23
May

Excerpt: And Then There Was a Tiger (WWII novel)

This is an edited scene from my next novel, coming this summer. And Then There Was a Tiger. Watch for announcement of publication.

Agnes took Maddie’s hand and marched her down the aisle towards the back parking lot to the tiger exhibition. “Morning, Mrs. Williams. So, you’ve come to see the tiger, too?”

“I’ll admit, the idea makes me a bit nervous. You don’t suppose it’s a wild one, do you?”

“Can’t imagine they’d let it perform out in the open if it was.” Agnes grinned down at Maddie and squeezed her hand. “I suspect it hasn’t eaten any little girls for a while.”

“Grandma!” Maddie sidled closer to Agnes’s leg. “That’s not funny.” Her eyes were as bright as sparklers on the Fourth of July.

Agnes’s heart warmed, seeing Maddie’s pleasure. It wasn’t likely she had ever met a tiger face to face. For that matter, meeting a tiger was a first for her too.

The spectators gathered in front of a boxcar-like caravan with a painted canvas draped over the front bars. Brightly colored yellow spoked-wheels jutted from beneath the wagon.

The crowd heard grunts and grumbles behind the canvas. They eagerly awaiting the first sign of the emerging tiger.

Roar!

The tiger’s cage creaked and swung open. A young man emerged, dressed in a blue and yellow shirt and red trousers. He stepped down the metal step carrying a short red and white striped stick resembling a magician’s wand. He bowed to the audience, then glanced back toward the open door, drew a whistle from his pocket and blew a shrill note. “Don’t be shy, Shere Khan. Come on out and say hello to the nice people.”

Scratching sounds came from behind the canvas, like the sound one might imagine a tiger would make as it rises from a metal floor, intent on hunting its prey. An orange nose appeared through the open door and the beast leaped onto the ground. Yellow eyes roamed the crowd.

The spectators murmured and took a collective step backwards. Coming to see a tiger was one thing–actually seeing one three feet away, unchained and unrestrained, was quite another.

“Shere Khan.” The trainer waved his stick in a circular motion. “Wave hello to the nice people.”

“Is he dangerous?” Someone called from the audience.

“Only when he’s hungry.” The trainer chuckled. “Up! Shere Khan!”

Shere Khan sat back on his haunches, lifted his front feet and waggled one foot.

A wave of oohs, aahs and nervous titters broke out in the audience.
They inched forward, clapped and laughed. They weren’t afraid. Not really. They knew he was tame. Heads nodded and smiled.

For the next ten minutes, the trainer put the tiger through his paces. After each trick, he gave the cat a treat from the bag at his waist. At one point, the tiger lay on the platform, gazing at the crowd, looking like an enormous, striped housecat.

Agnes dabbed her hankie across her forehead again as her thoughts turned to Shere Khan’s distant furry relatives. Too many had fallen prey to the hunter’s guns and the clothing industry, now that Hollywood starlets fancied fur coats. Shere Khan’s native cousins should be thankful that fox fur coats had more recently become more fashionable this season than tiger. Even so, the threat imposed by poachers was still very real. She envisioned wealthy and unscrupulous hunters stalking an unsuspecting prey, seeking tiger skin rugs and tiger heads mounted over their bars.

It was hard to imagine this gentle giant pursuing an antelope, leaping on its back, killing it with one snap of his jaws. Hard to imagine his jowls covered in the life’s blood of the still warm antelope, snarling to fend off predators determined to steal his bounty. Hard to imagine the beast dragging his kill through the underbrush, perhaps to a nearby den where two or three cubs awaited their first taste of meat. Such was a wild tiger’s life in the jungle.

This tiger was probably hand-raised, likely declawed and now totally dependent on a human to provide his meat on the end of a stick. It was doubtful he’d ever seen an antelope, and even if starving, wouldn’t know what to do if he saw one.

The trainer’s voice snapped her back to the present. “Does anyone want to pet Shere Khan?” The trainer pointed to Maddie. “You?”

Maddie glanced up at Agnes.

“What do you think?” Agnes touched Maddie’s cheek. “Do you want to pet him?”

“I…I…think so. Yes!” She pulled away from Agnes and stepped closer.

Maddie reached out her hand and touched Shere Khan’s head, then ran one finger over his ear. “He’s so soft.” She stroked down the tiger’s neck and scratched his ear.

Shere Khan turned toward the caress, opened his mouth and yawned, showing long sharp teeth. His eyes sought Maddie’s face and their eyes locked in a gaze that seemed to connect their soul. At last he blinked and lowered his head onto a giant paw.

Seeing Maddie’s delight, several other children rushed forward.

The trainer motioned them back. “Just one at a time.”

Maddie returned to Agnes. “He only likes me. See how he’s turning away from the other children?”

Indeed, Shere Khan stood and ambled back toward his caravan, apparently he'd had enough public adulation. Within seconds, he was up the steps and out of sight.

Agnes reached for Maddie’s hand. “Are you ready to go back now?”

Maddie's gaze was fixed on the spot where Shere Khan had disappeared. She rubbed her fingers together, seeming unable to relinquish the sensation of the tiger’s ear, reluctant to forget the rumble in his throat as she stroked his face. The child seemed lost in the memory of a special shared moment with a creature from the wild, reluctant to return to her life where troubling events were a daily occurrence. “Shall we go, sweetheart?”

