again and when no one answered, I tried the door. It was unlocked so I went in.
The stench that greeted me in the hallway was familiar. The smell of death was strong and that told me somewhere in the house, death was very recent. Death, if left alone long enough cloaks all other odors, especially in the tropics – violent death even more so.
I called Dick’s name but no one answered. I walked into the living room and it looked lived in – a big screen TV, stereo with CDs stacked next to it, a sectional sofa set. A hallway led to a kitchen, small dining room, and bathroom. The stairway on the right went upstairs to the bedrooms.
Dick used the dining room as his office – medium-sized desk that was too big for the room, a computer, a printer, and a two-drawer file. I walked through into the kitchen. There was a table for two off to the side, dirty dishes in the sink and a woman’s body on the floor.
She lay face down and a large part of her head was gone. Pieces of shattered skull, along with parts of her brain and blood, tarnished the otherwise clean kitchen wall.
Blood and human waste soaked the tile floor and stained her clothing.
The stench of death filled the kitchen. I didn’t bother looking for a pulse.
An automatic with a silencer attached lay on the floor, her arm stretched out toward it as if reaching for the gun that had a small stream of brownish blood curled up next to it.
I ran upstairs to check the two bedrooms, calling Dick’s name. Both rooms were neat and the beds made. Nothing broken or seemingly out of place. Dick’s closet looked full with only a couple of empty hangers in the mix. The guestroom closet was empty.
Dick shot this woman, I thought as I looked down at her body. Whose gun was it on the floor? I didn’t touch anything, though I wanted to. My curiosity was getting the best of me.
I’m Liam Murphy, a semi-retired journalist and fulltime sail bum, some say. Key West has been my home for almost eighteen years. Before that, I lived in Southern California and reported on Central American civil wars and when they ended I covered the drug wars for a weekly newsmagazine so a dead body wasn’t something that frightened me it intrigued me.
In Key West, I’ve made friends with all kinds of characters, including the chief of police, Richard Dowley. We have a two-sided relationship. One side is Richard the cop, the other is Richard the friend. He considers me a friend but always thinks of me as a journalist. He says I only have one side. I called him on my cell, sure of catching him at home, and knew I’d be talking to his cop side.
I told him where I was and what I’d found.
What are you doing at that nut’s house?” I could hear him banging around in the kitchen.
When I explained about the messages and Dick’s plea, he sighed loudly enough for me to hear on the phone.
Don’t touch anything and I’ll call it in,” he said. “Best thing is go outside and wait for the first unit, and I’ll make it there too.”
Okay, Richard, but tell the ambulance it doesn’t have to hurry,” I said and he hung up without replying.
Outside, I sat and waited, thinking of Dick’s last message telling me it wasn’t what it looked like. It looked like murder.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Madness & Murder - Jenny Hilborne

Jenny Hilborne has worked in a variety of fields, including the retail music industry, residential real estate, commercial real estate and finance. She is the second of four daughters, born and raised in Wiltshire, South West England, and relocated to Southern California in 1997. Jenny is a member of Sisters in Crime, San Diego chapter.

Madness and Murder is her first novel, set in San Francisco. Her second suspense novel, No Alibi, is also set in San Francisco, featuring homicide inspector, John Doucette; an experienced inspector plagued by personal betrayal. Jenny is working on her third and fourth mysteries; the fourth being a break from the norm and set in England.

On the rare occasions Jenny is not writing or working, she catches up with family and friends and enjoys reading, travel, and a good movie – usually a mystery.

