Friday, May 29, 2020



Odysseus: On the River of Time, book 1

Odysseus begins where Homer's Odyssey leaves off, and recounts the Greek hero's final quest to settle his debt with the god Poseidon. He must travel to many cities carrying a wooden oar, find a land that knows no salt, and offer a sacrifice to the god on the site where a stranger asks the purpose of the oar. During his perilous journey he becomes involved in the intrigues swirling among the great Trojan War veterans and their heirs, and must also protect his own family and kingdom. Written in a poetic style reminiscent of the Homeric past, Odysseus is Book One of the epic trilogy, On the River of Time, which examines three figures - one mythical, one historical, and one fictional - from different time periods spanning almost three thousand years: Odysseus in Greece; Spenser, the poet, in Ireland; and Archer, a renegade actor/director in Canada.

Spenser: On the River of Time, book 2

Spenser portrays the last four turbulent months of Edmund Spenser’s life as he and his family are caught up in the Munster Revolt in Ireland in 1598. As he fights to survive the invasion of his home, his life as a refugee in Cork, and his return to England, his memories and thoughts trace through the sweep of his life, he continues to work on the last book of The Fairie Queene, and a treatise he writes about the Irish rebellions turns out to have far-reaching consequences.

Written in the form of his own Spenserian stanzas, Spenser evokes the sense of the Elizabethan Period and is Book Two of the epic trilogy On the River of Time, taking us to the second time-period of the three thousand years spanned in the trilogy and the second figure of the three—Odysseus, the mythical hero, in ancient Greece; Spenser, the poet, in Ireland, and Archer, the fictional renegade actor/director in present-day Canada.

Through their journeys and struggles we explore the nature of human perceptions and drives, our use of the Mask in our lives, encounters with the Other, acceptance or denial of the consequences of our actions, and the continuity over the millennia of the universal human attributes.

Book Details:

Title: Odysseus, book 1, Spenser book 2

Author: Carl Hare

Genre: ancient and classical poetry, epic poetry

Series: On the River of Time

Publisher: Quattro Books (April 1, 2017)

Page count: 550 pages


Things you need in order to write: my workbook, one of a variety of Sharpies, no distractions.
Things that hamper your writing: too many other things to do, including emails, etc.

Easiest thing about being a writer: letting the imagination take over.

Hardest thing about being a writer: editing what I’ve written.

Things you never want to run out of: that wood product that was bought up in the early days of the plague.
Things you wish you’d never bought: a carton of cans of chick peas.

Words that describe you: pleasant, witty, imaginative, loquacious.
Words that describe you but you wish they didn’t: old (88 in 2020), fixated, story-ridden.

Favorite music: any music by Mozart.
Music that make your ears bleed: heavy metal.

Something you’re really good at: talking.
Something you’re really bad at: talking.

Something you wish you could do: swim a mile in my pool, play the piano.
Something you wish you’d never learned to do: never learned to shut my mouth.

Something you like to do: listen to classical music.

Something you wish you’d never done: spent more time with P.K. Page.

Last best thing you ate: blueberries in maple syrup.

Last thing you regret eating: burnt toast.

Things you always put in your books: the meaningful sounds of words together.

Things you never put in your books: racism.

Things to say to an author: “I want to read you work again.”
Things not to say to an author: “So why is she the main character?”

Favorite places you’ve been: Jasper, Banff, Victoria.

Places you never want to go to again: Disneyland, Disney World.

People you’d like to invite to dinner: Stephen Fry, RH Thompson.

People you’d cancel dinner on: Doug Ford.

Favorite things to do: read, watch good things on TV or elsewhere.

Things you’d run through a fire wearing gasoline pants to get out of doing: killing an animal, laughing at a disadvantaged person.

Things that make you happy: my family, writing.

Things that drive you crazy: my family, writing.

Proudest moment: Seeing my children graduate from university.
Most embarrassing moment: when I forgot to mention that it was my wife’s birthday when I received an award.

Best thing you’ve ever done: marrying my wife.
Biggest mistake: not finishing my thesis before I went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

The last thing you did for the first time: write an epic trilogy.

Something you’ll never do again: write an epic trilogy (I don’t have another twenty-seven years, which is what the first trilogy has taken).



Carl Hare in his long career has been a professor, actor, director, playwright, and poet. Odysseus, Book One of his trilogy On the River of Time, was published in the spring of 2017. Other work includes performances of his play The Eagle and the Tiger and his adaptation of Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman; the setting of six of his children’s poems to music by Canadian composer Malcolm Forsyth; a commissioned poem for Forsyth’s A Ballad of Canada, performed by the National Arts Centre Orchestra;  A Weathering of Years, a collection of poetry published in 2015; Odysseus, Book One of On the River of Time in 2017;  and Spenser, Book Two of On the River of Time, in 2019.  

Connect with Carl:

Website  |  Blog  |  Facebook  |  Twitter Goodreads

Buy the book:
Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, May 27, 2020



Abigail and Hyperion uncork a murder . . .

Tea and Tarot room owner Abigail Beanblossom is used to running interference for her socially-awkward former boss, tech billionaire Razzzor. So when he invites her on a stakeout to investigate the sale of counterfeit wine from his latest venture – an upscale winery – she barrels on in. But the two stumble across the corpse of a wine merchant, and new wine in old bottles is now the least of their problems.

Good thing amateur detectives Abigail and her partner, tarot reader Hyperion Night, have a nose for murder. Their investigation takes them from elegant wine cellars to chic tea parties on the California coast. But just as the investigation starts to get its legs, Abigail discovers there’s more than wine at the bottom of this crime . . .

Hostage to Fortune is book 2 in the Tea and Tarot cozy mystery series. Start reading this hilariously cozy caper today!

Tearoom recipes in the back of the book.

Book Details:

Title: Hostage to Fortune

Author: Kirsten Weiss

Genre: cozy mystery

Series: Tea and Tarot, book 2

Publisher: Misterio press (May 21, 2020)

Print length: 200 pages

On tour with: Great Escapes Book Tours



If you could talk to someone (living), who would it be and what would you ask them?
I have a mild addiction to self-help books, so I’ll say Marie Forleo. She’s always got good advice, and she seems like a nice, fun person.

If you could live in any time period which would it be?
The modern era, definitely. The past sounds romantic, but lack of vaccines and indoor plumbing and women’s rights? Nope. No, thank you.

If you were on the Amazon bestseller list, who would you choose to be one before and one below you?
Charlaine Harris and Donna DeLeon – they’re both wonderful writers with great female characters. But don’t ask me who should be above or below!

If you could choose a fictional town to live in what would it be and from what book?
I’d love to live in San Borromeo, from my Tea and Tarot series. It’s on the beach, it’s small, it’s charming, and it’s based loosely on Capitola, California.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where in the world would it be?

I’m pretty happy where I’m at, in Colorado Springs, CO!


5 things you need in order to write: 
    •    my laptop
    •    my highlighter pens
    •    my printer
    •    my thesaurus   
    •    a good coffeeshop

5 things you love about where you live: 
    •    the view of Pikes Peak
    •    the hiking
    •    the deer that ramble through my yard
    •    my wonderful neighbors 
    •    the more relaxed pace of life

5 favorite foods:  
    •    Mission-style burritos
    •    guacamole
    •    pizza
    •    chocolate
    •    capellini pomodoro

5 favorite places you’ve been:  

    •    Tbilisi Georgia 
    •    the Florida Gulf coast 
    •    Yosemite 
    •    Bryce Canyon 
    •    Zion (I’m a big fan of national parks)

5 favorite things to do:  
    •    writing
    •    sleeping
    •    hiking
    •    tai chi
    •    reading


What’s your all-time favorite author?
Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

What’s your all-time favorite city?

What’s the loveliest sight you’ve ever seen?
The drive down Interstate 70, west of Denver, in the spring.

What’s your favorite time of day?

What’s your favorite vacation spot?
The California Sierras.

What’s your latest recommendation for:
Food: Guacamole on toast with a poached egg on top. I know, it sounds weird.
Music: Kerli – she’s an Estonian pop singer with a really magical sound.
Movie: I finally saw Bohemian Rhapsody and cried through the last 30 minutes.
Book: The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
TV: Lodge 49. It only had two seasons, but it’s a magical little show with heart. (You can find it on Hulu)
Amazon Prime: Bosch


Tea and Tarot Mysteries

Wits’ End Cozy Mysteries

Pie Town Cozy Mysteries

The Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum Cozy Mysteries

Riga Hayworth Paranormal Mysteries

Witches of Doyle Cozy Mysteries

Sensibility Grey Steampunk Suspense


Kirsten Weiss has never met a dessert she didn’t like, and her guilty pleasures are watching Ghost Whisperer re-runs and drinking red wine. The latter gives her heartburn, but she drinks it anyway.

Now based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, she writes genre-blending cozy mystery, supernatural and steampunk suspense, mixing her experiences and imagination to create vivid worlds of fun and enchantment.

If you like funny cozy mysteries, check out her Pie Town, Tea and Tarot, Paranormal Museum and Wits’ End books. If you’re looking for some magic with your mystery, give the Witches of Doyle, Riga Hayworth and Rocky Bridges books a try. And if you like steampunk, the Sensibility Grey series might be for you.

Kirsten sends out original short stories of mystery and magic to her mailing list. If you’d like to get them delivered straight to your inbox, make sure to sign up for her newsletter at

Connect with Kirsten:
Twitter  |  Facebook

Buy the book:
Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Apple Books  |  Kobo  |  Google Play 

Friday, May 22, 2020



Cass Donovan is reminded that you can’t believe everything you hear, especially when it comes from the dead . . .

When stories begin circulating of a centuries-old ghost haunting the Bay Island lighthouse, Cass is caught up in mystical happenings of her own, with countless voices from the beyond all clamoring for her attention with dire warnings. But before she has a chance to learn whether there’s a connection between the rumored ghost and her restless visitors, the lighthouse keeper mysteriously falls to his death, and Cass’s reputation for communing with the dead lands her right in the middle of the police investigation.