Maddie blinked. “I remember, before I was born, we were in Heaven and we played in a meadow with baby lambs and goats. Was Shere Khan remembering, too, Grandma?”

“What strange ideas you have, child. Where do you come up with such things?” Played together in Heaven? What could have put such a thought into her head?

Maddie’s eyes were aglow, her smile as innocent as an angel. She looked as though she was truly catching a glimpse directly into Heaven where she had played in a meadow with a tiger.

Goosebumps crept up Agnes’s arms. Maybe Maddie was remembering. Hadn’t Pastor Lickleiter just preached on this text and encouraged the congregation to memorize the Bible verse? The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. (Isaiah 11:6 KJV)

Wolves? Leopards? Lions? Who’s to say there wasn’t a tiger among them?

11
Sep

How Often is there a Full Moon on Halloween?

Based on true facts about a full moon on Halloween, here is a fantasy story called:
MOONLIGHT MADNESS

Six weeks after the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001, the nation continued to mourn.

Several days ago, the Sacramento Daily Sun editor burst into my office, “Clive. Pack your bags. You’re going to Salem, Massachusetts, to cover their Halloween celebration. Let’s give the subscribers something new to read about.”

He had me at the words, ‘pack your bags!’ With yet another gut-wrenching editorial in my computer about the 341 firemen lost in the Towers, I was up for anything to get away from the twenty-four-seven news cycle.

October 31st is big news in Salem every year. 250,000 visitors swarm the city to experience haunted houses, costume balls, live music, dances and holiday parades. This year, due to a full moon scheduled on October 31, 2001, the first full moon on that date since 1974, Salem planned even more spectacular events. The occurrence of a full moon on Halloween happens only four or five times each century! The next one isn’t expected for another twenty years─October 31, 2020!
Entering Salem, I was impressed by the witches and goblins, pumpkins and ghouls decorating houses and businesses, much like we decorate for Christmas back home. Witches are big in Salem all year long, due to the history of the Salem witch trials, but this year, especially so, what with the full moon phenomenon. Apparently, Salem’s city fathers thought the citizenry had grieved 911 long enough and should get their minds back onto business as usual. Let the nation grieve if it must. Salem would strike while the moon was full!

Cornstalks lined the streets. Jack-o-lanterns hung from each lamp post. Shopkeepers, decked out in witch and warlock, ghost and vampire costumes, hawked merchandise. Every shop window displayed witches and cauldrons, spirits and ghouls. Tourists clamored through the town atop horse drawn hay wagons and carts.

I ate lunch at a little diner and delighted in the attentions of a charming waitress with long black hair, shocking gold eyes and fluttering lashes. With a glance, Jenny churned up feelings I hardly remembered, being a widower well past middle-aged, and an almost regular church goer.

Imagine my surprise when she handed me a napkin with a message inside. Meet me outside tonight. 11:25 P.M. Come alone. I must see you.

I left my lunch half-eaten and stumbled outside to ponder the situation. With her obvious charms, she had the pick of any young man; what could she possibly want with me? I interviewed shopkeepers and snapped photos of the holiday events that day and well into the evening. Even knowing it was a fool’s errand, at 11:15 P.M, I was drawn back to the diner like a moth to a flame.
****
At 11:20 P.M. Jenny wiped down the last table, flipped over the CLOSED sign and locked the café door. She had nearly given up hope of finding a middle-aged man with silver-white hair and mustache. What were the odds that Clive should walk through the door at the last possible moment to change her destiny?

Jenny wrapped her cape around her shoulders and stepped out the front door. There Clive stood, as she had hoped! She was blessed with a sixth sense about the future, knowing when the phone would ring or a visitor would knock at her door. An oppressive spirit had even settled on her the morning of September 11, feeling something evil on the horizon. She had powers over men, but on this night of nights, with the full moon overhead on this auspicious date, her fate lay in the hands of this stranger. Without his cooperation, she could not escape the family curse.

“Hello. Thanks so much for coming.” Jenny placed her small white hand on Clive’s arm, hoping to bend his will to her needs. “You’re the only one who can help me.” She lifted her hand to dab at a tear.
“I’m happy to oblige. But, why do you ask a stranger? Don’t you have family or friends who could help you?”

Jenny lowered her head, brushing her lashes against her pale face. She allowed her lip to tremble as the tear trickled down her cheek. A white curl tumbled onto her forehead, seemingly out of place among her mass of black curls.

“Here, here, now. None of that.” Clive brushed Jenny’s hair back into place. “I’ll help you if I can, my dear. Don’t cry.” He tipped up her chin and dried her tears with his handkerchief. “Now, give me a smile and tell me all about it.”

“I fear you’ll think me crazy, sir, but I swear I speak the truth.” Jenny sat on a bench and began an inexplicable tale.

“I am a descendent of the judge who unjustly hanged Sarah Good as a witch in 1692, right here in Salem. Since Sarah Good’s death, the judge’s descendants have suffered a terrible curse. Upon the rare occasion, only about four or five times each century, when the full moon is overhead on All-Hollow’s Eve, any female descendent between the age of 18 and 29 is in grave danger.

“As the full moon is upon us this night for the first time since 1974, and to avoid the curse, I must find a middle-aged man with long silver-white hair, who resembles the judge who sentenced my poor ancestor, Sarah, to death. Before midnight, a drop of this man’s blood must voluntarily be placed on a particular stone that stands at the edge of town.” Jenny’s pale lips trembled most effectively. “Would you shed a drop of your blood on Sarah’s commemorative stone to save me from the curse?”