With the body count at five, and the blade marks left on the latest victim determined to be have been made by an eight-inch blade, Mac Jackson had little doubt in his mind that they had all died at the hands of the same killer. Another serial killer on the streets of San Francisco, but this one left no cryptic clues or taunting letters, made no demands to the police or the general public. He didn't appear to want attention or recognition. Jackson suspected he had a particular grudge, or some type of personal vendetta, only he hadn't been able to figure out what.
Exhausted from working through the night–even with a little extra civilian help to which he'd consented–he rubbed at his eyes, and took a slurp of coffee that had already turned cold. He'd been making notes and sifting through the scant evidence left behind since the young woman's body had been found by a lonesome jogger, during the early hours of Tuesday morning. What the hell is your motive? He set the mug down, sighed, and looked at the photo of the deceased. If he'd been called to the scene half an hour sooner, he might have been able to ask the killer that question. Her body had still been warm.
"She was just a kid," he said to Red. "Twenty-four. Only two years older than Bryce."
Red shook his head, no more enlightened than Jackson. "I know. There's no pattern. He butchers men, women, old, young, but never rapes them or robs them. What's the motive? What the hell does this bastard want?"
"I wish I knew," Jackson said, grimacing at another mouthful of cold coffee, "but one thing's becoming clear; he's getting careless or cocky. Thirty minutes sooner and we'd have had him."
"Doubt it. That was deliberate, Jackson. The bastard knows what he's doing. He doesn't want to get caught until he's ready."
"Well, so far he doesn't have to worry about that. We've got extra cops patrolling the streets, and he still manages to leave us a warm, dead body and no witnesses. There's something we're missing." He pressed his hands and finger-tips together, hooked his thumbs under his weary chin, and closed his eyes, trying to get inside a killer's head.
"This is his arena, man, his stage," Red said. "He's killing right under our noses like there's not a damn thing we can do about it. And the warm body?…he's performing. That's arrogance."
"Or anger." Jackson opened his eyes. "Or maybe he's bored."
"He's not bored," Red said, shaking his head. He strode around his desk to sit on the front edge of it, facing Jackson. "He thinks he's superior. He stays one step ahead, but barely, he leaves virtually no clues, and he seems to murder at random."
"And always in a busy location." Jackson drummed his long fingers impatiently on his desk. "Why do you think he makes no effort to conceal the bodies?"
"He wants them to be found. He wants us to know he's killed again, and we've failed again."
"To protect the city. To do our jobs. He's not just satisfying some sick thrill, you know, he's making fools of all of us, of law enforcement."
"So, maybe that's his message. There's a reason for the killings, I'm sure of that, but the real anger is against the law. And he wants us to figure out why."
"I'm going out on a limb here," Red said. "Call it one of your hunches, but I'd say he's never done time. He's not going to be in the database."
"What makes you say that?" Jackson looked at his partner with interest.
"Something tells me he hasn't reached his zenith. He's leading up to something, and until we figure out what it is, he's not going to get caught. He wants to get caught, but not just yet, not until he's ready. And another thing…I don't believe he kills at random. He picks his victims."
Jackson nodded, thinking, pinched the bridge of his nose while he contemplated. Finally he looked back at Red, still perched on the edge of his desk and looking as beat as Jackson felt.
"You know," he began, "I can't stop thinking about the tongue. He'd already slit her throat, so she'd have been dead already, bled out, so why cut it out? And why didn't we find it?"
A thorough search of the area where the body had been found had not turned up the missing muscle.
"I'd say she pissed him off," Red suggested. "Maybe she said something he didn't like."
"You think he knew her?"
Red shrugged. "Maybe, probably not. But I'd say he'd been in close proximity the night he killed her, maybe listening to her conversation."
Jackson picked up the report on his desk and reread the notes about the young woman's last night. "She'd been out with friends," he read aloud, "celebrating a promotion, according to her friends." He searched Red's face. "They work in finance."
"Jealousy?" Red suggested.
"Possible. Except her friends state they were all doing well."
"Yeah, well maybe one of them thought she wasn't deserving, thought she got promoted out of turn. She was considerably younger. They were in their forties. Hell, I'd probably be pissed if I got overtaken by a kid in her twenties."
"But if they're all hot shots, I'd say it's unlikely," Jackson said. "Anyway, they all checked out. They all left together, without her, and went straight home. She'd had too much to drink, apparently wanted to walk it off."
"Some friends."
Jackson shrugged. "It happens. None of the other diners remember anyone suspicious. Nothing we could use."
"What about credit cards?"
Jackson shook his head. "Slow night, only a few transactions and they checked out."
"So he paid cash."
"Maybe. No one remembers a lone diner. No one paid her group any attention."
"Well, someone did." Red pursed his lips, removed his legs from the desk, and walked round to the other side to sit down. "If the guy was there, he looked like a regular. He fitted in. No one noticed him."
"And a regular guy can fly under the radar, mingle easily. That's how he does it." Jackson slapped a hand down on his desk. "We're looking for someone who fits into society. Someone with a job, maybe even a few friends. On the one hand he kills, has an aversion to the law, but he also lives a part of his life normally, like everyone else."
"Could have been someone she worked with. One of the group. Or a schizophrenic."