Cass knows the victim was no saint, as he made little effort to hide his philandering ways from his wife or anyone else, and often acted out with no thought for the feelings of others. But had he finally gone too far, or were there more menacing motives behind his murder? As Cass begins building a list of suspects, including the man’s supposedly grieving wife and a mysterious new woman in town, she also turns her ear to those otherworldly voices, hoping for a clue. And as she begins to close in on the culprit, she realizes too late that if she’s not careful, she’ll soon be communicating with the dead in person . . .

Book Details:

Title: Grave Consequences

Author: Lena Gregory

Genre: cozy mystery

Publisher: Beyond the Page Publishing

Print length: 310

On tour with: Punp Up Your Book


8 Things You Might Not Know About Lena Gregory

I always enjoy getting to know my readers, so I figure what better way to start than to share a little about myself. I’d love for you to leave a comment below sharing some things people don’t know about you and telling me if you share any of my interests!

1. I grew up on the south shore of eastern Long Island. My husband and I recently relocated to Clermont, Florida with our daughter, son-in-law, two sons, and four dogs. I am extremely family oriented. I enjoy nothing more than spending time with my husband and kids.

2. I absolutely love big dogs. At the moment, we have an Akita, a Weimaraner, and two Australian Shepherds. I would love another Bernese Mountain Dog, a Leonberger, or a Rhodesian Ridgeback. What do you think?

3. I am a master at procrastination. I don’t have a lot of writing time, but sometimes, when I do sit down to write, I just can’t seem to get going. So I tell myself there are important things I have to do before I can start writing. The first of those is usually facebook, because there might be something interesting I “need” to know. I love to chat with readers, my agent, and other authors, so I often hang out there for a bit. Then I check all of my emails, because, you know, something really important that wasn’t there five minutes ago, might be there now. And then I head for twitter. By the time I finish all of that, I’m usually hungry so, I grab a snack, then finally sit down to get started.

4. I am addicted to Diet Pepsi and chocolate!

5. I have worked many jobs, some I loved, others not as much. I was a dance teacher and choreographer for more than twenty years. When my daughter was in high school I choreographed and co-directed several high school musicals. I also worked in a deli, which will feature in a mystery I’m currently outlining. And I cleaned houses in the Hamptons, which gave me more material than you could imagine for a future cozy mystery series.

6. I am painfully shy. As much as I love socializing and even meeting new people, I do much better one on one than I do in a group.

7. I believe in ghosts, and they do feature in my first series, as well as a second series I am currently outlining.

8. I am very high strung and rarely relax. I go from the time I get up around 6:30 am until the time I go to bed, anywhere between 1:30 and 3:00 am. I talk fast, I move fast, and I always have a list a mile long of things I have to get finished in a day. Of course, I usually forget or misplace the list, so it doesn’t always help much.

Don’t forget to leave a comment and let me know if you share any of those same traits.


 A worn book sat on a stand beneath a glass case. A card beside it read “Kitty Garrison’s Journal—the life of a lighthouse keeper’s daughter.”
“It doesn’t look like much.” Bee crossed the rope barrier set up to keep patrons from getting too close, then leaned close to the glass and squinted.
“It looks like a diary.” Cass tilted her head to try to read what was inside the book but to no avail.
Bee opened the case.
“What are you doing, Bee? You can’t open that.” Stephanie shot out a hand and pushed the small door closed.
“Well, then, how am I supposed to know what’s in it?”
“Easy,” Stephanie said. “You wait for Amelia to come back and ask her if she’ll let you read it.”
“Yeah, but your way, she might say no. At least my way I can just apologize after the fact. And then we would have seen the inside of the book, maybe gained valuable information on how to find the treasure.” He grinned. “Much better to apologize later than to ask permission now.”
“Is that what this is about, Bee?” Cass wouldn’t mind having a peek in the book, either, but she wasn’t about to upset Stephanie. “You want to find the treasure?”
“You bet I do.”
And somehow Cass had a feeling Levi had counted on that when he’d shared the story. “Question is, if Fred is trying to find the treasure, what does Levi have to gain by making sure everyone under the sun—or at least those living on and probably visiting Bay Island—know about it?”
Bee shrugged off her concern. “Maybe he doesn’t want to see Fred find the treasure? Not that I can blame him. Fred DiCarlo is not a nice man.”
“I suppose, but still.” Cass looked in the direction Levi had gone.
Voices carried into the museum, and Bee deftly hopped the security rope, then propped a hand on his hip and leaned against the railing, possibly going for a nonchalant pose that ended up looking more like I just got caught doing something I shouldn’t have been doing.
When the group headed past the museum entrance and up the stairs, presumably toward the third floor, Cass tugged Bee’s arm. “Come on, we’ll climb the lighthouse before it gets too late. We can always come back here afterward, if there’s time, and talk to Amelia. Maybe she’ll let you read some of the book once everyone’s gone.”
Bee stared longingly at the journal, then sighed. “Sure thing. Whatever you say, Mum.”
They headed out of the museum and followed the concrete walkway toward the lighthouse. The salty sea breeze rustled the bushes lining the path. The mild wind carried the softest hint of a whisper, tantalizingly close, yet just out of reach.
Cass paused. An illusion created by the wind funneling along the walkway? It had to be. It’s not like she was giving a reading, and that’s the only time the voices called to her, assailed her as they competed for her attention. At least, that’s the only time they’d reached out to her so far.
Stephanie looked over her shoulder. “Are you coming, Cass?”
Bee stopped and turned, then frowned. “Is something wrong?”
Shaking off whatever apprehension had stopped her, Cass moved on. “Sorry, daydreaming, I guess.”
“It’s a beautiful day. I bet you’ll be able to see for miles.” Stephanie dug through her bag and pulled out her phone.
“Oh, definitely.” Bee pointed past the bushes and over the choppy waters of the bay. “Look, you can see the south fork of Long Island from here.”
The height of the bluff the lighthouse stood on offered an amazing view across the bay. A foghorn sounded from somewhere in the distance, seagulls circled and dove, occasionally coming up with a prize, and the ferry chugged toward Long Island, only about half full from the looks of it.
They entered the tower and started up the circular staircase, the clang of their shoes against the iron steps echoing off the sandstone walls.
“Not what it seems . . .”
“What do you mean?” Cass studied Bee’s back as he climbed a few steps ahead of her, though how he did it in his signature platform shoes was beyond her.
He paused and looked back at her over his shoulder. “Huh?”
“You said something, but I didn’t quite catch—”
“Stop.” The man’s voice seemed to come from all around her at once.
This time she’d been staring straight at Bee, and he’d been in the middle of saying something else when the male voice had interrupted him.
A woman’s voice joined the man’s. “Why don’t you . . .”
A chorus of voices answered in unison.
Cass shook her head, willing the voices to retreat. “Nothing, Bee. Sorry, I thought you said something.”
Though the scowl remained firmly imprinted on his features, Bee turned and resumed his trek up the stairs, seemingly content to ignore whatever was happening with her. Probably for the best, anyway. If he thought for one minute ghosts haunted the lighthouse, he’d probably plow both Cass and Stephanie over in his haste to leave.
“Watch . . . go . . . stop . . . please . . .” The voices continued unsolicited, demanding, insistent.
“What do you want?” Cass yelled and covered her ears.
Bee stopped again and looked back. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Yes, please . . .” She lowered her hands, taking a firm grip on the railing to steady her shaking hands. “Just go.”
Bee shook his head and picked up the pace.
Fear skittered along Cass’s spine as she tried to open herself up, make sense of what the voices wanted from her. She focused intently on one voice, that of a man, more demanding that the rest, just a bit louder. “. . . lighthouse . . . rocks . . . look . . . back . . .”
Look back? Look back where? Did he mean literally? She glanced over her shoulder at Stephanie bringing up the rear. She seemed okay. Maybe figuratively? Look back. But at what? The past? The story of the lighthouse keeper, maybe. Is that what the voice was trying to tell her?
They stepped onto the observation deck, the wall of windows opening up an even more incredible view than offered from the bluff. She closed her eyes and concentrated.
“You know,” Bee said, “you could try to block the voices out, ignore them. That’s what I do when I don’t feel like hearing what people are saying.”
“Bee!” Stephanie’s mouth dropped open.
He held up a hand, his eyes wide, as if just realizing what he’d said. “Other people, I mean. You know, when I don’t want to hear what other people are saying. Never you two.”
Stephanie pointed a finger past Cass at him. “That had better be what you meant, buddy.”
Bee grinned and held up both hands in a gesture of surrender. “Of course that’s what I meant.”
“Uh-huh.” Eyeing him out of the corner of her eye, Stephanie returned to admiring the view. She snapped a few pictures with her phone.
Cass tried to ignore the bickering. She massaged her temples. If she didn’t relax, she wasn’t going to get anything.
Bee continued offering advice. “And if ignoring the voices doesn’t work, you can try doing what I do when I walk into the diner, or the deli, or Tony’s Bakery when there is an undeniable undercurrent of excitement rippling through the air, and I know before I take another step there’s really good gossip to be had.”
“What’s that?” At that point, she’d try anything to shut them up.
He turned his back to the view, leaning against the railing that would keep anyone from falling through the circular wall of windows. “Narrow them down one at a time, eliminating those that don’t seem to know anything, those who are just hanging out trying to make sense of what’s going on the same as you are, and continue to whittle away at them, ignoring those you dismiss in favor of those who seem to have knowledge, then focus in on them until you get the message.”
Cass moved to the railing lining the circular platform and leaned her hands on it. Choppy waves battered the coastline, washing up onto the large boulders lining the bluff and beach, sea foam bubbling over between crevices.
“Lighthouse . . . away . . . back . . . push . . .”
She couldn’t grab it. Something, though, so close. Like something just at the edge of her awareness, something she should be able to . . . She closed her eyes, allowing the voices to wash through her.
“Stay . . . back . . . stay away . . .”
Her eyes shot open. “I’ve got it. I know what the voices are trying to tell me.”
Bee folded his arms over his chest, no doubt over any talk of the paranormal. “Oh, and what’s that?”
Cass tried to swallow, her mouth gone to paste, and glanced from him to Stephanie and back again. “Stay away from the lighthouse.”
Bee groaned and returned his attention to the view of the bay.
Stephanie studied her. “Do you think—”
Movement in her peripheral vision caught Cass’s attention. Her gaze shifted to the third floor of the keeper’s house just as someone tumbled out the window toward the rocks below.
A silhouette backed away from the window, barely noticeable, a shadow among shadows as it slid away into darkness. Was the vision real? Or was she witnessing some past tragedy that had played out time and time again over the past couple of centuries? Hadn’t Levi said Samuel Garrison had been found dead on the rocks below the lighthouse, the very same jetty someone had just fallen from the keeper’s house onto?
Muffled screams in the distance assured her the man lying on the rocks was real enough, but what of the silhouette she’d seen as the man fell?