“What kind of curse, my dear?” Clive raised a perplexed eyebrow.
“It is so terrible, I dare not speak it aloud.” Whispering these words, Jenny clung to Clive’s shoulder and wept piteously. Would it be enough to convince him to go with her to the stone? And, once there, could she muster the courage to do what she must do to stave off the curse?
****
Clive was speechless. Never had he encountered such a stunning creature that so captivated his heart within minutes of meeting. Never has such a ridiculous tale so captured his imagination. He was inclined to leap from the bench, take her by the hand and race to the stone in question. Only with great difficulty did he pummel his rash impulses into submission and sit back on the bench, staring up into the starry sky.

The full moon hung blood-red over the city, casting an orange glow across the sidewalks, still churning with costumed tourists, jostling and laughing, their joyous songs of nonsense carried into the black sky on the night breeze.

The young woman stirred in his arms, her sobs finally ceased. She dashed tears from her cheeks and looked up at him. “You will help me, won’t you? I’m so desperate. I only need a teeny-weeny drop of blood, really. I’d be ever so grateful.”

If she truly believed her outrageous tale, considering the unusual request, even a gentleman couldn’t help wondering, how grateful? On the other hand, just exactly how much was a teeny-weeny drop of blood and just how crazy was this charming girl?

Clive shivered. The breeze rustled the corn husks tied to the lamp posts. A thin cloud crept across the center of the moon, seeming to cut it in half.

Clive glanced at his watch. 11:40 P.M. “Well, let’s get on with it. Can we walk to the stone?” He would humor her and see where all this would lead. His hand rested around a small penknife in his pocket. If a tiny drop of blood is all it takes to satisfy her fantasy and win her gratitude, I can do that.

The wind picked up and whistled overhead as the cemetery loomed into view. Groups of tourists ambled among the grave stones. Raucous laughter burst from the direction of Bridget Bishop and Martha Corey’s graves, also victims of the 1692 Salem witch trials. One would think it was an amusement park rather than a cemetery from the sounds of merriment coming from the shadows.

Jenny squealed when a man dressed as a vampire loomed from the bushes.

Clive put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close. She was really a dear little thing, and his heart stirred. He wanted so to calm her fears. Perhaps he’d bring her coffee in bed tomorrow morning…

Sarah Good’s commemorative stone gleamed in the moonlight.
Jenny ran her fingers over the grooves in the stone forming the letters– Sarah Good 1653 – 1692. “Poor thing. I’m so sorry, Sarah. Please forgive my ancestor.” Jenny glanced at her watch. “Are you ready?” She drew a huge serrated bread knife from her purse. “We don’t have much time. I only have two more minutes. Clive?” Jenny’s beautiful smile, only moments ago holding so much promise, faded, replaced by a fiendish leer. Only his blood splashed across the accursed stone would make her smile now.

At the sight of Jenny’s wild eyes gleaming in the moonlight, Clive stepped back. The thrill of the lovely lady and moonlight adventure faded and common sense finally prevailed. Jenny had no intention of settling for a pricked finger and a drop of blood.

With the knife in her hand, she crept closer and closer with murder in her eye.

“Hold on, there, young lady.” He backed away, glancing left and right. Where had all the costumed tourists gone? The witches and ghosts and even the vampire had disappeared at the first sight of Jenny’s knife.

In the distance, the town clock began to strike. Twelve o’clock…the witching hour. Bong…bong…bong. The hour that a real witch, if there was such a thing, might easily murder a stranger to satisfy her twisted notion of an imaginary family curse.

Bong…bong…bong. Clive’s dull life suddenly held a great deal more appeal. How he wished he was back in New York and had never heard of Salem.
Bong…bong…bong.

Bong…bong… Jenny shrieked and rushed at him, the knife raised...
Paralyzed with fear, Clive threw up his hands, closed his eyes and held his breath, waiting for the death blow. Bong! Midnight!
Seconds ticked by. Clive ran his hands up and down his chest. “I’m still alive?” He opened his eyes.

Jenny’s cape and the bread knife lay on the ground, but… Where was Jenny? Had she waited seconds too long to strike and the curse taken her? But where? How?

Sarah Good’s gravestone gleamed in the moonlight. A small black cat hunched beside the stone, her tail whipping around her black toes. A white blaze crept over her nose, across one golden eye, ending beside her ear. She stared up at Clive, terror in those golden eyes, such as to soften the hardest heart. Meow?

“Jenny?” Clive walked closer to the stone. Wasn’t there a fable about witches turning into black cats? He’d never believed such tales before, but... He stroked the little cat and peered into her eyes. “Jenny?” He gasped. Jenny’s golden eyes stared back. The curse! It was true. “She needed me to protect her from the curse. She still needs me.”

He would write his 2000 words newspaper story about Salem, about the haunted houses and the costume ball and the decorations and the Halloween parades. The story would be colorful and for a few minutes the Sacramento Daily Sun readers could forget the tragedy that took almost 3000 lives on September 11, 2001
.
He would write about tonight being the first full moon on Halloween for the last twenty-seven years, but, he would not write about a 300-year-old curse that turned a Salem witch into a little black cat. Who would believe it?

Clive cradled Jenny in his arms as he walked back to town. “Don’t worry, Jenny. I’ll always take care of you. You don’t have to worry about anything ever again.