"Not a schizophrenic. I don't believe there's any distortion of reality for this guy. I believe he knows exactly what he's doing."
Red nodded. "You're right about him being local."
Jackson pulled up a fresh sheet in his notepad and began to scribble. "Here's what we've got," he said to Red, "I think he's a white male, probably late twenties to early thirties, strong, agile, social to an extent but really a loner."
"Little or none."
"Think he killed 'em?"
"His family? No. If he's local we'd have gotten something on that. He's from this area, so they're either dead already, or they've moved away."
"Why d'you think that?"
"Hunch. Plus, he can go about his business more easily with no one keeping tabs on his hours, his comings and goings. My gut tells me this guy is a loner, not one of her group."
"Good enough for me." Red yawned behind his hand, and rubbed his eyes, ran a hand through his hair, and stretched in his seat. "I'm beat." He laced his fingers together behind his head and leaned back, putting his feet up on his desk. "Still think it's a thrill killer?"
Jackson sighed. "I don't know. Yes…and no. There's an underlying motive, but he's a sadistic bastard. He enjoys the violence."
"The tongue?"
"That, the genitals, and the fact he mutilates them after they're dead. The two back in ninety-five…I believe it's the same guy." He locked eyes with Red, saw his furrowed brow, and could almost hear the cogs turning in his partners head. "What is it?"
"The fact her body was still warm."
"What about it?"
Red unlaced his fingers, removed his feet from his desk, and leaned forward in his seat, his face taut with concentration. "The jogger found her at four-thirty, Tuesday morning."
"Right." Jackson watched his expression with interest.
"If he'd been inside the restaurant and followed her out, killing her on her way home, her body would have been cold by the time the jogger found her. We know the jogger didn't do it because he'd only left the house ten minutes earlier, confirmed by his wife, and he had no blood on his clothes."
"Ok." They'd been through this already, but Jackson didn't mind going over it again. Maybe they'd missed something the first time.
"We know she'd been dead for only about thirty minutes, so, if time of death was four in the morning, we've got six hours to account for from the time she left the restaurant to when she died."
"Well, we know she went for a walk, she was drunk, and she was alone. Maybe she fell asleep somewhere, and maybe he didn't follow her. He might not have been in the bar at all; no one remembers a lone guy, so maybe it was purely random and he stumbled upon her sleeping it off."
"It's possible," Red said, "but it doesn't fit with the tongue. That kind of violence had to be provoked. It wasn't random. She said something to piss him off. He was in that bar, and he followed her out. Know what I think?" He didn't wait to be asked. "I think he tortured her for a while."
Jackson sighed. "No marks on her body to suggest it, no ligature on her wrists or feet."
"Mental torture. I think she felt comfortable with him, trusted him. She went with him willingly."
"She was drunk," Jackson reminded him, a headache beginning to kick around at the back of his eyeballs. "She wouldn't have had the same fear she might have had sober."
"That's true, too, but…if he was mad enough to hack off her tongue, he wouldn't waste six hours idly chatting. Somehow, he gained her trust before he killed her, and he took six hours to do it. There's a reason for that, and I want to know what it is."
Jackson scratched his head. "We've been over this. I don't know."
"Jackson," Red shot him a dry look, "you're the master of hunches, and maybe it's rubbing off. My hunch: he's testing himself."
"Red." Jackson stared at him in astonishment, his headache suddenly vanishing. "That's it. You're brilliant." He punched the air.
"What did I do?" Red stared back in surprise.
"You hit the nail on the head, that's what you did." Jackson smacked his hands together triumphantly. "He is testing himself, not us." He laughed out loud. "Why didn't I see it before?"
"See what?"
Jackson grinned at Red's puzzled expression. "You see how the murders have been escalating? Both in frequency and violence?" He didn't wait for Red to comment. "I figured he's been working his way up to something." He pulled open the file on his desk with the old notes from the earlier murders. "The ones in ninety-five…those were homeless, nobodies…their bodies could drift about for days, months, and no one would miss them. He was warming up, getting a taste for murder. He didn't care if anyone found them."
"And these latest ones?"
"These victims have families. He knew they'd be missed. He wanted them to be found. He wanted to know he could walk into a crowded area, somewhere like the Embarcadero, choose a victim, and kill them without getting caught, and then watch how the case unraveled. See what he could learn from the moves made by police."
"If we don't believe the victims were chosen at random," Red said, Jackson's sudden enthusiasm rubbing off on him, "then there's a common link, something that makes him snap, something that ties them all together."
"Yes." Jackson smacked his desk again. "We need to find that link." He grinned across at Red. "We're finally making progress."
Red seemed to be on a roll. "And if the victims were chosen by something they said or did, he upped the stakes each time, increased the violence, let us get closer. He tested himself to see how far he could go before we start closing in."
"And that tells me something else. Red, when he abducts his final victim, he's going to do it in a public place. He's been training for it, building up to it. He's going to try to snatch him or her from right under our noses."
"Think he's following the reports on the news?"
"I don't doubt it. The vicious bastard has enjoyed destroying those families."
"That's it." Red leapt from his chair, wide-eyed and without a trace of exhaustion.
"What?" Startled, Jackson stared at him as if he'd gone mad.
"Jackson, you're fucking brilliant." Red grinned.
"Piss off, Dennis."
"Don't you get it?" Red flicked a paperclip that hit Jackson on the nose. "You just figured out the motive."