Excerpt from Grave Consequences.  Copyright © 2018 by . Reproduced with permission from Lena Gregory. All rights reserved.


Lena Gregory is the author of the Bay Island Psychic Mysteries, which take place on a small island between the north and south forks of Long Island, New York, and the All-Day Breakfast Café Mysteries, which are set on the outskirts of Florida’s Ocala National Forest.

Lena grew up in a small town on the south shore of eastern Long Island. She recently relocated to Clermont, Florida with her husband, three kids, son-in-law, and four dogs. Her hobbies include spending time with family, reading, jigsaw puzzles, and walking. Her love for writing developed when her youngest son was born and didn’t sleep through the night. She works full time as a writer and a freelance editor and is a member of Sisters in Crime.

Connect with Lena:
Website  |   Facebook Twitter  |   Newsletter 

Buy the book:
Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble  |   Kobo  |   Smashwords

Monday, May 18, 2020



Martin Barlow was Clare Carlson's first newspaper editor, a beloved mentor who inspired her career as a journalist. But, since retiring from his newspaper job, he had become a kind of pathetic figure—railing on about conspiracies, cover-ups, and other imaginary stories he was still working on. Clare had been too busy with her own career to pay much attention to him.

When Martin Barlow is killed on the street one night during an apparent mugging attempt gone bad, it seems like he was just an old man whose time had come.

But Clare—initially out of a sense of guilt for ignoring her old friend and then because of her own journalistic instincts—begins looking into his last story idea. As she digs deeper and deeper into his secret files, she uncovers shocking evidence of a serial killer worse than Son of Sam, Ted Bundy, or any of the other infamous names in history.

This really is the biggest story of Martin Barlow's career—and Clare's, too—as she uncovers the path leading to the decades-long killer of at least twenty young women. All is not as it seems during Clare's relentless search for this serial killer. Is she setting herself up to be his next victim?

Book Details:

Title: The Last Scoop

Author: R.G. Belsky

Genre: mystery 

Series: Clare Carlson, book 3

Publisher: Oceanview (May 5, 2020)

Print length: 352 pages

On tour with: Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours


A few of your favorite things: good books, good food, good TV shows, good movies, good sporting events (basically baseball and football for me), good friends.
Things you need to throw out: a lot of my old notes for books that are so worn and old that I can’t even read them anymore. But I’m always reluctant to do it. I keep thinking there might just be something in there for a future manuscript. If I could only figure out what it was . . .

Things you need in order to write: a pen and a legal pad. That’s how I write fiction. I do it longhand. And then, of course, I use a computer to enter it all in later.
Things that hamper your writing: everyday tasks and chores—I need to step away from that and just concentrate on writing—while I am writing. It’s too easy to get distracted otherwise.

Things you love about writing: the actual writing process. Sitting down to make stuff up about crime fiction and my characters is fun!
Things you hate about writing: all the fact-checking and copy editing and other checks that need to be done before the book can go out. I’ve spent my life as a journalist checking facts and copy. I like the creative process of the writing much better.

Easiest thing about being a writer: writing the book itself. I tell that to everyone - the writing is the easiest part (and the most fun) about being a mystery novelist.
Hardest thing about being a writer: selling my work; promoting it; making sure in all ways that people are getting the chance to read what I’ve written. 

Things you love about where you live: it’s New York City—there’s so much to love! The people, the excitement, the energy. Greatest city in the world.
Things that make you want to move: not moving. I’m not an NYC native (I was born in Ohio), but I’m here for life now. No other place I’d rather live.

Favorite foods: steak, pizza, chocolate.
Things that make you want to throw up: Chinese takeout food. Everyone I know in NYC loves it, but not me. I think that’s because I was around a lot of Asian food being cooked while I was in Vietnam as a soldier back in the ‘60s.

Favorite music: lots of stuff from the ‘60s: Beatles, Byrds, Stones, Dylan, and all the rest. That’s when I was growing up so that’s my music. Plus it was such a creative period for making great music. Hey, we’re still listening to a lot of it today.
Music that make your ears bleed: pretty much all the music being made today. Okay, I know that makes me sound like an old “get off my lawn” guy. But it’s the truth.

Favorite beverage: coffee and soda.

Something that gives you a pickle face: iced tea. Never have been able to drink it, no matter how thirsty I am.

Something you wish you could do: learn how to play Texas Holdem poker better in casinos.
Something you wish you’d never learned to do: play Texas Holdem poker (see above).

Things you always put in your books: jokes, murders, romance; anything that helps me tell an entertaining story.

Things you never put in your books: harm to animals. I can’t handle that, even in fiction.

Things to say to an author: I just bought your book. I loved your book. When is your next book coming out—I can’t wait?

Things to say to an author if you want to be fictionally killed off in their next book: would you send me a free copy of your book, I don’t want to pay for it?

Favorite places you’ve been: Martha’s Vineyard; Nantucket; Nashville; Santa Barbara, and La Jolla, California. I’ve never lived in any of these places, but found them spectacular when I’ve visited. 
Places you never want to go to again: Vietnam. But then I was there during the war in the ‘60s, so it wasn’t exactly the most pleasant visit for me. It is very beautiful. But I would never go back, even today. Too many bad memories.

People you’d like to invite to dinner (living): Oprah, Stephen King, Keith Richards, Bill Clinton.
People you’d cancel dinner on: no one. Even if I hated them, a dinnertime argument could be fun.

Most daring thing you’ve ever done: went to war in Vietnam with the Army. Of course, it wasn’t my choice: I got drafted.
Something you chickened out from doing: skydiving. I had friends who tried jumping out of a plane (and loved it), but I never had the nerve to try.