1
Aug

Dead Bush Poker - A short cat story

I live in Dead Bush, a small town in the center of Texas. Our town sports three saloons, a general store, the bank, one church without a steeple, a blacksmith shop and another establishment such as nice folks don’t talk about in mixed company. Modern wooden slat sidewalks was added this spring in deference to the request of those specific ladies who live in the aforementioned establishment.

On Founder’s Day, the local farmer’s wives bake pies and hams and sweet potatoes for a giant banquet and sponsor a square dance out behind the Blacksmith’s shop. Bright and early this morning, neighboring families with all the kids trickled into town looking for a good time.

Not long after, several soldiers still wearing raggedy Civil War uniforms rode into Dead Bush on worn out horses. The soldiers commenced to drink and gamble and ordered steak dinners at the Dry Spell Saloon where, among other things, such entertainment and libation is encouraged.

I sleep in the back of the saloon, ever since the town sheriff found me, the lone survivor of a wagon train massacred by wild Indians.
I don’t belong to nobody, but Shorty, the barkeep saves me left-overs from the day’s leavings. That, added to my hunting prowess, fares me well. Since I’m the only cat for miles around, the regulars at the saloon adopted me as a mascot. I’m a fine figure of a cat, though some would say, somewhat on the portly side. It must be so, as to the validation of the roaming tomcat what comes through town every spring. Up until now, I haven’t given him a tumble.

Cats are almighty scarce and considerable valuable in this county. A number of local farmers have offered Shorty big bucks for me, beings as cats can keep a barnyard free of varmints without half trying. There are some folks from the big cities who haul cats in their saddlebags to small farming towns, assured of a quick sale and a $20 gold piece. The farmers soon learn they don't know nothin' about varmint huntin.'

Well, seems these soldiers what came to town sat and drank well past noon. I caused quite a stir when I wandered through the saloon. One soldier took a notion to buy me, having heard about cats being worth big money up the river. Shorty declined, saying I couldn’t be sold since I was a free spirit and didn’t belong to nobody.

As the gambling and drinking progressed, the soldier plied Shorty with enough palaver and drink that he was finally cajoled into a card game with me as the stakes.

I sat near the potbelly, preening my whiskers, somewhat amused by the stupidity of these humans what thought they could buy and sell another living creature. Wasn’t that decided by the Civil War after all?

The poker game progressed and it seemed my future as mascot at the Dry Spell Saloon was dependent on the turn of their cards.

Four players hunched over the poker table, cards fanned in their hands, empty glasses lined up in front of them. Shorty’s chips were going fast. Holding on to the Dry Spell Saloon mascot didn’t look promising.

The size of Shorty’s chips rose and fell as the afternoon wore on. I sat on a nearby table, commiserating with Mr. Casper, an old codger who operated a small gold claim in a nearby river. The old man was a fool, but he didn’t smell quite as bad as the other miners, as being tipsy a good deal, he fell in the river more often than most, washing away some of his natural man-stink.

In the late afternoon, the neighbor ladies announced their Founder’s Day supper was served. The saloon emptied except for the four poker players who found it harder and harder to sit up straight. Heads lolled and cards tumbled from their hands. More whiskey landed on the floor than in their glasses. Never in the history of Dead Bush had such a game gone on for so long or the stakes so roundly coveted. I was, indeed, a prize.

Eventually, Smitty Rosenblatt passed out. George Waddlebaker went broke. Shorty hung in there, though blurry eyed, he continued to fight for his meezer. Poor Shorty’s stack of chips got even smaller.

Seeing the inevitable handwriting on the wall, I slipped out the front door and headed out of town onto the prairie, intending on being absent for a few days. An occasional vacation is always revitalizing to one’s health and seemed particularly attractive today.

Besides, there weren’t no sense being around when Shorty went broke and the soldier attempted to claim his prize. I didn’t plan to spend the next week strung to the back of a saddle in a burlap sack until the old soldier found a farmer with a rat-filled barn and a $20 gold piece.

I’m the only cat worth her salt in Dead Bush, and I intend to keep it that way. At least until next spring, when that tomcat comes back to town.

7
Feb

Announcing Mrs. Odboddy Undercover Courier

Announcing the publication of my latest Mrs. Odboddy mystery/adventure, Mrs. Odboddy Undercover Courier.

It’s 1943 and Agnes and Katherine are preparing to accompany Mrs. Roosevelt on her Pacific Island tour. Agnes carries a package from Colonel Farthingworth to President Roosevelt in Washington, D.C. Convinced the package contains secret war documents, Agnes expects Nazi spies to try and derail her mission, but she is determined to protect the package and put it into the President’s hand, whatever the cost.

Before leaving town, however, she has to find a place for those gol-darned four bantam roosters–- Myrtle, Sofia, Mrs. Whistlemeyer and Mildred!

Agnes and Katherine travel by train to Washington, D.C. Along the way, she meets Irving, whose wife mysteriously disappears from the train; Nanny, the unfeeling caregiver to little Madeline; two black soldiers bound for the Tuskegee airbase to train as pilots, and Charles, the WWII veteran with PSTD who lends Agnes an unexpected helping hand when things go exceedingly wrong. Who should Agnes trust? Who is the Nazi spy? Is there even a Nazi spy or is it all in Agnes’s imagination?