Friday, January 20, 2012

Running with Chaos - Elicia Clegg

Elicia Clegg, who was born in the small town of Spanish Fork Utah, affectionately known as happy-valley, moved, at age four, to Ogden Utah; a town riddled with a dark past of opium dens, brothels, and business with underground tunnels constructed for criminals’ and prostitutes to escape police raids. Not only was Elicia’s environment surrounded in historical intrigue her family has long whispered about a Curse as many have died in strange events. To name but a few: her grandfather was thrown off a building in New York City, her great-grandfather “fell” off the historic Radisson in Ogden, her father was shot in the head, her brother died in a work explosion, her great-uncle had a truck load of lumber crush him to death, her maternal great-grandfather was hit by car and died, a cousin who served two tours in Vietnam died on route home from his heart bursting, her maternal great-great-grandfather disappeared without a trace, and her grandmother, while volunteering, was stabbed to death at the State Mental Health Institute.
It is no wonder she grew up with an over active imagination and soon released her first psychologically-thrilling suspense novel Vexation in March 2010, which has been followed up by three more titles. Find out more information by visiting her website:

Excerpt from Running with Chaos:

The organic reality of the situation was grim. Sam was back more than three years. The concept of times colliding made her head spin and gave her a sinking feeling in her stomach which gurgled and clenched in pain. She popped her neck and spun around to find another campsite. Anyone at all would be better than a family she should not meet for another three years. She was an unruffled individual, taking all this in stride, yet deep inside she felt herself slipping up a bit. She rationalized a great need to contact someone soon, get some kind of help, and learn the truth of the situation.
She was however, at a loss, she did not know whom she should contact. Her eyes shifted up and to the left as she turned and spied a different group of people in another camping site. The campgrounds as a whole had many different and very private campsites blocked by large trees sprouting out from the ground, creating circles and natural enclosures. It was secure enough to get help without Erin seeing or hearing, thus keeping their meeting safely intact for the future.
She approached cautiously, eager for help. “Hi, hey, my friends played a cruel joke on me; do you care if I borrow your cell so I can call my mom?” She asked in the nicest of tones.
Are you sure it was your friend’s darling?” One woman said as another man stood up and threw his phone at her saying, “Sure thing kid.”
Sam smiled, wanting to keep up the ruse she replied, “Not after today, and thank you sir, I appreciate it, I am going to call my mom real quick.”
She caught the cellphone with her left hand while she moved to the right. She blinked; her eyes had caught hold of Erin’s in the distance. Sam turned her head, not wanting to cause any more rifts; she could not have Erin recognize her in three years from now. She opened the cellphone to dial the first number coming to mind; which was Chaos’s. She cursed at herself, though he wasn’t her least favorite person, he surely wasn’t her favorite. She went to press the buttons. Frustration rose up; the phone must have not been one she had seen before because there were no buttons.
Umm, how do I dial out?”
You okay honey?”
Yes I’m fine.”
You dial like any other phone.” The lady said as the others slightly laughed.
She felt herself cracking more on the inside, crying was not far off. She looked up at them, perplexed by the phone when she noticed they were all slowly beginning to fade from sight. Isolation surrounded her; everything in sight was fading away. Everything was becoming more and more blurry, all evaporating right before her. Her brain began to ruminate, the gears kicking in, and all at once she knew it wasn’t they who were fading into the backdrop of nothingness, it was her who would soon be no more. She dropped the phone, her hands disappearing more rapidly; her world began to go black.
She went to let out a scream, but could not as her mouth began filling and became inundated with pond water. Her eyes jutted open, tiny bubbles of air surrounded her. Her hair flowed softly in front of her and fanned out like a wave of ocean mist colliding with the rocks. She flailed her arms, kicking with all her might as she burst out of the water, gasping and coughing for air. It wasn’t the same kind of confusion as before, yet she was shaken all the same. She was right back where she had begun. She quickly twisted her body, kicking herself around until she could see the old rope swing. She gazed, her eyes squinting to block the sun, seeing the same boy who had jumped before was in the water, and was occupied with another friend, they were cheering on yet another boy who stood shakily on the top platform. She took a moment, her mind took a step back; she smiled at herself, the wisdom coming slowly, the puzzle pieces coming together.