I was sitting in my office at Channel 10 News, drinking black coffee and skimming through the morning papers when I saw the article about Marty Barlow.
It was a brief item about the murder of a man on an East Side New York City street. It identified the victim as Martin Barlow. It also said that Barlow was a retired journalist. It did not say Barlow was the first—and probably the best—newspaper editor I ever had.
The police reported that he'd died from a blow to the head. Apparently, from a solid object, although the object itself was never found. Cops first assumed it had been a mugging, but later backed off that a bit because his wallet wasn't taken. Instead, it just seemed—at least on the face of it—to be one of those crazy, senseless crimes that happen too often in New York City.
The article never mentioned Marty’s age—he refused to ever tell it to anyone—but I figured he must be well up in his sixties by now. He was a frail-looking man. He had disheveled white hair, pasty-looking skin and he couldn't have weighed more than 150 pounds. He always wore the same old wrinkled suit that looked like it had last been cleaned during the Reagan administration.
But more than twenty years ago, when I was starting out at a newspaper in New Jersey, Marty Barlow had helped me become the journalist that I am today. He was my editor, my mentor and my friend.
Barlow was a grizzled old veteran even back then, and I soaked up every bit of knowledge and wisdom I could from him. He taught me how to cover police stories, political scandals, and human-interest features. “Never turn down an animal story,” was one of his mantras. “People love animal stories!” But mostly, he taught me what a noble calling it was to be a newspaper reporter—and about all the integrity and responsibility that went with it. His favorite quotation was from an old Humphrey Bogart movie where Bogey played a managing editor talking about the job of being a newspaper reporter: “It may not be the oldest profession, but it's the best."
I moved on eventually to a bigger newspaper job in New York City where I had a career filled with pretty spectacular moments. I won a Pulitzer prize by the time I was thirty, I scored a lot of other big exclusives and front-page stories for the paper, and became a big media star because of all that. Then the newspaper I worked for went out of business, and I moved into TV. After a few false starts there—mostly finding out that I wasn’t very good as an on-air TV reporter—I wound up on the executive side of the business. First as a segment producer, then an assignment editor and now as news director of the whole Channel 10 operation. Along the way, I found the time to get married—and divorced—three different times, too.
Marty had helped me get through the highs and lows in my life—both professional and personal—over the years. He was always there for me. He always supported me and took my side in everything. Well, almost everything. Everything except the marriage stuff. Marty could never understand why I couldn’t make my marriages work. “Why don’t you find one man, the right man, and settle down with him for the rest of your life?” That’s what Marty said he had done with his wife. “It’s not that easy,” I told him. “Sure, it is,” he said. “You make sure your marriage is as important to you as your job in the newsroom. Then the rest will take care of itself.” It was good advice from Marty, even though I didn’t always follow it.
Marty stayed on as editor of the same New Jersey paper where we’d met, doing the job he loved, until he was pushed into retirement a few years ago. At some point after that his wife died, and he came to live with his daughter in Manhattan. Even after he retired though, Marty became very active in local political and community events. He started a website that skewered local politicians and demanded more accountability/public disclosure in New York City government. Then he became a kind of local gadfly—showing up at town hall and council meetings to demand answers from politicians. That was Marty. Still looking for his next big scoop even after he retired.
We'd kept in touch and he was always asking me to meet him for coffee, but I hardly ever got around to it. Or to checking out any of the various news tips and leads he kept sending me. I never could find time for Marty Barlow anymore.
Until that last day when he showed up in my office.
“Hello, Marty, how are you doing?” I said. “Sorry I never got back to you on your calls and emails before. I've been busy covering a bunch of stuff."
"Yeah, probably a big, breaking Justin Bieber news story, huh?" Barlow said, without even attempting to hide the contempt in his voice.
I sighed. Marty Barlow was an old-fashioned journalist who believed the news media should cover serious topics like politics, schools, and government waste the way newspapers had traditionally done in the past. But now newspapers were dying off as people turned to the internet to give them instant news. And TV newscasts, including Channel 10 where I worked, focused even more these days on glitzy celebrity news, viral videos, and all the rest of the gimmicks known online as “traffic bait” in order to increase our all-important ratings and sales. Marty hated that. I wasn't wild about it either, but I had no choice in the rapidly-changing journalistic landscape.
“This time the big story was Kim Kardashian,” I said.
“You're kidding, right?"
“I'm kidding."
“Actually, it was Khloe.”
“My God, what happened to you, Clarissa? The Clarissa Carlson I remember cared passionately about the stories she covered. She wanted to make a difference in the world with her journalism. I miss that woman."
Fake news is what Marty called it. Yes, I know that term has a whole different meaning in today’s political world. But Marty had been using it long before that. For Marty, fake news encompassed pretty much everything on TV news or in newspapers or on news websites today. He didn’t just mean the celebrity news, either. He was contemptuous of the constant traffic reports, weather updates, lottery news, and all the rest of the things I did for a living. He complained that there was hardly any real journalism now. He was right. But the journalistic world had changed dramatically in recent years, even if Marty refused to change with it.
He sat down in a chair in front of my desk.
“So, Clarissa . . .”
“My name is Clare, not Clarissa.”
This was a ritual we had played out many times over the years. Yes, my full name is Clarissa Carlson, but I always use Clare. Have ever since I was a kid and decided how much I hated being called Clarissa. Everyone knew that. Friends, family, co-workers, even my ex-husbands never called me anything but Clare. Except for Marty. He insisted on calling me Clarissa. I never understood exactly why, but it had gone on for so long between us that it didn’t seem worth bothering to ask anymore.
I figured he wasn’t here for a social visit. That he came because he needed my help. Some big scoop he thought he was going to break, even though his days of breaking big scoops had long past. Marty always got very intense when he was working on a story, and this time he seemed even more intense than usual. I asked him what was going on.
“I’m working on a big story,” he said. “The biggest story of my life. And it’s all because I started taking a good look at one person.”
I nodded and tried to think of an appropriate response.
“Who?” I asked.
It was the best I could come up with.
“Terri Hartwell.”
“Yes, the Manhattan District Attorney.”
I nodded again. Terri Hartwell was the darling of the New York City media and political world at the moment. She’d been a top-rated radio talk show host in New York for a number of years before she ran for the District Attorney’s job—and surprised political experts by unseating the incumbent. Since then, she’d aggressively gone after crime, corruption and all sorts of entrenched special interests in the city. Which made her a lot of enemies, but also made her popular with the voters. She was even being touted now as a potential candidate for Mayor.
“I started out thinking this was a story about building corruption. Illegal payoffs to politicians and authorities by wealthy New York City landlords. But now it’s bigger than that. Much bigger. There’s murder involved too.”
“More than one murder. Maybe lots of them.”
I nodded again. Pretty soon I was going to have to stop nodding and ask more than one-word questions.
“Who is being murdered? And what does any of this have to do with Terri Hartwell?”
Now I was rolling.
“I can’t tell you any more details. Not yet. I’m still trying to figure it all out myself. But this is a sensational story. More sensational than any story I’ve ever covered. And I have to stop whatever is happening before it’s too late!”
Marty was getting really agitated now, pounding on my desk for emphasis.
A lock of white hair had fallen over his forehead and his eyes were blazing. He frankly looked insane.
“Who’s your source on all this, Marty?” I asked.
“I can’t tell you my source, Clarissa. You know that.”
“Is it a good source?”
“All of my sources are good!” he thundered at me.
He was right about that. All of Marty’s sources were good. Or at least they always had been in the past. But I wasn’t so sure how much I could trust them—or Marty himself—at this point. I didn’t think he was lying. Not intentionally anyway. Marty never lied to anyone, most of all to me. But I did suspect his desperation to get back into journalism in some meaningful way—to prove he wasn’t finished in the news business, no matter how much it had passed him by in recent years—had distorted his judgement and his connections with . . . well, reality.
“Will you help me? Give me a few days to get all the details together, and then I’ll tell you everything. You’re the head of a big news operation now. You have resources I don’t at your disposal. Maybe we could work on this story together. You and me, Clarissa. Just like the old days.”
Mostly because I didn’t know what else to do, I told Marty I’d get back to him about it. I told him we’d get together for coffee—like he’d asked me to do so many times—to go over the details of his story and maybe reminisce a bit about old times too. I told Marty I’d call him the next week and we’d meet up at the Sunrise Coffee Shop on the Upper East Side, which was his favorite place.
Except I never did meet Marty Barlow at the Sunrise Coffee Shop the next week.
Or any time after that.
I never got around to calling him back.
I thought about all that again now as I read the article about Marty Barlow’s death. “Maybe we could work on this story together,” Marty had said. “You and me, Clarissa. Just like the old days.” I didn’t have the heart to tell Marty those days were long over.
My boss was Jack Faron, the executive producer for the Channel 10 News. I went to see him now.
“Problem?” he asked when I walked in the door of his office.
“What makes you think I have a problem?”
“Because you never come to see me this early in the morning unless it’s about a problem.”
“My God, whatever happened to the simple courtesy of saying good morning to the people you work with? What is wrong with us as a society, Jack? Have we lost all civility in this day and age? Why can’t you greet me one time with a cheerful: ‘Good morning, Clare. How are you today?’”
“Good morning, Clare,” Faron said. “How are you today?”
“Actually, I have a problem.”
I showed him the short newspaper article about the death of Marty Barlow and told him about my relationship with Barlow.
“What do you think about us doing something on the news tonight about his murder?” I asked. “I feel like I owe him at least that much.”
Faron made a face. “Not our kind of story, Clare. There’s no celebrity or sensational angle, no pizzazz, no ratings of any kind there for us. I’m sorry your friend got killed. I understand he meant a lot to you. But that doesn’t meet the criteria for getting a story about him on our newscast. You already knew that before you even came in here, didn’t you?”
I did. I was feeling guilty because I’d let Marty down at the end. And I didn’t need another thing to feel guilty about right now. Marty was like family to me. And I had no other family. Well, I did, but that was the other thing I was feeling so guilty about. I’ve screwed up a lot of things in my life.
“Kind of ironic, isn’t it?” I said. “A guy like Marty devotes his life to the news business. And now, when he dies, he doesn’t even rate a meaningful goodbye in what the news business has become today. It makes me sad. And yes, guilty, too, that I couldn’t do more for him, after everything he did for me.”
“He was an old man,” Faron said. “He died. There’s no story there.”
Excerpt from The Last Scoop by R.G. Belsky.  Copyright 2020 by R.G. Belsky. Reproduced with permission from R.G. Belsky. All rights reserved.


R. G. Belsky is an author of crime fiction and a journalist in New York City. His newest mystery, The Last Scoop, is being published in May 2020 by Oceanview. It is the third in a series featuring Clare Carlson, the news director for a New York City TV station. The first Clare Carlson book, Yesterday’s News, came out in 2018. It won the David Award at Deadly Ink for Best Mystery of 2018. Below The Fold, the second Clare Carlson mystery, was published in 2019. Belsky previously wrote the Gil Malloy series—The Kennedy Connection, Shooting for the Stars and Blonde Ice—about a newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News. Belsky himself is a former managing editor at the Daily News and writes about the media from an extensive background in newspapers, magazines and TV/digital news. He has also been a top editor at the New York Post, Star magazine and NBC News. Belsky won the Claymore Award at Killer Nashville in 2016. He has finished several times as a Finalist for both the Silver Falchion and David Awards. Yesterday’s News, was also named Outstanding Crime/News Based Novel by Just Reviews in 2018 and was a Finalist for Best Mystery of 2018 in the Foreword INDIES Awards. His previous suspense/thriller novels include Loverboy and Playing Dead. Belsky lives in New York City.

Connect with the author:
Website  |  Blog  |  Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Goodreads

Buy the book:
Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble 

Friday, May 15, 2020



When private detective Sam Quinton sets out to solve the murders of a stripper and small-time gambler, he ends up in the middle of an organized crime war, testing Quinton’s loyalty to an old friend and making him the killers’ next target. While working to stay one step ahead of the killers, Quinton also has to safeguard the life of an elderly couple, who unwittingly hold the key to solving the murders and ending the war.

Book Details:

Title: Squatter’s Rights

Author: Kevin R. Doyle

Genre: mystery

Series: Sam Quinton

Publisher: Camel Press (March 2020)

Print length: 213 pages


A few of your favorite things:
a few of my favorite things are ice-cold Dr Pepper, 1970’s music and summer vacation.
Things you need to throw out: somehow, over the years I’ve collected dozens and dozens of wire hangars. Every now and then, I grab a handful to throw out, but the total amount never seems to diminish.

Things you need in order to write: solitude, not really a problem as I’m a confirmed bachelor with no kids or grandkids.
Things that hamper your writing: grading student work, though it’s rather unavoidable.

Things you love about writing: the thing I love most about writing is doing a first draft. I basically go seat-of-the-pants, so sitting down, idly typing and having a story roll out, often without knowing where it will end up, is kind of cool.
Things you hate about writing: conversely, one of the things I hate most is when edits start coming in from publishers. While I understand how necessary it is, by the time edits are done,  I’m often sick to death of what I once thought was a cool book. When The Litter came out, after a year and a half writing process, we did content edits, line edits, proof edits, and galleys within six months. By the time the book actually was released, I couldn’t even stand to think about it. At least for a while.

Easiest thing about being a writer: so far, knock on wood, coming up with ideas. Not that all of them work out.