In a final near deadly showdown In Washington, D.C., Agnes faces a formidable challenge and is forced to accept the possibility that she isn’t the hometown warrior she always thought she was.

Can Agnes overcome multiple obstacles, deliver the package to the President and still meet Mrs. Roosevelt’s plane before she leaves for the Pacific Islands? If you’ve read Mrs. Odboddy Hometown Patriot, you’ll know that she will do everything in her power as the scourge of the underworld she thinks she should be.

Mrs. Odboddy -Undercover Courier is available at Amazon in paperback and e-book on February 9, 2017.

As a special treat to my loyal fans, and WWII mystery buffs, the first Mrs. Odboddy novel, Mrs. Odboddy Hometown Patriot will be FREE at Amazon between February 9-13.

I'd love to hear from you. Did you enjoy Mrs. Odboddy Hometown Patriot? Would you like to see more of her adventures?

9
Jul

A Short Story of Magic and Dreams- A CHANCE ENCOUNTER

hofpgartenchurch

In 1987, while visiting Austria, we were caught in a storm. Like our day in Austria we experienced the storm and the ringing church bells. The village and setting are real. There were cobbled streets and rain water flowing down the street and the fear and wonder were real. We were given this explanation for why they rang the bells...but the delightful interaction with the stranger is fantasy...or was it?
Have you ever had an experience that felt unearthly and ethereal?

********
Hofpgarten, Austria, 1987
The clanging church bells, crashing thunder and flash of lightning assailed my senses. Adrenaline surged through my chest like an electric current. Lightning lit the sky behind the church steeples across the street. Crashing thunder momentarily drowned out the clanging church bells.

Terror gripped my heart. Was I caught in a time warp of nature’s fury, transporting me to another place; magical, ethereal, and terrifying? How odd that I should feel such fear. Stay calm. It’s just a sudden summer storm. I stood transfixed in wonder as the elements crashed around me.
A torrent of water rushed down the cobbled stones, filling the gutters, threatening to flow onto my feet. Were the bells warning of some disaster? Have they declared war? Did someone assassinate the President? Does Austria even have a President?

I huddled beneath the narrow striped canopy of the clock shop. Cold spines of stinging rain drove against my face. Lightning flashed and I jumped at the next clap of thunder. The awning was pitifully inadequate and rain dripped from my hair onto my raincoat. Rain bounced off the pavement, forcing me closer to the wall.

And then, a man stopped beneath the awning where I shivered. “May I offer the shelter of my umbrella?” He tilted his umbrella, protecting me from the storm.

“Thank you, how kind.” His presence soothed my fears and my pattering heart slowed.

We stood side by side beneath the canopy, watching the ribbons of lightning zigzag across the afternoon sky.

“The storm came up so quickly, it caught me quite unawares.” I dabbed my face with a handkerchief and tilted my head toward the sound of the church bells.

“Sudden storms are not unexpected this time of year.”

“Why are they ringing the bells?” I tucked the hankie in my pocket. “Has something happened? Is there an emergency?” I gestured toward the deluge of water flowing down the cobbled stones, looking as though a river had overflowed its banks.

“They ring the bells to frighten the storm clouds toward another village.”
I struggled to suppress a smile, doubting the ability of the bells to drive away the clouds but pleasantly moved by his quaint belief in their magical power. “If that’s what you believe, I’m sorry to say, it’s not working. It’s been raining for half an hour.”

“Oh, it’s working fine.” His smile lit up his face. “But, the next village also rings their bells and the clouds are confused. They hear the other village bells, so they drift back here again. From village to village they drift. Soon they will find a quiet place where they can rest.”
We stood beneath the awning watching the rain and laughed, exchanging small bits of idle conversation. On the hillside above us, my pension looked down on the train winding through the valley and into the town. Cows dotted the nearby fields. The cow’s bells tinkled as they ambled across the meadows; the sound echoing from valley to hillside.
We stood so close to the stranger, I was warmed by the scent of him.
A whistle shrieked and he turned toward the train station. “I’m sorry, I must go. My train is coming. Perhaps you should seek better shelter?”
I nodded. “I’ll go into a shop as soon as the rain lets up a bit. Thank you again for sharing your umbrella.”

He caught up my hand and raised it to his lips. “It’s been a pleasure. I wish we had more time to…” His lips brushed my fingertips. “Good-bye.”

I looked deep into his eyes and in that moment, it felt as though I whirled through spasms of space and time. And in that instant, surrounded by light and the music of the bells, it was as though he and I had shared a lifetime together; infinite days and endless nights of love and hope. I heard the blare of 100 marching bands, saw the night sky explode in a cacophony of fireworks, felt the coolness of a 1000 springtime rains, the pink glow of 10,000 morning dawns and the wonder of a myriad of red and golden sunsets…

In those few seconds, it seemed we shared a lifetime. I shook my head, knowing it was a fantasy brought on by the magic of the bells and the storm.

He released my hand, waved a final farewell and strolled toward the train.
As he disappeared into the station, the blare of marching bands tinkled and became a warning bell, then silence. The music in my head became…a sparrow in a nearby tree.

The rain stopped. The sun cast sparkling rainbows through the dewdrops dripping from the shrubs. I touched the place where he had stood and his aura seemed to melt through my fingertips. “Wait! I don’t even know your name.” I ran toward the station, “Wait!” The whistle blew and the train clacked down the track. The magic spell was broken.