It would seem dear Sam time has moved forward, but you have not, wonderful.” She said to fish which swam in and around her, she gazed longingly at each of them, they would never have to put up with something like this.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Deadly Traffic by Mickey Hoffman

Deadly Traffic by Mickey Hoffman - excerpt from Chapter 2

Sandi found Win leaning on the bar counter, waiting for her when she came out of the Ladies’ room. A greenish glow from the wine bottles above the bar accented the planes of his handsome face. The young bartender smiled as she returned his change. A hostess led a party of three toward a table along the wall. He frowned at the receipt in his hand and stored it in his wallet. She couldn’t see him turning it in to his boss; since when did petty criminals ask for meal allowances? More likely, it would be kept to demonstrate how well he treated her, right after he told her she didn’t deserve dinner at such an expensive restaurant.
He plucked a toothpick from a shot glass near the cash register and used it like a wand to direct her toward the door. Sandi winced as a punishing blast of hot air struck her face, giving a longing look back at the cool interior of the restaurant. Win slid a stiffened palm to the small of her back to make sure they stayed hip to hip as he chose a pace that suited his long legs.
As they walked, Sandi kept her eyes fixed straight ahead, on a distant point that existed only in her mind, so she could pretend not to see the shock on people’s faces when their eyes landed on her, the ungainly girl at his side. He, as usual, basked in the attention he drew from passersby. Impervious to the heat, he wore all black, chosen, she knew, to complement his hair and highlight the three diamond studs that sparkled in his left ear. A manicurist, outside for a smoke, paused mid-puff and stared in admiration, as if Sandi’s companion had stepped straight off the glossy cover of one of the People magazines in her salon. Sandi wished she could hold that fantasy cover in her hands and shred him to bits, starting with his complacent smile. Why didn’t anyone ever see him for what he really was?
Of course, Win got a kick out of seeing her humiliation. The way he played up his resemblance to Bruce Lee only served to accentuate her inadequacies—skinny legs with thick ankles, a sway back, and pudgy cheeks that refused to go away no matter how much weight she lost. The only thing that marred his perfection was a gold tooth that showed when he smiled. But women didn’t consider it a flaw, they liked it, said it gave him character.
Sandi tracked away, pretending she wanted to avoid a bike rack, but he steered her back to his side as they joined a group waiting for a traffic light at a busy intersection. On the far corner, a steady stream of customers went in and out of the Arbor City Gourmet Deli. A wiry blond man stepped toward the curb, sipping at a large coffee. He barely caught her attention until she saw him retrieve a dog from where he’d tied it to a street sign. In a flash of recognition, she quickly sidestepped into the recessed doorway of a clothes boutique.
Where do you think you’re going?” barked Win in Burmese, catching up to her in two strides.
Hah! Not really ‘all American’ yet, are you?” she replied in English. She pressed her nose to the glass, feigning interest in the merchandise. She needed to do something to gain more time. Playing to his vanity, she said, “Look here, these leather jeans would look good on you.” As he checked out the jeans, she chanced a look down the block, starting to breathe again when she saw that her “uncle” hadn’t seen her. He was leading his dog in the opposite direction.
Win opened the shop door, but stepped away as a red-haired woman came out. She brazenly brushed against him, the filmy cloth of her skirt teasing at his leg, then looked over her shoulder to throw him a suggestive look before proceeding into the adjacent shoe store. Sandi hoped he’d follow the woman, but he didn’t respond to the lure. Instead, he was staring at the wall clock inside the boutique.
Let’s go in and you can try the pants on,” Sandi suggested.
She had a moment of hope while he appeared to consider it, but he frowned and said, “Not now, I have to get you back.”
He took her arm in a firm grip and set a fast pace back toward where they’d parked. She saw with dismay that in spite of her dawdling, they were in danger of catching up to the demon now only a block ahead and paused in front of an art gallery, sipping his coffee while his dog sniffed around an outdoor sculpture.
Sandi prayed for a distraction and for once the gods listened. From across the street, at a table set under the awning of an outdoor café, a triad of raucous coeds noticed Win and began to wave. How she loathed those women. They embodied everything she hoped to be when she reached their age, but would never become. She envied their carefree laughter, hated them for their self-assurance, but silently thanked them for being flirty. She felt the grip on her arm relax.