Hardest thing about being a writer: not having time. As with the majority of folks who  pursue this, writing fiction does not count as my primary income, or even my secondary. Actually, last year I made more from short story reprints than from book sales. Even so, a few years back I looked around and saw I had a couple of books out, one or two more in the pipeline at various presses, and publishers willing to take a chance on me. At the time, I told several people, “I’d be enjoying the hell out of this if I didn’t still have to work.” Because I teach high-school English (lots and lots of grading), the majority of the year I can get very little sustained writing done. 

Things you love about where you live: my town is what’s known as an urban forest. There are sizable chunks of woodland patchworked within the city. Although I technically live in an urban area, I can often look outside my balcony and see deer walking along the tree line.
Things that make you want to move: the one thing above all that would make me move, and with retirement only a few years off I’m planning now, would be no beaches. When I travel, it’s usually down south as close to the coast as I can get.

Words that describe you: nerdy, bookish, frugal.
Words that describe you but you wish they didn’t: inflexible, stubborn.

Favorite foods: pizza, omelettes, chocolate.
Things that make you want to throw up: pickles, sauerkraut. Really anything with vinegar. 

Favorite song: it’s a tie between “I Honestly Love You,” by Olivia Newton John, and “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” by Elton John.
Music that make your ears bleed: rap, I just can’t understand it. I can make out maybe one word in ten.

Favorite beverage: it’s actually a tie. On one end is chocolate milk. On the other is Lost Trail Sugar Cane Cola from Louisburg Cider Mill in Louisburg, Kansas.

Something that gives you a pickle face: well, pickles.

Something you’re really good at:
Star Trek trivia. (The good shows/movies, not the crappy new shows/movies.)
Something you’re really bad at: any kind of math beyond basic arithmetic.

Something you wish you could do: I’d like to learn to scuba dive, mainly because I want to spend a night or two in Jules Undersea Lodge in Key Largo, Florida.

Something you wish you’d never learned to do: I don’t mind it now, but when I was a kid I wished for a while that I’d never learned how to snap my fingers. The day I finally figured it out, I ended up with blisters on my finger pads because I was snapping them so much.

Something you like to do: no-destination road trips. Grab a suitcase and some spending  money, then hit the road with no destination in mind. Come back home when the money runs out. 

Something you wish you’d never done: little league baseball. Hated it but was forced to endure for two seasons.

Last best thing you ate: black peppered porkchops in mushroom gravy.

Last thing you regret eating: they go by several names, but years ago one of my speech students showed us how to make what she called frogs’ eyes:  a pickle slice slathered in creme cheese and wrapped in lunch meat. Blecchh.

Things you’d walk a mile for:
seeing either Elton John or The Eagles in concert. Been lucky enough to see both acts twice.
Things that make you want to run screaming from the room: the idea of seeing Cher in concert. Love her early music (1970’s again), but went to one show and almost walked out.

Things you always put in your books: there’s always at least one death, even if of natural causes.

Things you never put in your books: gratuitous violence, though in the case of The Litter some might disagree.

Things to say to an author: where can I buy a copy of your book? (And actually mean it.)

Things to say to an author if you want to be fictionally killed off in their next book: where do you get your ideas? (Where the heck does anyone get ideas for anything?)

Favorite places you’ve been: I won’t give the name because I don’t want to ruin it, but years ago I stumbled upon a little town of, oh I don’t know, around three thousand people or so on the coast of Texas. It has an old, almost antique hotel on the shore. Not a tourist area, but one heck of a place to completely get away from it all.

Places you never want to go to again: my twenties—a horrible period of time for me.

Things that make you happy: summer vacation (I work as a teacher). 

Things that drive you crazy: freshmen.

Proudest moment: has to be getting the first acceptance letter for a short story. Even though a few months later the editor changed his mind, I still remember what it felt like to read that letter.
Most embarrassing moment: probably one night when I realized, five minutes before class, that I’d totally forgotten to do the assigned project for that night. It was a required graduate course, and the professor was the chair of the department. That was an incredibly awkward conversation.

Most daring thing you’ve ever done: in Louisville, Kentucky, you can go zip lining in an underground cavern. In some places, the cave floor is a couple of thousand feet down. Absolutely terrifying.

Something you chickened out from doing: attending college graduation, both times.

The last thing you did for the first time: eat conch fritters. 

Something you’ll never do again: eat conch fritters. Uggh.


The Group

When You Have to Go There

The Litter 


A high-school teacher, former college instructor and fiction writer, Kevin R. Doyle is the author of two crime novels, The Group and When You Have to Go There, published by MuseItUp Publications, and one horror novel, The Litter, published by Night to Dawn Magazine and Books. This year also saw the release of the first book in his Sam Quinton mystery series, Squatter’s Rights, by Camel Press. He has had numerous short horror stories published in small press magazines. Doyle teaches high-school English in Missouri and is currently enmeshed in the editing stage of the second novel featuring Sam Quinton.

Connect with Kevin:

Website  |  Facebook  |  Goodreads  |  Amazon

Buy the book:

Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble  

Sunday, May 10, 2020



From the author of The Winner Maker and Blackquest 40 comes The Pinebox Vendetta: a genre-bending thriller that combines a love story, cold-case murder mystery, and political blood feud – told over the course of a single breathless weekend.

The Gallaghers and Pruitts have dominated the American political landscape dating back to Revolutionary times. The Yale University class of 1996 had one of each, and as the twenty-year reunion approaches, the families are on a collision course.

Owen Gallagher is coasting to the Democratic nomination for president.

Rock Pruitt – the brash maverick whose career was derailed two decades ago by his association to a tragic death – is back, ready to reclaim the mantle of clan leader.

And fatefully in between lies Samantha Lessing. Sam arrives at reunion weekend lugging a rotten marriage, dumb hope, and a portable audio recorder she'll use for a public radio-style documentary on the Pruitt-Gallagher rivalry – widely known as the pinebox vendetta. What Sam uncovers will thrust her into the middle of the ancient feud, upending presidential politics and changing the trajectory of one clan forever.

The Pinebox Vendetta is the first entry in the Pruitt-Gallagher saga: a series that promises cutthroat plots, power grabs, and unforgettable characters stretched to their very limits by the same ideological forces that roil America today.

Book Details:

Title: The Pinebox Vendetta

Author: Jeff Bond

Genre: mystery/thriller

Series: The Pinebox Vendetta (book 1)

Publisher: Jeff Bond books, (April 15, 2020)

Print length: 264 pages

On tour with: Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours


Things you need in order to write: coffee; laptop; variety in subject matter.
Things that hamper your writing: the business of promoting books; a scene I don’t love; my daughters’ school year being canceled. (Though I’m grateful for the extra time with them.)

Things you love about writing: inventing worlds; stumbling upon the perfect plot twist; hearing from a reader who’s thought deeply about one of my characters.
Things you hate about writing: days when it just feels too hard – reaching enough readers, balancing the desire to be original with genre expectations. Luckily these days are few and far between.

Things you love about where you live (Midland, MI): the amount of time I have to spend in a car—my kids’ school and activities are all within ten minutes’ drive.
Things that make you want to move: when we visit Chicago, where I lived earlier in life, I get a little jealous of the restaurants, museums, and other cultural attractions of bigger cities.

Things you never want to run out of: toilet paper. (Sorry, couldn’t resist. ツ)
Things you wish you’d never bought: beados, a kids’ craft involving tiny plastic balls and intricate molds. If you’re a parent of young children, you’ll get it.

Favorite food: burritos.
Something that make you want to throw up: water chestnuts. 

Favorite smell: elephant ears at the county fair.

Something that makes you hold your nose: Kombucha.

Last best thing you ate: I made a lentil and pork stew that turned out nicely last week.

Last thing you regret eating: my French onion soup (also from last week—plenty of time to cook these days), which I slaved over and would’ve tasted great if I hadn’t terribly over-salted it.

Things you always put in your books: this will sound self-important, but I’m going to say insight. For every scene I write, I plot out the protagonist’s goal, her/his obstacles, and something I call “What’s interesting?” It might be a nugget about friendship, or motivating yourself, or a descriptive passage I especially like. But there has to be something beyond the basic requirements of plot.

Things you never put in your books: swear words. I either leave them out or write “they cursed,” which readers occasionally find odd. It’s not some big moral crusade – I just prefer to write without them.

Favorite places you’ve been: San Francisco. Rome.

Places you never want to go to again: I’m sure Houston and Los Angeles are fantastic cities full of interesting people, but my main experiences were driving 85 miles per hour on busy city highways to keep pace with traffic. Living in the middle of Michigan has spoiled me for that sort of driving.

Favorite books: The Corrections; War and Peace; Gone Girl. Anything by Liane Moriarty.
Books you would ban: I wouldn’t ban anything, but I might take a whole bunch of stodgy stuff off curriculums. Reading should be a joy. We kill it for too many kids by forcing them to read books whose primary importance is academic or historical.

Favorite things to do: “writing” feels too obvious here, so I’m going to say play basketball. Sadly, I had ankle replacement surgery last fall and my doctor wants me sticking to low-impact activities – which basketball is not.

Things you’d run through a fire wearing gasoline pants to get out of doing: investigating a potential water issue in the basement.

Proudest moment: every parent-teacher conference.

Most embarrassing moment: my kids begged and pleaded with me to enter our dog in a Dock Dogs competition at a big summer festival. The event, which takes place in front of a crowd, involves coaxing your dog to dive headlong into a pool after a toy, then measuring how far they jumped. Well, our dog is a 125 pound Newfoundland. No matter how loudly I squeaked her toy or how big I bulged my eyes, she wasn’t jumping into that pool.