Years have passed. I’ve had a good life, all that one could hope for. Marriage, a satisfactory career and children. But, even now, when I hear church bells, I stop to listen.

Even now, the bells have the power to drive the storm clouds from my soul. I smile as I remember a summer storm in a faraway land. I close my eyes and relive the moments I shared an umbrella with a stranger. Were we caught up by a crack in time and space? In that instant, did we actually share a lifetime of love and laughter? Or was it only a dream that lasted for a second?

The bells ring on and I am reminded of that day when church bells echoed from one mountaintop to another, as the storm clouds scrambled from village to village in search of a silent peaceful place.

Finally in their frantic search, they drifted onto a quiet hillside where the only sound was the tinkling of cow’s bells, as they ambled through the meadows and disappeared into the mist.

14
Mar

And Then There Was a Tiger

imagesP2SO6AO5

Then there was a tiger ….

As every author knows, we, who manipulate the keys on the computer are not always in charge of the words that end up on the page.

This AM, while working on my third Mrs. Odboddy adventure…which I must admit is coming along very slowly thanks to the characters dragging their heels with less inspiration than I’m used to getting from my imaginary crew…

In this final sequel, I had every intention to wind up the series, finalize the romances outlined in book one, bring the culprit from book two to justice, and have Agnes unravel another Nazi-conspiracy.
We were at a crucial point in the story where someone has framed my protagonist for burglary, another character was just whacked in the head, and another couldn’t decide which of two men she loved and … And then…there was a tiger. Literally! A living, breathing striped tiger!

Who knew?

Well!!

Throw out the rule book. Toss away the outline. Forget the red herring that I was just about to add to page 109, because now…there is a tiger.
Not that this is the first time a character has changed the direction of my story, but I have to admit, this is the first time there was a tiger. Now I have to figure out what to do with a tiger, in small town CA, during WWII.

Really? Come on guys!

I’m sure you’ve all experienced this to some degree. How many of you, while writing your Great American Novel, (or facsimile) have had a plan for where a particular scene should go when suddenly…the character takes over and drives the scene in a completely unexplained or impossible direction?

8
Oct

Thumper Discusses the Black Cat Mysteries

Thumperandbook

In Black Cat’s Legacy, generations of my ancestors waited for someone to return to the lodge to solve an unsolved murder. When Kimberlee returned to Fern Lake, with the aid of my ancestor’s memories, it was my legacy to help her solve her father’s murder. It didn’t hurt that I knew where the bodies were buried, so to speak.
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In the sequel, Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer So, Kimberlee took me with the family to her grandmother’s Texas horse ranch. That’s where I met my soulmate with eyes the color of mustard and stripes the color of marigolds. It was love at first bite…er…sight!
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Kimberlee caught on pretty quickly to the lawyer embezzling Grandma’s money through a fake children’s charity. Could a murder plot be far behind when Grandma announced a plan to disinherit the charity and leave her money to her granddaughter? I, Thumper, being the black cat of the title, had to face a killer to prevent him from murdering her sorry…self.

Which brings us to Black Cat and the Accidental Angel. When I awoke in a busted cat carrier and realized I’d been left behind following an MVA, I had a conk on my noggin and no memory of my former life. The golden striped feline beside me said, “Call me Angel. I’m here to take care of you.” Why did she claim to be my bride? She seemed pretty sure of herself…and she was as cute as a catnip mouse.

Our journey to find home brought us to John’s Emu ranch and vineyard where he and his daughter, Cindy, took us in. John was about one giant hairball from foreclosure and homelessness. As his troubles increased, so did the dangerous pranks endangering Cindy’s safety.

I wanted to head for home, but Angel put her paw down. She insisted divine destiny had brought us to the ranch to help John and Cindy. When she risked everything to save Cindy, I learned the most important lesson ever. If you lose your dearest soul mate, nothing much else matters, not even going home or knowing your own name….

About the title, Black Cat and the Accidental Angel? Well, Angel has a tale of her own to tell. You won’t want to miss our story of thrills and chills, faith, prayer, and love as we tell our truths a different way than you’ve ever heard before…through the eyes of a cat.

All three Black Cat Mysteries are available at Amazon (e-book) for just $3.99. If you have friends who love cats, this would be a nice surprise gift. Contact me directly for an autographed copy for $13.00 (free shipping within USA).

21
Jun

He said… She said. Why does it matter?

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Readers love books with lots of dialogue and not so much narrative. Good dialogue should never just be idle chit-chat or casual conversation. Dialogue moves the storyline forward and is written specifically to create a certain mood.

In the following edited conversation between Brett and Kimberlee, from Black Cat’s Legacy, she shares her darkest secret.

Kimberlee took a deep breath and sighed. “I’ve had nightmares all my life. I never thought they had anything to do with my father’s death.”

“Nightmares?” Brett wrinkled his forehead. “Go on.”

“I remember now. In my dream…maybe it wasn’t a dream... My father is lying at the foot of the stairs and there’s someone standing in the shadows!”

Brett leaned across the table and took her hand. “You were there? You saw the killer?” His grip tightened on her hand. “You know who it was?”

She shook her head. “I heard voices. I came down the stairs. I remember something red, maybe a piece of clothing? I heard a shot and then I saw his…his… body. That’s all I remember.” She laid her head on her arms. “I never realized what it meant. I thought it was just a nightmare.”