Hey there!” Win called out to the women, moving slowly toward them while framing them in the camera of his cell phone.
Sandi dropped back a few paces and eyed the alley up ahead, on the near side of the parking lot where they were headed. It had to be now or she’d lose her chance. The alley was a dimly lit canyon where she felt she could lose him, especially if he didn’t immediately figure out where she’d gone.
A few more steps to increase the distance between them…good, now he would lose sight of her as soon as she ran between the tall buildings. She curled her toes so her sandals wouldn’t flop off and darted to the right. Suddenly, a bicyclist rounded the corner and swerved in front of her. She shrieked reflexively, losing the advantage of surprise, but she kept going. She heard his boots hit the pavement as he ran hard after her, shouting her name. She pushed down her fear and kept moving, into the alley and toward her goal, the little park beyond where she planned to disappear among the throngs of people gathered for a 10K charity run. She ran not for charity, only for her life.
She lost one shoe, heard him closing the distance. She spotted a line of dumpsters and flung herself into the darkness behind, landing hard. She inched backward, feeling the way with her hands. Then the ground beneath her tilted and she slid backwards until she hit a wall. Upended wooden pallets ringed her like a three-sided cage. Her pursuer let out a yelp of pain and his footsteps halted. Was he hurt? If she ran again, would he be able to chase her? Her answer came quickly.
Don’t move! You’ve got two choices, you can let me get you out of there before the rest of those things fall and crush you, or you can wait and leave in a body bag.”
She froze, sprawled on the broken planks, skirt rucked up, legs askew. She felt a sharp, hot wetness on the palm of her hand and she licked at the blood. There wasn’t enough to really taste, not like when she cut herself. Her ankle was twisted, the sole of her remaining sandal caught in a crevice between two pallets. She slid a hand down to free her foot and found her wristband; it must have unsnapped during the slide.
Why…are you…running from me?” Win labored to catch his breath.
You brought me to downtown to hand me over to him, didn’t you!”
Who’s him? What’s wrong with you?”
Sandi wanted to scream back, “What’s wrong with you?” but she already knew the answer. She sat there in despair, relishing the pain of the wooden splinters in her skin as penance for her own stupidity.
He leaned in, stretching a hand toward her. She recoiled and, in spite of the shadows, pulled down her skirt to conceal the pattern of partially healed bruises on her thighs. When she felt the touch of his fingers on her foot, she threw her wristband at him. He swore at her as it bounced against his head, but managed to grab on to her ankle and reeled her in. She made a last attempt to shake loose, but his arms clamped around her so tightly she could hardly breathe. She’d lost.
You won’t run off again?” he asked, but it really wasn’t a question.
Not so you’ll catch me,” she said under her breath.
From a near distance came a muffled cry.
Someone’s coming,” said Win. “Keep quiet or I’ll make sure you can’t scream.” With a new urgency, he half-carried her through the alley emerging a mere block from the park that no longer was her refuge. Somewhere along the way she lost her other shoe. Eyes cast to the pavement, she numbly let him walk her back to the parking lot.
You’re bleeding. I think there’s tissue in the car.”
Sandi wanted to believe the concern in his voice but she no longer trusted anyone. For that, maybe she should blame herself. She was angry, but also ashamed, and she couldn’t tell him or ask for help. Not anymore.
When they reached the car, he pushed her into the passenger seat, then got in the driver’s side and reached over to fasten her seat belt. Sure, she thought, don’t damage the valuable cargo. Why doesn’t he just throw me into the trunk like he does with the others and be done with it? Or do the other girls just go along with him?
Win found a package of Kleenex under the seat, took one out and put it in her lap. She picked it up and bunched it in her fist, wondering what he’d do if she rubbed the blood from her wound all over his handsome face.
We’ll talk when you calm down. I don’t have to tie you up, do I?” he asked in a tone indicating it was an option.
You’d like that, wouldn’t you,” she spat. “Then you can charge extra for delivering me.”
You’re sick. I’m taking you home. I don’t even know who you are anymore.” He turned the key in the ignition.
She gave him a look of scorn. “You never did, brother.”