Jamie Gallagher stood beside the pirate at the skiff’s rail, the African sea thick on his skin. Neither man could see the other in the moonless night, but Jamie smelled the khat the Somali never stopped chewing—sweetly sharp, a scent that made Jamie feel part cleansed and part crazed.
“The money is ready,” said the pirate named Abdi. “My men have packed the briefcase.”
Wanaagsan.” Jamie ducked his head in gratitude. “You believe the general will accept a briefcase?”
“This is the usual way, yes. It will be checked for explosives with X-ray and IMS swabs.”
“Of course.”
“Also, the general will insist on verifying the amount before the release occurs.”
“His men are going to count ten million dollars?” Jamie asked.
The Somali spat khat leaves into the sea. “He has machines. The machines check by weight.”
Jamie exhaled, pushing his own breath into the hot, still air. The money would weigh out.
The money wasn’t the trick.
Abdi continued, “Once the amount is verified, the general will call his people in the jungle by satphone, and they will free your journalist.”
“Immediately? I’ll need confirmation from HD before we leave the yacht.”
“That is the arrangement.”
Jamie mopped his brow. Acting wasn’t his strength, and he hoped his insistence on this procedural point was convincing. In fact, Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) knew nothing about tomorrow. There would be no representative at the hand-off spot, and the French journalist—whose reporting on minority suffrage truly had opened the world’s eyes—would not be freed.
This was a regret. But Jamie Gallagher had lived with worse.
He said, “I’ll be X-rayed, too?”
“At a minimum. You should expect a body cavity search.”
“Fine.” In his years advocating for peace and public health around sub-Saharan Africa, Jamie had had his cheeks probed, his neck magnetically combed, and the arches of his feet flayed. “I suppose the general’s in no position to be trusting.”
The pirate took a while to respond. Was he eyeing Jamie in the dark? Signaling to his men back on the mothership? Jamie’s statement had been obvious and shouldn’t have invoked offense.
Since joining the pirates at Merca, a white beach paradise down the coast from Mogadishu, Jamie had detected hostility—even after paying their exorbitant convoy fee. Abdi himself had been civil enough, but his three young lieutenants, after pointedly using their left hands to shake Jamie’s, had glared at him with undisguised contempt.
He understood this. A westerner waltzes onto their ship with unimaginable stores of cash—cash that, in a matter of hours, will bring them into contact with the most wanted war criminal on the planet. Naturally, they resented him.
He was what, five years older than them? With his bandanna and dishwater-blond hair?
Abdi said, “This is a great risk for us. We have earned the general’s esteem. We do not wish to squander it.”
Jamie heard the clench in the man’s jaw. “I assure you, I will comply with every procedure he or you tell me to follow.”
General Mahad and these Somali pirates fought on the same side of many issues. Both wanted the ruling Muslims out of Puntland. They didn’t care that the Muslims had remade the conflict-ravaged region into a prosperous enclave, introducing compulsory education and a foodstuff-based living wage.
For the pirates, the problem was their strict, Islam-centric brand of law and order, which had made the coastal waters harder to pillage.
General Mahad’s beef was simple: the Muslims had replaced him in power.
He’d ruled Puntland for a decade, enriching himself and his cronies using any resource available—khat, guns, people. When word of his atrocities leaked, international pressure mounted for a free election. The general agreed after a period of stonewalling, believing he could manipulate the results. When Al Jama-ah won anyway, the general stole all he could in the weeks before yielding control.
According to a local guide Jamie trusted, the general toured polling stations his last day with a machete, taking three fingers from each precinct leader.
“If I lose next time,” he told them, “you lose the rest.”
Though he retained a few loyalist strongholds like the one holding the French journalist, General Mahad himself lived on a yacht, moving constantly to evade capture. The Hague had convicted him last year in absentia.
Now Jamie asked, “Who’ll be coming aboard with me?”
“Me and Josef,” Abdi said. “We are known to the general.”
“Will you be armed?”
“No. He will search us, too.”
Jamie shuffled in place, the skiff feeling suddenly unsteady beneath him. “I—er, I hope it’ll be okay that I bring a gift. Akpeteshie. I was told it is the general’s favorite liquor?”
The pirate groaned pleasurably. “Akpeteshie, yes.”
“I thought we might share a drink as a token of good faith.”
“The bottle is factory-sealed?”
“The general will like this. The general believes in courtesy.”
Several retorts came to mind at the ludicrous idea this butcher had any claim on civility, but Jamie swallowed them. He removed a pair of night-vision goggles from his rucksack. Before looking himself, he offered them to Abdi. Abdi waved them off as though the technology were frivolous.
Jamie scanned the horizon, right to left, left to right. The skiff’s sway seemed to increase. The eye cups stuck to his sweaty forehead.
The smell of khat, which hadn’t bothered him before, grated now, like sugar grit needling into his nose and eardrums. He felt the pressure of this place keenly. Every actor—man, woman, or child—who entered this stretch of ocean would be girded to fight. They must be. Choice never came into it.
A shape appeared on the horizon. Jamie thumbed his focus wheel until red blurs resolved to running lights.
“The general,” Abdi said.
Adrenaline jolted through Jamie. Here was a ghost vessel—a vessel many militaries of the world would board on sight, and one the United States wouldn’t think twice about blasting to smithereens with a drone strike.
The yacht grew larger in the greenish display. Jamie screwed on a bulky magnifier lens and was able to make out guards on the gunwale, ambling, AK-47s on their shoulders. The yacht was perhaps twenty meters. Several figures were sprawled out on deck, sleeping in the open for the heat.
Jamie raised the goggles, thinking to find the general on the bridge. The cockpit windows were smoked—opaque from outside and surely bulletproof.
He panned back down. The craft made a leeward turn, and he glimpsed new figures at the base of the pilothouse. These were prone like the others but smaller—a dozen in a line, little pulled-apart commas. Most of them were still, but one squirmed restlessly.
Jamie’s stomach shrank to a cold fist.