“I can’t imagine how you must feel. I want to help get to the bottom of this. What can I do?” Brett’s voice shook
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She lifted her head. Tears ran down her cheeks. “There is one thing, but I hate to ask.”
“Anything. Just name it. How can I help?” A flicker of concern swept across his face. He squeezed her hand.

“Maybe get me a tissue?” Her eyes crinkled in a smile.

What does this dialogue reveal?
In a few short sentences, we learn that Kimberlee never understood the connection between her nightmares and her father’s murder. We feel empathy for her pain. We see Brett’s increasing attraction to her, and suddenly during this tense moment, she delivers a one-liner that hopefully, if I did my job well, makes you smile.

Even more than the narrative in a story, good dialogue can create drama, romance, angst, or humor. If you can put it all in one conversation, go for it!

The reader doesn’t understand the creative effect of what a writer has done or admire their skill of their craft. They just know that as they read, the dialogue makes them feel they are watching the scene unfold, or better yet, they become one with the characters, feeling their joy, their pain, or their sorrow as they are pulled into the story.

The mark of a good book is when the reader reaches “THE END” and wishes there was another 100 pages. The mark of a GREAT book, is when that same reader searches for the sequel or another book by this same author.

Beyond a good plot, a charming setting or appealing characters, writing dialogue that sings is essential to creating this kind of reader’s response. It contributes to the success or failure of a book and to the writer’s career.

1
Jan

Excerpt from Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer

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Here is a scene from Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer.The family is at Grandmother'sTexas horse ranch. She is teaching Kimberlee and Dorian how to make Apricot Jam when the trouble starts. .

“What should I do while Dorian picks the apricots?” Kimberlee looked around the large kitchen, ready to assist in the jam making process.

“Get a big kettle from under the counter and several large mixing bowls. The sugar and Sure-Jell is in the cupboard over the oven. The jars are already washed and stacked on the counter. We’ll have apricot jam before you know it.”

Kimberlee banged around the kitchen, following orders.

“Fix up a large kettle with cold water and ice. After the apricots sit in the boiling water for a few minutes, we’ll drop them into ice water. That loosens the skins so they slip right off. Once the pits are cut out, we’ll be ready to start the jam.”

The kitchen door squeaked open and Amanda came in, clutching the black and white cat to her chest. His long black hair covered his body. His legs with snowy white feet, dangled almost to her knees.
“Fumper says he’s hungry, Mama.” She staggered across the room, her arms wrapped beneath the compliant cat’s black legs.

Kimberlee shook her head. “I don’t think so, sweetheart. Daddy Brett gave him breakfast early this morning.”

“Uh-huh. He’s hungry. He tode’ me so. He wants some bacon.” Amanda squinched up her mouth and glared at her mother.

“Amanda. Don’t make naughty faces at Mama. Now, you run on and take Thumper outside to play. There’s a good girl.” Kimberlee gave her head a pat, and a little push toward the back door. Confrontation with a five year old in front of Grandmother wouldn’t impress anyone.

“Amanda, you come on back here.” Grandmother spread her arms wide. “Come and give Grandma some sugar.” She turned to Kimberlee. “If Amanda wants to feed da kitty bacon, that’s dust’ what her can do, ’cause Grandma says so.”
Amanda stood by the door, the cat clutched against her chest. Her gazed moved from her mother to Grandmother.

Kimberlee stepped between her and Amanda. “Please don’t contradict me when I discipline her, Grandmother. It just confuses her and makes it harder for me.” She knelt beside Amanda. “Now run along, Amanda. Go find Nanny.” She gestured toward the yard.

The muscles tightened in Grandmother’s face tightened. How dare she chastise me in front of the child, right in my own kitchen?
Amanda sidled across the room and put her hand on the refrigerator handle. She paused, waiting for the winner of the tug-a-war to make the final decision.

Grandmother couldn’t hide her smile. See how well her plans to take Amanda from Kimberlee were already working? Amanda was already accepting her authority and turning against her mother.

Kimberlee gave Amanda’s shoulder a shove toward the door. “I said, take Thumper outside!”

The warmth crept up Grandmother’s cheeks. She made a half-hearted effort to control her voice, without much success. “Kimberlee, where are your manners? You’re still a guest in my house. I said the child may do as she pleases. If Amanda wants to feed the cat caviar, she can feed the cat. I won’t hear another word on the matter.”

Kimberlee’s cheeks flamed. The kettle slipped from her fingers and clattered to the floor as Dorian stepped through the door with a pan full of apricots.

“What’s the matter? What’s wrong?” Dorian set the apricots on the table, picked up the kettle and placed it on the counter.

"Amanda and I are having a difference of opinion as to whether Thumper needs bacon. Grandmother feels that since it’s her kitchen, she should make the final decision, and I feel that Amanda and Thumper should get outside before one of them gets spanked. Now, if you’ll excuse me…” She rushed through the swinging door. Her feet pounded up the stairs. A bedroom door slammed.

Grandmother turned toward Dorian, the faint smile of success on her lips. “Just a little disagreement. Nothing to worry about. Now, if you’ll wash those apricots and put them on to boil for a few minutes, I’ll show you how to get the skins off in a jiffy.”

Dorian glanced between Grandmother and the door Kimberlee had disappeared through. “Perhaps we can get back to this later. I think I’ll go see if she’s okay.”