Deadly Traffic - Review

Kendra DeSola is back and ready for action! Sort of. After the previous year's debacle at Standard High (School of Lies) she's taken time off from her teaching job. Complications with eye surgery have isolated her even more. Needing an income, she starts a dog walking business.
Enter Roger Rhus. Slick, handsome, charming and rich, Roger seems like the perfect client. Impressed with Kendra, he hires her to walk his Labrador, Jackson.
Kendra has gone so far as to move and change her number to get away from her stalking ex-boyfriend, Brian. Her new house isn't in the best neighborhood, but she likes it well enough until someone puts a rock through her backdoor. Rushing out to investigate, she literally runs into her new neighbor, Win Ni. Also handsome and charming, Kendra finds herself attracted to a much younger man.
These two chance meetings lure Kendra into another mystery. The accidental discovery of a dead body once more puts her at odds with her police detective adversaries, Detectives Howard and Tapia. And as before, Standard High plays a role in the complex action.
Kendra DeSola is curious to a fault. Scrupulous and trustworthy, she always seems to be getting herself into dangerous situations. Her distrust of the police keeps her from going to the authorities with what she's learned.
Maretta Edwards, Kendra's closest friend, joins her for some of her investigative jaunts. Though she says she hates to be involved, she's right there in the thick of things.
Deadly Traffic is an exciting sequel to School of Lies. Hoffman's characters are engaging, their actions skillfully pulling the reader into the suspenseful plot. I highly recommend Deadly Traffic to anyone who loves a great mystery. Five Golden Acorns.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Excerpt from "Shakazhan" Book Two of the "Lone Wolf" series

I originally wrote this post in 2012. Shakazhan is now a reality! You can buy it here.

I'm currently editing Shakazhan the second book in my sci-fi series. It's a big job, bigger than Lone Wolf in some ways, but at least this time around I have some help and I know more what I'm doing. My daughter read the entire book and made a lot of really helpful notes. With those in mind, I'm attacking the manuscript with renewed vigor and an added perspective. It's still a long haul, but it doesn't feel quite so daunting as editing Lone Wolf did.

Anyway, during my latest session, I came across one of my favorite scenes. Those of you who have read Lone Wolf know who Emmelia Spenser and Ben Drexel are. For those of you who haven't, a brief recap. Chairman Emmelia Spenser is head of the Galactic Mining Guild. Because of the actions of John Riley, the Commandant of the Mining Guild, her life is in danger. Benjamin Drexel is sent to protect her. In the brief time they're together, they fall in love.

Ben leaves when duty calls, as it always will for a captain of the Galactic Marines, and Emmelia is left with her memories. However, three years later, he's able to contact her. Below is the scene where her best friend, a sentient praying mantis named Sslyvenia, finds her as Emmelia listens to Ben's message.

Ssylvenia walked into Emmelia Spenser's office on Aolani, wondering why her friend sat in the dark. Instead of turning on a light, her superior eyesight saved her from a few painful bumps on furniture concealed by shadows.

"Emme," she chittered. Her translator's toneless metallic voice couldn't convey the deep concern of the speaker. "Emme, it's not like you to sit here in the dark like this. Let me turn on the light for you."

"No, Sissy, I want to be in the dark. I keep hoping that it will get easier if I sit here awhile."

"Why, whatever is wrong, Emme? I've never seen you like this!"

Emme's hand fumbled over the console, hitting a coded sequence. "This just came from Chairman Aisulov's office. He said he was asked to send this to me today." She choked back a sob.

The Tri-D image flickered and then solidified before her. Ben's handsome face, with his piercing dark eyes, smiled at her in a way that melted her soul. Reaching out a hand, he touched what would have been the screen of his Tri-D recorder, holding his fingers for her to touch.

"Hello, Emme, it's been far too long." He sighed, turning away from her, his strongly chiseled profile highlighted by the console light. "A lot has happened between Aolani and here. I guess you're wondering where here is. I'm sitting in a sentient ship orbiting Shakazhan. We're about to go explore its surface. Pretty unbelievable, huh?" He laughed sardonically, hanging his head a little, then glancing up at her, his chin down. Did she imagine a tear in his eye?