He barely slept. Long after rowing back to the mothership and helping Abdi loosely tie up the skiff, and bedding down in the holds beside crates of ammunition and rocket-propelled grenades, Jamie lay awake thinking of those children.
He’d known the general had kids, twenty or thirty that he acknowledged. And it shouldn’t have been surprising such a monster would keep family members near, in the cross-hairs of danger. Still, the concrete knowledge of these innocents shook Jamie. His moral clarity waned, like a tower of blocks losing its crosspiece.
How will the general’s children move on? What if they fall into the arms of the pirates or the next warlord up?
From here, it was no leap at all to obsess about the French journalist. When the exchange was revealed as phony, would the general’s men execute her on the spot? They would blame her, despite the fact that she had played no role whatsoever in the ruse.
Renée Auteuil had been raised by a jobless father in Roubaix, the post-industrial husk of a city. She’d worked sixty-hour weeks as a line cook to support them. She’d defied dictators on three continents to achieve the eminence and audience that had prompted General Mahad to snatch her last spring.
Now Jamie was putting her in jeopardy, and for what?
So that he could feel better about himself? So he could feel absolved?
Jamie had chosen Puntland precisely because it was neutral territory in the feud between his family, the Gallaghers, and their conservative arch-enemies, the Pruitts.
The two clans had been fighting for nearly three centuries—and while there was hardly a facet of American political, corporate, or philanthropic life their battles hadn’t touched, neither family had much connection to Puntland. As president, Jonathan Pruitt hadn’t carried out any significant dealings with the territory during his term. (His only term, thankfully.) The Gallaghers facilitated relief missions all over Africa, but nothing specially in Puntland.
Jamie’s action tomorrow wouldn’t be interpreted as having grown out of the feud, or impacted the feud, or given the Gallaghers some edge in the next midterm elections.
This was separate. This was good, a thing nobody could spin or debate.
That had been the plan, at least.
Now doubts roared in Jamie’s mind. He dug at the roots of his hair, flopping about the damp, creaking boards. The Somalis snored in the adjacent room. Their arsenal reeked of grease and sulfur. Jamie crunched his eyes and pulled his rucksack, which he’d been toting around since freshman year at Yale, down over his head.
The thoughts still came, and the guilt.
His emotions spiraled and sickened and fought, and finally came to a head. He growled, disgusted by himself, then tore through his rucksack for the shoe that contained, wedged up in the toes, a newsprint photo of a mass grave discovered in northeast Puntland.
By penlight, he stared at the image. He seared it into his brain. The open trench of dusted gray bodies. The overlapping femurs. The fleshless faces.
The photo was merely one of dozens. Jamie knew the general was well-positioned to continue the slaughter once the collective international eye moved along.
“That’s it,” he whispered aloud. “Not one more thought.”
The meeting was to take place twenty minutes after sunrise. Jamie woke, having finally fallen asleep around four a.m., to the Somalis chatting in their native tongue over pieces of flatbread. He dragged himself aboveboard, feeling at once languid and jittery.
“Bread?” Abdi offered, tearing a piece from a slab.
“Thanks, no.” Jamie reached into his rucksack instead for a piece of biltong, the wildebeest jerky he’d grown fond of. “Has the general been about?”
“Yes, Josef saw him. The hat.” Abdi made a sifting gesture above his head to indicate the general’s beret.
The day was already scorching, the sky’s blue brilliance broken only by the boiling disk of the sun. The general’s yacht rocked softly in the west, appearing quite large now, its bow sleek and spear-like.
“They’re within gun range,” Jamie observed.
“Oh yes. We are in their scopes.”
As if to prove the point, Abdi raised a hand in the yacht’s direction and laughed. Nobody joined him.
The pirate named Josef, taller and broader in the chest than Abdi, loaded the ten-million-dollar briefcase into the first of three skiffs. Jamie stepped in after, fitting his rucksack into the hull—careful of the Akpeteshie inside—and tying back his hair.
Abdi took a minute instructing the two men staying back on the mothership. Was he arranging a distress signal? Telling them what to do if shots were fired?
Coordinating a double-cross?
There was no use worrying. Jamie had placed himself between dangerous people, but dangerous people performed the same calculations benign ones did. The pirates would keep up their end so long as the benefits remained clear: not only cash, but stronger ties with the general and the establishment of a new back-channel to the powerful Gallaghers.
The skiff loaded, Adbi yanked the outboard motor’s cord. The engine sputtered alive and settled to a rumbling purr. Josef untied them, flashing a grim thumbs-up to the men staying behind.
They charted a course for the general’s yacht. The sea felt choppier on the smaller craft, which didn’t bother Jamie—a lifelong boater and varsity swimmer in college—but did compel him to pull the rucksack protectively into his lap. If the Akpeteshie somehow ruptured against the hull, the mission would be lost.
As they neared the general’s yacht, the faces of his guards became visible—wary, textured faces. The carry-straps of AK-47s sawed their necks.
Abdi cut the motor and drifted in.
A section of railing was unclipped, and a ramp extended from the yacht’s stern. After helping Josef tie up, Jamie slipped the rucksack onto his back and boarded. The Somalis trailed him with the briefcase.
Halkan, ku siin!” said one of the general’s men.
Abdi shook his head forcefully at the request—to hand over the briefcase. The guards backpedaled, their formation hemming Jamie and the pirates into a corner of the aft deck. Abdi and Josef walked with their bodies shielding the case as if it contained plutonium.
With these uneasy field positions established, the general’s men conferred briefly and parted to form an aisle to the pilothouse. General Mahad emerged.
The general wore his full dress uniform: navy blue, epaulets, ribboned medals. He lumbered forward with a mild limp, said to have originated during the Simba rebellion of 1964.
He raised his chin to Abdi, then spoke to Jamie. “Welcome to the one and true seat of Puntland, Mr. Gallagher.”
Jamie felt the man’s deep, scarred voice in his bowels. “That’s none of my concern. I’m here for Renée.”
The general smiled, his lips fat and sly. “How fortunate she is. You are the white knight, eh? Sir Jamie?”
The characterization stung, but Jamie pushed on. “I’ve been in touch with Humanitarian Dialogue—their helicopter is ready. Give me a latitude and longitude for the exchange and let’s get this over.”
“Your friends have the money?”
Every eye on the yacht turned to Abdi, whose knuckles tightened on the briefcase handle.
“Ten million,” Jamie said. “Count it if you like.”
The general crooked a finger at one of his men, who disappeared to the pilothouse. The man returned with a machine resembling a fax with bill-sized trays.
Abdi stepped forward with the briefcase. The man with the counting machine passed a handheld X-ray scanner around the case and swabbed a cloth along each edge.
He started for the pilothouse with the cloth, likely to perform a residue test for explosives, but the general stopped him. Then gestured for Abdi to go ahead.
When Abdi undid the clasp, the lip snapped open—ten million was a squeeze, even with an oversize case—and a few packets spilled out.
The counting began.
Now Jamie reached into his rucksack for the Akpeteshie.
“I’ve heard tell around campfires,” he began, gathering himself, “that you enjoy a certain Ghanaian beverage.”
The general grinned when he saw the bottle, squat, the neck’s glass bowed in the distinctive shape of a baobab tree.
“This is true.”
“Shall we drink together?” Jamie said. “It’s early, but I find a day started well nearly always ends well.”
The general palmed his jaw. There was a risk he would set the gift aside, but Jamie was counting on this subtle challenge to his manhood—in front of his crew, in front of Abdi and Josef. People like the general didn’t back down from such dares.
Jamie thought of his old classmate Rock Pruitt who’d downed a fifth of whiskey disproving a frat brother’s claim that prep-schoolers only drank martinis and smoked reefer.
“I would quite enjoy that,” the general said. “After the bottle is checked.”
Jamie raised a shoulder, feigning indifference as two men seized the Akpeteshie and held it sideways up to the sun, testing its feel in their hands, poking fingernails along the dripped-wax seal.
They would find nothing. Jamie’s sister Charlotte Gallagher, founder of internet-of-things giant SmartWidget and the eighteenth-richest person in the world, owned 45 percent of the local distillery that produced Akpeteshie. She had allowed Jamie to follow this lone bottle through the factory. At the final step, just before corking, he’d poured out 150 milliliters of liquor and replaced it with an equal amount of king cobra venom.
For fifteen months, Jamie had been inoculating himself with increasingly larger doses of the venom. He had started, after discussing the strategy at length with a Sudanese shaman, with a pinprick diluted in a pint of water. Last week, he had managed eight milliliters of venom—the amount a shot from the spiked Akpeteshie would deliver, depending on the pour—and suffered only dizziness, blurred vision, and severe cottonmouth.
When his men were satisfied the bottle was unaltered, the general took a pair of tumblers from the yacht’s fiberglass sideboard.
Tumblers, not shot glasses. Eight ounces at least.
“To finding a middle, eh?” The general poured each tumbler to the brim. “Two parties can start from opposite ends and, with good sense, find a common understanding.”
Jamie’s teeth pulverized each other in the back of his mouth. He’d always found the rhetoric of compromise disingenuous, whether it came from television pundits or the North Carolina Gallaghers exhorting the clan to give ground at the fringes of the abortion debate.
To hear it from the mouth of a man like Mahad? Revolting.
To the middle,” he spat.
He raised the tumbler to his lips. Calculations whipped around his brain. Eight ounces divided by one point five…
Equaled six times the amount of venom his body had previously endured.
The liquid was amber, almost orange. As the glass tilted, Jamie imagined he saw currents of venom slithering among the palm wine. His fingers trembled. Some sloshed over the side, but not nearly enough.
In his periphery, Jamie became aware of Abdi and Josef arguing with the general’s men. Abdi slapped one empty well of the briefcase. The general’s men shouted. More rushed to the deck from below board.
The general balked at Jamie’s tone. “You do not like my toast. That is your right. You are the guest, so make your own.” He smirked about. “We are democratic here, aren’t we?”
Jamie ignored the low hoots. “To justice.” He regripped his tumbler. “To justice, and fair treatment for all living things.”
The general guffawed, big and toothy. “For ten million, yes. Why in hell not?”
Their eyes locked over the tumblers’ rims. Jamie perceived something in the man’s look, some hustler’s instinct, and knew if he faltered now—even for a moment—the trap would be blown.
Jamie stared into the lethal brew, waited for bright madness to rise, and drank. The Akpeteshie burned his throat. His jaw felt weak and daggers pressed into his eardrums from inside. Still, he kept his head tipped back and drank it all.
The general and several of his men goggled at the feat. When their eyes turned to him, the war criminal downed his, too.
“…no, the release! ” Jamie heard behind him. “No money before release!”
“We will keep it.”
“No, us! We will hold the money.”
A guard wearing ripped denim leveled his rifle at Abdi. Josef stepped forward to push aside the muzzle. Another guard drove the butt of his rifle into Josef’s back, crumpling the pirate.
Jamie didn’t know how long he and the general had. During his inoculation, the symptoms would begin in about a minute, but he’d never ingested this large a dose.
His heartrate zoomed and breath pumped through his chest like air from a bellows—still, this could be the effects of anticipation.
“So, um…the release,” he said, feeling a vague duty toward Abdi. “If you…so I’ll call HD and be sure Renée, er…s’all okay with the money…”
Words were deserting him. The scuffle on deck was intensifying. Josef had recovered to pounce on the man in denim. Abdi was buried in a furious tangle of fists and churning hips.
Jamie didn’t understand the fight. Let them have the money—who cared?
He began to feel disconnected from his body, Abdi and Josef blending into other people he’d known in life, Gallaghers and Pruitts, senators and reporters, grad students and business titans, all fighting without reason, finding joy and enemies, grinding their life into the larger sausage.
The general unleashed a thunderous whistle and raised his hand for calm. The struggle paused. Every eye turned his way. He began to lower his hand but suddenly couldn’t.
His arm convulsed and became some bucking stick-animal beyond his control. His fingers twitched unnaturally. He grasped his throat, staggering back. Froth bubbled in his nostrils.
The man who’d retrieved the money scale from the pilothouse pointed at Jamie.
“What is this?”
Jamie tried answering, but his tongue would not obey, dead and heavy in his mouth. Pain gored his brain. Sweat screamed from his pores, a thousand beads altogether.
This wasn’t the outcome Jamie had wanted, but neither was it wholly unexpected. He thought now of life’s best moments. In Burundi, feeling that boy’s skeletal hand squeeze as he sucked a tab of enriched peanut butter. On the vineyard, fourteen years old, swinging his cousins round and round in celebration after his mother—the senior senator from Connecticut and Democratic National Committee chairperson—had succeeded in her long-shot campaign to retake majority control of the Senate.
Above all, though, he remembered kissing Sam. Seniors on their last night at Yale, about to go conquer the world, standing together in an entryway. Emotions spiked to the heavens. Their mouths came together in the gentlest, deepest touch he’d known before or since.
Samantha Lessing. God, she was it. The life he missed.
Half the general’s men were swarming the Somali pirates while the other half moved on Jamie. There was a gap between the two, but it was closing.
Jamie willed his tongue back into service.
“This was right,” he croaked. “Here, today. This was not a waste.”
And he believed this—dashing across the deck through grasping hands, over the gunwale, into the black ocean.