“She’s just having a snit…” The swinging door between the kitchen and the hallway sprang back and forth as Dorian hurried from the kitchen. “I swear, I don’t know what she’s so upset about. What difference does it make if the child feeds the cat or not?”

“Grandma?” Amanda dropped Thumper, her hand still on the refrigerator door. Her eyes were wide.

Margaret turned. “Amanda?” The inside of her head felt like a bottle rocket on the fourth of July. She lifted her foot off the pillow, stood and shuffled across the kitchen. She yanked open the refrigerator and grabbed the bacon. “Here! Feed the damn cat.” The plate of bacon clattered onto the counter.

Amanda set the plate of bacon on the floor in front of Thumper. “Here, Thumper. Eat you bacon.”

Grandmother limped out of the kitchen into the library. The fax machine on the desk hummed, and then began to spit out a printed report. Her heart thumped. Was it the information from the detective agency? Information that would prove Kimberlee an unfit mother and lay the groundwork to get custody of darling Amanda? She ripped the paper from the fax machine as the library door squeaked open.

“Grandma?” Amanda stood in the doorway, holding Thumper upside down in both arms.

Grandmother whipped her head around, shoving the paper behind her back. “What is it, now? Can’t you see I’m busy?” She felt her cheeks warm. How silly to feel guilty. The child couldn’t know what I’m looking at.

Amanda shifted the cat to her shoulder like a baby and patted his back. “Fumper’s not hungry. He doesn’t want any bacon.”
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Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer is available at Amazon in print or e-book... even free under the Kindle Unlimited program.

14
Oct

Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer

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Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer will publish about November 1, 2014. Signed paperback copies are available from me for $13.00 (free postage).

In this story, Thumper and his family visit Kimberlee’s grandmother’s Texas horse ranch. Grandmother has promised to choose a beneficiary to inherit her estate. But things aren’t always as they seem.

Grandmother’s attorney is embezzling Grandmother’s money through a false Children’s Society. Someone’s true identity is called into question and he may be involved with a cold case murder. Could things get any worse? Indeed they can. Thumper uncovers a murder plot and most face a killer to save Grandmother. She is family, after all, even though he knows the unscrupulous reason she brought the family to Texas…

The only good thing about wretched Texas vacation is meeting the love of his life, Noe-Noe. (Below is an edited passage from the day they met.)

A delightful scent wafted across the room, teasing his nostrils and making the hair on the back of his neck stand erect. The scent tasted familiar and yet…evocative and foreign.

Oh, moment of discovery, sweet love’s fantasy revealed. He poked his head from beneath the sofa and lifted his nose, drew in the bouquet, rolled it around his tongue and teeth, seeking to identify the tantalizing bouquet. Aha. The flavor of a feminine flower, not a figment of his furtive fantasy.

She drew him as if by magic−teasing, taunting, beguiling, until his senses reeled. He followed the fragrance into the library, his gaze traveling up the bookcases. Their eyes met as the fascinating creature peered down from the top of the bookshelf, her front toes curled beneath her breast. The sun streaming through the window shimmered off her silken ears. Her fur, like rows of buttercups set in a field of marigolds, shot through a summer sunset. Her eyes, midnight slits peeking through golden moons. Her sensuous tail coiled around her nose, rising and falling in a hypnotizing rhythm, matched the thud of his heart.

Electricity crackled. She was not a gossamer dream, but a lissome feline goddess. She stared down from atop the shelf −a living, breathing, challenge to his masterful art of woomanship.
His interest in this golden-haired vixen was both perplexing and titillating.
He’d had his share of lady friends, though he was not obsessed with romance. He fancied himself a diplomatic lover, not given to one-night stands, but more discerning in his treatment of female companions. But, this enticing creature was something a cat could sink his teeth into. This lady begged a more committed long-term relationship.

Now, to put his best foot forward…but which foot? All four of his nimble black legs ended in elegant, snowy white feet with multiple toes. He stretched, raised his rear to display his muscular posterior and tight gluts. He then twisted into a three-point pretzel-like position and licked his inner thighs. These contortions were calculated to demonstrate his strongest attributes and yet reveal a willingness to concede control, a maneuver that had never failed to impress a lady cat yet.

“Howdy, stranger. New in town?” The sound of her voice, like the thrum of a hummingbird’s wings.

He stared into her enchanting face−the angle of her teasing whiskers−the slant of taunting ears−her tantalizing eyes, tinged ever so slightly with green, glittered in the sunlight. Her tiny pointed teeth−perfection.She twitched her tail.

Okay, you’re up, Thumper. Remember, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. “Thumper’s the name. Brought the family to visit the grandmother. Care to show me around?” He licked his bib and stared out the window. “Not that it matters one way or the other if you do or don’t, you understand. Just sayin.’” Please say yes, oh please, please, say yes…

“Thumper? What kind of name is that? Sounds like a rabbit.”

His heart crumpled. There it was again, that silly name. Thumper−like the bunny. How many times had he wished they had named him Butch or Cruncher. But no−he had to go through life as−Thumper. His dream of a romantic fling with this straw-colored vixen had as much chance as a balloon at a porcupine’s birthday party. He sighed.
Might as well leave before things get ugly. He turned and shuffled to the door.

“Wait.”

He stopped. His ears perked, whiskers taunt, and glanced back. “Yes?”

She stood and rearranged her sumptuous body. No question. All her curves were in the right places. “Don’t go yet, Thumper. I like rabbits...”

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