"I miss you, Emme. By God, you're the most amazing woman I've ever met. I can feel your skin, satin smooth. I can taste you. It's kind of funny, you know? An old soldier like me, so toughened by combat, and I'd give up everything I have in this life, to be back there with you right now.

"Emme, every man knows he might not come back from a battle. There are no guarantees, but I make this promise to you before God, if I live through this, I'm leaving the Marines, and I'm coming back for you. If you've found a better man than me, I'll understand. It's not like I've been there for you."

Squaring his shoulders, he looked full into the Tri-D, his dark eyes bottomless, like swirling black holes, drawing her inexorably forward. His familiar smile flashed across his face.

"I love you, Chairman Emmelia Spenser. Keep the Dracos Ale warm for me, because I will come back for you." He touched the screen. This time, her hand rose of its own accord, touching the air in front of her. Tears washed away her carefully applied makeup, dark rivulets of mascara cascading onto her desk.

"Oh, Sissy, why did I ever let him go? He's got to come back. There is no better man." Sobbing hysterically, the usually composed Chairman Spenser became for that short time, the frightened and insecure Emme who had always been too tall, too full breasted, too bright and too self possessed for any man to love her.

The Tri-D flickered off, leaving them in complete darkness. Sissy couldn't cry, but she could feel sorrow and compassion for her friend. Putting her spindly, brittle arms around Emme, she held her gently to her shiny, armored body, crooning softly as if she sang to a child. Gradually Emme's sobs ceased and she slowly pulled herself together.

How like Ben to remember that today was the anniversary of their first meeting, the first time they'd made love. That had changed them both, somehow. She knew in her heart, she'd never be the same Emmelia Spenser, but that was alright.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

This Monday on Dellani's Tea Time

Join Christina and me as we speak to Ralph Gallagher, Jo Ramsey and Kira Harp as they discuss their joint project Life Skills. We will also talk about Kira Harp's stories, Intervention and The Benefit of Ductwork.

Helping Hands was the brainchild of Featherweight editor Ralph Gallagher, who saw a need for stories that would support and encourage GLBTQ teens. All royalties from each story in the line go to a charity, chosen by the author, that supports GLBTQ youth. 
In Life Skills, Brian Monahan starts a Spread the Word to End the Word event at his school after seeing students in the school's Life Skills class being bullied and called "retard." The event encourages students not to use that word. Brian draws on the skills he's gained as a co-organizer of the Day of Silence event at his school each year, which encourages support and tolerance of people who are GLBT. Brian is bisexual, so he's had his share of being bullied as well. 
Royalties from Life Skills are being donated to the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, which sponsors Day of Silence. A one-time donation is also being made to Special Olympics, which sponsors Spread the Word to End the Word.

Jo Ramsey is a former special education teacher who's permanently stuck in her teen years, so she writes young adult fiction. She started writing stories at age five, and has a drawer full of manuscripts in spiral notebooks to prove it. Jo's first YA novel, an urban fantasy titled Connection, was published in January 2010. Since then she's had several other novels published. Jo lives in Massachusetts with her two daughters, her husband, and two cats, one of whom occasionally likes to help her type.

Ralph Gallagher is one of the editors at Featherweight Press. He has worked in publishing for two years with houses like Silver Publishing and Charles River Press. He is also a full-time student pursuing a plethora of degrees.

Kira Harp - I've been writing since I could put words together. Early stories were about dolls and horses and kids who surmounted the odds and came home with a kitten. Gradually I learned about punctuation and point-of-view and my characters grew up. But real life came along, with forays into psychology and teaching and then a biomedical career and children. Writing happened in my head, for my own amusement, but didn't make it to paper.

Then several years ago, my husband gave me a computer. And my two girls were getting older and developing their own interests. So I sat down and typed out a story. Or two. Or three. Now I have adult novels published, and my love of Young Adult fiction has led me to Featherweight, and the chance to share some of my YA stories.

I currently write constantly, read obsessively, and share my home with my younger teenager, my amazingly patient husband, and a crazy, omnivorous little white dog. I can be found at my author page on Goodreads, and look forward to sharing many more stories with YA readers in the future. My first published YA story, Intervention, came out from Featherweight on January 1st 2012, and my second, The Benefit of Ductwork, will come out on January 5th. Both are part of the Helping Hands line of books with the profits going to LGBT charities.

Emma, Dangerous by Dellani Oakes – Part 7

Emma's in the hospital for the night, and Sam's allowed to stay with her. He asks Rosalee not to let her parents see her, unless she...