Sam slipped out of the WNYC studios at four thirty, waving off cheers of “Have fun!” and “Take me with you!”, hurrying through the lobby, jogging a short block to catch the uptown C. She needed to pick up a daughter and possibly husband in Brooklyn, then be back in Manhattan for the 5:41 p.m. train to New Haven. Reunion check-in closed at eight. If the train arrived on time, she’d make it easy.
If not? If any of the dizzying array of pitfalls inherent in teenagers and public transit popped up? Sam guessed they were sleeping on the street.
Half an hour later, she hiked three flights of stairs with key at the ready. The apartment was unlocked.
“Joss?” she called. “You are packed, yes?”
Her daughter’s door was closed, but guitar chords thwanged through. Sam stepped around French bread pizza and a stack of indie music magazines to pound twice.
“Not telling you what to wear,” she yelled, “but I suggest a dress or dress-like garment for Saturday night.”
The music inside dulled, indicating Sam had been heard. The warning bell had been sounded. She found an oversize duffel bag in the hall closet and tossed in her stuff: toiletries, three-odd outfits for the weekend, Zoom audio recorder.
About outfits: Sam both cared and didn’t care. She was forty-three. Her classmates were forty-three, give or take. Nobody should go rocking a prom dress, but they weren’t dead yet either. She brought dark-red sleeveless, plus yellow floral in case of glorious weather.
“Leaving twelve minutes!” she said through Joss’s door. “Zero wiggle situation.”
Tight timelines didn’t bother Sam—the studio commonly dropped post-production on her for shows that were airing in mere hours. Packing now, she thought pleasurably of the friends she’d see at the reunion. Laurel in from San Francisco. Jen Pereido. Naomi, even though she was still recovering from the birth of her fourth(!) child.
From her own daughter’s room came a squeal, streaked with joy. The noise pinched Sam’s heart. Her husband Abe was in there—they’d probably harmonized on some new melody. Which was awesome. Truly. Except that it was 4:48.
She opened the door. “I hate to be Yoko, but the time’s come to break up. Leaving in five minutes.”
Fourteen-year-old Joss looked up from fingering the neck of her guitar, still grinning. Abe sat cross-legged on the floor with the Yamaha across his knees, a kind of strung-out, hipster Dalai Lama. Both appeared stumped.
Sam said, “Yale? My alma mater, where you’ve been dying to go for months?”
Joss’s grin vanished. “Dad said you were leaving whenever! Isn’t it like an all-weekend thing? Today’s only Thursday.”
“Yes, but in order to check in Thursday night, as I hope to,” Sam said, patiently as she could, “we need to arrive on campus by eight o’clock.”
“That’s ridiculous, I’ve barely even looked at clothes.”
“Then look quickly. I’m winging it myself.”
Joss shot upright, dropping her guitar with a clang against the bed. “I’m not going to Yale on, like, zero notice. You can’t just spring this on me.”
“I sprung no thing on no body. We discussed timing last night, and this afternoon I sent your father four texts—every hour, on the hour—reminding him.”
“But those go to his phone,” Joss said. “Remember, I don’t have one? Because you won’t let me?”
Sam stretched one arm laboriously toward the ceiling, focusing on good breaths. Apparently, they were skimming right over Abe’s not passing along the messages. His long-running campaign to absolve himself of any and all responsibility—waged by a steady pattern of never giving a crap for anyone but himself—had succeeded at last.
“Look, we can argue about phones again or we can try to make this train. Otherwise, we basically miss half the reunion. We might as well skip.”
This genuinely spooked Joss. Her face hollowed even more deeply than usual. (She’d grown three inches this year, causing Sam to marvel at this moody, suddenly supermodel whose laundry she washed every week.) They’d been talking about the reunion forever, what architecture couldn’t be missed, whether student activists would be around for Joss to connect with.
Sam hated to use fear, that blunt-force instrument of the parenting arsenal, but she knew a reasoned argument would produce nothing but gridlock.
Joss started packing.
Abe, who’d disappeared to the bathroom, emerged now with drawstrings dangling from his sweats. He nodded to a pair of shiny heels in Sam’s duffel.
“Somebody’s dressing to impress.”
“I haven’t seen these people in twenty years,” she said. “I’m erring on the side of adequate.”
Her husband snorted, seeming to take the comment personally. Twelve years older than Sam, he’d been an already-aging rocker when she had met him in her late twenties. Between drugs and alcohol, and having nowhere in particular to be for the last twenty years—no office or classroom mores to adhere to—Abe had aged poorly. His leatherette skin belonged to a person decades older, and beige hair had fled the top of his head for his ears and nostrils.
“You’re more than welcome to join,” Sam said, stuffing in a toothbrush. “But we are leaving mucho rapido, so…”
He ambled a step away, picked up Joss’s guitar and set it in its case.
She heaved the duffel’s halves together to make the zipper zip. “You’re passing, correct? I just want to confirm with a verbal yes or no answer.”
Sam knew with four hundred percent certainty that some future argument would hinge on this point—whether or not Abe had been invited. They would be sniping back and forth about Yale, how phony or not phony her friends were, what first-world problems they were finding themselves crippled by, and he would break out his trump card.
You were embarrassed. You didn’t want me there, dragging you down.
And here it came, earlier than expected.
“You don’t have to faux-invite me,” Abe said. “You prefer to go alone. Oh, you’ll tolerate Joss. Joss is an acceptable accessory. Perfectly cool, I get it. I won’t ruin your triumphant return.”
Sam again focused on respiration.
In, out. In, out.
“This is a real invitation,” she said. “Just like the one I offered in April, and in May. You are absolutely welcome at my reunion. Come. Please. Joss would love having you there. Maybe you could jam with Thom—he’s supposed to be playing Toad’s.”
As convincingly as Sam delivered these words, her husband was right. The invitation wasn’t real. Abe thought Thom’s music was derivative and had zero interest in strumming out tired chords while Activist Boy preened at the mic for the ladies. If Abe went, he would grump and sulk and criticize, and ruin the whole thing.
“Pass,” Abe said. “Thom can play ‘Better Man’ solo. That is where he opens, isn’t it? Pearl Jam? Or is it the first encore?”
Sam chuckled with relief. Complicity with ragging on her own friends? Fine. Fine, she’d do it—so long as he stayed home.
Their daughter’s voice came through the wall, “What’s the formality situation for Saturday night dinner?”
“Less stuffy than a cotillion,” Sam called back, “but expect mosh-pitting to be frowned upon.”
As she waited on her daughter, Sam kept tabs on a few text conversations by phone. People were arriving into New Haven and wondering where Demery’s had gone, or at the airport dreaming of hugs on the quad, or annoyed because they had to work tomorrow which royally sucked!
Sam grinned at this last but didn’t tap back a response. Abe was watching her, surely guessing what the rapid-fire chimes were about. For Sam to actively join in would risk an argument or, worse, a change of heart.
She didn’t think her husband was capable of attending the reunion for spite, enduring a rotten weekend just to play the killjoy. But why push him?
Finally, Joss emerged. She had changed into a clingy ankle-length skirt and carried a backpack.
“Thank you for hurrying,” Sam said. “Excited?”
Joss rolled her eyes but couldn’t completely suppress a smile. Sam clutched her hand. After double-checking the cat dish had food, she slipped on her jacket and pulled her cell charger out of the wall, jamming it into the side of her bag.
Abe tilted his head. “Why’re you taking the Zoom?”
Shoot. Sam inwardly punched her brain for not packing last night.
“Ah…I’m kicking around this audio doc. Just ideas. Might record some clips.”
She hated how he asked, all aggressive and pedantic.
“I doubt I’ll have time.” She considered lying outright. Joss was watching, though, and the idea of cowering in front of her daughter—who was learning how to relate to others and respond to adversity and be an assertive female—repulsed her. “It’s about pinebox. How it affected our class, et cetera. Of course the vendetta’s been done—this would try to get at it through the lens of our class at Yale. We had one Pruitt, one Gallagher, that death freshman year. Kind of the whole feud in miniature.”
She shrugged, pretending to be flip, and started for the door. It was 4:32.
Abe asked, “Is Rock Pruitt going to the reunion?”
“Dunno,” Sam said. “We didn’t exactly run in the same circles.”
“Really? That seems disingenuous given you were bosom buddies there with the immortal Jamie Gallagher.”
Sam felt her chest constrict. Let it go, she told herself. Let it go like Elsa. Turn yourself to ice, and everything slides right off.
Except she couldn’t.
“Jamie despised Rock. You could walk the earth and never find two people with more diametrically-opposed worldviews than Rock and Jamie.”
Abe huffed. “Those beautiful people and their worldviews. What rarefied air you’ll be breathing again.”
Sam opened her mouth hotly to speak. At the last moment, she stopped and finished zipping her bag instead. She stood tall-shouldered, smiled, and invited Joss to lead the way out.
“The audio doc does sound right out of This American Life,” said Abe, evidently unsatisfied with the fight’s resolution. “Who produces that? Must be one of those Yale ninety-sixers working there you could pitch.”
She felt like asking how he could possibly believe in mythical Ivy League connections after this life of theirs: Sam’s twelve years bouncing around the periphery of pseudo-academic film, hustling after grants, performing peon tasks in job after job to bulk up a CV so it could sit on her Patreon page getting a half-dozen page views per month. She had finally risen to prominence at WNYC but almost in spite of Yale, which carried significant prima donna baggage in the field.
Again, though, Sam restrained herself in front of Joss.
“Hey, quick Zoom question,” she said. “You think forty-eight/twenty-four-bit, or forty-four/sixteen is better? It’ll be mostly outdoor clips.”
Abe tipped his balding head left, then right. “Forty-eight. File sizes won’t be that different, and at sixteen, the Zoom gets super noisy.”
Sam crinkled her nose. “Yeah. Yeah, I guess that’s right. Thanks.”
Mother and daughter both pecked Abe goodbye and bounded off to catch a train.
Joss seemed to study Sam down the stairs, and she wondered momentarily if her ruse had failed—if Joss understood that Mom had forgotten more about sampling rates than Dad had ever known—and had only made this final query to escape the apartment on a positive note.
Other fictions existed between the couple. That Abe respected her managerial position at WNYC. That she believed his vow to start playing shows again—that those freelance audio-tech Fiverr gigs he’d parlayed fairly successfully into income were just temporary and not his professional endgame. That reuniting each night for dinner, they asked about the other’s day with anything like genuine interest.
Sometimes Joss would make comments indicating she knew. “Gee, Dad, bitter much?” or, “I’d rather not be involved in this,” swirling her hand as though over a cesspool. Other times, she seemed oblivious, just a regular kid consumed by regular kid stuff.
Either possibility broke Sam’s heart.


Excerpt from The Pinebox Vendetta by Jeff Bond.  Copyright 2020 by Jeff Bond. Reproduced with permission from Jeff Bond. All rights reserved.


The Winner Maker

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Jeff Bond is an American author of popular fiction. He lives in Michigan with his wife and two daughters and belongs to the International Thriller Writers association.

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